Tag Team Tech: Wrestling with Teens and Technology April 2016
Tournament of Champions
It can pay to be handy with a controller. For over ten years running, the largest competitive video gaming tournament in the world, EVO (short for the Evolution Championship Series) has brought the best gamers from around the world to showcase their skill for the entertainment of gaming enthusiasts. The tournament is held every summer in Las Vegas, and attracts a diverse array of competitors and spectators; the games are also broadcast online for anyone unable to attend. As competitive as EVO is, there is also an element of friendly play thrown in the mix, where gamers, regardless of experience level, meet and compete to network and build a sense of community.
EVO is considered the Super Bowl of gaming events; however, many tournaments are held all over the world, usually by universities, bars, and restaurants. It is not unusual for a young gamer to beat someone much older than they are; my thirteen-year-old nephew can easily defeat me at Madden 15. Parents may be trepidatious to let their kids participate in a tournament held in establishments frequented by adults; some tournaments may also be strictly eighteen and over. (EVO does allow gamers as young as thirteen to compete, but anyone under thirteen will need additional paperwork signed by a parent or guardian.)
Where does the library fit in? The library can act as a facilitator for bringing young gamers together, who might not meet in real life past a TV or computer screen. Gaming clubs may be rare in schools, and if they are around, they face obstacles such as lack of equipment and/or lack of staff support. Gaming can be an isolating activity; beyond online play, a young gamer might have limited resources and permissions to network with other local gamers their own age. A library can offer a safe meeting place for young gamers to practice their skill, network, and build not only community but also lasting friendships.
The Case for Gaming Events at Your Library
Many libraries are including video game programming in their repertoire, usually in the free play format, where a librarian pops a game in a console, then has attendees take turns accordingly. This type of programming is usually casual, recreational, and drop-in. Video games have been argued for as a good entry point for reluctant readers; video games allow the exercise of information literacy skills, namely reference, reading comprehension from dialogue that may be in the game, and also evaluating information in real time. The concept of trans literacy is also important, where a character from a video game is placed in another medium, such as a fiction or nonfiction book. The booming independent publishing behind Minecraft shows that there is a huge demand for reading materials that pertain directly to an interest. Minecraft books are so popular that Amazon.com has given Minecraft its own genre, many of the titles holding the #1 best seller spot in other genres. Some librarians have been known to passively leave video game reference books around at video game events, allowing teens in a program to examine their in-real-life environment for possible clues that may help them succeed at a task, just as if they were playing a video game.
According to libsuccess.org, public libraries across the country have already been hosting video game tournament events for kids and teens, usually on a monthly or yearly basis, and whenever school is not in session, such as spring/summer intercessions and early release days. Library hosted video game tournaments can be high-energy blockbuster events that cause much excitement and buzz. Some catchy print and online marketing, as well as promotion, during school outreach, can bring in potential competitors that may have never been to the library before. Additionally, a librarian can interact with the participants as emcee as he/she moderates the tournament, building rapport and positive relationships with teens. As the organizer for the Super Smash Brothers Tournament for Madison Public Library, I am already getting emails asking about scheduled dates, and what the competition might look like for this year’s summer tournament, and it’s barely March. They want to know what they will be up against now, even though competition is months away.
What the Teens are Playing These Days
The unfortunate part of writing about technology is that almost every article written on technology is dated, this one included. Changing gaming trends and the development of more advanced next-generation gaming equipment will have a major impact on what a tournament might look like as soon as few years from now. A well-made video game with a large following can turn the tide of format obsolescence. A good example of this is Super Smash Brothers Brawl, which came out in 2008 for the Nintendo Wii console. Because of its great range of characters and accessibility, Super Smash Brothers Brawl is, to this day, widely accepted in the gaming community due to its familiarity, affordability, and replay value.
There is an advantage to using older games like Smash Bros. Brawl in library tournaments; usually the older a game is, the more likely it’s played by a larger audience, which can level the playing field between older and younger players. A newer game, like the newly released Super Smash Bros. WiiU (also known as Smash 4), has the appeal of being hyped and current, but may, at first, be unaffordable and inaccessible, due to the fact that it requires the next-generation WiiU console to play. (As for switching games, I left that decision to last year’s competitors for our yearly tournament, and they unanimously decided to move to the new Smash 4—though it’s important to note that numbers in our attendance dropped from 2014.)
Fighting games, like Smash Bros, the Marvel vs. Capcom franchise, Injustice, and Street Fighter, also have a great tournament appeal due to the fact that these games are wildly popular, matches are quick (usually four minutes or less), rules are easy to draft, and the matches are easy to moderate. Racing games, such as Mario Kart, are an occasional pick; sports games are also a popular tournament choice, such as Madden, NBA 2K, NHL, or FIFA. Quarters should be short and participation should definitely have a cap—or you’ll be stuck with a very long tournament.
