Fight Night at the MADE in Oakland brings gamers together

A hallway sign points the way to the new MADE space in downtown Oakland.

A hallway sign points the way to the new MADE space in downtown Oakland.

In the ruins of some post-apocalyptic world—surrounded by rubble, flattened cars, and bombed-out buildings—two competitors stand ten paces apart, poised and ready, knees bent slightly, fists clenched. The reason is vague, but the goal is obvious—vanquish your foe, or die trying.

At once, they spring into action, lunging toward each other. From the left, a tall, slender figure with white hair and red trench coat. From the right, a hulking ball of muscle wrapped in skin-tight yellow and blue, with three razor-sharp blades protruding from each hand. They meet with a flash, a blur of frenzied movement. The trench coat billows behind a high-arching leap and razor claws strike an unsheathed sword as both fighters trade blows. Floating above, two red bars track each fighter’s life and strength. Exclamatory text pops up out of nowhere, commenting on the action. “Awesome!” “Cool!” “Flurry!”

The entire world is contained in a 4”x4” square of light projected onto a flat, white wall; the action dictated by hyperactive thumbs mashing a series of buttons on handheld controllers. All night, fighters will come and go, the post-apocalyptic backdrop will change, and, in the end, one person will be crowned the victor of the first “Fight Night” video game tournament at Oakland’s new Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment.

Situated in a spacious room on the second floor of a downtown office building, the MADE (as it’s called by fans and devotees) feels like a convivial clubhouse despite the fluorescent lights, white walls, and otherwise corporate setting. Folding chairs flank the animated wall, in front of which a lively audience of a dozen or so eat Doritos, drink Coke and watch the battles unfold.

Online gaming and high-end home consoles have made arcades a thing of the past, but the MADE is bringing videogames back into the public. Bay Area gamers now have a place to play and be together, something they haven’t had in Oakland for a long time. A popular Oakland arcade, The Oak Tree, closed about five years ago. “People really want to play,” Michael McIntosh, a museum volunteer who helped organize Fight Night, says. “So, it’s nice to have a spot.”

Despite only being open for just a few months, it’s clear the MADE already has a following.

Contestants and audience members watch a battle unfold.

Contestants and audience members watch a battle unfold.

The bout on the wall continues for a frantic 60 seconds, before one fatal blow is struck. Dante, the trench coat-wearing character, controlled by tournament-entrant identified on-screen only as “TJ,” performs a series of three flips before driving his sword through his opponent’s chest. Wolverine, controlled by a contestant who goes by “Kentomaika,” his red health bar now empty, soars backwards in an exaggerated death spiral. The screen flashes “K.O.” The crowd erupts.

Off to the side, perpendicular to the main wall, the two real-life competitors sit in front of a 25-inch TV. Duel over, they turn toward each other and limply shake hands. Kentomaika, a thin Asian man in his early twenties, unplugs his controller, stands and walks to the back of the room, defeated. TJ—tall, Hispanic, twenty-something—smiles, stands and begins rehashing his victory with a friend. He will move on to the semifinals. Tonight, the MADE’s audience is mostly people in their early twenties, a mix of races, and completely male. Glasses and braces are common.

Founded last year by Alex Handy, Oakland resident and technology journalist, to help preserve all kinds of video games and digital art, the MADE raised $20,000 through a Kickstarter campaign. That money helped move the museum into its current space last December. TVs and computers, each displaying different video games and consoles from all eras, ring the room. Handy and the non-profit museum are starting small, holding weekly events, like Fight Night, and programming classes, but hope to one day open a full-blown, world-class museum showcasing the history of digital entertainment.

Monitors ring the walls at the MADE. Games of all genres and eras are available to play.

Monitors ring the walls at the MADE. Games of all genres and eras are available to play.

McIntosh explained the idea behind tonight’s tournament. “In communities like this, everyone has a common enjoyment. You can always compete with each other,” he said. “But it’s nice to come together and have fun.”

Every Tuesday night at the MADE is Fight Night. “Fighters” (fighting video games) take center stage over shooting games, role-playing games and all other genres. Normally, people compete just for fun. But this particular Tuesday night was the first ever cash prize tournament—17 people had paid a $7 entry fee to compete in the double elimination “Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3” tournament on Playstation 3.

McIntosh and Fight Night Director Manuel Tovar only had two weeks to promote the event, primarily on “fighting forums” online. So, all things considered, they’re happy with the turnout. “This is just the first one,” McIntosh said. “I can see it getting bigger.”

Tonight’s action, in addition to being projected onto one of the MADE’s walls, is also being streamed live on the Internet. Over the post-apocalyptic scene of mayhem, an announcer implores the seven online viewers, “If you know how to play the game, you gotta’ get here. Come, put your name in the game.” He spins around the room counting the number of people out loud, “Twenty-five, twenty-six. We have twenty-seven people right here. Don’t waste your time sitting at home!”

Sean, an Oakland resident, tournament-entrant and volunteer at the MADE, echoes that sentiment. “I live for these few hours when I can come down here and win my two matches. Playing online is fine,” he said, “but this is way more fun.”

That feeling seems to be the consensus; the rowdy crowd is fully enjoying the show, happy to be with a group of other gamers instead of playing at home alone. Every few minutes, they erupt into loud cheers. After each match they excitedly talk strategy and recount the latest highlights.

To the uninitiated outsider, the action on the wall is mostly a blur, the crowd’s reaction a mystery. One observer, who normally plays shooters, not fighters, says, “All I see is flashes. They all yell and I look and I don’t know what they’re yelling at. I don’t know how they follow what’s happening.”

McIntosh, standing nearby, hears the comment and replies, “Hours of playing, man.”

Now, video gamers in Oakland have a place to spend hours playing together.

The MADE is located at 610 16th St. Suite 230, Oakland CA 94612, and online at http://themade.org/.

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