Competing in the Wii Games Summer 2010 Grand Championships afforded me the opportunity to meet a number of people who went on to win the event.  Several Wii  Champions read Ripten and have commented on a few of my previous stories.  I was lucky enough to meet/befriend people on several teams and would like to thank everyone who took the time to answer my questions.

Champions interviewed:

Matt H.  Team- The Broskis.  2nd Place Adult Division Champion.

Michael, Amy, Amanda, and Sean.  Team- The Hooligans.  1st Place Family Division Champions.

TJ Harris .  Team- Double Team.  1st Place Adult Division Champion.

Frank Nguyen and Zach Hendrix.  Team- The Young Calves.  1st Place Teen Division Champions.

Jonathan Meyer and Jimmy Grist.  Team- Waterfield.  3rd Place Adult Division Champions.

Doug Hutchison and Connor Hutchison.  Team- DrDougandConninator.  1st Place Parent Child Division Champions.

Vinny Necco.  Team- Team Super Penguin.  3rd Place Family Division Champions.

How did you hear about Wii Games Summer 2010 and how did you and your partner(s) decide to team up?

Matt H.- Mike got an email from Club Nintendo and it was obvious to us we would make a great team. Unfortunately, our ages pushed us into the adult category, as opposed to the Teen.

The Hooligans- Relatives and friends played in the early weeks of the competition.  I thought they had zero chance, but after looking at the scores from the first couple of weeks, we decided it was worth trying.

TJ Harris- I got an email from Nintendo. I tossed the idea of competing around for a few weeks, but didn’t decide to actually take it seriously until a few weeks before the last day of the Six Flags event. Chris and I have always wanted to play in a team tournament, so this was a perfect opportunity for us.

Frank Nguyen- Well, my sister thought that we could win if we joined at six flags. So since Zach is my best friend since pre-k, there wasn’t anyone else that I would’ve chosen.

Zach Hendrix- I was at Frank’s house when we decided to go to Six Flags Great America, where we qualified.

Jonathan Meyer- I heard about the competition from an email that Nintendo sent me and so I called up my best friend and best gamer I know, Jimmy, to play.  We have known each other since 3rd grade and grew up in the same neighborhood together (the neighborhood is called “Waterfield” hence the team name) so naturally he was the perfect choice.

Jimmy Grist- We regularly read gaming blogs, so we saw cursory announcements there. Just PR stuff–”Hey readers, this is happening.” We also got emails from Nintendo advertising it because of our Club Nintendo memberships.

Doug Hutchison- We got an email from Nintendo on the day before the competitions began.  Connor’s Mario Kart skill was high to begin with and I’m the other video game player in the house so he (and his mother) signed us up.

Vinny Necco- I received an E-mail from Nintendo telling us about the event, my wife thought it would be a great idea to do something over the summer that was centered around our son. Seeing as how Nick (Team Partner) is always playing games with or against us anyway it was an easy choice to draft him onto our team.

Chris Mrozek (left) and TJ Harris (right) of Double Team.

What game featured at the event did you feel was the most challenging for your team and why?

Matt H.- Basketball was probably most challenging for us, since we weren’t already good at the game. We had to practice a bit, but luckily basketball was weighted a lot less than the other events.

The Hooligans- We become dysfunctional during the Super Mario Coin grab.  During our first try of the LA event, my 6 year old got mad, started throwing turtle shells at us and tried to push us off the boat!  We calmed him down in time to make it through.

TJ Harris- Going into the event, we were really dreading Wii Sports Resort Bowling. Every time we thought we had it down, we would play again and do absolutely terrible. There was no consistency. Coming out of the event, we really disliked Wii Sports Resort 3 Point Contest. We still don’t have a solid strategy for that game…

Frank Nguyen- Basketball was definitely the most challenging because we couldn’t find any effective way of scoring.

Zach Hendrix- Hula Hoop was definitely the most difficult game, because there is no definite form, so it was just a bunch of experimentation to figure out hat we were each comfortable with.

