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The SoCal Tournament Scene Without SHGL

October 5th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Several years ago i wrote an editorial article about the closing of Southern Hills Golfland, the arcade where all of Southern California’s best players gathered for nearly a decade. People still talk about SHGL’s monthly 128-man Marvel tournaments attracting players from all over the country on a ridiculously regular basis. The article was originally posted on Video Opera which has been falling apart at a steady pace since then. It seems like a good idea to repost it here because those photo links are bound to stop working any day now.
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The SoCal Tournament Scene Without SHGL
December 17th, 2003

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the fall of Southern Hills Golfland, the center of Southern California’s fighting game tournament scene for over seven years. With revenues steadily decreasing since the close of the movie theater next door, Golfland Entertainment Centers, Inc. saw no reason to keep the small arcade open. The high value of the land it occupied lead to the demolition of the arcade to make way for a gated community of single family houses.

There is nothing left of SHGL now, with the newly constructed buildings almost completed. The entire area, including what was the SHGL parking lot, is enclosed in a brick wall perimeter. The main access road is named Stepping Stone Cir, which meets Beach Blvd at the entrance to the community. Within the walls are over twenty separate houses, at least one of which serves as the sales office.

The deserted movie theater has since been replaced by Super Autobacs, a Japanese automotive store specializing in rice rocket power ups. The Yoshinoya and the Burger King are still open, along with a new Quiznos restaurant and a new Poofy’s Pastrami restaurant. The Pho place near the mysteriously vacant donut store has been revamped. Finally, the furniture store next door with the crazy neon lights remains completely unchanged.

Camelot Golfland, the supposed replacement for SHGL, has nowhere near the management support that John “SHGLBoss” Bailon provided the regulars at his arcade. Camelot may be a much bigger and better funded arcade, but it caters solely to children’s parties and family outings. Where the SHGL management encouraged its big name players and recognized their valuable ability to help bring in new customers, Camelot has made an enemy out of every player who requests tournament support and demands working equipment.

Because of these conditions, the only fighting game group to survive the transition to Camelot Golfland was the Marvel vs Capcom 2 crowd, but only as a shadow of its former glory. SHGL’s considerable Capcom vs SNK 2 and Third Strike scenes started frequenting Family Fun Arcade in Granada Hills instead. The Tekken 4, Soul Calibur 2, and King of Fighters communities completely vanished. Where SHGL had enjoyed a sizeable Guilty Gear X following, all of the best SoCal Guilty Gear XX players now play at Family Fun. Most of SHGL’s Bemani game fanatics now either play at home or frequent Arcade Infinity in Rowland Heights.

The most important function SHGL served was providing a regular meeting ground for the best players from all of the Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego area arcades. Everybody knew that the only wins worth bragging about were those collected at SHGL, so the entirety of the SoCal fighting game scene improved together. In fact, this reputation was so well respected that even regular tournaments were reason enough for top players from as far as Las Vegas and Seattle to make the trip to the surprisingly small arcade in Stanton. Even after a full year, no arcade has been able to take its place as the core of the SoCal fighting game community. Not surprisingly, the scene is nowhere near as cohesive as before and SoCal can no longer claim to be the best in any major game.

Obviously, SoCal has too many great players to ever disappear off the tournament circuit. And with a community this large and this dedicated, SoCal will always pose a threat to the rest of the country at major national tournaments. But for this region to regain the championship status it enjoyed before the first Evolution tournament reshuffled the national rankings board, it’s going to take a lot of cooperation, a lot of friendly rivalry, and a lot of personal dedication. Because no matter how perfect or how poor the situation is, the most important factor of all is somebody deciding to do whatever it takes to be the best and following through every day until it happens.

However, for those of us who thought of SHGL as our home arcade, nothing can ever replace that run-down hole-in-the-wall we all loved. There will never be another hangout that is as easy to go to or as important to defend. And the sad truth is that most of the players responsible for SoCal’s reputation will never care as much about practicing or take a loss as personally as they did during SHGL’s glory days.

Really, it’s the people of this community that matter most of all. The SHGL regulars were a group of the most diverse individuals imaginable. That’s what made the whole thing so magic. From Watson parrying chairs, to Thao telling someone to hold his kid when his turn came up at SFA3, to Wizard the orange token machine letting everyone know what’s up with the Golfland jingle, to Alex Valle giving some new kid the twenty questions, to Crackhead Bob losing countless tokens in shady card games with Scan, SHGL had a personality all its own. Ultimately, this is also what makes the fall of SHGL so depressing – these people are so diverse that aside from that arcade, there’s just no way to get them all back together. And there’s no drama like Golfland drama …



Photographs taken by MrWizard on 10.10.2002



Photographs taken by Maj and ALTANertive
on 10.26.2003 (during SoCal Armageddon season)

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  1. October 5th, 2009 at 12:35 | #1

    Addendum to SHGL Editorial
    January 01, 2004

    It’s crazy how much the scene has changed since SHGL closed. In fact, it all started going downhill when Valle got his crazy 3am job at Coke. That’s when the EC started owning up SoCal in Marvel and NorCal started dominating us in CvS2. Now the only place to find Valle is playing P-Groove on Xbox Live and winning random UCLA tournaments without having played the arcade version of the game in months. It’s good to see Alex winning again, but every time he does, it shows how little the rest of us have improved.

