The Zapcon 2024 Super Street Fighter II Turbo Tournament

Zapcon is THE Arcade convention in Arizona. Every year, people who own arcade and pinball machines all over the southwestern United Stated gather at the Mesa Convention Center to share in the fun of playing old video games together. And the general populace is invited in to partake. All the machines are set to freeplay, so for $50, anyone can come in and play endless video games all weekend. Rates are slightly lower if you want to go just Saturday or just Sunday.

Having just gotten back to Phoenix in December and now that I feel like I’m finally getting back on my feet, I decided that I needed a weekend where I could just let loose and have fun. I bought the two-day pass, but knew I wouldn’t be staying all day either day.

Besides, there WAS no Zapcon in 2020 or 2021 thanks to COVID-19. There was an event in 2022, but then not one in 2023. So if Zapcon is not guaranteed each year, then I’ve gotta go enjoy it when I can, right? Right.

Dr. Dude and his X-cellent X-Ray, the preferred pinball table of Hawk & Croc co-creator Brandon A. Mayo, now with black light LED strips to be even more 90s!

I got to the Mesa Convention Center around 10am on Saturday, and just had a blast playing anything and everything. I ran into Pete from Wurmfur and his girlfriend, Jodi, who are both excellent people. Pete and I played through the light gun game Ninja Assault by Namco before we parted ways, but made plans to all go out to lunch together.

Name an old arcade game, and I probably played at least a little bit of it. I tried out a bunch of new-to-me pinball machines as well, and hit up some old favorites. I also spent some time in the console lounge, and finally sat down to spend some time with Cool Spot for the Sega Genesis — A game starring the 7up soda mascot that I know I’ve played once or twice, but was mostly familiar with from the commercial about the “demented cheese-flinging pajama mice.”

It was getting towards the end of the day, and I knew I had a long bus ride home, but I spotted a Super Street Fighter II Turbo machine — the fifth iteration of Capcom’s premiere fighting game, Street Fighter II, and the generally-agreed best version of SFII. 2024 also happens to be Super Turbo’s 30th anniversary , so I thought, sure, I can play a few rounds before I head home. There was a guy standing next to the machine who asked if he could play with me. “Sure!,” I responded excitedly.

In November of 2020, Kayin invited me to join a group of Super Street Fighter II Turbo players online on Monday nights, so I’ve been playing with the same handful of folks for a couple of hours each week for the last three-and-a-half years. While a lot of them have decidedly more ST experience than me, I can tell I’ve definitely improved a lot in the time I’ve spent playing with them. Playing against strangers in an actual arcade (more or less) seemed like a good way to test myself against new opponents.

At about 5:45, a gal who was working the convention asked if I wanted to enter the tournament they were having at 6. It didn’t cost anything, and I figured I’d probably get knocked out in the first round, but what the hell. I signed up, ran to the restroom, and when I came back there was somewhere between 15-20 players surrounding the lone Super Turbo machine. There was the gal who took signups and a guy running the tournament, who was building a single-elimination bracket on his note pad to keep track of the action. A couple of other people went before me, but there was enough going on around the machine that I couldn’t see the screen… so I turned around and played one of the random pinball machines directly behind me until I heard my name.

I picked Ryu in his orange gi and blue headband — Goku colors— in honor of Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama, who had recently passed away.

First kid I was up against said he’s never played before. He picked Blanka, probably just because the monster character looked cool. “Oh hell yeah, he’s like Wolverine!” Haha, sure, dude. I started off using the match to warm up a bit and do combos, but then had the thought, “save that shit for the finals!” So I eased up and basically just threw fireballs at him. He didn’t know how to handle it — I assumed he had just meant he’d never played Super Turbo before, not that he’d never played ANY fighting games! Oh well, on to match 2.

My second opponent was a Sagat player who was better, and he took the first round. But I figured out his tactics and ended up winning without too much trouble. On to match 3 without breaking a sweat.

I scouted a bit, and my third opponent had won a round during their last match as Balrog the boxer with a perfect, meaning he took no damage. Somewhat-Fortunately, one of the players in my Monday night ST group plays as Balrog, so I had SOME idea of what to do in that matchup. But then, unexpectedly, my opponent picked Dee Jay! Well, Dee Jay isn’t anywhere NEARLY as threatening to me as Balrog. We started the match, and before I knew it, I had won both rounds without any issue at all. That was certainly not the outcome I was expecting, but I’ll take it!

Going into the fourth match, my opponent asked how many more rounds there were. “This is it,” replied the tournament organizer.

“Wait, we’re the finals?” I asked. The tournament organizer nodded. “Shit, okay.”

I once again picked Ryu in Goku colors. My opponent picked M. Bison, the main villain in Street Fighter II. We were about to re-enact the ending of the Street Fighter II anime film.

And he MURDERED me in the first round. “Well, this is it,” I thought. I hadn’t planned on even taking part in the tournament, but at least I made it to the finals. Although, admittedly Rocky Balboa said, “Nothin’s over until it’s over.” Maybe, if I could at least win round 2, then I could go home with my head held high.

I took a deep breath, adjusted my stance around the arcade machine, and before I knew it, round 2 was mine! It wasn’t EASY, but I decidedly won that round.

So it all came down to the third and final round… and it was close. I thought he had me. Our lifebars got down to just one hit left apiece. He jumped in, and I entered a “Z”-motion on the arcade stick, going from towards to down to diagonally down-towards, and hit Jab Punch. Clad in orange, Ryu lept into the air, shouting “Shoryuken!”… and connected with Bison’s jaw, depleting his lifebar and knocking him out.

I… won? I won!

I followed the tournament organizer back to the console lounge, where I went to accept my prize — A t-shirt for the game store he worked at (Game Smash), as well as $50 in store credit. Unfortunately, the shirt didn’t fit. And, they don’t have an online shop at all, so I’m going to have to travel down to their store, which is clear on the other side of Phoenix. But I checked the route via bus, and it’s just a single bus all the way across town. So it’ll be a long trip, but that’s fine. It’ll kill a weekend afternoon. And hey! $50 is what entry to Zapcon cost, so the whole weekend kinda paid for itself!

I went back to Zapcon on Sunday as well, but mostly just hung out with my buddy Dan who did the Atomic Monsoon intro theme. It was the first time I’d gotten to see him since ending up back in Phoenix, and we had a blast playing old games together.

Thanks for another great year, Zapcon! It was all good memories in 2024.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.