Jonathan Meyer- I think the most challenging game was the Hula Hoop just because it’s very hard to practice it and improve your score.  It seems like with all of the other games you can practice and get a feel for what motion you need to do or see how the level plays and improve, but with Hula Hoop you either have it or you don’t and it isn’t very easy to figure out exactly how the game senses the hula hoop motion.

Jimmy Grist- In practice leading up to the event, it feels like we had a different challenge to crack every week. In the beginning it was Hula Hoop for a bit, then Mario Kart, then bowling, and so on. Every time we got really good at something, it made us realize we could be a lot better in the other events. We just had to figure them out.

Doug Hutchison- I say it was the basketball.  Connor is really a wiz at Mario Kart and he and I are really pretty good at Super Mario.  But while I managed to get fairly good at bowling (but nothing like the other teams seemed to), and Hula Hooping was kind of easy as well, I never managed to get more than a couple baskets higher than the 60-64 or so I managed to through in the first weekend.  I mean, hundreds of games and four weeks later, it was still 60 – 64 baskets.

Vinny Necco- Bowling was the most challenging game for us. Trying to coordinate which team members should team up and only playing half a game threw off any pre-planned strategy.

From left to right, Amanda, Michael (in the back), Sean (in the front), and Amy of The Hooligans.

How did you feel about the rule changes announced at the Grand Championships?

Matt H.- The rule changes were a great twist. It meant the winning team would have to have 2 strong players in each category.

The Hooligans- Flight got in late the previous night so we didn’t find out until the next morning.  We didn’t mind the changes, but it would have been best if they gave a week or so notice to the finalists.  I would have all team members bowl a single game rather than split the frames.

TJ Harris- Chris (my partner) and I started off only practicing our respected games, and then working on NSMB Wii together. We decided that we should both practice every game a few days before we left for LA. We both had our main games we each focused on, but the extra bit of practice beforehand really made a big difference.

Frank Nguyen- I was actually glad that they announced the rule changes because I hadn’t practiced that much prior to the event. So if everyone else were practicing intensely, then I would’ve been left behind. Phew!

Zach Hendrix- It didn’t really matter, we were confident in our strategies either way.

Jonathan Meyer- I thought the rule changes added a good challenge to the competition because if they would have just kept everything the same then it wouldn’t really be that exciting, and the team with the highest score for the preliminary events would just have to repeat what they had already done to win it all.  Because they had every team member compete in everything it truly showed which team was the best and not who was specialized to just one or two games.

Jimmy Grist- We were actually a bit excited that everyone had to do all five events. Meyer and I had preempted that possibility, and trained to a competitive level in the events that weren’t our own. We were just 2 or 3 seconds behind each other in Mario Kart, just 5 baskets back in b-ball.

Doug Hutchison- Even though the rule changes made the semi-finals a little easier for everyone, I found the sudden changes not only hard to recover from but also incredibly stressful on everyone, especially the children.  People who had spent, in some cases, a month just practicing the one or two things they did suddenly had only 24 - 48 hours to learn how to do everyone competently.  People who should have taken an opportunity to relax a bit after winning the semi-finals were driven back to their rooms trying to get their weakest links trained up to a point where they even stood a change.

I just don’t like the idea of being “blindsided” by rules that should have been present the day we all started (or, at the least, the rules should have stated clearly from the beginning that there could, and would, be changes) so we could have worked on being better rounded and less specialized.

It is also fairly obvious that the Nintendo did not take into account the extra time it would take to play all the extra games they had introduced with these rule changes.  Each competition from the semi-finals to the grand championship ran far longer than had been scheduled for and this ultimately pushed the award ceremonies so late that many of the competitors were having trouble finding dinner afterwards.

Vinny Necco- We understood why the rules were changed and were a little excited about the new set-up. Sadly we didn’t think to bring our Wii along to L.A. with us, so the only practice time we had was in the event tent itself.

Matt H. (left) and Mike H. (right) of The Broskis.

What did you think about the Mario Kart Wii Final Four Showdown rules which pitted everyone against each other on Coconut Mall with items set to aggressive?

