Kirsten Han and Shawn Danker /
This weekend, hundreds of gamers from all over the world will descend upon Las Vegas to clash within the world’s largest annual fighting game tournament. Evolution Championship Series (or EVO for short) gathers players from all over the world to compete over three days for top spots in their respective games.
This year, Leslie Cheong – along with four other Singaporeans – will be joining the fray, playing in the Super Street Fighter 4 Arcade Edition (AE) tournament.
Although EVO is ultimately a Singles elimination tournament, our boys see themselves as the Singapore “team”, and intend to put Singapore on the map by placing within the Top 8 and possibly winning some prize money from the tournament’s pot.
We managed to meet up with Leslie just a few days before his departure. Joining him was Jon Lim, a local tournament organiser and Operations Manager with Round1.sg, Singapore’s fighting game community.
At age 21, Leslie is a combat medic serving his National Service. He has had to clear leave to participate in EVO. Leslie is also getting a partial sponsorship from the Singapore Cybersports and Online Gaming Association (SCOGA) to go to Las Vegas to represent Singapore.
With gamers flooding Las Vegas’ Rio Hotel and Casino for EVO, Jon estimates that there will be around 10 16-men pool tournaments a day. This means that Leslie will have to play Super Street Fighter 4 AE all day – and beat hundreds of other equally ambitious gamers – to qualify for the Top 8.
“It’s very tiring,” says Leslie. “You need to focus a lot. You cannot lose your concentration.”
“Huh, you still play arcade?”
Despite being a top player locally, Leslie feels that sometimes he is stereotyped and misunderstood by non-gamers. “In order to get that good you must play a lot,” he says. “So people tend to think that you stay at home to play this game instead of hanging out with friends, that you have no life.”
Jon feels that there is more acceptance for LAN gaming, and that arcade gaming still suffers from certain misconceptions. “If you hang out with other friends and you tell them, ‘I’m going to play LAN’ they are still reasonably acceptable. But if you tell them ‘I am going to play arcade’ then they say, ‘Huh, you still play arcade? How old are you?’”
“There is still the impression that arcades are for gangsters, with smoking, drugs, all the bad stuff,” Leslie adds.
Although there are instances of gang activity in arcades, Jon and Leslie says that this misconception is generally inaccurate. Every Friday and Saturday night, gamers from all over Singapore gather at the arcade in Bugis – “I call it the headquarters of Street Fighter,” Leslie says – to play and discuss strategies. On average, there will be at least 30 gamers present every weekend. The youngest Street Fighter player is about 10 years old, while the oldest is about 40 (his father!)
“People should know that most of us have decent jobs!” Jon says with a laugh. He is an art instructor himself, and Leslie intends to study engineering in university after NS.
LAN gaming, arcade gaming… NOT the same!
The two are also quick to highlight the differences between LAN games and arcade fighting games. “The cultures are very different,” Jon tells us. “At a typical fighting game tournament it’s more like a show. It’s more like going to the WWE to watch a wrestling match. You have announcers, a lot of people cheering, a lot of crowd support and noise. In LAN gaming tournaments it’s more like watching golf tournaments, where you all sit down and watch.”
With computer and console games taking the world by storm, it is almost no surprise that arcade games are being obscured. “I feel like LAN gaming is like the elite school of Singapore,” Jon says wistfully. “And arcade gaming is like the neighbourhood school.”
Hopes for the future
There are more sponsorships available to LAN gamers because of a bigger public interest in the gaming genre. There are even a few professional LAN gamers in Singapore (although professional gamers still need full-time jobs to pay the bills). There are no professional arcade gamers, but Jon is determined that that will change one day.
“We’re hoping that Leslie and the rest of the guys in EVO will do well so they will come back home and there will be more awareness in this game that we’re playing,” he says.
“There are so many great players who deserve to be shown,” he later adds. “You can’t imagine the amount of talent there is, still undiscovered. There are great players in Japan and the USA who are getting sponsorships, and I don’t think we are inferior to them in any way.”