All jokes aside, I’m really glad to see pieces like this. The experiences the author (Mitch Bowman) and his interviewees mention are broadly ones I’ve had too. Not about arcades per se (I went to very, very bad arcades)… but FGC events. Those have been pretty good. The general lesson I’ve learned is most of us try to adhere to a sort of ‘tolerant meritocracy’ at tournaments; the winners are elevated, certainly. That’s the point of a tournament. Yet on the other hand, we usually don’t give the non-winners a lot of crap unless they go out of their way to bring it upon themselves. You can just show up and have fun so long as you’re not causing trouble for others, has been my general experience.
My best memory of this would be Evo 2005 (or 2006, I unfortunately forget which). One of the more interesting incidents there was at the hotel’s food court, just a short walk from the tournament room. Seating was very crowded at the hour I went, but there was one guy who had a slot open at his table and, noticing me glancing around like a clueless dumbass… he waved me over. We sat, and ended up sharing a decent (overpriced, but tasty and satisfying anyway) meal over each others’ stories; about why we had come to this tournament, what got us into fighting games, things like that. It was a pretty relaxing 15-20 minutes, a welcome respite from what had otherwise been a terrible week due to work hounding me during Evo (they even knew full well what it was and why it meant so much to me).
He was a complete stranger to me. He didn’t care, and after a few minutes I didn’t either. He called me over anyway and we talked due to our shared hobby. Just as much as the exciting competition, moments like that are why I love our tournament scene. I only know one or two other communities where I could have that happen, and they have sadly fallen due to the demise of their games. Yet FGC events endure, and even grow; I’m glad to be here for it!