Matt H.- First off, Mario Kart Wii is my strongest game. I got 1:52:5xx for my time trial on Mushroom Gorge in competition (were we couldn’t use glitched) which ended up being the highest posted score. My record was 1:51:936 and I haven’t met anyone at competition who could get that low (that I know of, there could be some). My brother and I have at least a one star ranking on each Mario Kart license. As for online play, my rating as peaked at 9990 (lost a race on Luigi Circuit when it mattered). We don’t pay attention to the ranks anymore, but it’s easy for us to get them up to the 9000′s. Basically my point is that I’m a very experienced Mario Kart player, so I have some good comments about Mario Kart that should be taken seriously.

First I will address the choice of level. Coconut mall tends to be the favorite of many new Mario Kart players, and experienced ones label it as Front Running course. That means it’s a track that favors good players who have a good line (can complete the time trial very quickly). However, when it was switched to aggressive items, sandbagging became a very effective tactic. Players could slow down to 4th place, get really good items, and take the shortcut. Sandbagging takes more luck and less skill, since you can rely on powerful items. So basically my point is that Coconut Mall isn’t my favorite course, but it was a valid pick by Nintendo for the competition. It’s also nice for the super adult teams since it’s hard to fall off or get turned around. As for aggressive items, it made the race really close, most races were with all players finishing with in seconds of each other. Items should have been on Strategic, or at least Balanced to see which team as more skill when it comes to racing, bananas, mushrooms, and shells. It doesn’t take much skill to hit someone with a blue shell (3 blue shells appeared in the 2 races in the adult category). Mario Kart was also weighted very high, 1,000 points between each place. We were talking to the other finalists before competition and we all agreed that Mario Kart would decide the winner, and since it was on aggressive it would be based on random luck. And that happened to be the case. But, if Nintendo’s goal was to provide a close, exciting race for the public to watch, they did achieve that. If their goal was to figure out who the best Mario Kart player, aggressive items is not the way to do that.

The Hooligans- I should first say that our team clearly benefited from this switch, although 3/4 of us are pretty good at Mushroom Gorge time trials (<2 minutes). There is no doubt a level of randomness in VS. mode (e.g., blue turtle shell at the end of the third lap), but those who play Kart online know that the players with the best ratings (>8000) tend to win anyway.

Overall, the Wii shouldn’t be just about individuals playing their own game (even if standing next to each other).  I think the VS. Kart mode made things more dramatic for the finals. To be honest, I would like to see even more of this, such as a round of 2 vs. 2 competitive coin grab rather than cooperative.

TJ Harris- This is definitely controversial between all of the competitors. On one hand, it was a really exciting match for everyone to watch. On the other hand, there’s definitely a lot of random things that can take place in a versus match (especially with Aggressive Weapons). Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a ton of skill involved, but I can understand why this was a frustrating change for people who focused all of their time on practicing Time Trials. The scoring in this was definitely unbalanced. All of the competitors agreed beforehand that if one team could pull off 1st place in both races, they would pretty much be guaranteed to win. In the Adult Competition, everyone got the same place in each race (Double Team 1st both times, Broski’s 2nd, Waterfield 3rd, Gold Team 4th).

Frank Nguyen- I’m not sure if that’s the way I would’ve done it because of the randomness, but I thought it was a clever spin to the entire competition.

Zach Hendrix- I was excited for it, not to sound like an egomaniac, but I knew I could win in Mario Kart in a head-to-head race. (The night Saturday night, I beat Frank while only using one hand)

Jonathan Meyer- Along with everyone else, I think this was the only negative aspect of the entire competition.  While it seems like a fun and exciting way to spice things up, it really leaves the competition up to chance and who can get the right item at the right time.  I would have even been ok with doing the Mario Kart event this way if they would have just had a better scoring system instead of just 3000, 2000, 1000, 0 for 1st through 4th.  Because we have all made it to the finals, we are all very good at the games and 1000 points is very difficult to make up in the other events.  Every other event had some sort of partial credit in the way of scoring so even if your overall score in the event was worse than someone else’s, you might only be behind by 100 points instead of 1000.  It seemed like the people running the competition didn’t quite realize how much of an impact their new scoring system for Mario Kart would affect the overall scores.  One alternative to scoring could have been a 2 race VS. match in which the game assigns points for each place with the winner getting 15 points, 2nd getting 9 points, 3rd getting 4 points, and 4th getting 1 point, and then multiplying your in-game points by 100 to be consistent with all of the scores of the other games.  While this still would have introduced a wide gap between 1st and 4th, it would have been smaller than the actual scoring system and I’m sure that if some knowledge of statistics were implemented in creating a balanced scoring for the game, it would have been a more satisfying event and competition as a whole.

