It was one of the unique experiences in my career, sitting in the balcony of a full ballroom in Manhattan, cheering the competitors in the Nintendo World Championships along with an enthusiastic and vocal crowd.
Twenty-four competitors, from ages 8 to 33, and only one could win. It was almost the 2015 World Championships winner, John Numbers, but Thomas G. finally took out the champ in the last round. Timed skills were tested (Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild). Cooperative skills were tested (Splatoon 2), and competitive skills were tested. (Super Smash Brothers.) There was even an elimination round that featured the old-school Tetris. (The only game where I would have had a prayer….)
In the end, it was the competitors with the most well-rounded gaming skills who lasted the longest, leading to the final contest between Thomas Gonda and John Numbers in a tense game of Super Mario Odyssey.
But it was perhaps all the competitors, the audience, and Nintendo itself who all came out of the World Championships as winners. The competitors won the support of the crowd, their families, and their fellow champions. The crowd won because they clearly had a blast, fueled by the gameplay and some top-flight play-by-play announcing of Jordan Kent. And Nintendo won, with over 23 million watching on their Twitch channel, as well as 25,000 active members on the YouTube livestream.
Doug Bowser, Head of Sales & Marketing at Nintendo of America, said in an interview Saturday before the championships that the choice of games to be played–all but one kept as a surprise–considered two factors.
“We were looking at a huge library, and, one, we wanted challenging but not frustrating games,” he said. “Two, we wanted them to be great to watch.” The games and the specific sequences from those games were largely the work of Nintendo’s Treehouse division.
It was clear watching the competition that Nintendo chose wisely, as the level of gameplay was high and met with acclaim from the audience. My particular favorite was the Underground second-chance game in Stage 3, Donkey Kong Country Returns, the mine cart sequence.
“We hope for some surprise in delight in the content and wanted it to be a fun format,” Bowser said and Nintendo definitely hit the nail on the head there.
Bowser said he was pleased with the age ranges of the competitors in the Championship, who were chosen either as special guests or from Best Buy qualifiers. While the players qualified at their age levels, they were not separated by age level for the World Championships. Two of the youngest competitors made it to Stage Four, but, alas, were undone in trying for a second chance by an Underground game of classic Tetris.
Those games played included sequences from Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Smash Brothers, Metroid: Samus Returns, Balloon Fight!, Bird and Beans, Mario Kart 8: Deluxe, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Splatoon 2, Arms, Mario Party 2, Super Mario Maker, Super Mario Brothers Deluxe, and the final game, Super Mario Odyssey.
Will Nintendo hold the World Championships again? There was a two-year gap between this year’s event and the one in 2015. An obvious location would be in the new Nintendo section being built in Japan’s Universal Studios but no plans are set as yet.
It’s fair to say the in-person and online crowds would love to see more of this event.