Devastation 2009: Street Fighter IV Attracts the Country's Top Fighters

Determined to grasp victory, two warriors step onto an airfield unconcerned that a nearby military transport plane maneuvering to take off may disturb their encounter. On the right is Rufus, a fighter whose undulating belly and spandex outfit masks his deadly potential. On the left is Ryu, a wandering fighter from Japan who can toss enough fireballs to make Super Mario jealous. He charges up and tosses one at Rufus to begin the fight. Rufus counters with a flurry of punches. There were ninety seconds on the clock, but they're clicking away with every block, every connect and every second of fierce determination.

Yet the determination on Rufus' face is nothing compared to that of the guy that's literally pushing his buttons. Justin Wong's fingers fly across his arcade stick making Rufus flip and spin across an array of monitors. Next to Wong is John Choi who jerks his arcade controller around in quarter circle after quarter circle to make Ryu throw an unending torrent of fireballs. In reality, Wong and Choi can't throw fireballs or spin through the air pulling off dizzying hurricane kicks. What they can do is play a video game better than just about everyone else in the country; if not the world (see a recording of this match).

To prove it, these two fighters and a few hundred fellow fighting game enthusiasts headed for the Phoenix Convention Center clutching custom arcade sticks last weekend for Devastation a video game tournament focused on fighting games where top players take home cash and fistfuls of glory.

"Fighting games are at their core, the most competitive games ever," said Devastation Coordinator Robb "Jedirobb" Chiarini "It's the first one [type of game] where you go head-to-head with another person to kick their butt. For that not to have the spotlight at a competitive gaming event is a little funny."

Devastation did have a few representatives from the first-person shooter (Halo, Gears of War), sports (Madden '09) and music simulation (Rock Band World Tour) genres of video games, but one-on-one virtual fights was what lined the tournament area's seats with players.

To make sure there were enough brawls to go around, Devastation had tournaments for several fighting games including:

Chiarini said

Gootecks agrees with Wong's point that just about anyone can pick up and play

Their geography may be different, but the commonality among all combatants was their desire to take home the top spot. On the line (in addition to their egos) were cash prizes in amounts as high as $2,000 for Street Fighter IV, Guilty Gear XX Accent Core, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Tekken 6 and Guitar Hero World Tour.

Hold on. $2,000 for playing a video game?

Believe it. If you speak with Robb Chiarini it's not hard to see why. Five years ago Devastation was a game tournament he ran out of his house. Now it inhabits the Phoenix Convention Center and attracts hundreds of Gamers; a word Chiarini is reluctant to use himself because in a society where the average gamer age is 35 and the Nintendo Wii has replaced your gym membership, the word ceases to be relevant.

"Back when I was a kid you had 'gamers', you had those weirdoes that would play games," he said. "Now it's so mainstream. How many people do you know that have a PlayStation, an Xbox or a Wii in their house? It's Everybody."

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Jonathan McNamara