My name is Matt Luongo. Most of the fighting game community knows me as "Shock", and some even refer to me as the Godfather of the competitive MK scene. I am a lifelong fighting game player, having roots as early as Karate Champion and, more notably, Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat. I didn't start playing MK specifically until it came out for the home systems, as I was around 11 at the time and getting around to arcades that had MK wasn't easy to do.
As time went on, I played through every incarnation of every fighter that came out, playing others whenever possible, but I never took note of there being an actual "scene" until around the release of MK3, where I would begin to see people showing up in the same places over and over to play in groups, getting better with every occasion. I was later aware this went on for virtually all other fighting games, but by then I was at an age where I could get around a little more easily.
Throughout the mid to late 90s, I traveled around NJ as much I could, to places like Point Pleasant, Atlantic City, various malls and movie theaters, finding whatever competition I could. I was fortunate enough to have a video store across the street from my grandmother's house that always had the latest fighting games, and in West Coast Video was where I first learned of what it was like to play in a semi-organized local community. Players from my town would always be there ready to play and I learned my most basic strategies and tactics there. I had no idea it would eventually lead to what I do now.
In 2000, everything changed. I met a player from my town by the name of Ryan Hutnick, known to all as "The Prophet," who was heavily into SF, Soul Calibur, Tekken and MK, moreso than even I was. He was a better player at every game and had competed in tournaments when I was barely aware that tournaments existed. He introduced me to the fighting game scene, including Shoryuken.com, and we attended our first tournament in 2001: North East Championships 2 in Philadelphia, PA at University Pinball. This is where I also met fellow player "Tom Brady." It was then I realized just how much of a scene there had been, because 10 other players showed up for a game that was 6 years old at the time, and considered dead, while other games like SF3 Third Strike, SFA3, MvC2, CvS2, and Tekken 4 were all on the rise, getting between 32 and 128 players regularly.
Ryan pushed me to the next level, and after a few years of regularly playing against him, I reached his level. We played in a UMK3 tournament that consisted of a mere 12 players, won by Julian Robinson, with Ryan placing 2nd. There was also an MKII tournament that had approximately 10 players, most of the UMK3 crew. What I was experiencing would directly lead me to the path I chose in the fighting game community.
In my early months of the fighting game tournament scene, I learned of an extensive competitive scene that existed, apparently exclusively in Chicago. The scene was extended by the advent of Wavenet, which allowed multiple arcades in the Chicago area to be linked via dedicated network. This helped raise the bar of skill level that much higher, and the tactics and combos of this generation carried over years later when players decided to get back into the 2D MKs as the 3D MKs failed to deliver the style of competitive play we all wanted. Players such as "Lex," "Moe30W", "Throwerrr," Jason Wilson, and of course many of the current employees of NetherRealm Studios, were among the crew who pushed MK to the limits during this time. Unfortunately, due to my age and lack of knowledge of this scene in the 90s, I was unable to benefit from it.
At the time, Mortal Kombat hadn't seen a proper fighting game release since MK4 in 1997, and was highly dependent on the arcade scene for its player base's skill growth. By now, arcades were extremely localized and the scene wasn't as thriving as it was in the 80s and 90s. The following year, when MK Deadly Alliance had just recently been released, we participated in a tournament for the game at NEC3. However, it fell off the face of the earth shortly after; its lack of netplay and lack of an arcade release really hurt its long-term popularity, but we knew Midway logically wanted to release updates to the engine as time went on. We all went back to UMK3 and started rebuilding the scene from there.
With all of this in mind, we wanted to run UMK3 at tournaments considering it was the most stable and respected incarnation of MK games. However, with venue changes and not being able to carry a cabinet on our backs, we decided to run a tournament with MK Trilogy in 2003 at NEC4, with no success or interest.
Another problem arose in respect to controller preference. No one had MK sticks then and, given that SF sticks were widely popular, we were forced to play on pad, or compensate on an 8-button face at best. We solved this problem in 2005 by having sticks custom built and eventually ran UMK3 tournaments via emulation, satisfying both the stick and pad players at our own expense. Through it all, we remained dedicated and continued on, promoting competitive MK with match videos, combo videos and invaluable information to help new players learn, with endless help and support from Bulgarian sensation "ded_." Without his help, the community probably wouldn't have leveled up so quickly.
