Memories of a Forgotten Street Fighter Tournament

Illustration for article titled Memories of a Forgotten Street Fighter Tournament

It was the summer of 1992 and Street Fighter II was the king of the still thriving U.S. arcades scene.


I had been running the Champions Arcade in Glen Burnie, Maryland's Marley Station Mall for maybe half a year, spending my evenings fixing broken machines, counting tickets and playing way too much on my employer's dime.

Over those six months I managed to assemble an impressive team of gamers as staff, guys who spent their work time earning cash to go buy the latest Nintendo carts and their off hours hustling Street Fighter matches for cash down at University of Maryland College Park or the shady bars on Baltimore's infamous Baltimore Street.

We hung out together inside and outside the arcade. I was the group's official bait when they went to play for cash. I sucked and still suck at Street Fighter, but they'd let me beat them match after match until a sizable crowd gathered and they managed to find folks willing to play for money. Then they'd come in and win all the cash they could.

It finally dawned on me one day that maybe it was worth doing something a bit more legitimate with Street Fighter: A tournament.

So I called up the local arcade cabinet reseller to get in touch with Capcom. I finally tracked someone down in California who seemed completely disinterested in the idea of a tournament for Street Fighter II. So I did it on my own.

It was strictly word of mouth. Because we all played Street Fighter II so much, our arcade's machines were some of the best maintained, so we often attracted players from around the state. They told their friends and by the night of the tournament our mall arcade was so packed you couldn't step inside it.


We held the tournament on a big screen machine, people crowding around the players as I announced the seeding. The audience sat on the ground, climbed up on top of other machines, some stacked up so high they broke the neon lights that ran around the wall nearly touching the ceiling.

The prize was a bag of tokens good at only our arcade, but that's not why they came. They came for the glory. The chance to prove they were the best. And they came from Delaware, from New York, New Jersey, from Pennsylvania.


The evening is a blur now, nearly 20 years later, all I remember of it is the deafening roar of the crowds as we made our way closer and closer to a final match. The noise was so concerning to mall management, that police showed up at one point. The winner is long lost to my memory.

What I do recall is that sense of acceptance. I've never before felt such a strong sense of belonging, of being in a place filled with people so like-minded, so similar, before or since. Arcades were special, a club house for gamers.


When I sometimes think back to the days before arcades fell, these are the moments I remember. No amount of online support, of voice chat, of video will ever replicate this experience.

Those of you who dismiss the death of arcades, or worse, dismiss what they stood for, never quite experienced that moment of gaming zen. And sadly, now you never will.


Above a scene from the 1992 Marley Station Street Fighter II Tournament.



Coolest gaming story of my lifetime:

This reminded me of the one time I was ever close to respectable at a fighting game, and a kid at Disney World(or maybe Universal?) tried, very obviously, to hustle me.

It was probably a decade ago, and the game was Soul Blade. I was just playing the single player, and of course some young teenage punk rolls up to the second player side like he's getting ready to full-body tackle the machine, and shoves in a few quarters as if he was giving Soul Blade a metallic enema against its will.

He viciously throws the first round as if someone held a glock against his head and told him that, so help him god, pressing any of the attack buttons would ensure that the last thing to go through his head would be a 10mm auto. I felt bad maybe halfway through that round, so I just started mashing buttons. I won the second round as well, and asked him if he wanted to take my place anyways.

"Fuck that, we're going again!", he says. He may have been on cocaine.

Anyways, he loses those two rounds as well, like it was his job and he was cramming it in under the deadline. I go, "Dude, don't sweat it, I was about done anyways."

"Bullshit, you just had some beginner's luck. No way you'll get me three in a row." He slams a Hamilton onto the arcade cabinet like he expected it to stick. Oooooh, red alert. He could not have been more obvious.

But, I was good at the game. He looked like a delinquent piece of shit that wasn't good for the money, though. So I put $10 of my own next to his, and I say to him, "If your hustling ends up backfiring, and you try to snatch my money, I will beat your ass right here, in front of everyone else, worse than you just threw your first two games." He somehow thought he was actually fooling me up to that point, and looked at me like a deer in headlights.

Anyways, I beat him the first round, although not by nearly as much. Mid second round, he's losing again, and I see him sneak a glance at the money on the cabinet. Oh boy, he's getting ready to pull a Dumbass. Sure enough, the instant he loses, he reaches for the money.

I manage to grab MY $10, but he grabs his, jumps backwards, and turns around and runs full-speed into the side of a racing game cabinet. Knocks the piss out of himself so hard that he starts stumbling and, hand of god, ducks just low enough to clothesline himself on a ping-pong table. The way he bent back as he fell was decidedly unnatural.

You ever see that one scene in Ocean's Eleven, or in any number of rap music videos, where someone throws up a bunch of money in the air and it all flutters down slowly? As he completed his fall, he did exactly that, except with one pathetic ten dollar bill. If he said "Barf!", I would have thought him straight out of River City Ransom.

I walk over to what might as well have been his corpse, pick up my (yes, my) $10, and say, "Well, I guess you threw that round, too."