    As for the core SHGL crowd, most of them are reachable in one way or another, but everyone seems to have gone their separate ways. MrWizard’s got some crazy orange variant of Thao’s job. MIC went from Tekken champ to old man in no time flat and Dan Chen went with him. Scan has turned into a bitter, lonely dude who counts his money all day and talks shit to fighting game players about not having careers. He used to be a team player, too. Rob (CaliSean) and Don (GhettoD) show up randomly to 3S tournaments and rep top tier characters from 1997, but neither of those two is around nearly as much anymore. DjLiKu is discovering how time consuming it is to be gold digger bait for multiple random asian girls. Nobody even knows where sicdic has been for the past year.

    In fact, a lot of people that showed up every week seem to have disappeared completely: Duc, Tom Nonaka, that random fool that used to bring his wife or whatever and mop fools up in Ultrarcade HF. Crackhead Bob, the resident Guitar Freaks champ (at least when he was high) who ran his Corvette into the SHGL fence has moved on to Arcade Infinity. James Chen still plays random games like Samurai Shodown 2 with his buddy Aric Tetley, but i don’t think i’d believe him if he ever said he was going to an arcade again. The last two SHGL workers to really be a part of our group, Scott and Eddie, both quit working there a few months before SHGL shut down and got jobs at a PC cafe. They would always be down to go to Norms with us after closing the place for the night, but they probably haven’t been to an arcade since then. It seems that every few days, someone we know discovers either Jesus or Warcraft 3 and devotes their life to one of the two.

    It’s pretty cool that a lot of the OG SoCal fighting game scene works for Paradox now. We’re talking Gilley, omni, edma, waterb0y, Liu Kang, and some more fools you guys are all too young to know. FlipMeign and tragic used to work there too. It’s like a tournament players’ retirement home, complete with geographical and psychological barriers separating it from the rest of gaming civilization. Even if those fools wanted to spend the hour and a half to come down to hang out with us, they spend so much of their day playing games that they certainly aren’t going to want to do that on their time off. Still, it doesn’t sound like a bad deal moving on to game desiger jobs. Too bad all they make is console wrasslin games.

    Viscant talks a lot about playing CvS2, saying stuff like Nakoruru beats Sagat and Yamazaki beats Cammy, but nobody’s actually seen him at an arcade for months. The rest of San Diego crew doesn’t really hang out in the OC anymore. Maybe they all grew up.

    Used to be, the only Mexican that could threaten Watson was Valle (and Valle’s actually Peruvian so he had an excuse). But now, hella random Mexicans play 3S nonstop at Family Fun, and Watson only cares about games these days (or maybe always) when people talk shit. Though now that he’s made friends with all of them, he’s already mentioned quitting again. I suppose the blame for that should be shared by all of us.

    There’s a lot of people missing from this list, but that’s inevitable. The SHGL community was enormous. Sure, people moved on while SHGL was still up. But it would happen gradually and we’d have some warning. Since SHGL closed, the vast majority of the people that i used to see every day have simply vanished. I never really knew how i wound up a SHGL regular or what i was doing there most of the time, but the closest thing to a reason i had was the community. Then a huge chunk of that reason just disappears. And the worst part is, there’s no conceivable way that i could have done anything about it. It’s like moving to another city or something. Sure you can keep in touch with people, but all save a handful are inevitably going to disappear from your life forever. It’s just an odd feeling. Really odd.

  2. onreload
    October 6th, 2009 at 19:43 | #2

    I never had a scene like the one described at SHGL, but it really hurt when my two local arcades closed, one after the other. I would have all but fallen out of gaming if not for people I met through university. It really sucks because while I’m happy for the game industry, especially competitive games, as they get bigger online and such (I can hear my roommate talking way-too-loudly over XBLA at this very moment), there’s nothing like the arcade, for reasons many other people have gone into

    …and maybe while everybody (while they’re young at the very least), has had a local hangout close down on them, it’s been especially tough on gamers. Arcades are all but extinct. You have no idea how lucky you are to be in SoCal, where they still live, even if it’s not the same.

  3. October 7th, 2009 at 11:24 | #3

    Believe me man, i know. Chances are i wouldn’t have stuck around this long if the local community hadn’t been so amazing. Even though i haven’t gone to an arcade in almost a year, i still feel connected to all these people. Who knows where i would have ended up if i hadn’t gotten completely sucked into Street Fighter.

