I started working with some friends at a movie theatre back in '99. It was a fun time and we all loved games and a number of my co-workers loved comics. I'd gotten to play a bit of the first Marvel Vs. Capcom when it came out and never really thought much about it -- I was never one for fighting games in the first place. I just wanted to fit in, so I would play a match every now and then with other people who were a lot more invested in the game. I remember getting my ass handed to me by practically everyone and it was fine -- hanging out and playing the games were what really mattered to me. Then the local arcade across from us in the mall got Marvel Vs. Capcom 2. I wanted to at least not suck enough to make it a worthwhile competition for people I played against, so I ended up picking up the Dreamcast game. I started training with every character and trying to find who seemed like a lot of fun to me. I'd go to the arcade and play when I got a chance and ended up getting my ass worked by the local one-trick pony -- everyone thought he was amazing, but something seemed off to me and I eventually realized that he really just fell into typical patterns and had certain expectations of his opponents that allowed him to repeat those same patterns. I lost a lot to him and started playing more with my friends and we kinda fed off each other for awhile. The theatre we worked at closed because they weren't interested in renewing a lease and had another property just across the parking lot anyway, so we all transferred over to that theatre. Management basically hung out with staff and because of the sheer interest shown in the game, they ended up getting an MvC2 machine in the other theatre. We were stoked. Did I say we were stoked? No, we were feverish with desire to plow into that game. One of my friends who enjoyed wrestling decided to make a belt just for the game and we started tiering players into divisions. Everyone wanted the belt and you had to earn it and you had to defend it. I lost so many times that I lost count of my losses. I just didn't care because the competition was fun and I felt like I thrived in it. Eventually, I did begin to thrive and improve dramatically. I didn't need first tier characters to win matches because I just saw the repetition, the patterns in the movements of players. I went from losing all the time to winning some of the time to winning enough that it would scare off players. The guy that we were all losing to at the local arcade? He'd come by and we'd decimate him. After a while, he stopped showing up because he didn't take part in our grind. The grind was so severe because we loved the game so much. I remember that on preview nights (the night where we'd screen a film to make sure that it was of proper quality to show customers the next day), we'd set the machine to free play and people would just line up to give it their all. Usually someone ended up going on a roll and the trash-talking would get fierce but it was great -- whether you were just trying to get the basics down or you were a veteran there, we welcomed everyone. I'd gotten to near the top of the food chain and I wanted more people to play and I would recruit any new employees that I could. In the end, I did end up taking the belt and defending it on the run back, but not while I worked at the theatre. I actually ended up moving away, visited some people in a much larger city and saw how much smaller of a fish I was in the pond of Marvel. I fought the sixth best player in the city and he demolished me -- it was an eye-opening experience and one that showed me how important it is to go outside your local competition if you really wanted to get better. When I moved back and another theatre cropped up in the local mall and had the game there, I met up with the owner of the belt and won two first-to-ten matches, going 8-2 and 9-1 respectively. I knew I'd never reach the level of those other players while I lived in a small town (this was before we had online playability to shore up your weaknesses), but I took that damn belt and I never lost it again. Even if I was never better than a semi-pro, I could at least take pride in reigning the locals. So many quarters lost to so much gaming and it was so very much worth it. I made so many friends during that time period and it's an experience I'm glad I had the opportunity to partake in.