At this year's E3, Nintendo will be resurrecting a special event which first took place 25 years ago. The 1990 Nintendo World Championships captured the hearts and minds of an entire generation of players and have since passed into video gaming folklore, arguably laying down the foundations for modern-day eSports. However, what is slightly less well known is that Nintendo followed up the 1990 event with another contest four years later, dubbed Nintendo PowerFest '94. Mike "Qik" Iarossi was crowned the National Champion after defeating Brandon Veach via a head-to-head high score challenge on Donkey Kong Country.
As Nintendo hasn't run any other competitions of this type since 1994, Iarossi has technically held his title for over two decades - and we can exclusively reveal that he has teamed up with the globally-renowned eSports outfit Empire Arcadia - which has just secured a placing in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the first video game team to reach 2,000 wins - to compete at NWC 2015, which takes place around E3.
We got a chance to speak to Iarossi and Empire Arcadia's founder and CEO Isaiah "TriForce" Johnson about the news, competitive gaming in general and that amazing Guinness World Record.
Nintendo Life: Mike, what was it like winning the PowerFest back in 1994, and are you ever amazed that your fame has continued over the past two decades?
Mike Iarossi: It was redeeming to me honestly. I was in the 1990 tournament and was number one in my age group going into the final seven, and I choked hard that year and placed 7th in that round - which was crushing for me, because I am a big Tetris fan and that was one of the games that year. Coming back in '94 and winning it all really felt great. I remember being on stage for the finals - it was me and Brandon Veach that were the final two.
The game was a special scored version of Donkey Kong Country, which they brought in as the new game we would play once we got down to the final four. When the round started I noticed Brandon's game started about 4 seconds later than mine. We were very close the whole time but I was ahead by about 150 points when my time ended, and then I'm standing there watching him still play - those four seconds were an eternity. I saw him enter a secret area just at the end and start collecting points there and then his game was over! At that moment I looked at the crowd and saw a friend of mine leap forward about four rows of people as he cheered, and the first words I muttered to myself were "Holy s*** I won". Good times.
Over the years I have at various times been in contact with different people about the tournament. Walter Day in recent years contacted me and I have my own trading card from him now commemorating my win, and that was a cool experience. Walter is such a great person. Meeting him was a highlight and I can't say enough good things about him. Now that this new tournament is coming around I am again getting some attention and it feels good. I owe a lot of it to my friend Dorion Whitlock, the guy who leaped four rows when I won - he really has done a lot for me over the years in terms of finding people who are interested in this story and how it could benefit me. I am a fairly quiet and humble guy these days. I have a stream at Twitch and I enjoy playing a variety of games for the loyal viewers I have there.
What are your fondest memories of PowerFest '94?
Mike Iarossi: The journey. The finals were a great experience but how my friends and I got there was the real fun. We ended up going to about 15 different local competitions. Every weekend we would travel to a new location. The first was in New Jersey where we all lived at the time. I placed second that week but we were hooked immediately. A week or two later we went to Pennsylvania and that's where I ended up winning. Then it was Ohio where Dorion won. I remember Boston and Virginia, North Carolina. There were so many of them we went to, sometimes sleeping in the car because money was tight and we couldn't afford a hotel that week. I wouldn't trade the Spring and Summer of '94 for anything. Winning it all was a great way to top off what we did, but even if I hadn't have won I will always cherish how we got there.
You play a lot of games competitively, but will Nintendo always have a special place in your heart?
Mike Iarossi: Nintendo makes great games. That's what they do the best. I will always own the latest Nintendo console just so I can play their amazing games.
Why have you decided to join Empire Arcadia now?
Mike Iarossi: It's something new for me to try. TriForce is quite a character and when he pitches an idea to you, it's hard to say no. I really do enjoy streaming on Twitch. I am not the most outgoing person. I come from an old-school mentality and I want the games to speak for themselves when I play. I'm not a chatterbox that talks the entire time that I play and repeats himself 100 times as you watch. I do love to interact with my viewers though, so when conversation is flowing it's a great thing and is highly enjoyable for both sides of the stream. I see this opportunity as a way to hopefully expand my viewership on the channel and find more people like me who enjoy the games I enjoy, and when a competition is around and I am practising for that then hopefully people will want to tune in for that as well.
Nintendo Life: What are your feelings on Nintendo resurrecting the World Championships at E3 this year?
Mike Iarossi: I think it's fantastic. I really felt that it was a missed opportunity for them by not running more of them. We still don't know what the games will be at this time but I am excited to find out and start practising. It will be interesting to see how I do 20+ years later against some much younger competition.
TriForce Johnson: About time! Now hurry up and make a Mario and Sonic Adventure game will ya! This was to be expected though, seriously. If people didn't see this coming, I don't know what to make of it. I'm just glad its back. Its funny, because when I look back at the very conversation I had with Reggie at Nintendo World about the Nintendo World Championships returning, he asked a bunch of us in the store what games do we think should return "IF" the NWC were to return. Then he tweeted that very same question out and that is when I was like... yep! It's only a matter of time. Then last year we got both the E3 and New York Comic Con Invitational. It was only logical that the World Championships would return. If it didn't I would have been greatly disappointed.
eSports has become a huge business, and the NWC could be seen as one of the founding events. Do you think Nintendo could make this a regular thing and make inroads into the eSports arena?
