Thursday, May 14, 2009

Texas Trashday 5, etc

I'm going to deviate a little bit from my usual topics in this post.

One thing that used to be a big part of my life (for the longest time), has been gaming. I started when I was a little kid, except I just played at home or whatever. At some point, I got hooked with the Quake series, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and later on with Counter-Strike and Team Fortress 2, all of which are online, multiplayer, competitive games. I pretty much say that to say that at some point, I got addicted to competing. I just wanted to practice and practice a certain multiplayer video game, and be the best at it. Or, at least good enough to be recognized, haha.

Aside from First Person Shooters (FPS for short), I also played fighting games to a certain extent. The most notable of these was Tekken. I played all of the sequels, but it wasn't until 2005 that I got really into it, when I started playing Tekken 5. Long story short, I pretty much stopped playing FPS games, and devoted all my time to getting good at Tekken. I would travel across the country just to go to compete in tournaments (I pretty much lost BADLY at every tournament back then), I would practice all the time, and would spend my time online pretty much reading forums and what not, trying to get better. I did manage to get recognized a little bit for playing the worst character in the game at the time, and had the nickname "Low Tier Hero" for a little while. Time passed, I went back to Puerto Rico (I lived in North Carolina for the most part of 2005 for a co-op I was doing at IBM). The competition there was FIERCE, in that there were a ton of players that would consistently go to tournaments. Anyway, I ended up getting better and better due to playing against really good competition whose (at the time) purpose seemed to be to practice anti-wired strategies (not really, but they would always come up with ways to try and beat me).

By the time I had to leave Puerto Rico when I was hired to work in Texas back in 2007, I was pretty confident of my Tekken skills. I didn't consider myself the "best" in Puerto Rico, but I definitely considered myself in the top 3 players, along with my friends Paco "Gandido" Vilaró and Mario "Cano" Canales*, with the ordering of the top 3 players changing constantly with every passing tournament.

My very first tournament upon arrival to Texas was called Evo South, held at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, TX. Evolution is a tournament that is held every year, and is pretty much THE biggest tournament in the United States, to which international players travel sometimes (not many international players come, but they do on occassion). Evo South was a qualifying tournament (along with Evo North/West/East), in which you would get "seeded" at Evolution if you obtained a top spot (can't remember how many spots were given). Anyway, I ended up winning the whole thing. Needless to say, it was an awesome experience. More than enjoying the victory for myself, I really enjoyed the fact that my friends from Puerto Rico were really excited and proud of my achievement (after all, it was with them that I got the most practice). On a side note, I honestly and sincerely believe God helped me a LOT in winning that tournament. I prayed constantly during the tournament, and managed to beat nation-wide known players, that I originally thought were going to beat me.

Finally, to address the actual subject of this post. For the last couple of years, Texas players in Houston have organized the "Trashday" series of tournaments. They have managed to attract players from all accross the nation to come to Texas to compete in Tekken and other fighting games. So far, I've been to Texas Trashday 3, 4 and 5. In Trashday 3, my friend José "frodo" Llera flew from Puerto Rico, and got second place. It was another great day for Tekken in Puerto Rico. Our performances in tournaments in the United States were no longer surprising players, and Puerto Rico came to be recognized as a place that harbored quality players, even among United States standards. The following year, I won the Trashday 4 Tekken singles tournament, and my team (consisting of my buddy Vineet "l337v1n337" Anand and José "frodo" Llera) got second place in the team tournament. Yet another awesome day for Tekken in Puerto Rico. I don't take credit for my win in the singles tournament, though. I had stopped playing Tekken a while before that**, and hadn't practiced Tekken 5 at ALL (OK, we played some Tekken 6 the day before the tournament, but I don't know if that counts). The day of the tournament, I prayed and prayed, not so that I could win and get the "fame" (at that point I didn't really care much about the game), but because the prize for first place was $1000. My church was going through some rough economic times then, and I thought it would be nice if I could bring the money back to Dallas. I -know- it was God helping me all through that tournament, because those were the easiest matches I've ever played, even against well established players. Furthermore, while I'm usually nervous at tournaments, I was super relaxed all day. Even after the tournament I wasn't shaken or excited at all, as if I was already expecting to win. My friends kept saying that I should show more excitement, but I just couldn't wait to get out of the room so I could pray in thanks to God, hahaha :-). Looking back, it really was an answered prayer. People at church must have been praying as well, because it seemed like God just gave that thing to me, no questions. What's funny, is when I gave the money to my pastor (who knew of my Tekken addiction and later resignation) and told him the story of how I won the tournament, looked at me laughing and said "Man, you need to start traveling to these tournaments again". It was hilarious. But I didn't.