    Whenever i want to play against someone, it’s awesome having the option to go to a friend’s house or to some gathering for competition instead of having to go online. It’s so surreal thinking back to all the random places i ended up and the projects i worked on, which basically came from knowing someone at the right time or having one random conversation at an arcade. Even when i’m making combo videos by myself, i always feel like the community continually provides most of the building blocks.

    But SHGL was something else. If it hadn’t closed, i’d probably be playing SF4 every day and trying to get top 8 at Evo. (And might be on the verge of homelessness too.)

  4. darcontek
    August 22nd, 2010 at 06:09 | #4

    Even though this entry is a year old I’d like to put in my 2 cents. This is just about arcades in general.

    I think the beauty of arcade games esepcially when they were exclusive to the platform was “winner stays and loser pays.” Thus you are in an social environment where being good was its own reward because winning allows you to stay in the machine and play more.

    What I don’t like about consoles is that consoles have destroyed that psychological and social environment where being good means anything. Because if you are good or bad, it doesn’t matter you can play the game as much as you want regardless of skill level and there is no consequence of doing bad.

    This is why people who played in the arcade especially in a competitive environment no matter who you are would get good in a matter of couple of months. Whereas we see a new generation of players who can’t even get what would’ve been known as “basic fundamentals” and post on msg boards on how they can’t do this or that.

  5. August 22nd, 2010 at 12:44 | #5

    Yup, i agree. That’s definitely one of the major motivational advantages Japan has over us. I’ve heard that sometimes they consider a dominant performance over an entire night of casual play to be more impressive than a weekly tournament win.

    Of course that’s partly because of their wacky single-match, single-elim format which makes their tourney results more questionable. But then “casual play” isn’t 100% casual when it costs a dollar to lose.

    With all that said, i still like to think that someone could get just as good, just as fast on a console if they’re committed enough. They may not have that monetary motivation, but there’s other ways to stay focused.

    I don’t think anyone can do it alone though. You still need to find a solid, competitive group that won’t let you off the hook when you screw something up repeatedly and get lazy about fixing it.

  6. darcontek
    August 25th, 2010 at 21:30 | #6

    I don’t know if this will be politically correct but for an article how about talking Consumerism ruining videogames? WCmaxi of tekkenzaibatsu has seemed to complain about this and talks about the reason why tekken died in america.

    God knows, I lost my passion for gaming after 2001.

  7. darcontek
    August 25th, 2010 at 22:34 | #7

    And then by 2003, when evo2k turned to consoles fully, I felt pretty sad that the arcade era truly died.

  8. August 26th, 2010 at 02:14 | #8

    Well, i’m not too concerned about being politically correct, but that subject might not be within the scope of what i try to write about. I mean i try not to go off on opinionated editorial tangents, because that kind of stuff usually changes every year.

    We can certainly discuss it here though. Out of curiosity, what’s the argument for consumerism ruining video games?

  9. darcontek
    August 26th, 2010 at 09:28 | #9

    Haha. Please tell me what you think about this video first.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rz2jRHA9fo

    I had a friend who bought 2 te sticks telling me he was going to get into street fighter, and he never plays. I had no idea people could spend a $$$ on stuff and never use the stuff they buy.

  10. August 26th, 2010 at 11:13 | #10

    Sucks that he feels that way i guess? I’m not saying he’s wrong, but he does say “much like the generation before them” so the problem he’s referring to can’t be anything new.

    Same thing with your friend and his TE sticks. People have been buying skateboards and nunchucks and guitars, and storing them in basements without using them for a long time. Rock Band sold something like 6 million units and Rock Band 2 sold 4 million units. How many of those people still have the drum kit set up in their living room today, would you say?

  11. darcontek
    August 26th, 2010 at 23:50 | #11

    I do agree with you that the problem isn’t new. But here’s the thing, gaming is relatively new, and back in the 80s and 90s consumerism didn’t affect gaming because it wasn’t within the mainstream.

    I have nothing else to add. Also I’m not trying to argue anything either. I just wanted to bring that as an issue up.

  12. August 27th, 2010 at 11:26 | #12

    I think there’s always numerous factors influencing these trends. You can definitely have upward spikes in a downward environment, or vice versa. It’s all too volatile to predict so i wouldn’t get too caught up in playing that guessing game.

    For instance the release of SF4 has had a bigger short-term impact on the fighting game community than any long-term factors you could possibly cite. In fact, Daigo parrying Chun Li’s super had a bigger impact on the community than game releases like CvSPro, or MKvDC which sold two million copies.

    At the end of the day, if you can get ten dedicated players to meet up and play one game on a weekly basis for six months, that’s an awesome competitive environment. If you have a little bit of talent, that’s all you need to gain an even chance of placing top 8 at Evo. And that can happen anywhere at any time, regardless of how badly the industry is doing or how sluggish the community has gotten.

  1. June 6th, 2010 at 01:21 | #1
  2. August 13th, 2010 at 15:51 | #2
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