You've got your plane ticket to Las Vegas. You've made hotel reservations. You've touched base with your roommates. You fly out soon. You're pretty much set for one of the most fun weekends of your life.
If you thought this was a review for the movie The Hangover, then you suffer from one of the following problems:
- You don't read my blog very often. Which is okay, because this is the first post I've made in forever.
- You don't play Street Fighter competitively. You are probably a very successful person in life.
I am kidding, of course. You can be perfectly successful in life while playing competitive Street Fighter as long as your name is something like Hajime Taniguchi, Ari Weintraub, Justin Wong, Daigo Umehara, Peter Susini, or some variation thereof, in which case you have contracts with groups who throw fairly good money in your direction to masterfully chuck a thousand fireballs and dive kick with absolute gusto at unwary opposition. The rest of you are like me, trying to find a way to balance Real Life with Hadokens, with (vastly) varying degrees of success (or failure).
The vast majority of people who will read this are people who have been to a major tournament before and know what to expect. But there are other, more inexperienced (read: stupid) souls out there that haven't had a chance to go to a big tournament. Maybe you've never been to an event of this magnitude before. Plenty of people will be popping their proverbial major tournament cherry with Evolution 2011, and a lot of these people may not feel as if they are completely ready for it. Sure, you've attended a few local tournaments where the brackets can, admittedly, get pretty big -- particularly now with the huge fighting game boom. You definitely felt like you were the master when you did alright out of that 128-man bracket at that nearby tournament in a neighboring city, where people were so packed in such a small building that you thought you were going to run out of oxygen.
If you think this is going to be like that, I have news for you: you're both somewhat right and terribly, terribly wrong.
You will definitely feel like you're about to run out of oxygen, of course. It's just that the big bracket you succeeded in won't be the entire tournament; this time, Evolution is running something close to a million 16-man brackets out of which you will have to fight your way through to get to the top. What that means is that you'll be essentially looking at hundreds of little tournaments going on in the same day in one really big ballroom, which means you will feel both completely lost and intimidated on your first day.
Even with all of that, there's nothing to not love about Evolution, but if there was something about the entire package experience that you'd have to quickly learn to hate, it would probably be the "preparation" part. No doubt a lot of you went with the cheapest possible tickets that you could get to fly with, which means a lot of your flights start at 5 AM in the morning and have a connection or three somewhere along the line and get you there at 12 PM, Vegas time (which means you've spent roughly 10 hours in a plane or in airports). Alternatively, some of you are traveling in from overseas or South America, which means your plane trip is about three times more excruciating and claustrophobic than the flights of people in North America. I can already feel your excitement.
But don't be (too) afraid! If you haven't left for Vegas yet and you've never played in a major tournament, or would just like to be better prepared than the last time you showed up to one, here are some last-minute tips that will help keep your traveling experience pleasant and keep your money from vanishing overnight during your stay in Vegas.
Keep your pack light
I remember sharing my room a couple of years ago with a semi-pro football player. This guy literally brought a huge bag in which he normally carries football gear to bring all his stuff in. While this was okay for him, because he was strong as hell -- that whole being a semi-pro football player and all -- this doesn't mean everyone is as strong as he is. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that the vast majority of people who will be playing at this tournament fall under the more conservative "not very strong at all" category. It is important then that your skinny, sun-starved ass not bring anything larger than a backpack with the bare essentials necessary to survive and an additional place to carry your joystick (either an Evo stick sack, some other small bag, or just carrying it in plain view) so as to not crush your pathetically puny back with the overbearing weight of the military-grade survival pack you originally planned to pack.
Realistically, your ultimate goal should be to completely avoid having to check in baggage so that you can skip baggage claims entirely. Most airlines will let you carry on your main bag and your joystick without too much trouble, particularly if you tell them that one is your actual carryon and the other can be considered as something that will be resting on your lap or under the chair. Not all airlines and airports are cool with this, but the vast majority seem to be. It'll be next to impossible to fit a bag with your stuff while also carrying your stick separately, so be prepared to check bags in if your "carry on" looks like it would need to pay for its own seat.
