Gaming tournaments at Section 9: just add players

Story and Photos by Matthew Beckman, MSUM Journalism

“Gamers” are commonly stereotyped as apathetic, lazy and unmotivated. What about those who converge on a battlefield to clash in the fires of competition, determined to become the revered champion?

Section 9 Cyber Cafe in Fargo is a haven for gamers of all shapes, sizes and control-input preferences. The cafe prides itself on its gaming collection and ability to cater to all kinds of fans.

The finale to Section 9’s ‘Left 4 Dead’ tournament, with a crowd of cheering spectators. Submitted video by Section 9.

According to its website, the creators of Section 9 were unsatisfied with the gaming scene in Fargo and Moorhead, and decided to create their own destination for video game enthusiasts.

Section 9 Cyber Cafe's window logo.

“People like to come and see if they like the place,” said Rob Sanford.

Sanford said many of the visitors make their first stop to see the library of games available and choices for gaming hardware.

The Section 9 owners host tournaments of popular and recently released games or games that just draw a consistent crowd.

Usually, the selection process of what game to play is decided by the owners as they select a recent marquee title.

Patrons aren’t left out of the decision-making process, though.

“We will go with what is popular,” said part-owner Thomas Schultz. “If people want to make a tourney, they can sign up on the forums and get 10 people to say they’ll play too, and we’ll host it.”

Section 9’s most recent tournament was created by a group of fans of the “Madden” video game series. They created the tournament, set the amount of the prize pot and found a time that worked with Section 9’s schedule.

“They threw us a pretty big bone,” Schultz said. Since the “Madden” tournament was organized by the players themselves, the heads of Section 9 were able to just focus on moderating and overseeing the tournament.

Gamers competing in the "Madden 11" tournament.

The “Madden” drew in a different sort of crowd compared to what part-owners Schultz and Sanford are used to. The contenders were much more into athletics, and brought a little more energy into the competition, and even showed up late for their own designated starting time.

“They tend to party a little too hard,” Sanford said after the competitors missed the time of their own final matches.

Age ain’t nothin’ but a number

Even though Section 9 has up-to-date and current gaming computers and consoles in the store, it also haw a small collection of retro gaming consoles in the backroom, and staff would gladly host tournaments for the retro crowd, too.

A small collection of modest consoles rests in the far end of the backroom with a lone couch, while the rest of the area is relegated mainly to PC gaming.

Collection of old and current Nintendo games and controllers. Submitted by Section 9.

The opportunity to test yourself against Fargo’s finest is here, including classic systems like the Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis or even the old-man Nintendo Entertainment System.

Sanford did say the odds for a good turnout for a retro video game tournament wouldn’t be as high as one for a more recent title. A fan of a classic  retro game from systems long past might look to the most recent iteration in the franchise to have better odds and a successful tourney turnout. He gave an example of the “Super Smash Bros.” fighting series by Nintendo. While Section 9 has the original decade-old game, the series has proved one of the most popular tournaments, featuring the most recent game “Super Smash Bros. Brawl” for the Nintendo Wii system.

The final round of Section 9’s ‘Super Smash Bros. Brawl’ tournament. Submitted video by Section 9.

The trouble with tournaments

Even selecting the hottest new title isn’t a surefire way to net a solid turnout.

Early in March, Section 9’s “Madden 11” tournament only attracted five players. For the uninitiated the “Madden” franchise is one of the most consistent high-sales game series of all time, and according to a 2010 article from USA Today by Brett Molina, the series’ lifetime sales have surpassed 85 million units.

Earlier in the year an attempt was made to host a tournament for “Call of Duty: Black Ops” on computers instead of Xbox 360 or Playstation 3. The tournament was canceled because only one team entered. Selling 5.6 million copies on the first day of release, apparently wasn’t enough to attract Fargo gamers.

The first "League of Legends" tournament. Submitted by Section 9.

“We had some interest in the ‘Black Ops’ tournament,” Sanford said. Players would inquire if game play would take place on an Xbox 360, and would be scared away by playing on PC.

“Yes, let’s do it for XBOX who plays this for PC,” Section 9 forum user “gski” said on the tournament.

Whether it’s the platform of choice, timing or bad luck, gaming’s biggest franchises haven’t been a consistent draw for Section 9 tournament goers, interestingly enough a niche computer title, “League of Legends,” has drawn the largest crowds so far.

According to Sanford it was successful enough, and had enough demand to warrant another tournament.

Click here for more information on upcoming events at Section 9, or follow them on Twitter.

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