The competition, called the Omegathon, is six elimination rounds of video games and board games. The 20 competitors, Omeganauts, are selected randomly and individually called by the organizers from the pool of 60,000 attendees of Penny Arcade Expo (PAX). The whole competition is a huge spectacle. When I tried explaining it to my roommate's girlfriend, she said "So is it just like The Wizard?"
"It is exactly like The Wizard," I replied.
The weirdest part was that I knew I was going to get picked. When they announced the process had started, I looked down at my phone and said "You are going to ring." Ten minutes later it did. I was in.
From the beginning I knew my chances were slim. Despite having wasted most of my life playing video games I am not very good at them. I figured I would get eliminated fairly quickly and just be happy that I got picked at all.
Fast forward to Labor Day weekend and I flew to Seattle. The main thing that became very clear on the first day was that I did not hold the Narrative. A cute, red-haired lady did. She had made a training video that the organizers were fawning over (In fairness, it is pretty good!). In every round she got the biggest crowd reaction (though she did vamp a bit). I tried explaining my theory to people who responded "the crowd does not pick the winner" which is true, but I saw the cosmic forces at work.
Things soured for me in the second round. The third heat featured both Narrative Lady and another lady who was outside the clique that had formed. It came down to the two of them, loser being eliminated. The crowd was clearly on Narrative Lady's side, but what got me was how the other contestants who had already cleared the round start making snarky comments whenever it was Outsider Lady's turn. I found it incredibly rude. I found myself actively rooting against Narrative Lady. She became threat #1. But it was futile, she of course won and in doing so confirmed my whole Narrative theory.
For almost an hour afterward, Outsider Lady sat next to me on the verge of tears. I wanted to console her, but I realized that I was an absolute stranger. Any supposed familiarity we had for being outside the clique was just in my head, anything I might have said would be cold comfort. So I said nothing.
Somehow I made it to the fourth round which consisted of playing Dance Central (a game where you actually have to get up and dance) in front of a packed house. The event took place at The Paramount, a huge concert venue in Seattle, and getting to stand on-stage was incredible.
As was always fated, I was to face Narrative Lady in single-elimination. At this point I knew my place as a miniboss in her story was about to be fulfilled. We waited for them to start the round but they could not get the game to work, and so we stood awkwardly in the middle of the stage while they tried to fix it. The longer it went on, the more relaxed I felt. Eventually they gave up and postponed the round.
In a way, I think the game not working was my reward for putting up with my participation in the whole competition and its Narrative. The other omeganauts left to get dinner, but I got to watch one of my favorite musical groups do a show from the side of the stage. If the round had gone through as planned I have no doubt they would have asked us to leave as soon as it was over. To me, this was a much better prize than winning the competition. Also, I ran into John Roderick who gave me a hug which is always the best thing.
The rescheduled round took place an hour later. They switched to a team-based scoring mechanism but we still did one-on-one matches with the highest scoring team advancing. Again I was facing off against Narrative Lady but at this point any tension left in my body was gone.
She destroyed me. I managed 300,000 points but it was laughable to her 1.3 million. Even though I knew I was losing I had a lot of fun and when the round was over I was so happy I started jumping up and down. My team got eliminated. The rest of the match-ups were fairly close, and I felt bad about being the weak link but I am not sure anyone would have held a candle to her.
This whole experience is the closest I have been to participating in sports as an adult. Despite my efforts to minimize anyone's hopes for me, all of my friends who came and watched were super excited. Every single round there were friends there cheering for me, and more who were not here but waiting for an update. I cannot express how happy this makes me.
I was seriously worried I was going to let everyone down when I inevitably got eliminated, but I realized that it did not matter. So long as I kept trying hard they were always going to be on my side, and everything was still okay when I lost because I would still have them as my friends. If anything, this competition has taught me how grateful I should be.
Narrative Lady got knocked out in round 5. Even though I am positive the organizers were setting her up for the finals, her team lost fair and square. She looked really sad afterward and I felt bad for her. I should make clear, I do not fault her, she is actually pretty incredible. I still believe my theory about the Narrative, that she was the chosen one, but maybe things do not always work out that way.