What Does a Library Tournament Look Like?
Like any library program, planning a tournament takes time, staffing, a budget, and equipment. In addition, you should have a thorough understanding of the game being played, as well as the tournament rules, whether you write them yourself or borrow rules from an existing tournament. Time is most crucial as video game tournaments have the potential to be lengthy, depending on the game, and the number of competitors. For fighting games such as Super Smash, the stock (also known as lives) should be placed on a limit, usually no more than four. You have the option of limiting the match by time; four minutes is a fair medium. If you cap participants at twenty, keep in mind that you will need ample time for as many matches as needed; for Super Smash, four hours for twenty players is a good estimate. Sports games, like Madden 15, would need four hours for ten players, assuming you limit quarters to three minutes. Provide ample time for equipment set-up, registration, the tournament itself, and equipment takedown. Also, remember to secure your space early, as meeting and programming rooms can get booked rather quickly in the summer.
Rules are perhaps one of the most frequently asked about and contested aspects of gaming tournaments. In Super Smash, you have the option of toggling items on or off; items can appear randomly during game play and can drastically change the course of the game. Some tournaments allow items on, arguing that it levels the playing field, especially when it comes to younger kids in tournaments playing against older kids. The argument against items is that matches can be won or lost, not due to skill, but rather the luck of coming across the right item at the right time. Whatever rules you decide, make sure they are posted well in advance of your tournament, both on paper and online; it’s also okay to let your competitors decide the fairness of certain rules. For example, the competitors in last year’s Smash Tournament unanimously decided against items, citing that with items off, the tournament would have a competitive “official” feel.
For my Super Smash and sports game tournaments, I have the first thirty minutes scheduled for arrival and registration; having registration on a first-come-first-served basis allows competitors to arrive early while allowing other competitors a window of time to arrive. Registered players can then free play practice against each other until it is time for the tournament to begin. If you’d like to offer prizes at your tournament (perhaps donated or purchased from local businesses), now is the time to remind your competitors that glory isn’t the only thing for which they are playing. When it is finally game time, you can make the announcement that it’s time to put controllers down and wait for names to be called for an exciting tournament.
Multiple Literacy Instruction – Bracketology and the Double Elimination Rule
March Madness means brackets are flying around everywhere—whether it’s basketball teams, ice cream flavors, bands, or books, you’ll see people filling out and eliminating from their personal brackets accordingly. Holding a video game tournament is a great opportunity to teach children, teens, and curious parents about how to read a bracket. The website challonge.com allows you to register players and shuffle seeds; the site will then automatically organize a bracket for you, where you can then select winners, changing the bracket as the tournament progresses. Challonge will also generate a link for your bracket, in case any tournament fans want to keep real-time track on their personal devices.
Most video game tournaments employ a double elimination rule; the double elimination bracket operates differently than a single elimination bracket, like the NCAA Tournament. Double elimination works well for games such as Super Smash, as it allows for participants to lose once; it is after losing two matches straight, the participant is officially eliminated. When a participant loses a match, they are moved down to a “losers” bracket (sometimes called the “second chance” bracket) and defeated players will start to play against each other. Undefeated players remain in the “winners” bracket until no more players remain; the winner of the losers’ bracket then faces the winner of the winners’ bracket. The winner of the losers’ bracket can still win the whole tournament if they defeat the winners’ bracket player twice. Talk about a comeback victory.
In a single elimination bracket, once a player loses, that’s it. The winners keep playing each other until only one remains. This rule works better for sports games, just because of how long they take. The incentive for an eliminated player to stick around and watch the rest of the tournament may be low. Double-elimination adds excitement in the sense that everyone loves a good underdog story.
Even if you aren’t a video game enthusiast, after watching some matches, you will start to notice players’ techniques, personalities, and strategies and realize that competitive gaming is very much like a sport. You will start forming commentaries in your head and perhaps imagine yourself as either a color commentator or play-by-play person. By hosting a tournament at the library, you are giving young gamers a taste of what could be the future fame of winning a global tournament such as EVO.
Many librarians also identify as gamers (yours truly included) and not only hold a personal interest in tournament programming but also acknowledge the intrinsic value of having young gamers gather at the library. The relationships teens build through gaming events could potentially last a lifetime. Teens learn skills such as interpersonal networking and good sportsmanship. They can also exercise multiple literacies and even apply reference skills. Young gamers are passionate about their skills and need an inclusive environment that appreciates those skills and specific interests. What better place to experience the thrill of gaming than at your local library?
Janice Scurio is a teen services librarian in Madison, Wisconsin. With an extensive background in information technology, she has served as an expert advisor for other libraries looking to implement more youth STEM programming, such as Minecraft and LEGO robotics. When not at the library, she enjoys karaoke, eating sushi, running marathons, and making fun electronic music.