By Alex Irish / October 14th, 2017
It’s one thing to watch a livestream of an event in a major metropolitan area, it’s quite another to be there to experience it. Such was the case last weekend, as your humble reporter was present in New York to be at the Nintendo World Championships 2017…live! What follows is an anecdotal, live-ish report, from the perspective of an audience member versus the raw press. No interviews with the winners or Nintendo insiders, just the flash of the stage before us. It was not a coincidence Nintendo picked this date. It coincided with New York Comic Con 2017, surely a good way to funnel con goers to a side show away from the Javits Center. It’s like drawing ants to a cookie crumb, if you will.
To start, you couldn’t just waltz into the event as a voyeur, you had to gain a wristband to get a spot in the show. Now, Nintendo may have said line-ups to get a wristband would be 9 AM on Saturday, October 7th, but nothing was further from the truth. When I got there first thing in the morning, a line had already formed away from the Manhattan Center around 8 in the morning.
When the clock struck 9, we weren’t quite ready to get our bands. The Manhattan Center shared other Comic Con events, some in that very morning, and there were apparent rules that delayed distribution of wristbands about 20 minutes later.
Things remained jovial and lively, however, as some intrepid photographers (from California, they professed, and maybe Nintendo’s San Francisco-based PR) walked up and down the line asking fans trivia questions to win gift cards (courtesy of Best Buy). I was one of the lucky few called to arms (thanks to my spiffy Pikachu dress shirt), asked whether or not a second player could control the ducks freely in Duck Hunt. This is true, so thus it begat a quick $50.
So, I stood in line for over an hour in the morning. That afternoon, I stood in another line for almost two hours just to get inside. Worth notice is this October in New York has been unseasonably warm, so standing outside in the afternoon for that long proves a test. Fortunately, lots of StreetPasses were exchanged and people around me had their own Switches. The game of the moment was Splatoon 2‘s Salmon Run, via local wireless, which is unexpectedly fun to play in person versus online.
Finally, the line began to move towards the Manhattan Center. The bag check process, held up by one security guard, which is why it took so astronomically long to get in. We sat down in our seats, and not long after the fun began.
The championships themselves were great, and the energy among throngs of Nintendo fans was real. With every game reveal in the competition, cheers were cheered and whoops were whooped. Host Andrea Renae and all the commentators provided the energy and Nintendo knowledge to feed the audience with a worthy performance, and all the competitors themselves were easy to root for. That includes guest player Bayley of WWE fame, who filled this year’s role that one NoA’s Reggie Fils-Aime filled in 2015 as the “worst player on purpose”. Speaking of, Reggie was not present, but his fake tease of an upcoming mystery game counted as the biggest troll of the evening.
Insofar as the games played on stage, the best surprises came from the underground’s selection of older games more so than the “above ground” line-up of contemporaries. By my estimation, almost all of the games played can or could be purchased digitally on Nintendo’s various platforms, and not a whiff of any Wii-series or Nintendo Land in sight, odd given they too engender competition. It was a strong line-up, with heavy hitters like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Super Smash Bros. 4 making a strong showing, while the opening act of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild proved Nintendo can make anything out of the ordinary competitive scene. Game Boy Tetris was the strangest inclusion given Nintendo no longer has the license to sell it, and DSiWare’s Birds and Beans was the most unexpected inclusion (something even Nintendo made light of).
Much camaraderie in the crowd was in support of the up-and-comers in the junior division, which was nice to see. When they ultimately couldn’t make it past the elders in a bout of Splatoon 2‘s Tower Defense, it was audibly disappointing for some fans to handle that the big guys clobbered the kids who put in a great performance.
Only a few tech issues drug the show down, including snafus related to Splatoon 2‘s LAN setup delaying its start, and ARMS especially, with one particular player not knowing how to play. Perhaps it was that, or perhaps it was wireless interference, I don’t know. Either way, it makes a good case that Nintendo should have opted for Pro Controls in their ARMS section as opposed to motion.
Of course, the biggest cheers of all came from the final stretch, pitting returning champ John Numbers against third placer Cole G. and ultimately against the rising star of Thomas G. There was “edge of your chair” thrills found in the multiplayer of Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, old but still good, and incidentally a mode omitted from the 3DS Virtual Console port. The ultimate reveal came thereafter that the upcoming Super Mario Odyssey would be played between Thomas G. and John ‘Numbers in the finals. This was well and truly The Wizard in real life: a sneak peek of an upcoming Mario game before its launch, and a parallel of the same gambit with Super Mario Maker in 2015’s championships. Watching the two players pivot back and forth in how effortlessly they navigated the heretofore unseen levels was a treat, a preview of what we’ll all get to see on October 27th.
Even before it was all over, people were on their feet and stomping as Thomas G. beat the final boss and took the crown of Nintendo World Champion. The ending, without another big surprise, was slightly rushed, but overall satisfying to see a newcomer rise from the underground and win big against a returning champ.
It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small, since seeing it in person, surrounded by Nintendo fans in a grand hall rooting for the same experience is much better than a stream on Twitch. From the energy of the room to the visceral thrill of in-your-face competition, Nintendo put together a much stronger showing in their second World Championships than the first time. It’s almost too much for words to describe every little beat in the show. I’m very happy with my time seeing such an event as the Nintendo World Championships in person, and should they return in 2019, I’d like to do it again. And of course, if you need a refresher on everything above that transpired, the full recording is embedded below.
2017Nintendo World ChampionshipsNYCC