I was talking with a friend of mine while we drove back to school. Considering we're in school not too far from Los Angeles, it seemed appropriate that after wandering through topics like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and accounting firms, we settled upon one of the then-current events; the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the founder of the notorious LA-based gang known as the Crips. "Look, man," my friend said to me, "I won't deny that he's a criminal. But wherever gangs or organized crime start, it's because the system there has failed to do what it's supposed to do."
A month later, I'm lying in bed, chatting online with two people who go by the names of "TheeTriforceGameMaster" and "Marvelous," and they're telling me all about their group of gamers. It's an Empire, they tell me. It's based out of New York. They toss around names like the Knights of Arcadia and The $yndicate. "Marvelous" tells me he plays Yu-Gi-Oh.
I can see why no one has written about these guys before. If I were any other interviewer, I think my patience would have been taxed by the time Yu-Gi-Oh came up. Certainly the mental image of these two - a high school kid with a Burger King crown and a grown adult man who is never seen in public without his Nintendo Power Glove - is not something wholly conducive to thinking business. And it's not hard to be put off by their sweeping, grandiose Empire rhetoric. But I know something most other game journalists don't: "Marvelous" is the alias for four-time Marvel vs. Capcom 2 national champion Justin Wong, and "TheeTriforceGameMaster" (hereafter known as Triforce) is his manager, of sorts. And they're here to tell me about Empire Arcadia - their New York-based gaming posse turned corporate.
In fighting game communities, their reputations precede them. Justin is known primarily for his Marvel vs. Capcom 2 prowess, of course, but also for his relentlessly patient style of play that makes him a threat in any game he picks up. (He's also known, somewhat less fortunately, as the victim of the legendary Daigo video that made the internet rounds from Street Fighter III: Third Strike nationals at the Evolution 2004 tournament; Japanese Street Fighter legend Daigo Umehara successfully anticipates Justin's attempt to chip him to death, parries the entire super combo, and counters with a retaliatory combo that wins the match.) His challengers have ranged from local Southern California crowd favorites like "SooMighty" and Seattle-based players like "Rowtron" to Empire's own members, Ricky Ortiz and Sanford Kelly. But up until this last year, Justin remained dominant. ("I don't like Marvel any more," Justin says to me, "It's all about Tekken 5.")
Triforce, on the other hand, is a one-man advertising agency. While some people don't take the Power Glove seriously, Triforce is also known for doing whatever it takes to get Empire Arcadia's players to where they need to be to compete, and more often than not, "whatever it takes" is up in the thousands of dollars. National champions or no, most competitors make their way to Evolution by carpooling, couch surfing, and living off of Carl's Jr. in order to make the most of their gaming dollar. Empire Arcadia, by contrast, takes care of all travel and housing arrangements - not only for the players but also their retinue. "The members of Empire Arcadia share an exclusive relationship being that they are with the company," Triforce tells me. "We sponsor our gamers at times for major events, transportation, housing and food. They compete to try and reimburse some of that and take home a good chunk of it for themselves." If this weren't enough, Justin proudly relates to me a time when Empire rolled out en masse (21 people!) to T7, a Canadian fighting game tournament, in order to learn more about the comparatively insular Canadian fighting game scene. Call them the Ambassadors of Ass-whoopin'.