...Not until Trashday 5, that is. Around three weeks ago, I decided I wanted to make the trip down to Houston to see some old friends, eat some good food, and see if I could defend my title. That didn't go too well. I won't go into the negative details of my gameplay, but long story short: I lost pretty badly, haha. It's cool though - I wasn't really expecting to win again (would've been awesome, though), plus I achieved what I really went down there for. I got to hang out with old friends, and had a great time. Even went to Houston's First Baptist Church that Sunday, which was a great experience as well. I will mention that it feels good to be considered part of the "top" players. Not that I would feel bad if I wasn't considered one, but in my mind, that is something that kinda lets me know I reached the goal I started out with: to be one of the best. To think that in 2005 I wasn't even entertaining the idea of talking with the top players about the scene, and about strategies and stuff, let alone winning major tournaments! I know it may sound nerdy, but I don't care. I had a passion for this game, and managed to fulfill it in the end.

Here are some pictures from my Trashday 5 weekend (click to enlarge):

Lots of players attend these events!

Another shot

Me with some of the guys (from left to right: wired, jTm, Crow, KOR)

Well, I hope you enjoyed my short gaming episode. I have way too many stories to tell from all my gaming days (for both FPS and Tekken), but those I'll keep to myself for now.


To expand on some of the things I referenced earlier.

* I mentioned Cano and Paco. These guys really pushed me to become better at this game. There was a lot of trash talk back and forth between us in tournaments (which was fun), and they practiced a LOT. Like, they would try and figure out my weaknesses, and come back ready for the next tournament. We always went back and forth in tournaments in Puerto Rico, so it was never clear who was number one. Recently (I believe it was in August of 2008), they both attended Evolution 2008, and ended up getting second and third place. Personally, I believe they had the skill to get first and second place, but that's just what the cards dealt that day. Regardless, I was and am very proud of them as players and friends. It's awesome to win, but it's even more rewarding watching your friends (the people you practice with regularly) achieve victories. How we would say in Puerto Rico: aguantame eso ahi.

** As for me "giving up" on Tekken. At some point, I realized that Tekken had become way more than just a game. Obviously, I was spending a lot of time and money (travel is not cheap!) to play this game. But I didn't care about that too much. What I did notice, was that I would be thinking about Tekken 24/7. I would be thinking about strategies, combos, you name it. I also had become -too- competitive, I think. I wasn't always the best loser. I would get upset (at myself, mostly) when I lost, or sometimes at others if the trash talk was too fierce. It just wasn't the person I wanted to be. All this, coupled with other events going on in my life at the time (around Fall 2007), made me decide to stop playing competitively. Factor in the fact that my PlayStation 3 was stolen from my apartment shortly after, and I figured my Tekken days were pretty much over. I hardly played Tekken after that. The next tournament I went to was Trashday 4 (which I ended up winning, ironically), and I went because it was a mere ~3 hours away, and because my friend frodo was flying over from Puerto Rico. In essence, my time playing Tekken has been reduced to Trashday tournaments, and the occasional casual game with friends. I had a great time playing this game, but I just can't/won't put in as much effort anymore. I will continue to attend tournaments in Texas, but I highly doubt I'll get to the point I was in 2007 and before.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

