Since the exploding popularity of Street Fighter II in the arcades during the early 90’s, the initial appearance of the fighting game community has greatly changed. Consoles, DLC, and patches have changed the way players compete in their favorite game. Regardless of all the changes, there has been an unlikely staple; a possible core of the East Coast Fighting Game Community.
Since “Eight on the Break” opened in 1973, not much has changed except for the games being played. Eight on the Break, located in the old railroad town of Dunellen, NJ, has been the central stomping grounds for fighting games on the East Coast. Located between New York and Philadelphia, The Break has always been a simple train ride away, allowing the two different fighting scenes to merry or clash.
While The Break has always been looking toward the future of competitive gaming, the “old days” still resonate. Not only can you still order “The Special” of a cheese steak, fries, and RC Cola for a never fluctuating four dollars, there are also pictures of former East Coast Championships on the walls commemorating when The Break was the place. The place where legends were made and destroyed, playing games like Street Fighter III: Third Strike, Marvel vs. Capcom, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Tekken 5, and Capcom vs SNK 2. All of the previously mentioned games can still be found at the arcade.
Before there was the famous EVO Championship Series, there was the B Series on the West Coast. The East Coast had its equivalent with ECC (East Coast Championship). This was a time when people would travel cross country to play in a hundred man major tournament which would be a low turnout in today’s standards. People from the West Coast would travel to show their dominance including: Shoryuken.com royalty, Tom “Inkblot” Cannon, Tony “Ponder” Cannon, Joey “Mr. Wizard” Cuellar, David “Low Strong” Sirlin, Jason “Afro” Cole, Seth “S-Kill” Killian, Ed Ma, John Choi, Jay “Viscant” Synder, Jason “APOC” Gonzales, Ricky Ortiz, and Alex “CaliPower” Valle (who received the Big Blue cabinet for winning a tournament but has yet to pick it up). East Coast players would try diligently to defend their coast including: Julian Robinson, Som D, Arturo “Sabin” Sanchez, Jeron Grayson, Eddie Lee, Rick Mears, Henry Cen, Justin “Marvelous” Wong, Flash G, Sanford “Santhrax” Kelly, Josh Wong, and MvC2 hype-master, Bryheem Keys.
Today, The Break is still the backbone of the East Coast Fighting Game Community with its weekly tournaments of SSF4:AE and MvC3. To date, the tourneys have been running for over a hundred weeks strong with the support of KDZ, Hacker Mike, and stream by Jason “Jaxel” Axelrod of 8wayrun.com. What was once an intimate experience with the people in attendance is now watched worldwide by thousands of viewers. The Break was where Sanford Kelly was able to dethrone Justin Wong’s two year unbeaten streak at MvC2. While old faces still compete at The Break, newer players such as MarlinPie and Ryder have earned the title of “Break Guardians”, defending The Break from outsiders who assume they can easily defeat Break participants. At EVO 2010, 16% of Top 32 in SSF4 was routinely Eight on the Break weekly regulars, not to mention the other Break regulars who placed in other games. With the regular attendance of tournament players from the tri-state area working to level up, The Break will continue to be a training ground of national top level players.
Anyone that has been involved with the Fighting Game Community knows that some games currently being played may not be where their heart is. However, it is not the games that make the community special: It is the people and places that harbor these relationships. To some, missing a Tuesday tournament at The Break is like missing your favorite TV show or skipping Memorial Day weekend at the Jersey Shore. There is a void, a piece missing that can only be filled by meeting your friends at past and present arcades like Sunnyvale Golfland, Arcade Infinity, Chinatown Fair, University Pinball, Denjin Arcade, and Eight on the Break.