FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARHORSE, Iraq – Two fighters stand poised for battle within striking distance of each other, awaiting the signal to begin. Spectators cheer as fists of fury deliver punches in bunches. Some are blocked and others make direct contact. Kicks are added to the mix, with both contenders fighting as if their lives are at stake.
After two rigorous rounds, one warrior emerges victorious, and the loser passes the controller to the next contender.
Competitors gathered in the game room at the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) facility at Forward Operating Base Warhorse, in Iraq’s Diyala Province, Sept. 4, for a tournament to determine the Super Street Fighter IV master.
Sergeant Steve Thompson, a Fayetteville, N.C. native and paralegal noncommissioned officer for the 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, coordinated with MWR to reserve the game room and gaming equipment, including five televisions, five PlayStation 3’s (PS3’s) and 10 controllers.
“I am the tournament administrator; I set everything up and supplied the games from Amazon,” Sgt. Thompson said. “I had to make arrangements with MWR to reserve the game room for the night, make sure all the PS3’s were available and the room would be clear.”
The tournament consisted of a double-elimination bracketing system with two victories advancing a competitor to the next round of play-offs, while two losses disqualified a player from the tournament. The final match was a single-elimination, best of four rounds with a single fighter, to determine the champion.
“The winner will receive bragging rights, the number one headband and the responsibility of defending that title all the time,” Sgt. Thompson said.
The headbands, a status symbol and coveted tournament prize, allowed competitors to distinguish the top two fighters from the rest of the pack, and will be used long after the tournament has ended, as a hierarchal ranking system among the elite players.
“I ordered two headbands representing the number one and number two players,” Sgt. Thompson said. “Anyone can challenge the holder of the number two headband, but only the number two headband can challenge the number one for the title.”
“It’s an on-going tournament,” he said. “This is just to determine who are the number one and number two, and after that you have to defend your title from there.”
Sgt. Thompson had a plethora of games to choose from, spanning several genres, but he said it was a simple choice of picking Super Street Fighter IV for the tournament.
“It’s an awesome game, the competition is great, it’s like an elaborate game of chess, and I love chess to begin with,” he said. “Basically everyone was playing Super Street Fighter IV, so I picked a game everybody likes.”
The tournament had a relatively high visibility on FOB Warhorse and entrants were simply required to show up.
“I’m expecting maybe 20 people tonight, and then as word spreads there will probably be more the next time around,” Sgt. Thompson said. “I posted signs everywhere, so people can just show up and sign in on the roster.”
Aside from the desire to establish a Street Fighter champion, Sgt. Thompson said video games play a major part in maintaining the morale of deployed Soldiers.
“It’s a hobby, and what we’re dealing with, all kinds of crazy stuff, at the end of the day, you need that release,” he said. “It keeps you going, gives you something to look forward to and makes the time fly, and the quicker we get out of here the better.”
His duties as a paralegal NCO always take precedence, but outside of his U.S. Army career, Sgt. Thompson’s focus is on his love for video games, which he developed at an early age.
“I’ve been playing games since I was eight or nine, starting with my Super Nintendo,” Sgt. Thompson said. “Super Mario World was my first game and I’ve been hooked since then.
“I’m a dedicated gamer, it’s my life,” he said. “I have my Army life and then there’s this.”
Brand loyalty is a common trait among many dedicated gamers and with the exception of his Super Nintendo, Sgt. Thompson adheres to this unwritten rule.
“I own a PS3,” he said. “I’ve always been a Sony fan since the PSOne first came out.”
Time spent is experience earned with regards to gaming, so when he’s not processing legal actions for 2AAB, 25th Inf. Div., Sgt. Thompson invests the majority of his spare time in his PS3, especially when bragging rights and a championship title are on the line.
“Out here, I might spend four or five hours playing, depending on what I’m preparing for,” he said. “With something like this tournament, yeah I’ll spend a lot of time on my PS3.”
Ryan S. Smith, an Austin, Texas native and MWR coordinator with Kellog-Brown and Root, also competed in the tournament, but arrived with much less training time.
“I hadn’t played Street Fighter in about six months,” Smith said. “I mean, I played a couple warm-up matches when I got there to remember what I knew; it’s muscle-memory baby!”
Sgt. Thompson pitted his best fighter against the strength of Smith’s muscle-memory in a brutal final bout. In the end, the title went to Sgt. Thompson.
“For the finals, it was just a hardcore grudge match, and Steve definitely brought it,” Smith said. “But I’ve got something for him next time I see him.”
While Smith, holder of the number two headband, is the only person authorized to challenge Sgt. Thompson for the title, Sgt. Thompson has a message for anyone with enough confidence in their Street Fighter prowess.
“Anybody who wants it can come get it,” he said.