The biggest competition on the planet for two years in a row, and I wasn't there
When I was a young gamer, there was nothing better than reading an issue of the now-defunct GamePro magazine, playing Mortal Kombat II, renting games and ordering Chinese food, in exactly that order. The Internet in those days was not as ubiquitous as it is now, and my source of gaming news was strictly what managed to come straight off the presses at my local video game rental stores. I was introduced to the world of game rentals through my wonderful late mother, who noted casually that I could rent games just as we rented movies for holidays and I’d be responsible for paying for it while she would allow me to use our Blockbuster/Pic-A-Flick memberships that only adults were allowed to use.
It was the summer of 1994 and the full swing of gaming season had set upon Columbia. It was after a weekly trip to secure something to play at the former Blockbuster on Decker Boulevard (editor’s note: It’s now a church of some kind, imagine that) and a quick trip to the former Guangzhou — my favorite Chinese restaurant in town at the time — that I noticed there was a
contest brewing among the local gaming populace. Blockbuster had announced that there was going to be a nationwide tournament taking place in its many locations in Columbia and that all comers were welcome to participate. I immediately went home, on the way asking my mom what were the chances that I, local Mortal Kombat II legend, would be able to showcase my skills in a tournament for the first time? Sadly, I didn’t make it home before I found out the answer: Not this year, because I was going to Maryland for the summer with my aunt and cousin so I wouldn’t be in town to compete. I was devastated. Could mom have not realized that my local reputation was staked on entering this contest to take on the local braggarts that went beyond my home away from home at Aladdin’s Castle in Columbia Mall/Place? What was she thinking? Twelve-year-old Lyndsey was outraged.
Because I missed the tournament that year, I missed the chance to compete in what was a great lineup of games: NBA Jam (Super Nintendo and Genesis versions), Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Genesis), Virtua Racing (Genesis), TMNT: Tournament Fighters (SNES) and Clayfighter: Tournament Edition (SNES). I wasn’t a big fan of Sonic, so I probably would have entered in the SNES competition. This is especially so looking back because it was the system that I owned at the time. I would have done well at NBA Jam and Clayfighter: TE but I’m sure I wouldn’t have done well at TMNT: TF. I don’t enjoy the game now so I wouldn’t have enjoyed it then.
The second time around
The summer faded as I made my way back to Columbia, having missed the tournament entirely. I realized later in the year that I would possibly get a chance to redeem myself the next summer with the announcement of another tournament. The games would be announced later, so I figured I had time to get ready. Another school year ended and I readied myself for another chance. And then the games were announced for the Blockbuster World Championships II: Judge Dredd (Genesis), Donkey Kong Country (SNES) and NBA Jam: Tournament Edition (Genesis). I didn’t play any of those games, and I especially didn’t want to play Donkey Kong Country. I have a myriad grievances against Donkey Kong to start with and I certainly wasn’t going to stake my reputation on playing a game I outright despised. So, another year was out for me to join the contest. I didn’t realize that it would be my final chance.
The World Championships never had a third outing. It was a number of factors for the decision, such as too much effort to run a nationwide campaign on numerous systems with the Sony PlayStation on the horizon. Nintendo was moving forward with the N64 and Sega was meandering into the muddy waters of the Saturn. Also, Blockbuster took a hit with bad business decisions from its parent company Viacom. Money was tight and the scale of the effort to do the championships was just too much for a business that was in trouble. And, because of the way the tournament was set up the second time, a lot of the contestants didn’t move on if they were in a small area. Columbia, as compared to larger urban population centers, is the equivalent of a one-traffic light town, so we were more than likely not going forward in the competition.
If you can find a Genesis competition cartridge from the second tournament, it’s worth the trouble. The cart, featuring Judge Dredd and NBA Jam: Tournament Edition, is worth $2,000 or more, which is pretty good for a cart that has only five known copies in existence still floating around.
The Blockbuster World Championships were a fleeting moment of potential dominance that I missed entirely for different reasons both times. With the poor format and smaller scale the second time around, I’m not entirely that sad to have missed the competition both times, even if it meant a trip to visit the magazine that I read cover to cover every month for years as an aspiring video game journalist.
So long, Blockbuster.
Blockbuster championships lineup
Blockbuster World Championships I – 1994
Choose from two systems to play through selected games over three weeks. The highest combined score for the store moved on to regional, state and national championships for both systems.
NBA Jam (Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis)
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Genesis)
Virtua Racing (Genesis)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (SNES)
Clayfighter: Tournament Edition (SNES)
Super Nintendo winner: Mark Guinane
Sega Genesis winner: Fred Doughty
Blockbuster World Championships II – 1995
Donkey Kong Country (Super Nintendo only)
NBA Jam: Tournament Edition (Sega Genesis)
Judge Dredd (Sega Genesis)