Rain was pouring down in torrents on Nuremberg on Saturday the twenty-seventh. A bad day for most sport events, but these weather conditions were powerless to prevent a German premiere event. Indoors, eight competitors had come together for the inaugural German Mega Drive Championships, to determine which was the best overall Mega Drive player of them all.
The idea had been born overseas: In 2008, the organizers of the English Mega Drive Championships had invited players from all over Europe to band together for what were going to be the 2008 European Mega Drive Championships, taking place in Nottingham, England. While the participating nations, England and Portugal, had already experience in national competitions, there had also been four Germans who were keen on going overseas and measure their skills. Since they had no way of determining who would be best suited for such an event, they held a short series of try out games among themselves. What they didn’t know at this point was that this little selection would be the seed that one year later, nourished by the great experience gained at European level, would grow into the first German Mega Drive Tournament. So these four who made up Team Germany at the first European Championships sent out the call, and in the end, four more players answered. It was an idea made by fans and created for fans, fans of Sega and the Mega Drive who enjoyed an occasional game or two and came together in friendly competition – even some who had only come to watch as a visitor found themselves spontaneously joining in. In a tournament that went on for six hours, eight players from six German cities had thus met in Nuremberg and competed in twenty-seven games to be the first German Mega Drive Champion.
The organizers had decided on an elimination league structure. To allow for a tournament as versatile as possible, each competitor first announced four games he wished to play at the tournament. Then the players were divided into two groups with four members each. In this first stage of the tournament everyone would play each of the opponents in his group twice, once in an “away” match where he had to choose a game from his rival’s list to compete in, and once in a “home” game, where his opponent had to choose from his. Two free-for-all four player matches would round out the preliminary stage in each group. The two best would then proceed to the finals where they would battle each other in one final group stage. The matches were played on a Model 2 PAL Sega Mega Drive on regular three-button pads; a Nomad was set aside as to give each player an opportunity to test each game they weren’t familiar with without interrupting the flow of the tournament.
Right from the beginning, the tournament proved to be an exciting competition. Both groups developed differently. In group A, the winner of the 2008 tryout tournament and best German player at the 2008 European Championships, Tobias Berg, dominated the league right from the start, winning every single of both his home and away games and finishing first in both four-way battles as well, ending his stint in the preliminaries finishing with eighteen out of a possible eighteen points. However, right up until game seven of eight in the first round, every one of the three other players had a shot at qualification for the finals.When Matthias Schütz, who had already beaten leading man Tobias Berg one year before at Super Street Fighter II, failed to renew his previous dominance in that game, he was eliminated from the tournament. However, the two remaining players, Alexander Klassen and Thomas Frank, viciously battled on for second place, finishing the primary group stage in a tie. A decisive mach was sought and chosen in a final battle of Mega Bomberman, where Alexander eliminated his opponent and bombed his way into the finals.
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Group B saw an outcome, that though entirely different, was just as exciting. While Alessandro Sanasi didn’t manage to score a single point right up until his very last game (where he ended up second in a four-player game), each of the three remaining players where deadlocked in the competition. After game seven, newcomer Valerian Essinger was narrowly leading with twelve points while Richard Neumann and Sebastian Sponsel were locked in a tie for second place. The last match, a four-way Royal Rumble battle in WWF Raw, would decide who would proceed. Should Valerian run out of luck, he could still be eliminated. However, it was Sebastian who was thrown out of the ring first, making Richard and Valerian proceed into the finals.
By that point the tournament was already running in overtime, so a single four-player game was chosen to determine ranks five to eight. The luck of the draw would determine another free-for-all battle of WWF Raw. Seeing as they both had narrowly missed entry into the finals, everyone present considered Thomas and Sebastian as favourites for fifth place. However, only five seconds into the match and as the very first action of the game, Thomas was literally catapulted out of the ring and out of the competition, unluckily ending up last. The surprises didn’t stop there, however. Alessandro Sanasi, who had finished the group stages with merely two points out of a possible eighteen, suddenly rose to the challenge and refused to give in. In the end, his will to survive lasted the longest, and he managed to secure fifth place.
The finals promised to be a continuation of a fierce competition, and it sure did deliver. Already, the third game of the finals brought a huge surprise: Tobias Berg, who up until this point had not lost a single match-up in the entire tournament, faced Richard Neumann in World Cup Italia ’90. At the 2008 European Championships, Tobias had managed to crushingly defeat the English champion Chris Dilks on his home turf 7-0, and at first, it seemed like he would dominate in this game at the German tournament as well, ending the first half leading 3-1. However, Richard refused to give in, and while he had struggled during first half, soon into the second half he began to take control of the game. In a stunning turnaround, he managed to reach a 3-4 lead in minute eighty of the match, but immediately Tobias scored the draw, and the two rivals entered the last seconds of the game locked in a tie. In minute eighty-seven, however, it was Richard who regained dominance, and smashed the ball into the goal, narrowly defeating the leading man of Group A 4-5!
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This would foreshadow how close the competition would be fought. Richard, Valerian and Tobias constantly fought head-to-head, and only Alexander, while still giving his best and at times only losing narrowly, soon fell behind, even though he still had a very slim chance for the title after five of seven games in the were done. When the final game, a four-way battle of Mega Bomberman, came around, the score was still open: Both Tobias and Valerian led with eight points out of a possible twelve, while Richard, who surprisingly lost with his favourite game, Sonic 2, to Richard and had to leave two points against Alexander, who was close behind with six. This meant that in winning the final battle he could still force one of his opponents into a tie breaker, given the correct outcome.
In the end, only one player could prevail. And even though his confidence had somewhat suffered after his surprise loss at World Cup Italia ’90, in the final match Tobias Berg again rose to the challenge and managed to dominate the very last game, with neither Richard nor Valerian coming even close to threatening his final victory. Thus, Tobias Berg, best German player at the 2008 European Championship, reassured this status after an exciting six-hour tournament by becoming the first German Mega Drive Champion in 2009!
A great time was had by all who competed. The competition had been exciting right up until the very last match, and everyone agreed that this competition should become a regular institution. While the first plans for a second tournament are already in progress, aiming for a date in early 2010, the best German players in the contest secured themselves the option to represent team Germany at the upcoming 2009 European Mega Drive Championships in Portugal.
Best wishes and congratulations go out to all competitors! Here’s hoping that these competitions will not only continue, but might also serve as an inspiration to gamers and Mega Drive enthusiasts in other countries to do something similar and band together for their own tournaments. If that tournament proved one thing, it was that it doesn’t take a hardcore gamer to end up among the best or to have a great time. All it takes is a love for these old school games that still prove to be highly enjoyable and make for a great competition crossing all boundaries imaginable.
For a more detailed look at the tournament proceedings, please check out the “Germany” section at Mega Drive Champs.