Last week my M:TG community buried one of our own. Sam Sanders was in an accident on some road in Greer, Arizona. The details get iffy after this. Hows and whys got lost amongst the shock and tears of the sudden passing. It seems unfortunately appropriate that my best friend and I found out in the middle of a tournament. I met him playing competitively, I traveled with him to play competitively, and we even talked shit to each other competitively. This red headed bastard passed away inside a vehicle hundreds of miles away from all the people that cared for him. His death dragged away the last bit of innocence we had. Before this my community could measure life before and after our store closed. Now our history is decidedly marked as before Sam’s death and after. Well…fuck. With Evo a few days away some of you are going ask why talk about an M:TG player in the odd corner of El Paso/Las Cruces. This is an easy answer: because the last place you want to get reacquainted with people is at a funeral.
In two days time, the biggest fighting game tournament on the damn planet will get started. A lot of people are going to get caught in the excitement of the sports storylines. Infiltration winning a second time would be something cool; Chris G winning the big one even though he doesn’t care is also something; Mad KoF vs Bala runback is up there with the last two. The real story behind Evo is the amount of friendships that it has kept alive. For years there have been people who attend Evo exclusively to hang out with online friends or get games in in the “Bring your own console (BYOC)” area with the other three guys that play the same game. This part of Evo has gotten downplayed over the last few years. While it is important for the hobby to crown a champion, it is just as important to keep those bonds alive. Some travel for glory, some travel for competition, some travel to learn and some travel just to meet up with Sam Sanders again.
We get to hear a lot of stories about these games. Whether it is TO drama, player drama, it is always some type of drama. We rarely talk about how powerful we are as a small group. Emotions are intensified with small group. Our drama sometimes is larger because it goes through a lot of people so quickly. Nobody fucks up in this community without a majority of it knowing. Similarly when we laugh, we are laughing just as hard. Our experiences are increased a thousand fold, an unknown maestro directing our energies in different ways simultaneously. We react explosively, a symphony whose sections are playing different parts, rhythms, dynamics which sometimes in time and tune. We are intense.
These amplified emotions make each member’s part that much heightened. When Sam died, we all knew which instrument was gone forever. There was no more mean shit talking, no more great player and no more light hearted laughter. That’s one L we hold way to close to our chest and too heavy on our arms. Because it wasn’t just that he did all that. It’s that part of the M:TG community which greeted me when I came to the U.S., was there when I graduated high school, took me on my first road trip, titty bar, got me drunk on my 21st, and when was there to make the end of one shitty week that much better is gone for good. Sam wasn’t there for some of those, but the community was.
Losing elements of that community just makes the sound much smaller. The community doesn’t need an incentive to help its members, we just do. When one of our own lost his mother, we were there. When one of our own had a bad break up, we were there. When my wife had brain surgery, they were there. Tough time finding a job, house set on fire, moving to a new place, or just having a really shitty day, and we’ll be there.
Sometimes we don’t make that connection. There are times where the fighting game portion gets overshadowed by the community part. Nothing has ever stopped time or life from happening. So when life happens, it happens when you’re with a group of people who share something with you; whether slinging cards or throwing hadoukens. When life happens, this community will have your back. These games rotate faster than you realize. Four years ago Daigo won Vanilla SF4, two years before that Dreamcasts were an Evo console and longer than that it was just a bunch of friends in some arcades. Throughout each of those changes, the friendships have endured, the community endured. From time to time the maestro keeps us in line and we all play in unison. The rest of the time we argue about who is offkey, offtime, playing the wrong piece, the wrong game or playing on the wrong console.
While you’re at Evo, say hi to somebody. Go to the BYOC section and play some games. We are single handedly one of the easiest communities to get into: all you need to say is “Can I get next?” Whether or not you endure is dependent on you. I won’t make any promises about the likability of anybody in your local community. A lot of us aren’t perfect, some of us are scumbag and some are insufferable twats. While a few assholes exist, as a whole we are helpful and incredibly tight. If you want to learn we will help and when you are having a shitty day we will help some more. Hang out with your local crew and do something dumb, greet some friends and make some memories; find the people for your character’s subforum and kick it with them, talk some shit, make a bet or two. Strengthen the bonds that keep us together. Video game media will focus on the champions but hardly ever on the real winners. It will never talk about those friends that said hi to each other again, sitting down for games with the guy you haven’t seen since 05.
There’s more to Sam’s death than just telling people to make connections. To some extent I feel a bit of survivor’s guilt: the man was such a positive person that my faults are amplified. I could be a better person but I fail. But while you walk through Evo, don’t miss a chance to just hang out. My community had to lose Sam in a fucked up way. The OG SRK community had to lose Dasrik and MummyB. I can put some damn good money on the fact that nobody regrets those friendships…even if they lead to an eventual loss. My M:TG got a reality check: we are not letting ourselves get out of touch anymore. Don't go out of touch: Go play, connect, have fun, get mad, make friendships, make friendships survive...because when the community grows and endures, the symphony plays louder.
Samuel Patrick Sanders, this one's for you.