Jimmy Grist- There was a problem there, but it wasn’t rule-based. The revamped scoring system was myopic, to say the least. To say the most, utter garbage. In time trials, getting one second faster than the competition meant +100 points. In the Versus battle, though, the places were separated by 1,000 points (1st = 3,000; 2nd = 2,000; 3rd = 1,000; 4th = 0). And these races happened twice. If you look at scores from other Final Four events, all of the adult teams competed at a hairsplitting level: differences of just 15 bowling pins (10 pts. each), or 20 hula hoop rotations (10 pts. each), a few sunk baskets (25 pts. each), or just 30 coins (again, 10 pts. each). For them to deliver 1,000 point leads–from any event, let alone something so notoriously chance-driven as Mario Kart–was, honestly, asinine.

Our adult category was especially unfortunate: in both races, the same teams got the same places. So Double Team got 1st twice, the Broskis got 2nd twice, and so on down the line. Before those races the leadership gap was extremely close, and being shaken up after every event. After those races? Overall 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th were separated by a snug (and insurmountable) 2,000 points in both directions. Everyone knew it was over at that point. We didn’t even need to play NSMB at the end. It didn’t change any placing on the scoreboard. My team, Waterfield, perhaps climbed 400 points closer to the 2nd place Broskis. That was it. The scoring could’ve been more interesting, in theory, if our teams didn’t repeat their placings in both races.

tl;dr version – The Mario Kart VS. scoring was uncalculated and bunk. I realize that might sound bitter, but all of the finalists agreed about it a day before we ever competed.

Doug Hutchison- When I heard about it I knew instantly that this would be a major problem and, as I spoke to the competitors after the games were over, it was obvious that every fear that I had about doing this turned out to be true.  A good drop in the last two areas you can pick one up from caused the front runner to be pushed into second or even third in half a dozen races of competitors that I spoke with (including ours) and constant complaints about second place racers getting things like Stars while third place races were plagued by constant Bananas just prove how chance dominates over skill in a game more focused on fun than expertise and, therefore, probably should not be included in a serious competition.

Vinny Necco- We didn’t mind the change (even if as a team we feel MarioKart cost us the gold) The problem we had was with the set-up. Having played every game and every previous race on a full screen, at eye level, up to that point, we felt that playing on a 4 way split and looking down at the screen really made it difficult for the final four showdown.

Jonathan Meyer (left) and Jimmy Grist (right) of Team Waterfield.

If you read/commented in it, how did you find my original post on Ripten about the Wii Games Summer 2010 NYC Main Event helpful when training or competing at the Wii Games Summer 2010?

Matt H.- I did tons of web searching for “Wii Games Summer 2010″ and found it. It had a decent search rank.

The Hooligans- It was quite helpful to hear about your experience (and others).  The Six Flags site was unexpectedly different–no practice site, tee-shirts, or prizes (except for the blue pins).

TJ Harris- It was really the only site we could find online that had competitors sharing information about the events to come. It was very helpful, and we’re really glad you had the site.

Frank Nguyen- I did not find this article until after the Finals, sorry!

Zach Hendrix- I didn’t read or comment on it.

Jonathan Meyer- I originally found the original post by just doing a Google search for the competition just trying to find out more about how things were going to be at the events across the country.  The biggest help of the original post was finding out things like what control schemes were available in Mario Kart and what level would be played in NSMBW, and also just what the competition area would look like so we could recreate it at home in order to practice and not have any surprises when we went to compete.  It was also fun to hear everyone getting ready and asking advice on things and giving their perspective on the whole thing.

