Smash and Travel: Las Vegas

This past July in Las Vegas, I went to my first international Super Smash Bros. tournament ever. It was a life changer. (Talk about a delayed post!)

It was known to host almost 2000 entrants from all around the world, just for this one game (this event hosted a few more tournaments for other games as well, but Super Smash for the Wii U, or Smash 4, was the most popular). Mostly from the US, of course given the location, but there were still people I’ve met from Canada, from Mexico, from Japan, even from across Europe. 2000 of us nerds at this one place known for partying, drinking, getting laid, and all we’re here for is to play video games. Let’s see what life has planned for us this weekend.


Day 1, Thursday.

I was fortunate enough to get two days off from work during that week, just for this tournament. The event was from Friday, July 17 2015 to Sunday the 19th; majority of the Smash 4 tournament was on Friday, with the top 32 on Saturday. Thursday morning I wake up rather early, around 6am, heading out to the airport… for a 1pm flight. As someone who lives in a car-dependent region without a car, getting to the airport took longer than the flight to Vegas! I live in the greater San Diego area, about 40 miles north, and the public transportation is rather sparse but good enough for my everyday needs. Getting from my house to the nearest train station itself took about 45 minutes (fortunately without needing to transfer), and the train ride to the airport was just about an hour. As my first time not only playing at an international tournament but also planning my own travel vacation, I was ecstatic! I spent the hours on the bus and train listening to some good vibes, messaging my friends who had already arrived in Vegas from Hawaii, and reading about the creative mind of Hayao Miyazaki in his Starting Point. From the destination train station to the airport was only about 3 miles, but since I had quite a lot of time to spare I walked along the bay of San Diego, checking out the area actually for my first time. By the time I get there, it’s still only around 11am; unfortunately if I caught the train at any later time I would have missed my flight! Anywho, I get to the airport, go through security, and just continue reading my book all the way until arriving in Vegas.

Alas I arrive at around 2pm! The sights were already amazing, not used to seeing casinos as such a public location (in the airport). Seeing in person that sign at LAS, “Welcome to Las Vegas!”, that sign you see all over your friends’ news feed – every moment was becoming more and more overwhelming as the sheer minutes pass by.

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I catch the shuttle that conveniently goes around in loops from the airport to all of the hotels on the strip. The venue, and the hotel we stayed at, was at Bally’s. My excitement died a bit since I ended up waiting a long 45 minutes just for the shuttle to come, but once it did my energy vamped back up instantly as I saw the ever-so-grand hotels along every corner of my eye.

I arrive at the hotel, and one of my friends comes down from our hotel room to pick me up (it was SO easily to get lost for the first time). This moment was simply exhiliarating! A little background for those who haven’t been following this blog: I moved out to northern San Diego, from Hawaii born and raised, for work as a software engineer back in April this year. A bunch of my Smash friends back from home, about a dozen, also came to this event, and this was the first time I had seen them since they gave me an emotional farewell back in late March. It had only been about three months, but since I hadn’t seen any familiar faces since then, it was quite a feeling. Anywho! We get to the hotel room as I rekindle friendships with everyone else in the room, we pick up our badges (which required standing in line for almost an hour), and we catch up on our lives as we play several games for two hours or so.

After playing some games, we finally give in to hunger and check out BurGR (GR for Gordon Ramsay). By far the best burger I had; it was so great, we ended up coming here twice in two days! I ended up trying the Hog Burger, simply because it was one of the most expensive (at I believe $17) so I thought it had to be one of their best, heh. The meat was definitely prime, not too juicy but the flavor of the meat just blended with the entire burger oh so well. Truffle fries and jalapeno poppers on the side were as fresh as this experience itself. Don’t forget the drinks; it’s Vegas after all. They had a wide variety of cocktails; whether you’re picky or a rather hearty drinker, you’ll definitely find one you’ll enjoy. After all that though, too bad we didn’t have room for dessert! They had shakes that looked amazing on their iPad menu, but given the $9 price and all the food we had, we thought we couldn’t handle anymore. All the more reason to come here a second time.

I decided for our group, six of us from the hotel room, to check out one of those bus tours next, this one being a night tour. It was scheduled for 6:30pm and we had left the restaurant around 5:45; we had ample time to make it. We paid for it in advance online; apparently you can’t without doing so. Google maps stated that walking there would take about 30 minutes – sounds good. We get there, it’s 6:30 and the bus had JUST left! Unfortunately no refunds so all of us had just lost a whopping $35 each. Google Maps didn’t take into consideration all the zigzagging you had to do throughout the strip, and since none of us had been in Vegas before, nobody had any idea this would’ve happened, even at a rather rushing pace. We even walked along the side of the road with the bus in case it came by, but unfortunately it didn’t.

