August 3rd, 2015 - Hank Chien tasted sweet revenge on Sunday when the deposed world record holder defeated his usurper, the current King of Kong Robbie Lakeman, in an ultimate final round grudge match at the Kong Off 4.
Chien may no longer be on top of the all-time high score standings, but another Kong Off win (his second after the the inaugural installment in 2011) is a comeback to be proud of.
The always amazing Jeff Willms submitted the event's highest overall score, and if not for the new head-to-head finals, would have successfully defended his Kong Off title once again for an unprecedented three in a row.
The Bracket Tourney
Sunday's single-elimination bracket tournament—consisting of eight players in seven matches and seeded by Friday and Saturday's high score competition—initially met with wide skepticism. Players and observers were unsure whether or not the format could succeed, being so radical a departure from the traditional model.
Scores for this "one-and-done" style were indeed relatively low compared to those attained in isolated, individual sessions, where players can enjoy the luxury of multiple attempts and easily-aborted weak games, with only their very best game ultimately mattering.
But when limited to one game, against a specific player, entirely new dynamics are introduced, and the community at large came away very pleasantly surprised with the excitement, pressure, and novelty of this much more direct form of competition.
Commentary At Last!
Several weeks ago, during Steve Wiebe's appearance at the Mall of America, Mitchell Elliott was a guest on the live stream, and offered superb running commentary on the action, helping viewers to better comprehend what they were watching. It was a taste of what was to come this past weekend.
Donkey Kong live-streamed games and tournaments have always struggled with the problem of a game that is notoriously spectator-unfriendly. For the uninitiated, it's slow, hard to understand, and tactically arcane.
As Jesse Hicks of the Verge described it in his 2013 piece on the Kong Off 3: "To the casual eye it's something less than poetry in motion."
On Sunday, expert players including Wes Copeland, Ethan Daniels, Dean Saglio, as well as Wiebe, Elliot, and others, sat down in the ReplayFX broadcast booth to do their part making Donkey Kong more accessible. For the first time ever, Kong Off matches were streamed with play-by-play announcers, and the results were very well-received.
I've wanted commentary for a long time and it was wonderful to see how strong and professional it turned out to be.
Here is the final Lakeman versus Chien match. If you've ever wanted to understand just what goes into playing this game at a high level, I recommend giving it a listen:
On To Next Year
The Kong Off 5 has already been scheduled for next year, where Hank Chien will defend his title at the same location and on the same weekend at ReplayFX in Pittsburgh.
Thanks to Richie Knucklez for his hard work in making the Kong Offs happen, and to many others who help in so many ways behind the scenes. Photographer William McEvoy deserves special mention for his talents, covering the last three Kong Offs, as well as other classic gaming events around the country. Needless to say, McEvoy's work has been indispensable to my blog posts.
I'd also like to thank renowned gaming journalist and Gamasutra publisher Simon Carless, who over the weekend Tweeted a link to the coverage here and sent some curious traffic in this direction. The gaming and tech press has always been kind to Donkey Blog and it is always appreciated.
And on the subject of traffic...
It's pure serendipity that it would happen within a fortnight or so of a Kong Off coming to a close, but it would seem that my pageview counter's rollover to 1 million is imminent! When I started this blog four years ago, it was a pet project that I never would have foreseen hitting that milestone. My "score" here is higher than my personal best at the game. Much gratitude goes out to the many thousands who have linked, reddited, Tweeted, shared, read, commented, and encouraged.
Congratulations to Hank, Jeff, and all the other competitors for another well-played Kong Off!
|Hard at work on Kong Off Row|
|Ethan Daniels' understated reaction to a Steve Wiebe autograph|
|Richie Knucklez and Alan Radue with the champion's barstool Radue created for the event|
|All photos: William McEvoy|