Corridors of vintage box TVs crackled with the nostalgic sight of Super Smash Bros Melee. Hundreds of players gripped their controllers tight as they keep an eye on their mains for a close victory.
Two large theatre screens loomed over contestants on stage, as Fox’s “fire” cry echoed regularly across the hall for Red Bull’s second AdrenaLAN eSports event at Toronto’s Enercare Centre.
RGB peripherals let PC gamers work in the dark. Headsets muffled the sounds of other tournaments happening around them as their attention stayed on neighbouring teammates.
Players kept quick fingers over their W,S,A,D keys, staying in motion from gunfire in tight matches on Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
Along a row of computers, Overwatch player Charlie “Pearl” Bradwell sat with her team in a series of PUG (Pick-Up Group) matches with new players.
“It’s exciting, it’s nerve-wracking because there’s a lot of people watching so the expectations for a good player are a lot higher” said Bradwell, who ran support for her team Threat Level Midnight in her first AdrenaLAN experience.
“It’s a lot bigger than what we’re used to. We usually play at the Hive Esports Bar, so this is definitely a more populated area,” she laughed.
Fond memories ran through world record speedrunner and streamer David “GrandPOObear” Hunt when he saw such teams run matches with each other at the event’s BYOC (Bring Your Own Computer) stations.
“That’s real gaming right there,” said Hunt, calling back to simple meetups when friends hosted LAN parties together in the same room.
“It’s been so long since I’ve seen that now, and it’s just been awesome to see guys just like high-fiving after CS:GO kills and everything. It’s been really, really great.”
GrandPOOBear was also joined by Canadian speedrunners MajinPhil (The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask), BawkbaSoup (Resident Evil 2 Remake) and Mitchflowerpower (Super Mario Bros. 3) as they played through a lineup of speedruns in front of audiences.
But guests were also given power over GrandPOOBear’s latest run for Super Mario Bros. 3 and could throw curveballs such as increasing enemies, shuffling power-ups and even reversing the game’s controls.
Despite spending six-to-eight hours a day practicing over a screen, Hunt says there’s little to no prep over what Torontonians would do to push his skills.
“I’m hoping for the niceness from Canadians because there are some positive effects they can do,” he said.
“But if history has shown me anything, it’s that they definitely want to throw as many Boss Basses on a screen and see if I can avoid them. That’s what I’m expecting.”
AdrenaLAN’s two-day event also included a hackathon for developers creating solutions for game experiences.
Tancred Yip guided his team towards building an AI machine to analyze chat history for streamers. For Yip, the idea came from wanting to spot the special kinds of interests players and viewers had for hours.
“Being able to play a game and know what you’re saying is impacting what the streamers are saying will be important,” said Yip, whose team also attended the first AdrenaLAN’s hackathon and won first place for adding special effects to real-world toys through VR.
Since graduating from Automation Engineering at McMaster University in 2016, Yip says returning to AdrenaLAN lets him touch more on development projects with others.
“I think the most important part about a hackathon is having a diverse team, not thinking that you need just developers on them,” he said.
“It’s more about being able to have people with different views, different ideas so that we can innovate.”
Red Bull’s event also started exactly a year since Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was released on Dec. 7, 2018.
This also expanded the options for competitors looking to show their skills over 1v1 or Doubles in new and classic games. A birthday bash for professional Smash player Joseph “Mang0” Marquez also let fans see him play in person as they shared a slice of his cake.
“Smash Bros. will always be there for you,” said Melee and Ultimate tournament organizer Arian “TheCrimsonBlur” Fathieh.
While last year’s AdrenaLAN was created differently in size and scale, he says the latest event felt like a “foothold” and marks the start of an annual tradition for bringing Toronto’s Smash players together.
“It makes me feel like I’m contributing and being part of something bigger than myself,” Fathieh said.
As a friend of Marquez, he also dedicated the Smash tournament as a birthday bash after missing out on a past celebration at a Philadelphia Eagles game years ago.
“I couldn’t make it. I felt bad about it,” said Fathieh, who since vowed to make it up to him by having both Marquez and Toronto’s own Smash community together at AdrenaLAN.
“So we hit our goals. We mostly want to see for him and for his fans to make a celebration that feels genuine and good,” he said.
“I think most people are really happy.”