Deep inside Germany’s Ruhr Area, to be more precise in Bochum, there is a mall and inside that mall there is a movie theatre with nine separate screening halls. Like a lot of franchise corporations its vibe is a little loveless and seems to just exist for the money from showing boring blockbusters. But sometimes, on Saturdays, you can hear the hiss of blue shells and the anger of grown up people from hall three. On these Saturdays in 2017, so before the pandemic, two employees of that cinema are hosting a Mario Kart 8 Tournament, delivered on the big screen. And I am attending.
Much too early for a Saturday, my girlfriend and I are getting up, ready and on our way to that mall with that cinema. Not without doing some warm-up laps on my own Wii U shortly before. A fine act of balance between getting into the game and having shot one’s bolt beforehand. For now, one race on Yoshi’s Circuit and one on Neo Bowser City should be enough.
As we arrive a few friends and a few unknown faces are already there, talking about expectations, placing bets for fun and drinking coffee. I do need one too. Naturally the cinema is pretty empty that early and so my order is ready in no time. While slurping, I talk to Chris and Jenny, those, who actually brought me into the depth of the game and to this tournament. Fitting into the stereotype most attendees are male so I am happy about Jennys participation and the mental support of my partner, which is going to be vital later that day. We present our tickets and are being directed to the hall where the magic is going to happen.
Gaming is serious business. At least 40 people, almost all of them adults, are respectfully saying hello, shaking hands and watching and assessing each other in the first rounds of the tournament. As long as we are not directly competing, we give compliments and encouragement. But that will surely cease over the course of the day.
We are racing with four drivers per round in split screen. Each round is four races, no CPUs, normal item selection, finishing in last place in the ranking means knock out. From the first moment on it is a knock out battle whose difficulty increases later, because also second to last placed will be thrown out of the tournament. Without that the thing here would go on for ages and it is not short to begin with.
This time I am prepared because it is not my first time here. A few weeks before today I learned that the skill ceiling of that game is pretty damn high. On one of these Saturdays, I was racing just for fun (and a little bit full of arrogance) and got kicked out in round three. The weeks after that were shaped by Mario Kart 8 Online and bootcamp at my mate’s place, where him, his girlfriend and me were memorising each turn, every spot for drifting and all the different course strategies.
While stretching my neck to look up to the cinema screen I notice that there is a very inconvenient input lag at work. A massive brake must be built somewhere into in this chain of signals from Wii U to the projector. I suppose it has something to do with the converting of the frame rates and calm myself down with the fact that everybody here has to live with that delay.
I recognise Moritz and his colleague, who’s name is also Chris, from the last tournament. Both look much too cool for this kind of fun and play even better than they look, which is not an understatement. I have respect for their skills in advance but after my first couple of home runs they do feel the same for me. Some weeks later we would actually be sitting in Moritz’ office floors where he would host a private tournament. I will be asking (a little bit too often) in disbelief if that is really his office and not that of his dad. I guess these kind of LAN parties set my mind back into my teenage years.
The streamer Dennsen86 is commenting and accompanying the tournament on his channel—and he is also playing which I find a little unfair, since he is directly connected to the console with his monitor and thus not experiencing the former mentioned input lag. But apart from that he is also playing pretty skilled. Well, obviously, since he makes a living out of gaming and plays every single day. Despite that I am able to kick him out of the game on Bowser’s Castle. And I mean that, it is my achievement, my doing that knocks him out. Mario Kart 8 might be frantic, but it is not a matter of luck, actually. The streamer boy seems to lose his cool for a moment, cursing me and the game, partly as a joke, partly seriously. It gives me satisfaction and proofs once more that there is only one game that really brings out the person in you you actually don’t wanna be. If you are looking for a game that lowers your threshold for getting violent, here it is. That is not funny, but true.
The number of active participants gets lower while the favourites are racing against each other in the last play-offs. At any time now, former allies can become fierce competitors. In the semi finale on Mute City I sit a little bit too close to Moritz (that was possible back then) who is trying to let me know that we should team up for that race. But he changes his mind once he sees me failing in a troubled moment. I am not angry with him I would have done the same, but those kind of mind games are messing with my confidence and so first I lose my nerves and then I lose the race.
My girlfriend is already getting her third Maxi-Coke and second portion of Nachos (there was no breakfast today), the event is going on for over five hours so far, and while I am still struggling with myself there is an announcement that Chris has qualified for the finale along with Moritz and the other Chris. The course is Big Blue. Hell yeah, that is one of his best, I know that from my own hurtful experiences.
Sure, the finalists do have friends and fans with them in the room but actually, everybody now not playing is here for the spectacle. It feels like an e-sports arena. Cheers, disappointment, thrill and every next second could mean winning or failing. That is the level on which we are playing here, and we do so rightfully.
Closely but deserved Chris wins the tournament. It is not “my” Chris unfortunately. The price is a minor matter. Something about free participation for the next tournaments and a couple of free hours at the movies. Since I do share the fourth place with other semi finalists we too do not leave empty handed—and that is why since that day a wonderful Zelda Breath of the Wild pendant is beautifying my keychain.
As we slowly approach the exit it smells a little bit like in the kids’ basements of back then. Yes, we shed tears and sweat here but in the end everything is outshined by the joy and gratitude that we feel for having been a part of this.
In a smaller group sit down for after-match pizza and discuss the best scenes of the last hours. Next time, I am on the podium, maybe even at the top, I say. In actuality I would never make it this far in later tournaments. But every single participation was a win in itself.
There is probably not much to say about the meaning of Mario Kart that is not common knowledge today. The so far latest entry in the series was the 2014 released Wii U game Mario Kart 8 which got overhauled in 2017 as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Nintendo Switch.
This post is also available in: German