A lot of you also have trouble understanding what bare essentials really consists of. A lot of the stuff you're going to use can be actually acquired at the strip at the nearby CVS. Your very bare essentials boil down to clothes to wear, unless you're insane and like buying clothes at Vegas and then discard them shortly thereafter. So if you're a pretty normal guy, find a good-sized backpack or duffle bag that you can take as a carry on, and start with the following items:
- 2 pairs of pants / 4 pairs of shorts
- 4 shirts, preferably with one nicer shirt (decent polo or something so you look presentable if you go around in Vegas)
- 4 sets of underwear
- 4 pairs of socks
- 1 extra pair of shorts
Most people are thinking, "why not a third set of pants?" Well, because you'll be hopefully wearing a pair around in public when you get on the plane. If you're using jeans, jeans can be reused for one day without it being a massive problem unless they get dirty. If you're pretty clean, you can get away with one set for a couple of days, and if not then there's probably a place in the hotel where you can do emergency laundry. You may want to investigate this before packing two pair of pants only, if that's the case. Of course, if the amount of pants you're bringing is a problem, just pack more pants. The extra pair of shorts can be swimming trunks or athletic shorts; the goal here is that if you plan on using the pool or gym for some reason, you actually can. If not, don't bother unless you just want a cooler-temperature backup. Also, you can probably skimp on one of the shirts if you plan on making it to the tournament early enough to scoop up your attendee t-shirt, since you will be packing it on your way back.
Many people also like to bring their own towels. Towels take up a lot of space in a pack, so either go with a relatively smaller towel, or just make sure you ask for extra towels for your hotel room very, very early in your stay. Hotel rooms seem to be stocked with ~4 small-to-medium sized towels, most people use two of these for some reason. If you have 4 people in your room, get 4 more towels. Get them changed constantly, too (harass the cleaning ladies for more).
Now, let's move on to the personal hygiene stuff. This can be purchased at CVS, but sometimes it's just better to take your own in case you're really picky about what you use. Here's a suggested list with things that will be easy to fit along with your clothes:
- deodorant (antiperspirant -- no exceptions)
- toothbrush / toothpaste
- shampoo (if you use it; a small bottle will do)
- hair gel (if you use it; a small bottle will do)
- hand sanitizer (it's sold everywhere already anyways, take advantage)
- small pack of Wet Ones flushables
- louffa (get ready to get heckled for this)
Hotels provide soap, most of the time. Hotel soap also sucks, most of the time. Bring soap you like if it'll make you happier. Also, a lot of people are going to see the Wet Ones and think I'm insane. I have news for you: if people tend to say you smell like ass despite using deodorant, then chances are that it's your actual ass doing the damage. Use these after you make longer pit stops at the restroom. People who have to play with you will thank you.
Clean up before you go
Try to do this as late as you can without it making you late for your trip. If you know it takes you an hour to get to the airport and checked in, make sure you've completed all the biological needs you can handle, shaved and showered roughly about three hours before the plane leaves so that you can be at the airport about two hours early. Feeling clean will go a long way towards making your plane ride somewhat enjoyable as it'll take longer for you to feel like all the grime in the world has made its way onto your body.
Try not to eat a heavy dinner and don't eat a ton before you leave so you don't have sudden bathroom urges on the plane, or worse, in an airport in North Carolina. And if you can help it, avoid eating airport food, unless trips to the bathroom are something you look forward to. You also don't want to have an upset stomach when you get on a plane, and eating light goes a long way to alleviate that. If you think you'll have trouble with getting hungry, move on to the next step.
It's completely normal to get hungry at the tournament and on the plane or in a random airport in the middle of nowhere. You'll probably need to eat something to survive, and it's not always conducive to head out and find something to eat at short notice. To curtail this, I suggest you bring with you something that's both edible and relatively filling that you can quickly eat in an emergency.
I personally recommend Clif Bars as they're good for you, have plenty of protein and a fair bit of carbs and thus will fit into most reasonable diets, and they're goddamned tasty. Extra points if you can score a bottle of 1% milk somewhere to have it with (~400-500 total calories, which is enough for a meal and will easily last you a plane ride). You will need the carbs for your mind to operate clearly and to be able to withstand what amounts to a rough bunch of hours of playing.