TriForce Johnson: First we need to establish that Nintendo is one of the pioneers of competitive gaming now known as eSports. If anyone can make inroads into eSports, Nintendo is most certainly capable of getting the job done. Very few events or organizations pre-date Nintendo when it comes to competitive gaming. In 1972 at the Standford University, what is considered to be the first public video game tournament using the game SpaceWar was hosted. It wasn't until 1981 when the Father of eSports himself Walter Day decided to create a organization that would organize, adjudicate and pretty much architect the infrastructure for how competitive gaming could operate. This gave eSports the founding structure it needed to take its first baby steps. From the turn of the century to 2015, guys like Sundance DiGiovanni and Mike Sepso of Major League Gaming took it a step further by evolving competitive gaming to what it is today. We've come a long way.
Mike Iarossi: I would like to see them try. eSports are dominated by Multiplayer online battle arena games right now as well as other direct competition games, and Nintendo doesn't have much to offer in that field other than Smash Bros., which already gets attention at events like EVO. I'm not sure how much the pro eSports gamer would embrace Nintendo's tournaments or if Nintendo would be able to create something that would cater to them.
How has competitive gaming changed since the days of PowerFest '94 and NWC '90? The games have become more visually intense and multiplayer is a much bigger deal these days. Do you think it's harder to find success now, given the increased competition?
TriForce Johnson: No. I think the increased competition has no affect on Nintendo because their games cater to their brand demographic. Like their games, it doesn't matter if the established order goes left or right. Nintendo is always moving forward. Now if you want to talk about difficulty, let's talk about the competition of then versus now. For the most part it's still the same in principle, however what made eSports harder back then versus today is the "format". Today its more like Basketball or Football whereas it's head-to-head regardless if it's teams or single player. It's your ability versus your human opponent. During the classic era, eSports is more akin to Golf, whereas its more of your mastery of the course - or in this case, the game. Secrets played a big factor. With social media tools like Twitch and YouTube you can find out anything. During the yesteryears, if you didn't know, you were done. To even find out the patterns or secrets of the games you had to have a real deep understanding on a some type of conscious level to figure out the intricacies of these games. I think Nintendo is going to continue that tradition as they did with their World Championships back in the '90s - however they will add elements of modern eSports to it as well, such as a bit of head-to-head. We'll see.
Mike Iarossi: Competition back then wasn't really head-to-head as it is now. You were indirectly competing with each other through scores. Street Fighter 2 was still fairly new and that is what I think started the direct competition for video games, or at least had a huge hand in it. Arcades before Street Fighter were already dying because home consoles were becoming much more prevalent and were an easier way to play your games. I remember I was around 19 and at a friend's house partying and someone said "Hey have you seen that new Street Fighter 2 game?". A friend and I were both like "um, no." He said, "It's huge right now, you guys have to go check it out - there's crowds of people around these things." So the next day we headed on up to Fun and Games in Wayne, NJ to check it out. The rest is history as far as that goes. Arcades had a new life thanks to fighting games and that lasted for another 10 years before the arcades actually died, which is sad. The next thing that came to the competitive gaming scene was Doom. Around 1993 Wolfenstein came out and it was the first FPS. They followed that up with Doom and added multiplayer with Deathmatches and that took off big time, and continued to evolve into the shooters we see today.
Those games are the cornerstone of today's competitive gaming scene and while Moba's rule the world right now, they owe some of their lineage to those games of the past that brought direct competition to the masses.
The internet is a humbling place. You can think you are the absolute best at whatever game you play and the internet can show you how someone else took that game to another level. The internet took what used to be your local area where you dominated and expanded that globally where you get your ass kicked. It's definitely harder to compete in today's internet age but there are also more resources like YouTube to help you get better and places like Twitch where you can watch pros play and learn directly from them. It used to be that you would keep your secrets to yourself to have an edge, but that's not possible any more and it makes for a more level playing field where it really comes down to who has more skill.
TriForce, what's it like adding another famous face to the team, and how does Mike fit in following your retirement?
TriForce Johnson: I'm from the Classic era so adding a player such as Mike to our Dynastic team is nothing new. We're from the same generation; '80s gamers. It's a different feeling from modern ex and current members like Justin Wong, Mew2King, Armada, Dieminion, KDZ, Yipes...and the list actually goes on. Mike adds a certain prestige to the team as he compliments classic gamers in Empire Arcadia such as myself and the Legendary Todd Rogers, who is not only the first professional gamer pre-dating Twin Galaxies but he has a 32-year-old World Record that has not been broken yet! If anything, Mike revitalises my pride in our team's legacy. After 13 years of our team competing in eSports, I recently retired permanently from competitive gaming. I felt it was time to step away from that aspect of the team especially after I won our team's 2,000th tournament. I want to focus on the next generation of players and help develop not only them as players but other regions in the world for eSports, like Jamaica in the Caribbean and Africa. I need someone around my age that can still play the classic and modern games and Mike fits that role perfectly.
Can you tell us a bit about the recent Guinness Book of Records accolade? You must be filled with pride at this news?
TriForce Johnson: I'm more relieved than prideful honestly, although 2,000 is a nice number! The team just received a new World Record from Guinness World Record for being the first video game team to reach 2,000 wins. This also continues our record as the most documented tournament winning video game team in the world. I feel that our team has accomplished something very significant in our industry. We've competed in various world championships from Evolution (EVO) to World Cyber Games (WCG), Major League Gaming (MLG) and now we're working on getting Mike to defend his Nintendo World Championship at the 2015 edition.
He's the last World Champion for the (NWC) and seeing him in action for the first time in the modern era of eSports will not only be exciting but very interesting to see how he would fair in a new age of competitive gaming.
Thanks to TriForce Johnson and Mike Iarossi for taking the time to speak to us. We'll be keeping a keen eye on Iarossi's progress so look out for updates in the future.