Well, Cleveland’s finally getting a Super Bowl. Tecmo Cleveland is the first official public Tecmo Super Bowl tournament and you can join the fray in Avon Lake, OH on Aug. 5, 2017.
Released in 1991 for the Nintendo Entertainment System, many faithful fans still argue to this day that Tecmo Super Bowl (TSB), is the quintessential sports game. A follow up to 1987’s arcade football classic Tecmo Bowl which ported to the NES in 1989, TSB was revolutionary for the home console. Featuring enhanced stats, playbooks, and rosters, TSB was also the first game on NES to include actual National Football League players (including Bo Jackson). In 2011, ESPN crowned Tecmo Super Bowl the greatest sports game of all time. Twenty-five years later, TSB still lights up screens across the nation, thanks in part to people like long-time TSB fan and North Ridgeville native, Tom Jenkins.
Eight years back, Jenkins founded Tecmo Cleveland, and what started as a small group of friendly competitors quickly outgrew the basement game room. Now Jenkins is gearing up for Tecmo Cleveland’s first major tournament. Leading to the main event, he’s touring Northeast Ohio and hosting a series of pre-tourney skirmishes, in which Tecmo Super Bowl players of all walks can meet up and battle each other on the digital field. We had a chance to huddle with Jenkins, who shared with us his passion for Tecmo Super Bowl and gave us the low-down on Tecmo Cleveland.
PressureLife: Last year Tecmo Super Bowl turned twenty five. How deep is your history with the game?
Tom Jenkins: My personal connection to TSB was honestly through my brother, Andrew Jenkins. I can distinctly remember as a kid him and his friends coming over for hours on end to play TSB in our living room and crushing me at TSB. My brother was unstoppable back in the day. So maybe all those childhood beat-downs in TSB really messed me up? But in all seriousness, I think it’s the nostalgia factor, along with the desire for mastery. This then turned into something much, much bigger.
PL: For those unfamiliar with Tecmo Super Bowl, share a little bit about the gameplay.
TJ: Each game, the team on offense picks 1 of 8 plays for their playbook—four running or four passing. The team on defense has the opportunity to try to guess the offensive play, forcing an all-out blitz if they guess correctly… People that have never tried the game before can pick it up and play immediately. Remember, we’re talking about a football game on the original NES. You’ve got a D-pad and 2 buttons, A and B. No Y, B, X, A, Left Rear Bumper, Left Front Bumper, D-Pad, 2 joysticks, on and on.
PL: Does an inside knowledge of the sport give a TSB player an edge in game?
TJ: I would argue I am nowhere near a football die-hard and I’ve always loved this game, and I think that’s what makes it so perfect. You don’t need to be a football fanatic to be immediately drawn into the gameplay… There is so much variability in a game of TSB but equally so much simplicity. Then you marry the actual skill and gameplay on top of the pressure of trying to get in your opponent’s head—it’s a beautiful, fun and addictive thing. But serious players, just like professional athletes, are vying for any extra bit of information or advantage to give them a leg up.
PL: What’s kept the fans invested in Tecmo Super Bowl after all these years?
TJ: If you’re playing any game 25+ years later, there’s probably a reason for it. I think some of those contributing factors are a blend of nostalgia, simplicity, mastery—and of course—passion. People have teams, rosters, playbooks, stats, and everything you can imagine memorized. The amount of community games, networks, and large-scale events is astounding… The TSB community releases a “hacked” new version of the game each year featuring updated teams, rosters, schedules, and rules. Spend 5 minutes on www.tecmobowl.org and your mind will be blown.
PL: Tell me a little bit about the origin of Tecmo Cleveland.
TJ: Tecmo Cleveland has been a long-time coming. For the last eight years I’ve hosted a TSB league at my house called, “Tecmo Super Bros.” Each year people would ask, “When are you going to go ‘big time’ with this thing and open it up?” So I reached out to Dave Murray, Director of Tecmo Madison, WI. To put it in perspective, Tecmo Madison hosts nearly 300 competitors annually in Madison, WI, considered the Mecca of TSB tournaments, and we’re aspiring to walk in their footsteps. I’ve been leading this offensive blitz with Tecmo Cleveland truly grassroots, and the reception has been incredible.
PL: What are your impressions of the TSB fan community in Cleveland?
TJ: I’ve been amazed. It’s great to have some local, veteran, Tecmo-elites come out to the events in support of Tecmo Cleveland. They always say, “Thanks for organizing this. We’ve been doing this in my [insert acquaintance’s name]’s basement for the last ‘X’ years, and this is so cool you’re making it big.” People are excited that we’re doing this in Cleveland. I think there’s definitely a sense of pride, because it’s no secret we’ve struggled historically from a Browns football standpoint for years. Sure people make the joke, “Well, that’s the only Super Bowl Cleveland’s every going to see,” but the community thinks it’s pretty damn fantastic.
