Local geek guru Jeff Moriarty can sum up what Phoenix Comicon is all about in one single word: Passion.
"It's a chance for geeks to really let loose about things they're passionate about," he says. "Most of the time, if they geek out hard about Star Wars, Serenity, cosplay, or the DC Universe, ordinary people won't know what the hell they're talking about. Being passionate about something geeky is what Comicon is all about."
Moriarty hopes to tap into said passions with the annual Phoenix Ultimate Geek Smackdown, which kicks off this evening during Phoenix Comicon's opening night.
The two-day competition, which is organized by Moriarty and local geek blogger Jonathan Simon (of Lightning Octopus fame), will pit geeks and nerds against one another in a battle for nerd supremacy.
"Personally, this is a chance for me to bust out every single geeky cliché all at once," Moriarty says. "Stuff like, 'There can be only one,' or 'In a world where only one geek can reign supreme.' That sort of stuff."
According to the smackdown's organizers, contestants will be paired off in each round an assigned a geek-oriented topic for debate (such as, "Team Edward or Team Jacob?"). One participant will then make their case, their opponent will counter, a healthy session of debate will follow, and then both will each be given an opportunity for a closing statement. The audience will then decide the winner.
Tonight's opening round of the smackdown will feature 16 competitors, which will be selected from those who signed up online or are in the audience. Eight winners will move on to the finals tomorrow night.
At stake are some major bragging rights, as well as a humorous, one-of-a-kind trophy created by Andrea Beesley (a.k.a. the "Midnite Movie Mamacita") for the smackdown. Moriarty is certain that this year's trophy will be just as goofy as last year's version.
"It was like this lion being ridden by Chewbacca and Geordi La Forge wrapped in gold lame. And in its mouth was C-3PO's head. It was the most ridiculous thing you could've ever possibly imagined for a trophy and everybody loved it," he says. "Andrea took this as a personal challenge to outdo herself this year and has been hitting up Bookmans and other stores and calling in favors to create this thing she's putting together."
Moriarty says the questions posed aren't easy ones, since they require geeks to argue a point they don't necessarily agree with. Last year, for example, organizers asked two participants to debate "Who was the better rogue captain: Han Solo [from Star Wars] or Malcolm Reynolds [from Firefly]."
"It was hard because most everyone attending Comicon are probably Star Wars fans and Firely fans," Moriarty says. "So having pick one and debate that is tough. There were even arguments breaking out in the audience on the topic."
Occasionally, he adds, participants will get questions concerning something they aren't necessarily familiar with, like the two geeks asked to debate the merits of Team Edward versus Team Jacob.
"We had these two big, burly dudes arguing Team Edward or Team Jacob, and you could tell that neither one of them had read the Twilight books. And they were completely making things up as they went along. It was hysterical improv," Moriarty says. "Once people get going, even if they get a topic they don't know anything about, when the B.S. starts flowing and they really get into it, things get heated. Each one was determined that they were going to win this geek fight, even if they hated the books with a passion."
But as passionate as things get during the smackdown, it probably won't escalate to actual fisticuffs.
"I don't know what an actual physical fight at Comicon would look like," Moriarty says. "People would bring out their lightsabers and bat'leths and other goofy weapons and it would result in more broken plastic than broken bones."
Simon says nerds around the city compete for a handful of reasons: "One being it's hilarious. Half of being a geek is being passionate about things that aren't even real, and articulating it is just fun. Second, I feel like it's the perfect way to start the 'con weekend. It totally puts you in the mood for the nerdiest weekend ever."
Moriarty says last year's inaugural edition of the smackdown, which took place in a smallish conference room at the Phoenix Convention Center, was a memorable affair. He's hoping this year's version will be just as unforgettable.
Even if you're merely attending the event instead of participating, Simon promises that the smackdown will be a blast to watch. Especially since there are likely to be some memorable competitors involved.
"Last year a guy busted out a dungeon masters screen and a giant d20 [die]," Simon states. "He'd keep rolling his dice and pretending to give his answers based on some kind of chart. It was hilarious."
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Not as hilarious as the aforementioned trophy that will be presented to the winner, Moriarty says.
"I've seen early pictures and it certainly going to be worth fighting for, if for no other reason then to parade it around Comicon and have people ask, 'What the fuck is that?' all weekend," he says.
The Phoenix Ultimate Geek Smackdown takes place at 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday in Room 121 of the Phoenix Convention Center during Phoenix Comicon. Daily admission is $30.