spring update

So, I lied again. Not on purpose, though. My professor persuaded me not to give up on Vietnamese lessons, and so I didn't. I feel like I haven't been learning as much as I could. I've been busy with work, traveling, going out with friends, and teaching, among other things, that I haven't been studying Vietnamese as much as I should. I'm considering re-taking Viet 1 and Viet 2 during the summer, and really putting an effort into it. I put a lot of effort into Viet 1, that it almost seems a waste what happened to me with Viet 2. I really want to learn this language. It's hard stuff, but it's almost like a challenge I want to overcome. Never mind being able to speak fluently, I'll be content with being able to read/write and understand people in conversation. I figure if I ever end up visiting Vietnam, I can carry a notepad around in case someone doesn't understand what I'm saying. Silly, I know.

For a long time now, I've been following Azrael's blog GaijinSmash. It's a very entertaining blog, about an American living in Japan. He started out teaching English, and is now married and "officially" living out there, etc (I'm not very good at summarizing, so I suggest you go read some posts to get a better idea). Anyway, recently I've found sorta similar blogs, but of Americans living in Vietnam, posting about their experiences and stuff. I don't know if that kinda stuff interests you, but if it does, check out Living in Saigon, Vietnam and Lisa's Live Journal. Very interesting blogs. Just thought I'd share.

Recently, I got into salsa dancing again. My instructor and friend (Nick) started teaching at his house again, and now has a decent group of nice (and consistent!) people that want to learn. I've gotten to know most of them, and they're all good people. I've gone to salsa clubs with them (as a group), attended birthday parties (fun!), and just had a blast on Saturday's lessons, which usually go from 11am to like 3pm, sometimes followed with everyone going out to lunch. I've gotten to improve on my salsa dancing at the same time, which is great. I'm still like 1/16 of what Nick is, and I'm cool with that. I just need to know "enough", at least for now. :-)

As for my teaching, I still teach English at the Vietnamese Community Center, and salsa dancing at the elementary school on Fridays. The salsa class has had its ups and downs. Sometimes the kids are really into it, and sometimes they just want to run around and not really pay attention. I continually pray so that God gives me the patience I need to teach them, hehe. I don't remember if I've mentioned it yet, but all my salsa dancing students are Hispanic. One thing I noticed about them is that they prefer to speak English as opposed to Spanish. At first I didn't think much of it, but after talking to some of them, I learned that they simply know (a lot) more English than Spanish. So naturally, I decided to talk to them only in Spanish, and force them to talk to me in Spanish as well (they try to sneak English in there sometimes). It feels nice when they ask how to say a certain word, or when I get to correct them on their verb conjugations or whatever. Overall, I'm very happy with them (except when they go nuts running around in class, haha), and hope I can continue to teach them in the future.

Other than that, I've gotten to do other cool things in these past few months. In March, I spent two weeks in Florida for work. It was awesome, for the most part. I got to see my mom again and spend time with her (she flew from PR). I've been to San Jose a few times, and going there again next week. Work is going good.

I also got to participate in another event with the Vietnamese. This time it was during "International Week" at Tarrant County College in Hurst, TX. We sang the Vietnamese anthem, one girl played a Vietnamese instrument (don't know the name), which was cool, and then we did a little 'fashion' thingy, which consisted of us walking on stage with ao dais. I got to take some pictures with the girls (in ao dai), which was cool. Maybe I'll post some later if they don't mind.

Last week I got promoted at work. The bosses gave me a good scare - they played it as if they were going to fire me, by calling me to their office and being all serious and stuff. It was well played on their part, haha. But anyway, I'm now a Software Engineer II, yay!

Finally, I'm going to Puerto Rico in two weeks, God willing. I'm excited! I haven't been back to the island in almost a year now. I miss my peoples, the food, the weather, everything! Can't wait! Some friends are also going, and we'll be doing some sightseeing around the island. Lots of food and salsa dancing will be happening as well. =)

Hopefully my next post will happen sometime before December.