To supplement the console venues, we also started running tournaments at 8 on the Break in Dunellen, NJ, which had a UMK3 cabinet. These tournaments generally only saw old school MK players from the tri-state area that were very used to playing on cabinet back in the day. These tournaments went on every few months for years -- in fact, well beyond the 10 year anniversary of UMK3. Eventually, the Break started renting out their UMK3 machine, but by then much of that crew had disbanded. It definitely brought back the feeling of playing back in the arcade days as if it never stopped.
Almost four years later, there was still no scene to speak of outside of the tri-state area and, apparently, South America. Several countries there saw constant, fierce, top level competition and it continues still today. Today this group is known as Mortal Kombat Kompetitive, with notable South American promoters and players such as "Ninja Grinder," "Hanzo Hasashi," and "RZP" representing their respective countries. These players constantly produced quality match video footage and combo videos for everyone's benefit, never without a little bit of friendly drama to keep things interesting. During this time we continued to run our tournaments a couple times a year at majors, whenever and wherever we were invited. The turnouts however were still small, rarely if ever reaching double digits.
On February 16th, 2006, Ryan, a major pioneer in the rebirth of the competitive MK scene, passed away. With his loss in the backs of our heads, we continued to run tournaments with help from other players and our turnouts continued to slowly but surely rise, getting around 16 player tournaments, which, all things considered, was very good for such an old game with a steep learning curve. A month later with my friend and fellow gamer of two decades, "DreemerNJ", and I created a website in Ryan's memory to further support the competitive community and teach players everything that everyone knew about the MK games. UltimateMK.com later turned into a treasure trove of what would be the sum of knowledge of competitive MK, coupled with the perfect timing of the releases of UMK3 on XBLA and eventually MKII on PSN.
As the years went by, players came and went in the scene and I personally found myself becoming more and more alone in the upheaval that so many wanted to believe in. Some very helpful players striving to help support MK shortly after Ryan's passing were "BustaUppa," "FrankieBonez," "JetPhi," and even some of Chicago old resurfaced putting a face on MK that the rest of the tournament scene knew and could respect. Rising from the ashes, UMK3 was accepted as a legitimate tournament game once again through constant effort of "Big E" Eric Small and John Gallagher with their constant support at the major tournaments they run. To add fuel to the fire, high profile SF3/4 player "Long Island" Joe made sure to put his name in the hat to bring MK back to life, generating genuine hype.
MK Deception and Armageddon were two extremely popular, online-ready 3D MKs that, surprisingly, barely saw the light of day in the tournament scene. It seemed as if the online competition stayed online, never breeding players that ventured to the tournament scene. Today, tournaments for these games are possible, as MKvDC became the first of the 3D games that really stepped up and supplied some kind of serious play, but still not for nearly two years after its release. Players such as "Konqrr", "TomBrady," "REO" and "Check" really demonstrated what is possible in this series of games, including REO, who is quite easily the future of the MK scene.
Other players continued to support UMK3 and MKII tournament in, tournament out, bringing attention to various new sets of eyes and subsequently getting us invited to more majors and more locals. But at NEC9, things nearly came to a close for the North East scene. This was the first time I had gone to a long distance tournament, brought all the equipment entirely by myself, ran the tournament in one day, and went home. It was the cusp of a new era and I hadn't realized it yet, but it was coming because the right players were there; they just weren't ready. I really felt like I couldn't do any more for the community and contemplated giving it up, even though I really didn't want to. It wasn't for lack of turnouts, but for the physical and mental end of keeping up with and being responsible for everything. My partner in crime, DreemerNJ, could only do so much to help supply a quality website.
Players such as "9.95," "Summoning," "DarkRob," "AC1984" "ComeBack Kyle" and others would step up and really take the reigns at tournaments, helping in every conceivable way when it seemed to many as if I was holding the entire community on my back, mostly due to the internal problems within the community that heavily stemmed from the rivalry between offline and online players. After some cool down time the community came back together, tournaments continued happening and other MK sites opening to fill the void. The most important thing everyone learned was that the MK community was not "just for Shock's amusement" because I can sit back and relax at any tournament I'm a part of, and watch new players develop their characters, giving as much one on one advice as I can.