PL: Can you describe the drafting mechanism for the tournament?
TJ: A coin toss precedes each game, and the winner can either pick the matchup (the two team to be played in the game), or defer the matchup to the loser of the coin toss. If you pick the matchup you get to pick which team you’ll be second. If you don’t call the matchup, you get first pick of the team you want to be. This rule prevents games from being lopsided with one player having a powerhouse team and the other player not having a chance to compete. Also, if you call the matchup and win, you can’t call the same matchup again for the remainder of the tournament.
PL: What’s been your experience running the first official TSB tournament of this scale in the area?
TJ: From the ground-up, I’ve procured an amazing venue in Avon Lake, sponsors, promotional events, and partnered with local artists, bars, restaurants, and arcades. Weekly, I’m packing up my car with tube-CRT TVs in tow. Layering in NES consoles, testing cartridges, controllers, power cords… I’m not going to lie—it’s exhausting at times, but people tend to gravitate toward things they are most passionate about.
PL: How is the competition shaping up so far?
TJ: Currently we’re at 31 registrations, but we know we’ll grow in the weeks leading to the main event. We’ve got people coming in from as far away as Nebraska and feelers out there in other stretches of the TSB community, including Cincinnati, Detroit, Buffalo, and Columbus—so a lot of regional traction. I’d sum it up by saying the level of competition is fantastic. There are rookies, veteran players, and some serious contenders. Regardless, people have been consistently open to coaching each other along the way, which is great because it helps everyone improve their game.
PL: Tell me about some of the people who helped bring Tecmo Cleveland into fruition.
TJ: Robert DelliQuadri of 8 Bit Apparel drew up a stellar 8 bit, pixelated Cleveland skyline, and combined it with an iconic image from TSB. It immediately became our brand. My good friends Roger Naton and Dylan Pettit have been tantamount in helping co-promote night after night. I’d also like to recognize John Salter, of John Salter’s Full Blast Arcade in North Ridgeville, for helping keep the retro gaming community alive, bringing people together, and inspiring us with some of the initial planning. All of our sponsors have been fantastic, including the Ohio Beer Garden, SideQuest, Hofbrauhaus, 16 Bit Bar, Bawls, Games Done Legit, GameFix, and Upright Press. I’d also be in serious trouble if I didn’t thank my incredible wife, Lisa. After all, she’s put up with 20+ guys in the house playing TSB for the last eight years, so it’s a chance for her to get this out of the house. But seriously, she’s been a tremendous supporter and advocate for Tecmo Cleveland.
PL: What would you say to those unfamiliar with TSB that may interest them to grab the sticks and play?
TJ: I’d say, why not. I’ve yet to meet a person that’s come to one of our tournaments that hasn’t had a good time. TSB games last on average 15–20 minutes, so you can easily get some practice in, and the learning curve is very fast. Also, we’ve got players of all skill levels entering the tournament. It’s becoming somewhat of a lost tradition to actually physically get in the room with friends or strangers, sit down together, and do some gaming—to shake hands before each game, to feel your palms sweat a little bit more because the person is right next to you and the pressure is on, and to jump up when you score a touchdown or slam the controller down when you fumble. The excitement and energy level at these events is contagious and we need everyone’s help to make it successful!
Tecmo Cleveland is Aug. 5, 2017 at American Legion Hall, Post 211 in Avon Lake, OH (31972 Walker Road). Doors open at 10:00 a.m. for warm-up with the tourna
ment starting at noon. The prize pool can grow up to $500 depending on total players, which is capped at 76. You can register online at www.tecmocleveland.com for $35, which includes a custom t-shirt designed by 8 Bit Apparel, access to an onsite arcade from John Salter’s Full Blast Arcade, door prizes, giveaways, and more. For updates, follow on Twitter @TecmoCleveland or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tecmocleveland. Stop by Tom Jenkins’ booth at the Cleveland Classic Arcade Gaming (CCAG) Expo on July 22 in North Olmsted, OH and say hi!
- I recommend players take a look at their playbooks and lineups. Usually the defaults aren’t best and it helps to pick plays that spread the field and make your strategy unpredictable.
- Check your players’ status throughout the course of a game to see if they are fatigued or in excellent condition. Don’t be afraid to sub in and out players to give your players a rest and then throw in a player in top shape for a big string of plays.
- Learning matchups is critical. Without knowing them you’re flying blind from the start. TSB websites can show you matchups based on your gameplay style.
- You’ll need to feel comfortable playing with different teams since you may not be calling the matchup or if you choose to defer the matchup to your opponent.
- Practice. No different from any sport, I would just recommend to practice.
- Lastly, do your reps. No joke. Have you ever seen some of the button mashing players do? It’s a workout. Whether you can out ‘tap’ your opponent or not can be a game changer.