Jimmy Grist- The post was a lot of help. It confirmed for us what specific levels we’d be doing in our own regional event, and commenters helped us keep track of what other people could pull off.

Doug Hutchison- Given the relatively vague and hard to find information that was available from Nintendo (specifically the actual rules we would be using in the competition), I found every scrap of information that I could find on the web, specifically Ripten, to be a deeply valuable asset.  Also, the generally friendly nature of almost everyone I’ve spoken with at Ripten, gave the whole month of practice a feeling of “community”.

Vinny Necco- I did read your original blog about the event, I found it very fun and informative. It’s easy to see you had a great time and you think Nintendo did a fantastic job!

Zach Hendrix (left) and Frank Nguyen (right) of The Young Calves.

What did you enjoy most about the Wii Games Summer 2010 experience?

Matt H.- I loved all of it. It was super exciting and Nintendo did an amazing job putting it on! The only thing I can complain about is the Mario Kart in the finals, but everything else was really well done. The Free Play area was great for the public.

The Hooligans- Meeting everyone at the finals.

TJ Harris- Overall, the people were the best part about it. Everyone Chris and I met were EXTREMELY nice, even the main teams we were competing against. We left with a ton of new friendships, and a lot of great stories. We couldn’t have asked for better people to share the experience with.

Another great thing about the people was the variety in ages. It was so cool seeing people of all ages playing video games together and sharing strategies. I watched a 5 year old teach a senior citizen how to play Mario Kart. When I was a kid, it seemed impossible to find anyone outside of my age to play video games with.

Frank Nguyen- Meeting all of the people that were there. Everyone was so nice during the competition and the locals were even better! Haha, but for sure, I’m glad that everyone played with such a great attitude (for the most part).

Zach Hendrix- Just the whole atmosphere of the tent, all the games imaginable, and everyone was so nice. It was the best days of my life.

Jonathan Meyer- I just enjoyed the atmosphere of all of these people from all over the country coming together to play Nintendo games.  It was very cool to be able to play all of the unreleased games and to try out new games for myself to decide if I wanted to purchase them instead of just watching videos and reading reviews.

Jimmy Grist- Well, as a competitor, it was rather jaw dropping to be flown somewhere for a weekend vacation by Nintendo (even if it did come out as a mostly business trip with us training in our hotel room). From an anybody perspective, it was great to play those unreleased games without having to deal with convention-sized lines. I found Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Donkey Kong Country Returns wonderful, largely because of the co-op in either.

Doug Hutchison- Wow, this is a hard one.

The environment…a mix between a rave and a gamers’ Xanadu was spectacular.

Nintendo’s staff…almost painfully nice and friendly.

But I would have to say that the competitors themselves were, without a doubt, the nicest and most friendly group of people I’ve ever meet.

Vinny Necco- The entire experience was fantastic, the best part about it was having our entire family together to share everything. It may sound cliche or corny but the fact that we spent that time with each other making unforgettable memories was truly priceless. Finally meeting everyone we “spoke” to on the Ripten blog was a nice bonus too.

From left to right, Nick Larsen, Damian, Jessica Necco, and Vinny Necco of Team Super Penguin!

What improvements would you like to see in any upcoming Wii Games?

Matt H.- Maybe if it was more widely advertised before competition and in more locations, they could get some more great gamers out there. The mall participants were generally more interested in the Free Play area than the competition area.

The Hooligans- More time to get travel & accommodations set up before the finals.  They were clearly rushed at the end.  2 weeks of extra time before the finals would have helped.

TJ Harris- I don’t even care what the games are, just as long as they have another one of these tournaments! It was such a great experience.

Frank Nguyen- I thought that Nintendo outdid themselves! The only thing I can think of is setting up the event in a warmer environment.

Zach Hendrix- I’m not Nintendo, and I had the time of my life, no changes are needed.

Jonathan Meyer- If you mean improvements to upcoming competitions then I would say don’t play VS. mode in Mario Kart.

Jimmy Grist- I’ll just echo my earlier sentiment: it’s fine to change events, and it’s fine to modify scoring. But put some thought into it. Don’t just pick big round numerical scores that destroy an otherwise super close competition.