If you're the kind of person that can't operate in the morning without coffee (like I was when I worked at the law firm), Folgers sells these little teabag-style coffee singles that brew a cup per bag. Bring a few or snap them up at the CVS/Walgreens on the strip. Don't like Folgers? You're stuck going with those Starbucks mini-drinks, which are okay, but aren't really coffee.
Drink lots of water
Water can be purchased in bottles everywhere. There's also water fountains at a lot of places, so you can get away with buying a single bottle of water and refilling as often as necessary in between matches. You will definitely need a good amount of water, considering how ridiculously hot it is in Vegas if you decide to step outside for any reason (like enjoying Vegas outside of Evo). Also, drinking enough water will help your brain operate and help stave off that funky feeling of fatigue you'll get from playing a lot in a crowded space.
Another thing that water does a good job of is to help you regulate hunger. This means that you won't randomly get hungry, you'll just get hungry at the right times. Gatorade really isn't a replacement for water in this case because you aren't running a marathon. Try to avoid exclusively drinking soda, as tons of soda will eventually make you feel like absolute garbage.
Know where to eat on the cheap
Evolution doesn't sell food on the premises, and for the most part they do not want you to eat on tournament grounds, so know where to go to eat. Hotel food can be pretty expensive, and some people (like me) are pretty broke. So, learn what's close by. Here's a Yelp Search to get you started -- knowing where you can eat on a budget can be great if you're trying to save a lot of money.
That said, you're cheating yourself out of the Vegas experience if you don't eat at one of the great buffets. Wait until AFTER the tournament, or when you're no longer an active participant. (Or, celebrate your Evolution 2011 win by going out to the Bellagio and eating like a champion. Remember to invite me when you do.)
Clean up at the hotel, too
What, you thought that first time before you left your house was good enough for the rest of the tournament? Fat chance, slobbo. Make sure you're nice and clean before the tournament starts so that you feel great when you play and so that you're not a biohazard to the rest of the patrons. If people can spot you by your stank at a hundred paces, you need to clean up. If you take grimy deuces, that's what you packed Wet Ones for. Use them, you ass. (Around your ass, preferably.)
You don't really have to shave, but it might help you not look like a hobo by the end of the tournament. In the end, you know whether you'll need to or not.
Don't buy tons of crap
This might seem pretty obvious, but if your goal is just to go to Evolution and enjoy your time there, try not to go wild with Tourism-Influenced Stupidity and keep your purchases to a minimum. Chances are you'll get more things than you took to leave at the tournament itself, so you don't want to overload your pack with garbage that isn't necessary. If you planned on doing this in the first place, the packing guide here isn't for you: you will probably need to check bags in.
Hopefully, all of these tips can help make your trip to Las Vegas and to Evolution 2011 a smashing success. If your tournament experience sucks even after you follow all of these, then it's likely that you made the mistake of actually calling one of the phone numbers on the stripper and "massage" "services" cards that they hand out on the Vegas Strip and had one of them visit your room, leaving you with multiple different cases of STDs, the flu and broke.
I'm kidding, of course. The majority of you wouldn't know what to do with those cards anyways.
Seriously. This was one hell of a weekend.
Where do I begin? There's all sorts of crazy things that've happened this weekend that put it in the running for Greatest Weekend Ever™ (topped only, of course, by the advent of Evolution 2010 this July, but that's almost like cheating at this point).
Friday was pretty straightforward -- hung out with Rivera and The Girl, playing some keyboard SF4 against Rivera (which promptly caused him to be perplexed as to how I could do anything on a keyboard, such as Shoryuken, FADC, Ultra) and doing pretty alright. I need to figure out some things about SF4 still and just properly develop my fundamentals again, and I need to reteach myself some things (proper distance for fireballs, proper timing for fireballs). My anti-air game is a whole lot better now that I'm no longer so pretentious about my move selection. Using normals as an anti-air with Ryu, particularly crouching fierce, has actually upped my game quite a bit. It's a good feeling.
I had originally planned to go to the Fair with my buddies... but let's just say that didn't really work out. It worked out eventually, but it working out did not involve me setting foot in the Miami-Dade County Youth Fair. That makes this the second year in a row I've missed the fair.
We proceeded to finish that night by going to Pinchoman. I had a NY Steak.
