For one afternoon, the Emerson Suites was converted into an arcade, complete with dim lighting and energetic music. Students flooded into the room to watch their peers race through Rainbow Road, battling to be crowned the Mario Kart Champion and win a grand prize — a Nintendo Switch.
The 2019 Information Technology Gaming Tournament took place from 1 to 5 p.m. Sept. 21, and over 145 students attended. While the Mario Kart tournament was the main attraction, the event had other gaming options for attendees to enjoy. In one corner there was a virtual reality station. Attendees could try immersive games like “BEAT Saber,” “Dance Central” and “I Expect You To Die.” There was also an Xbox One, equipped with a Kinect with which attendees could play “Just Dance.” Even those who were not playing for a score were welcome to walk by and join in on the dancing. Nearby was an Atari gaming console, with which attendees could play the classic game Tempest 4000.
Despite the other choices, most of the visitors that day were there for the Mario Kart tournament. With over 80 competitors, the tournament was organized in a large bracket, similar to March Madness brackets. The tournament was broadcast on four screens, accommodating four racers at a time, against one wall. Swaths of spectators cheered for their favorite players, and the sound of virtual tires roared against computerized pavement, mixing with the energetic encouragement and gasps.
While many competitors joined the competition for fun, others were much more serious about their races.
“I got third in the tournament last year,” senior Aidan Lentz said. “I came in really wanting to win.”
In the last round of the tournament, two finalists fought one on one for the crown. Sophomore Julian Gorring and senior Aidan Lentz sat at the front of the room with cheers and cries of support sounding from behind. In the end, Gorring emerged victorious.
Mario Kart was one of the most logical choices for a gaming tournament, said Terry Ruger, associate director for engagement and client technologies for Information Technology. He said Information Technology knew it needed to go with a game that was popular and that everyone would be comfortable with playing.
“Shooting games, like Fortnite, are really popular right now,” Ruger said. “But we wanted to choose a competitive game that wasn’t violent and didn’t include any shooting.”
All rounds of the tournament were played on a Nintendo Switch. The Nintendo Switch is one of Nintendo’s newest consoles, released in 2017. Information Technology owns all of the Nintendo Switches used in the tournament. Information Technology funds the event, but costs are relatively small, Ruger said. He said the gaming tournament is one of the best ways to reach out to students and make them aware of all that Information Technology has to offer, like their free on-campus FixIt Shop, which attempts to fix malfunctioning student appliances, and its various employment opportunities.
Andy Hogan, director of engagement and client technologies for Information Technology, said students are at the forefront of planning this event and are critical in keeping it running smoothly.
“This event is great for establishing partnerships with businesses and to connect with students, and it’s really important for students to have fun,” Hogan said.
Monster Energy was an official sponsor of the tournament, providing free Monster Energy beverages to competitors and spectators alike. Other businesses, like Purity Ice Cream, Chipotle and Cinemapolis, donated gift cards to serve as prizes in a drawing with free entries to competitors.
There were also activities for those not particularly interested in virtual gaming. Alongside the video games was a long table that was covered with traditional board games like Clue, Candyland and Checkers. Many attendees flocked to these tables, whether they were between races or not competing at all.
“I thought it was all fun and games at the beginning,” freshman Will Walberg said. “A Mario Kart tournament sounds so fun, and it’s awesome that something like that even exists. But I had no idea how good some of the other competitors were going to be.”