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I was quite bummed. Since it was my idea to sign up for this tour, I took much of the blame for everyone basically giving up over $150 just like that. It was the perfect plan in my mind: after dinner, check out what Las Vegas had to offer in its scintillating lights throughout the night, from the strip and its hotels all the way to Fremont Street and back. We also would have been given time to shop along Fremont Street as well. Too bad since we missed it, we actually never got a chance to visit Fremont throughout the entire trip. Everything was alright though since in the end, we enjoyed taking in the scenery as we walked back to the hotel room, plus everyone was determined to make their money back in money matches against other Smash players, haha. We played with as many people as we could once we got to the hotel, then got some early rest as we prepared for tournament day.

Day 2, Friday

The venue was INTENSE! Remember that there were over 2000 Smash 4 players in this place. In addition however, there were games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct, Marvel vs Capcom, and Super Smash Bros Melee. Given all those games plus spectators, there must have been about 10,000 people throughout the venue. The entire event took up about two ballrooms’ worth of space! Despite Smash 4 having the most entrants, we still had quite some trouble finding those stations.

Because there were just so many entrants, they divided up the tournament in multiple pools of 2 hours each. Each pool contained up to 16 people, and only the top two make it onto the next round. In Smash tournaments, each match against an opponent is best out of three games, double elimination. You have to lose two games to two people to be knocked out of the tournament. If you lose one match in the pool but still make it out to the next round, your loss carries over to the new bracket. Two of my friends had their pool as early as 8am; fortunately mine was at 4pm so I pretty much had all the time in the world to relax, warm up, and really just do whatever I wanted. More of my friends had their pool around 12pm or 2pm, so we all just checked out the scene starting from 10am and meeting a bunch of people, both casuals and professionals.

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We eventually grabbed brunch, just eating at the food court in the hotel since we wanted to get back into playing games as fast as possible. I just got a standard American omelette, from this Chinese restaurant similar to Panda Express, haha. I also got myself a bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, rather edgily testing my theory of playing better buzzed (not drunk!). Taking in a few sips here and there, making sure I don’t drink too much and lose all my reflexes, hah.

While waiting until 4pm, I definitely got a lot of money matches in. I challenged anyone and everyone I saw; most accepted. I gained a net of about $60 that day before my actual tournament. Extremely stoked both with my pool coming up AND having made my money back from the bus tour, nothing could bring me down. I would like to say that the alcohol helped, haha.

My pool starts, and my mental abilities COMPLETELY shut down. My first opponent was an average player, nothing noteworthy, and I was clearly the better player. I had won the first game in the set without losing a life, out of two lives, but for some reason I was still shaking the entire time. I had no more lemonade to drink either! Regardless I had to carry on. Game two was a lot tougher as my opponent tried a different strategy, playing a lot more defensively and simply shooting projectiles, rather effectively though. Although it was a lot more difficult to get around, I still won it rather convincingly, but I did lost a stock.

I continue to fight through the mental block, breathing in and out deeply in between every game and every match, stretching as much as I could, even just talking to my prospective opponents about how they’re doing. If I got lucky, which happened twice, they’d drop in the conversation which character they play, and I’d be able to think about how the matchup with my character (Donkey Kong) works in advance. I was fortunate to have a friend pick me up a second bottle of the hard lemonade, hoping that it’ll help me out again. It did a little, but I still wasn’t playing at my best. This was okay, however, because my pool ended up being extremely easy, taking first in my pool. I had even killed myself a few times, even in my pool’s grand finals, but I still won first place in the pool.

Since I had such a late pool, I actually had to jump immediately into the next round at 6pm. However they were delayed, since not all the pools had finished. Each pool from the time slot before kept pushing the other pools further and further behind schedule, so round 2 actually started a bit before 7pm. I couldn’t do anything at that time since we had no idea when we’d have to start, so I just hung around, watched the stream, and chatted with whoever was around. At this point my mental block had passed and I definitely started to play better, if not my best.

My first opponent in this round was MUCH tougher than my entire pool, combined. He used a character that was rarely used (Wii Fit Trainer), so I did not know how to play the given matchup. I was scheming a bunch of ideas before the game officially started, thinking of how to get around his projectiles, how to fight against the character’s weight and combo potential, etc. I won the first game.

This is when everything started becoming more intense. I was so fortunate to have a coach give me advice throughout the set, which is allowed. My coach was actually a professional, the best player of my character, and he gave me solid advice on how to play even stronger, because anyone could have taken that first game. My opponent’s coach does the same.

Throughout the second match, however, I can (barely) hear through my earmuffs blasting music my opponent’s coach shouting unnecessarily against me. “YOU BETTER DO THAT! DO THAT AGAIN I DARE YOU!” All of my friends around me were given him the look, but he didn’t care as he continued. I didn’t know what he was saying so it didn’t bother me, but my friends told me after the set about what happened. (“How did you not hear that?”) He talked to me after the set and he gave me credit for my skills, explaining at the same time that he does what he does just to make it more exciting for his friend.