The NY Steak is the best item at Pinchoman. Fuck anything else I've said before -- the Chicken Deluxe may be awesome and delicious but it's no NY Steak. I'm a steak kind of guy in the first place, and the NY Steak fills that need for beef as well as filling my mouth with all sorts of delicious flavors that you can realistically only get from Pinchoman. Absolutely delicious. Godlike, even. I may simply stop ordering anything else on the menu at this point -- it's THAT good.
Saturday was probably the greatest day ever, though. I had a great night of sleep, full eight hours and still woke up fairly early feeling completely refreshed. Screwed around on the computer a bit and got some homework done before getting picked up by La Niña to go eat at Chuck Wagon. Now, I don't think I've talked about Chuck Wagon yet and I think I'm doing it a huge disservice by remaining silent. Expect a review on Lunch, and perhaps Yelp (and definitely here). It's the best breakfast place in Miami. It's better than IHOP, Denny's, Waffle House, Original Pancake House or whatever -- they all suck compared to Chuck Wagon's mightiness. They're only open from early morning to roughly 3 PM, but that's all they need to serve the most delicious waffles, omelettes, eggs, bacon, sausages, sandwiches and chili that you can possibly have at those times. Godlike.
After that, spent a bit of time with La Niña before we headed off to go watch Sir Paul McCartney at Hooker Stadium in his Up and Coming Tour. Waited outside for a little bit since we arrived early, but we enjoyed a bit of looking around, playing some Beatles Rock Band at a Majic 102.7 tent. I got Octopus' Garden as my song (blech). Rachel got to sing Getting Better, which was definitely much better than what I got to sing. Lucky.
Went inside, all the way up to the top level (because we're not made of money), sat upstairs and... well, I thought it was going to be crappy, but the view of the set itself was great and it actually sounded the best of anywhere I stood around in the stadium. Rockin' acoustics, in other words.
And man. What a tremendous show. The Lady's dad said that it was possibly the best he's ever seen Paul McCartney perform. "He hasn't lost a thing," he said. I think he can't hit the high notes anymore, but other than that? It's completely true. He's still got all the skills, the great voice and that silly charisma of his. It was a blast of a concert.
I know some of you will be curious as to the setlist. Here it is, with Youtube links forthcoming in case you want to see how it looked from the concert grounds. I'll probably also supply you with more straightforward song links so you can listen to the songs themselves.
- Venus and Mars / Rock Show / Jet
- All My Loving
- Letting Go
- Got To Get You Into My Life
- Let Me Roll It
- Foxy Lady (Hendrix)
- The Long and Winding Road
- Let 'Em In
- My Love
- I'm Looking Through You
- Two Of Us
- Here Today
- Dance Tonight
- Mrs. Vandebilt
- Eleanor Rigby
- Something (Harrison)
- Sing The Changes
- Band On The Run
- Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
- Back In The U.S.S.R.
- I've Got A Feeling
- Paperback Writer
- A Day In The Life / Give Peace A Chance (Lennon)
- Let It Be
- Live and Let Die
- Hey Jude
A lady asked me at some point how I knew the lyrics to all the songs, considering that she was from the actual time of the Beatles and I was just a kid. Who knows? (Quite frankly, who cares? The Beatles rule.)
Paul also had a few chats with the audience. Best story he told that night was one about Hendrix learning Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club within two days of the album being released. He played it at a show that Sunday, and Paul later went on to describe how great his guitar skills were. He lectured the audience briefly on whammy bars, and their tendency to violently detune a guitar after being abused for a period of time. Since Jimi couldn't be bothered to try to retune his guitar, the first thing he did after the song concluded was to call out a very reluctant Eric Clapton out from the crowd to please come over and tune it for him. Hysterically classic.
Ended that monstrous concert night by heading out to go have some... you guessed it... Pinchoman! Another NY Steak and a Chicken Pincho. La Niña's dad had a Steak Deluxe and tried my NY Steak, and the consensus is that the NY Steak is the greatest item on the menu. I do not disagree. Apparently flattering Ricky on how awesome his food is will make him a very happy camper. I need to go Wednesday to get my t-shirt.
Sunday was a good relaxation day. Spent most of it trying out Liberal Crime Squad, a hysterically absurd game that's part Roguelike, part Dragon Quest, part Drug Wars, part awesome BBS games, mostly ridiculous. You're a unit that leads the LCS, fighting for liberalism against a world where Arch-Conservatism is attempting to take over. Hard as hell, though -- you might want to read their Wiki before evey trying to play the damn thing.
