At DreamHack Winter 2016 in Sweden this weekend, hundreds prayed at a competitive gaming altar consisting of a few dozen old cathode ray tube televisions. They were participating in a Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament, and the results were beautiful looking.
Between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, a lot of people are probably buying new televisions at the moment. Most are not doubt upgrading to larger flat-screens, while others make the leap to 4K, but no doubt there are still a few holdouts buying their first HD TV and preparing to leave their giant CRT TVs behind. We’ve all seen them before, abandoned on street corners or left out for trash collection with pieces of paper tapped to them saying something like “please take me.”
But for professional Melee competitors, old CRT TVs are the technological lifeblood that fuels their passion. GameCube games were designed for 4:3 aspect ratios and the split-second reaction timing needed for games like Melee mean the scan-lines of a CRT TV are preferable to the greater latency and inconsistency of an LCD screen. That’s why professional tournaments are organized exclusively around the cumbersome but reliable technology of a bygone era.
But the competitive necessity of this sort of setup also lends itself to the nostalgia inherent in watching people play a 15-year old Nintendo game. And that soft, communal glow of rows and rows of CRT TVs blasting attendees with crack-shot Melee players taking one another to the mat was on full display at this year’s DreamHack Smash Championship.
For photographer Stephanie Lindgren, who was in attendance and captured the images you see in this article, the event doubles as a chance to interact with fellow members of the fighting game community and scout out interesting moments during tournaments. According to her, the things she looks for are, “Salt, hype, facial or body ticks when people are playing.” The close proximity and grassroots nature of the events are what make them stand out in her mind. “The type of facial expressions and body language you get from photographing fighting games is unlike anything I have seen in any other esport,” she said.
And setting up an event like this is a project in and of itself. It’s one thing to secure top-notch monitors and PCs from corporate sponsors, it’s another to find someone capable of providing a bunch of CRT TVs capable of supporting a several day tournament.
Lolex, a former competitor who organized the event at DreamHack, said they are able to rent the TVs from a nearby gaming organization called the European Speedrunning Assembly. “The CRTs came from Växjö, the speedrunning organization ESA has a large storage there with plenty of TVs,” he explained. “We had half the amount of last year with 32 instead of 64. It was definitely not enough, but we also could not fit any more setups into the space we had.” Växjö is in Southern Sweden, and since DreamHack was being held in Jönköping, the TVs had to be transported an hour and half north.
All of this, including a $30,000 prize pool, just to compete in a game that came out over a decade ago. It can seem absurd until you realize it simply mirrors the perfection trying to be obtained by the game’s top players. They have dedicated their lives to understanding every little nuance to the game, and that makes it come to life on a screen in front of them is no exception.
This year’s grand finals pit native Swede Adam “Armada” Lindgren against American Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma, two of the best Melee players in the world, if not the best, ready to push the game, and what’s possible in it, to the limit. It was a rematch of DreamHack Winter 2015, but in a smaller, darker room with everyone huddled under the glare of fewer TVs. Also, this time Armada won, refusing to let history repeat itself by falling to Hungrybox’s Jigglypuff for a second year in a row.