It seemed in the end, my opponent and I were both of about equal skill, but his character had the advantage against mine. I had beaten him the first game, but he won the next two and so I dropped a set. I was fine with the loss, but I was mostly frustrated at the fact that despite the size of the tournament, my opponent was also from Socal, specifically LA, so I could have lost to him any other time, haha. I later find out that he made it to top 32, beating my coach, so I definitely agreed that he deserved to win our match.

Despite the turn of events, my next opponent was what made this tournament such a bummer. As soon as I lose my set, a friend of mine from LA comes up to me, looks at me in disapproval, and shakes his head as he announces that we fight each other next. He’s currently on Socal’s power ranking list (Socal being known as THE toughest region as a whole, but not necessarily with the most top players). A month ago he had quite some trouble fighting me; we had played quite a bit both online and offline. I told him all the secrets his character (Palutena from Kid Icarus) needed to do to beat hime; play a lot more defensively, going all out only when a hit is confirmed. After this advice, he eventually started beating me more consistently, and I myself began losing to him more so. He said he really wanted to learn this match up since he was expecting it at this tournament, and, well, he wasn’t wrong. I tried my best, but he still won the first game rather convincingly. I switch to my secondary character (Pikachu), who is known to have the advantage in the matchup but whom I hadn’t practiced with much at all. In fact, I hadn’t used Pikachu at all in Las Vegas; that’s how convinced my first loss was. Unfortunately my opponent knocks me out, giving me a hug saying he’s truly sorry that of all the people I had to lose to it was him. I hadn’t worked with anyone in Socal on that matchup as much as I did with him. I got 65th out of 1920.

I take my sorrow on a few more games, playing against even more people, but this time not for money because it felt rather risky given my current emotions. Simply playing more got my mind off the loss, and simply meeting all these different people kicked the thoughts out of my mind almost instantly.

Not too long after, I leave the venue as I had bought a ticket to watch a Cirque du Soleil show. Unfortunately none of my friends were interested in watching any of the shows, let alone for the price of the cheapest seats, so I went to check it out myself. I ended up watching “O” at Bellagio hotel. Because I was watching solo, I was assigned a seat in a rather good location, even though the price was on the cheaper end. It was on one of the balconies in around the middle of the room (by height), along a corner. The few seats in this location were aligned rather diagonally, basically just one seat per row, with the one in front of the other but at the same time almost an entire seat to the right. I loved how much space I had to myself as well, not worrying at all about where I put my belongings or anything.

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I always appreciate a good artistic, creative show, and so far “O” is definitely the best show I’ve ever seen. The entire stage was a pool; I couldn’t even fathom the thought of an indoor water show, even when it was right in front of my eyes. The entire stage could become a standard floor without leaving any traces of water, which I’m still not too sure how they did it with the floor actually raising up from the bottom of the pool. The number of tricks and stunts the performers pulled off, some actors even diving from all the way up in the ceiling straight into the pool, apparently at exactly 110 feet. The floating house in the pool. The burning man in the flame suit being used as a light as firedancers performed with their shadows in complete darkness. “O” celebrates the element of water, engaging with its magic and creativity in all forms of entertainment. It was truly, purely, magic.

And only a few weeks later did I learn that “O” was actually pronounced “eau”, meaning water in French.

When I get back to the hotel, I tell all my roommates about it and how everyone had definitely missed out. I felt like the amount I paid was a steal, given all the effort that had been put into the show: the creativity, the engineering, the stunts, the synchronization. Regards, since the tournament is over for all of us (none of us made it to top 32, but many of us made it past pools!), we all just stayed up and hung out, actually with my coach. We all played some relaxing games with him at 3 in the morning, knowning that none of us will ever have the chance again for a long while. While he’s a professional, he had come to Hawaii for a tournament back in March (while I was still there), and we all become friends from there. It was definitely a great reunion, and the fact that he decided to spend the night with the few of us Hawaiian folk meant a lot to all of us.

Day 3, Saturday

We spent half the day still in the venue, both playing games and watching the top 32, especially the top 8. Every match in the top 8 is always a show worth watching, seeing in person how two intellectuals exchange thoughts between one another, fighting for one common cause in front of thousands. It was practically being in a movie theatre, not knowing what to expect from each match. Ending at noon, we stay around and play even more games against new people, leaving the venue around 4pm.