I won’t even say “No Mario Kart Versus!”, because the last Teen category race was an absolute nail biter. Thrilling to watch.

Oh, and don’t hold it the same weekend as PAX.

Doug Hutchison- I would prefer a definitive set of rules earlier (like several weeks before if not right there at the beginning).  I know that I’ve said this before, but it’s a real pet peeve of mine.  If your going to compete, you have to know the rules your competing under before you even begin training.

Also, a larger area of dedicated Wii stations for the competitors to practice at would have been nice.  This would not have affected Connor or me or any of the other people who both brought their Wii’s with them and were able to hook them up, but, I feel that those who could not were put at a slight disadvantage especially given the rule changes.

Vinny Necco- I’d like to see a wider variety of games to compete in, and maybe another category for kids just starting out. Perhaps a “Parent/Juniors” category where one member has to be between 3-6?

Doug Hutchison (left) and Connor Hutchison (right) of Team DrDougandConninator.

Connor this question is for you.  What made you decide to give the Black Wii, a portion of your prize, to Jessica on the ToadallyAwesome team and how did that feel?

Connor Hutchison- I decided to give them the Black Wii because she told me that all she wanted was to get a black Wii, even if she got second place. I mean, they made it to the finals, and they made it to the top 4 teams. To have made it that far, she deserved more than just walking away with a $25 gift card and a Monopoly game.

Any final comments you’d like to make regarding the Wii Games Summer 2010?

Matt H.- It was a blast. I really hope Nintendo does this again. They did a great job considering it was their first year doing it.

The Hooligans- Nice job on the blog everyone!  I’ve never seen so many posts without someone complaining about Obama, Tea Party, etc.

TJ Harris- It was one of the best things I have ever been a part of, and I did not want it to end. I have just a few random shout outs:

1. Zach and Frank (The Young Calves): You guys trained really hard while you were there, and you pulled off a much deserved win. We’re proud of you both!
2. Waterfield, Broski’s, and Gold Team: I wish we all lived closer so we could hang out. I hope we can all compete again soon!
3. Molly: By far, the BEST and COOLEST Wii Ambassador we could have had. You have no idea how much you calmed our nerves and helped us play to the best of our abilities!
4. The staff that ran the event, and Nintendo: Thank you once again for giving all of these loyal gamers such a memorable experience.

Frank Nguyen- I wish it never ended!!!

Zach Hendrix- I really like the name, Summer 2010; that means there could be a Winter 2010, a Summer 2011, Summer 2015, they could do this again!

Jonathan Meyer- It was such a fun idea and I really hope they do this again next year because I have always loved Nintendo and to be able to play their games and compete against others was such an awesome and entertaining experience.

Jimmy Grist- Just an interesting bit my teammate told me. If you look at regional scores and jot down the 4 highest-scoring adult teams, you’ll find (in order) Waterfield (20,870), Gold Team (19,785), Double Team (19,745), and The Broskis (19,705). These are the same four teams that made the Final Four. While I don’t remember exact scoring from the preliminaries, the order of scores went Waterfield, Broskis, Double, Gold. So . . . yeah. The scoring was pretty consistent right up until they threw a 2,000 point wrench into their own machine.

Doug Hutchison- I’m just hoping we see it again next year.  Even if I can never make it back again, I thought the experience was great.

Vinny Necco- I’d just like to say one more time how much fun the whole thing was, from start to finish. I truly hope that another event is planned for the near future. Nintendo did an amazing job with everything, and everyone involved did such a stellar job to make this an unforgettable time!

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That’s it for the interview.  Once again I’d like to congratulate all winners of the Wii Games Summer 2010 competition.  It was great meeting everyone, even the many who weren’t interviewed and I hope that you keep reading!

Wii Games Summer 2010 NYC Main Event coverage

Wii Games Summer 2010 Grand Championships Event Recap 9/2/2010

Wii Games Summer 2010 Grand Championships Event Recap 9/3/2010 – 9/4/2010

Wii Games Summer 2010 Grand Championships Event Recap 9/5/2010

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