The Kindergarten Years (1990-1992):
My competitive history starts with Christmas ’90 when I got a Game Boy. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a journey that would send me yachting in Barcelona, partying hard with a casino millionair and travelling the entire world with my friends. I started out playing only Spiderman and Tetris; while the former doesn’t really offer a lot in terms of competitiveness (Speedrunning had not been established yet), the later was the first game to push me towards competitiveness. The thing about Tetris was that gameplaywise, it is infinite. Everything else I had played before was set in this frame that focussed on just completing it. Tetris on the other hand was all about improving. Yeah, there was the occassional rocket you’d sent to the sky or some random fiddler’s you’d unlock — but in the end, it was ultimately all about to just. keep. going.
At this point I have to say that I grew up on a horse farm just outside Munich, so there were a lot of other fun things to do like riding horses and farming farmland. But the moment I discovered linking up two Game Boys I was completly hooked up. After having practiced a lot on my own, I felt like a champ; so I challenged one of my friends to a match. Now guess what — despite my practice, I was totally blown out. Like no tomorrow. Couldn’t win a single game against him. Was he an awesome player? Had he mastered the fine art of Tetris at just the age of 7? Wasn’t I supposed to be the better player, having practiced like 10 times as much as he did?
Turns out I was the better player. But it didn’t matter. My opponent was the smarter one. He figured that since neither of us was good enough to stay alive for long enough, the winning strategy was…not to do anyhting! While I was busy finding the correct spots for my pieces and immediately pulling them down into their designated position once I had found it, he on the other hand just never pressed the down-button. That way, his game progressed much slower than mine, eventually leading to me losing due to filling up my entire space. I hit more lines. He won the game.
That day marked the first time in my life I got metagamed. In Tetris.
Here comes a new challenger: Primary School & the SNES (1992-1996)
After eventually trading my pony for my own TV and a treehouse (and another TV inside that treehouse), I had a short but awesome stint with the Sega Mega Drive before being introduced to the SNES. To this day, I’m a firm believer that system still has the most impressive and overall best gaming library in the history of video gaming. And I played them all. Except for Chrono Trigger because – in a stroke of genius – Nintendo never released the game in Europe. One day guys, one day.
From a competitive point of view, two games stand out to me from that time: Street Fighter 2 Turbo and Super Mario Kart. Even though I personally owned neither of these two, I remember spending countless afternoons at my friend’s places trying to get better. Looking back at it, I always only came close to about 80% of his level of play but in a way that always kept me going. In a world where your multiplayer experience was not delivered via a interconnected global network but your bicycle, you didn’t just join a new game; instead you kept trying until you made it…or gave up and played Mr Nutz. Now that I think about it, we played a lot of Mr Nutz.
It took me another 15 years until I discovered the competitive scene in these games and even though my Ryu is nowhere near the level of Daigo, I still take great joy in watching EVO each year. And as you can probhably tell, I still love playing the Mario Kart series with you.
How I learned to stop worrying and love the Rancor (1999-2000)
In 7th or 8th grade, a friend of mine brought this cool card game to school and introduced everyone to it. The following months later entered history as The Great Northern Munich Magic Epidemic. I was instantly infected and after first trying out some aweful WB Skirg-Lifegain deck (Healing Salve on turn1 was considered a “solid opening”) I quickly ended up with an Elves Combo deck. You can find a draft of what I was playing back then over here.
I was hooked up all the way through Urza and Masques block. We didn’t have actual formats and rules where rather treated as “guidelines”. Everyone has his own stories of how Dark Ritual actually put three Swamps into play or playing as many different types of land per turn as you desired. To me, that was Rancor. Nobody really knew how Trample actually worked so we interpreted it as something that would later be known as Double strike; you can probably imagine how a card like Rancor was just absurd in such a misguided meta. On the other hand, Time Spiral untapped a single Tolarian Academy six times in a row, so there’s that.
Eventually, I put the game aside. Our local metagame had degernated into different flavours of Combo Elves (both combining Intruder Alarm with either Recycle or Call of the Wild) with little to no competition from other decks. For a while I still enjoyed aiming Fireballs for 1,337 at other kids, especially since I had a friend with a calculator follow me around me around to take care of the math involved. In the end however, I ended up selling my entire collection and moving on.
All of my cards? No. I decided to still keep my Elves deck around.
Just in case.
The Quake and Counter-Strike Years (2000 – 2004)
Starcraft (1998 – now)
“Are you going to Copenhagen?” (2005-now)
To be complete…Quake, Counter-Strike, Starcraft, Magic Online, Netrunner Classic Gaming History: Monkey Island, Final Fantasy, Classic SNES RPGS, <others>