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'Super Smash Bros.' Gamers Find Unlikely Home at 24-Hour Bushwick Diner

By Serena Dai | July 16, 2015 5:42pm | Updated on July 17, 2015 5:22pm
  The diner is known for its spin the bottle table, but competitive gamers are hanging out there now, too.   
Super Smash Bros Gamers
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EAST WILLIAMSBURG — When New York City's only major "Super Smash Bros. Melee" tournament, "Nebulous," lost its space a few weeks ago, Bushwick resident Milo Han was bummed.

Hundreds of competitive players of the nearly 14-year-old Nintendo game — traveling from the five boroughs, New Jersey and even upstate New York — no longer had a space to hang out and play the game.

But Han got an idea to host an alternative tournament in the events venue beneath his dad's diner. The 24-hour spot, called Amancay's, is better known for its dedicated spin-the-bottle table and his father's partying antics than its video game clientele.

Still, his fellow "Smashers" took to the idea.

For the past month, 40 to 60 gamers ages 12 to 35 have flocked to the spot at 2 Knickerbocker Ave. every Sunday just to play "Super Smash Bros. Melee," finding a temporary home until their "Nebulous" tournament gets a new space.

"I was bummed about [Nebulous closing]," said Han, who is home for the summer from Pomona College in California. "At the same time, I heard my dad and other workers talking about how they wanted events during the day downstairs. I thought 'Hey, let's solve both these problems.'"

Han's dad and other restaurant employees didn't take him seriously when he first brought up the idea, he said.

So the 19-year-old put in the legwork and cash to bring the tournament together, buying Game Cubes, Nintendo Wiis and old TVs off Craigslist. (Newer TVs don't work as well with the older game, he explained.)

Staffers at the restaurant got more pumped as people showed up to play, Han said.

Not only do people come to compete, they also socialize and play "friendlies" with others, often spending the whole day at the venue, Han said.

"Most games, people feel guilty about playing because it's online. You feel anti-social and not productive," Han said. "But a game like 'Smash,' you can't play online. You need to actually go out there and meet people. Tournaments are the way people do that."

When "Nebulous" stopped, it "was a huge blow," said Will Zhou, 20, an NYU student who's been playing "Melee" competitively for several years. He had never heard of Amancay's or its downstairs venue, Max Cellar, before the new tournament started. But with its food, drinks and proximity to the L train, he said it's been a good spot to meet people.

Most tournament venues, Zhou noted, are bare-bones spots like game shops, arcades or community centers.

"It's just kind of filled in that gap of a tournament that's accessible by public transportation in the city," Zhou said.

And for Smashers who really love to compete, New York is the only place to go to play against the best in the area, said Nico Rodriguez, a 17-year-old from New Jersey who travels to the city specifically for tournaments.

Having a big, organized tournament attracts all the top-ranked players, making it a more competitive and interesting place to grow as a "Melee" player, he said.

"We realized if you have one central hub, that’s where you get the best results," Rodriguez said. "I know there are people showing up consistently to get better."

The crowd at the tournaments mostly consists of men. Everybody gets enthusiastic watching games that are streamed on a projector, sometimes yelling and cheering. Since matchups are set by skill, it's possible to see a 13-year-old compete against a 30-year-old.

The Smashers also have nicknames, wearing name tags bearing monikers like "Bubbles" or "Future."

Milo's dad Chang, who's never been into video games, doesn't really get it, saying his son has "turned it into a geek haven."

But it's "pretty funny" to see all the gamers there, and he's glad to see his son do what he considers "a community service for geeks," Chang Han said.

"It’s pretty healthy," he added. "Otherwise, my kid would be home playing that s--t by himself all day."

Milo Han said he has been having fun planning it all even though he doesn't get much of a chance to play in the tournaments while they're going on.

Since "Melee" players don't get support from Nintendo, the community simply has organize the events themselves, he said.

"Anyone with the opportunity or the space would have done it," Han said. "We just want a place to play."

Max Cellar's "Super Smash Bros. Melee" tournaments take place every Sunday until the end of August. This week's event, on Sunday July 19, will also stream EVO, the world's largest "Melee" tournament. Tickets cost $10 online and include discounted food and drink specials. Bring your own controller.