Later that night, four of us went to watch the Jabbawockeez show at the Luxor hotel. To be frank, the hotel itself was more impressive than the show; I honestly don’t even recall much of the show. The hotel itself was in a pyramid, with a giant Sphinx outside and a very Egyptian style inside. For the show itself, the dance crew did not perform any amazing stunts (probably because they do this twice a night, every single night); it was more of a family-friendly show of optical illusions and lights. Some dancing was involved, but it was typically stunts that the average dancer can do. I personally had wanted to see another Cirque show instead, but I had hoped that watching the crew (going in disinterested) would open my mind to new things. Even my friend who convinced all of us to go join him was not impressed.

After the show, we all walk back to our hotel, this time taking much longer since we *really* started checking out the stores in the strip. We get back to our hotel, exhausted from the walking, almost two hours after the end of the show. We sit around and just play for a bit in other people’s rooms.

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After a short while, one of my friends decides to check out the Stratosphere hotel, and I join him. Everyone else was just too tired. We catch an interesting ride there and back; the personality in each bus ride is rather unexplainable, haha. The Stratosphere is a hotel at the very north end of the strip, known not for its casinos but for its rides 100 floors above, over 1000 feet in the air. They had this ride called the X-Scream, where the ride is a mix between a roller coaster and a catapult. It moves like a see-saw, rising you up as you get on the lower half, then it pushes you down to the other side in a split second, multiple times. After each fall, you hang around, kind of like being frozen in free fall, simply dangling over the entirety of Vegas. They also had this ride called the Big Shot, where it raises you exactly 160 feet in the air, rising straight up and free falling straight down rather quickly. Personally, I didn’t care about the physical thrill; I’ve experienced way more. I absolutely loved the unique view from the rides though, dangling up in the air above all the city lights while getting a 360 degree view. They lastly had a Sky Jump activity, which was basically bungee jumping, for a whopping $120 per jump. My friend and I really wanted to, but we felt that we shouldn’t do it without our other friends who texted that they wanted to, plus we were rather tired now that it was 2am. We catch the bus back to the hotel, play just a bit more Smash games, then finally sleep our last night in Vegas.

Day 4, Sunday.

Sunday was a rather uneventful day. Because most of us had stayed up late the previous two nights, everyone ended up just sleeping in; we all woke up around 10:30am. We were deciding what to do for the day for quite a while; the event itself was hosting the top 8 matches for the other games, which a few of us wanted to watch. A bit past 1pm (after more games of course), we decided to eat fancy at the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar’s Palace. For a whopping $50, all you can eat of practically every kind of food you can think of, and with quality at that! From seafood to fried food to dim sum to boba drinks, dining in itself was an experience.

The unfortunate part however was waiting for it beforehand. We had entered our phone number into this wait list machine, letting us know when we should return via text. We however didn’t get a print-out confirmation receipt when there was clearly a slot for it. We looked around, and nobody had a slip, but there were slips all over the ground so we asked the host up front. She said that they’re not printing at the moment but it will still be fine. The machine states that we only have to wait about 20 minutes. 20 minutes pass and nothing happens; we all think, “It should let us know anytime now.” Another 20 minutes later, still nothing happens, so one of us goes up to the host again letting her know of the situation. She says not to worry, it’s just a little delayed. An entire hour then passes, still without luck. We had even explored most of the hotel already, including the pool outside and all, and no luck. The same hostess recognizes us when we go up there again, having been pretty much two hours, and she just lets us in… to another line. The reason why there’s both a physical line plus the machines is still a wonder. However, waiting in the line only took about 15 more minutes. In the end, we end up paying the dinner fee instead of brunch; that’s how late we got in. It’s about $5-10 more expensive so it wasn’t a huge deal, but going early just to avoid that extra fee was our intention. Ah well, the meal itself was still definitely amazing.

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We get back to the hotel, completely stuffed. I play everyone from Hawaii one final time, not dropping a single game. My shuttle to the airport then arrives as we bid one final farewell, not seeing anyone anymore until at the earliest possibly Christmas break.


If I had to pick one word to describe my time in Vegas, it would be… invigorating. First time traveling without the family (besides the one-way ticket to San Diego), first time in Vegas, first time in this national tournament, watching all these shows, meeting all these people from everywhere, and on top of that making a name for myself and the Hawaii Smash scene. It gave me the perspective that traveling for Smash, now that I’m out of college and working full-time, let alone as an engineer, can now be more than just a dream for me. I’d be able to travel to all these states which I would most like never even think about visiting otherwise. I’d spread the word about who I am, and how strong Hawaii’s community is. I’d be able to meet all these new people, befriending them all just because of one common game of interest. Making connections across the nation, talking about Smash and really from there everything about life – Vegas opened my eyes, allowing me to see that this is possible. It. Is. Possible. No more school, no more projects, no more exams; all we have to worry about is planning our vacation days from work, and ensuring that our wallets survive.

Life is too short not to! I’m excited to see what’s to come.

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Author: Kevin Who

Developer. Designer. Smasher. Reader. Creator.

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