UW students represent at worldwide video game olympics in Vegas

Gamers from around the globe go head to head at the Evo fighting video game competition in Las Vegas on July 13th, 2013. (Photo by <a href="https://www.facebook.com/pages/Singh-Lion-Photography/122286767953842">Singh Lion </a>)

Most Seattleites look forward to spending their summer in the sun. But for a few UW students, being holed up in front of a video game is not just a waste of good weather — it’s a quest for ultimate glory in the world’s largest video game tournament. 

Last weekend video gamers from all around the world gathered in Las Vegas to test their skills at Evo, the “fighting game championship of the world”

This three-day tournament is like the Olympics for competitive video gamers.

And like the Olympics, since its start in 1996, Evo (aka Evolution Championship Series) has evolved into a top-level global competition with, umm, athletes from around the globe coming together to determine the world champion.

Last year, the top eight players in Super Street Fighter IV — the most popular and challenging video game bracket — were from six different countries including Taiwan, China, South Korea and the U.S. This year, Evo 2013 welcomed over 3,000 players from six continents.

Shoryuken UW (SRKUW), a group of players who meet on Friday nights at the University of Washington, sent a contingent of competitors to Las Vegas for Evo this year.

Ryu, from Street Fighter, is one of the most famous fighting game characters. (Photo via Wikipedia)
Ryu, from Street Fighter, is one of the most famous fighting game characters. (Photo via Wikipedia)

The name Shoryuken is one of the famous combo moves from Ryu — the famous character from the original Street Fighter game. The group began as a student organization at the UW for students who shared a similar interest in video games.

“The SRKUW group just started as an excuse to mess around and play games on Fridays,” said Paul Ostermann, 24, a member who will be competing at Evo for the fourth time this year. “It’s grown into a very large and recognized part of the Northwest scene.”

Seattle may be known as a haven for geek culture, with game giants like Microsoft, Nintendo and Valve right in our backyard. But the video game community exists everywhere.

Gaming has become a worldwide phenomenon, and of course when a bunch of people with similar interests come together, they will want to share that interest,” said Ostermann, who was turned on to gaming when he lived in Japan as a teenager. “Even in smaller towns it’s hard not to find at least one other person who has an interest in games.”

Ostermann, along with six other SRKUW players, traveled to Evo this past weekend to represent the Pacific Northwest. They were among a total of 140 players from Oregon, Washington, Idaho and British Columbia went to Evo this year. Some of the players like Ostermann have attended Evo in the past, while others are going for the first time.

Armand Tran, aka botpm, is one of those players. He competed in Super Street Fighter IV and King of Fighters XIII.

“I’m expecting to have a good time and meet a lot of people from all around the world,” said Tran last Wednesday while on his way to Las Vegas. “I have no expectations set on the competition; many things can happen at an event of this size. I just want to have a strong mental focus and play intelligently [in] each match.”

Members of SRKUW including Paul Ostermann (far right) play fighting games competitively every Friday night. (Photo courtesy SRKUW)
Members of SRKUW including Paul Ostermann (far right) play fighting games competitively every Friday night. (Photo courtesy SRKUW)

Tran won 4-2 (won four and lost two matches) in Super Street Fighter IV and won 3-2 in King of Fighters XIII. He lost to Jorge Carreon Ramirez and Carlos Ramirez, both from Mexico.

Shaka Savanah, another player from SRKUW, expressed concerns about an international competitor in his bracket.

“Her name is Mui and she is traveling from Japan to play in this tournament,” Savanah said. “The main reason why she is so scary is that she plays a character that is hard to adapt to. You really have to be on point. Also, I have to fight two opponents: her and her fanboys.” He laughed. “It’s going to be fun.”

Savanah reached the semi-finals for the Japanese fighting game Persona 4, managing to beat Mui in his second match.

The winner for this years’ Super Street Fighter IV tournament was Singapore’s Kun Xian Ho (aka DM MCZ Xian) — an underdog who won for the first time.

Video from the grand finals match between Xian and Japan’s Hajime Taniguchi (aka MCZ Tokido) shows a humongous crowd of onlookers cheering and clapping as the finalists focus and tap against controllers known as “joysticks” (boxes that emulate arcade controls) in a darkened, ominous hall.

The grand final match at Evo 2013

Ostermann recalls his first Evo experience in 2009 during a similar match-up.

“Just the sheer amount of hype there was,” Ostermann said. “The screams and cries of thousands of people in one room as the best American player took on the best Japanese player in a match that went down the wire… Being a part of that crowd was the main motivational push that convinced me that the fighting game scene was where I wanted to be.”

Ostermann competed in the Persona 4 tournament, reaching the semi-finals. He has placed high in the rankings in local Pacific Northwest competitions, even winning some. But the Evo tournament was the first time Ostermann competed against people outside of the region.

A gaming joystick box, used to simulate arcade controls. (Photo from Flickr by Kelly B)
A gaming joystick box, used to simulate arcade controls. (Photo from Flickr by Kelly B)

Being able to play against others from different parts of the globe allows for players to congregate and observe each other’s styles and strategies. Like the Olympics, the competition becomes tougher over the years as players evolve. 

“It’s encouraging to know that there are people from all over the world who share the same passion that you do,” Ostermann said. “Being able to meet with those people in person is a great experience.”

You can try out classic fighting games like Tekken, Soul Calibur and Street Fighter in an arcade setting at Gameworks in Downtown Seattle. There’s also a Wednesday Fighting Game night at The Airlock in Kirkland. And you can join up with Shoryuken UW via their Facebook page.