I also had bought like 6 POP tickets for the Youth Fair that none of my friends decided they wanted to attend anymore. This made me rather upset since I'd effectively spent a bunch of money for nothing, but I thankfully managed to get rid of them on Sunday, selling them to a couple who decided they'd wanted all 6 for their kids and some of their kids' friends to go on Monday, since it was a Teacher Work Day. Hopefully none of those kids get stuck in a ride, like so many people have been lately...
All in all, awesome times. Think you had a better weekend? Tell me about yours. (I will preempt you by saying that no, it was nowhere as good as mine.)
It only gets better, too. Opening Day is today, and the Marlins are set to take the stage against the Mets in just over an hour. Let's go, Fish!
It's a fucking shame. This was a great guy, a nice as hell cat with a ton of potential ahead of him. Apparently stabbed in an argument over a girl. Fucking senseless, shameful, horrifying... wow.
I've had a hard time going to sleep since I've heard this and I wish his family -- both by blood and his family by association, the team -- the best. This was a guy who had a hell of a fucking future robbed from him in the blink of an eye in a simple act of senseless violence.
I'm not exceedingly religious, but if you are, please find some time before you fall asleep sometime this week to say a prayer for him.
I've noticed that I haven't been playing any fighting games lately. Like, almost at all. Sure, there are times I'll play CvS2 with Danny or Chris at Mike's brother's house, and then there's other times when I'll go online and play some SF4 against random scrubs in Championship Mode, but you can hardly call that "playing regularly," and you can definitely not call any of it serious in any way.
With work and school being the huge time sinks that they are, and then also having to adjust to life with a significant other that is actually important, I've found that my priorities have (finally?) shifted to what is supposed to actually matter. What I'm finding a lot of conflict in here is that I'm no longer entirely sure what it is that "actually matters" in that sense of the word. If a job is essentially a way to collect money and as a means to live, then certainly there's better things I could be doing than slaving away in front of a copier or sitting in front of a computer cutting checks for people vastly more important than I am with money that isn't mine and that I will never have.
The thing that perplexes me the most is that there is clearly a life and money to be made from being an active participant in the fighting game community right now, either as a player, event organizer or personality of sorts. What happened that I suddenly tripped and fell, no longer being able to become a part of any of these? Was it that I was fiercely disillusioned by Street Fighter IV in the beginning and no longer had as much interest in it over spending time with my girlfriend? Was it pretty much a change in scenery offered by the people I'd started to hang out with that I appreciated, something more 'safe' and less chaotic? That's ridiculously out of character for me, being a person that loves when things change and that hates it when life becomes monotonous. When exactly did I decide to hide behind the comfort zone of going to baseball games over going to tournaments?
Somehow, this all seems to be connected to the one time I skipped going to Final Round to go to the World Baseball Classic. I don't regret it, even if the game blew -- this is an event that happens once every four years, of course -- but I have the sinking feeling that I could have been a part of something great and, as usual, decided to fuck it all up and go in another direction. About the only good thing to have come from the deviation is a sudden new appreciation for music and composition, and the funniest part about it all is that, since most of my musical inspiration comes from old fighting games (namely The King of Fighters), I immediately got caught with the nostalgia of the old days and remembered what life used to be like.
I don't know. Life used to be somewhat miserable sometimes, but I was having a whole TON of fun back in the day. It definitely felt like I was living more for the moment, even if it was for something so inexcusably nerdy and unproductive like playing fighting games. Maybe this all stems from some deep down need to feel productive or useful that I can't quite shake. Maybe I just should have moved out a long time ago from my house, stuck to any part time job that would take me and gotten more involved in the scene. Maybe I should have just dedicated myself to it.
Most importantly, maybe it's not too late. Maybe I can still get back involved, if not as a player, as an organizer, as part of the community at large. Maybe there's money and a living to be made here, and I'll be damned if I can't find a way to force myself into it.
I'm supposed to have this kind of a crisis when I'm a teenager, why am I getting this so close to my 25th birthday? Don't most people have their shit figured out by now? Someone help me find an answer.