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No need to go to South Korea to feel Olympically untalented

Competitors warm up for the Smash Brothers 64 event at Chop Suey in Seattle. (Jacob Rummel)

I’ve enjoyed watching winter Olympics coverage, especially considering how bad it makes me feel about myself.

It’s basically a meme at this point. If you search the phrase “regular person Olympics” on Twitter you’ll find hundreds of tweets where people suggest having a regular person in every event to highlight how talented the professional athletes are.

There’s an American woman named Elizabeth Swaney representing the country of Hungary who’s essentially accomplished this. She’s competing as a freestyle skier, and every run she’s just happy to make it down the halfpipe without falling. Watch one of her runs, they’re hilariously underwhelming.

When I’m honest with myself, though, I don’t need the juxtaposition to know I’m not nearly as talented as the Olympic athletes. Particularly when I watch figure skating, those people might as well be doing actual magic.

I experienced a similar feeling over the weekend, but it had nothing to do with anything going on in South Korea.

There’s a video game for the Nintendo 64 called Super Smash Brothers. It was originally released in 1999, and pretty much anyone who played video games in the early 2000s played this game. Before Halo, before Call of Duty, the big party game for pre-adolescent boys was Super Smash.

Some of those kids who grew up playing this game never stopped. Now they’re adults, and they play the game in serious competition.

I saw this event pop up on Facebook: “Smash Brothers 64 Tournament at Chop Suey.”

Chop Suey is a Seattle music venue that also doubles as a dance club on Saturday nights. Apparently, every once in awhile they also let a bunch of video gamers hold tournaments.

When I showed up just to check it out, the sense of nostalgia was immediately palpable. They had four or five old TV’s set up on tables with guys crowded around them already warming up for competition. When I say “guys” I’m not being colloquial, there were no women anywhere near this event.

It really felt exactly like my childhood sleepovers, except it was a Saturday afternoon and they were serving beer instead of Mountain Dew.

Everyone was really friendly, and the game was a great icebreaker. For the uninitiated, part of the appeal of the Smash Brothers franchise is it answers the question “who would win if one of my favorite Nintendo characters fought another famous Nintendo character?” In Super Smash, Mario can fight Pikachu, Link from the Legend of Zelda can fight Star Fox, etc. A common question is “who’s your main?” Meaning, which character are you best with? It’s an easy way to start getting to know a stranger.

After a few rounds of practice, the actual tournament began. The organizers divided the 30 or 40 entrants into smaller groups of four for the first round. I discovered immediately that I was woefully outmatched. Even though I had played this game for hours on end between the ages of 9 and 12, I had nothing on these guys. I got to play each player in my group at least once, but I didn’t win a single match.

Everyone continued to be collegial even once the competition began. It probably helped it was so immediately evident I was no threat to them as a player.

I got to talking to Roman, a competitor from Olympia. He wore headphones during every match he played. I asked him what he was listening to and he said it was rock music. He explained to me that one of the other players I faced was considered the best in the state. He beat me without even trying.

A regular person in the Olympics sounds like a fun idea for the audience, but it wouldn’t be as fun for the regular person.

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