With their addition came new players from all over, bringing turnouts beyond a consistent 16. While this still may seem small compared to the 250 plus SF4 gets, one has to remember that MKII and UMK3 were both released over 15 years ago, and never truly got the attention they deserved. These fresh minds quickly spread the MK scene throughout Long Island through the massive effort of 9.95, who spearheaded the effort. One can also not speak about the MK scene and support without mentioning "Tim Static" who has endlessly supported, traveled, tweeted, facebooked, posted, and megaphoned everything he possibly could to get people paying attention to the MK scene.
In May 2010, UMK3 was streamed live for the first time ever, in front of 6000 viewers no less, at East Coast Throwdown 2 in Morristown, NJ when I myself played against LI Joe in the winners finals of the tournament that weekend. At the time, I had probably hosted at least 25 UMK3 tournaments over the 8 1/2 years I had been part of the scene, and this was by far the crowning achievement for our entire North East scene, and served to spawn even more interest. While some haters reared their ugly heads in the chatbox, they were quickly drowned out by the overwhelmingly positive response received by the majority of the viewers. UMK3 was recognized as a game that could deliver quality entertainment, with scientific, chess-like mind games on display that more players would want to experience.
MK continued to see growth throughout 2010, achieving a 34-player tournament in Ohio at Seasons Beatings Redemption - easily the biggest and best tournament the scene enjoyed in over a decade... until NECXI which, at a 32-player turnout, hosted nearly double the quality players that SBR did 2 months earlier. At this tournament, many new faces from the online community that the scene has been waiting for finally arrived, such as "DC Hustle," "O Juggernaut O," "NoDoubt," and "marvirrasta" who took first place over veteran player "Crazy Dominican" in a tremendous display of dominance that no one expected. We hope to see them all return.
With the release of the new Mortal Kombat, a combination of players from all the different series of games, as well as crossover players from the SF and Tekken scenes, are expected to take part. The massive 300-player, $21,000 PDP-hosted tournament in Vegas was a huge success, regardless of the questionable decisions leading into it. This tournament saw the world famous Street Fighter player Justin Wong, who took home 1st place, along with other incredible SF players, "fLoE" and LI Joe. Tournaments for the new MK are happening every weekend, everywhere, and everyone wants to play it. Fortunately with an active patching system, the game will continue to be tweaked and modified to eliminate any bugs, broken tactics, and infinite combos.
Today, the driving force of MK can be found in the hearts of players and promoters such as "ZAQ", "STORMS" and "krayziebone86" who do everything in their power to spread the MK love. With their support and the continued effort of everyone else who is still involved with the community, MK will continue to gain popularity and maintain its rightful place as a legitimate fighting game that isn't written off as a novelty. Today even MKII gets 16 to 20 player turnouts, when not a single noteworthy MKII tournament happened between 2001 and, probably, 2008. The positive attitude of all the new players today really contrasts the negativity several years ago that Tom Brady has touched on in his interviews as of late. That no matter what anyone said, we made sure we were there, and kept on trucking. MK was here to stay, even if we had to set up on a colossal A/V technical nightmare to make sure everyone was happy.
In the end, many goals have been met, and there are many more to come. I've met a lot of people who are now some my closest friends, and I even got a job through competitive gaming. There are so many amazing and dedicated players to mention, it's impossible to reflect on them all, but my advice to anyone who reads this would be to come out to a tournament and be part of something fun and exciting. Meet new people. The scene is designed to be a social networking activity on top of being a mentally challenging environment with a lot of very intelligent people.
The foundation was built nearly a decade ago, and now from one little house, an entire community is thriving, to the point where Ed Boon and company had no choice but to take notice, hiring professional tournament players from the MK scene to play test the new Mortal Kombat, giving them a jumpstart on the miniscule nuances that only they can pick up on quickly enough, with enough passion to say "This needs to be fixed." This kind of recognition on some level supercedes the attention the fighting game community in general gives the game, because these are the people who invented what so many players are dedicated to. Without them, we would probably just be playing Street Fighter. With the upcoming Evo in Vegas, ECT3 in NJ, CEO in FL, Summer Jam in Philly, and the Valley Stream Monsters building a potentially massive local scene on Long Island, MK has a lot to look forward to in the future.