After the exhibition hall doors of PAX Aus were closed to the public and the noise of the Saturday crowds had finally dissipated, the ESL stage, alone, remained lit – a beacon to anyone who wasn’t ready to call it a day.
Roped off and with only a couple of hundred seats available, it felt like an intimate and exclusive experience awaited. The free food and open bar coaxed me further, but it was the epic scenes that played out over the next four hours that kept me glued to my seat.
Eight players took to the stage to compete in the finals of TOTAL KOMBAT AUSTRALIA – a Mortal Kombat XI tournament organised by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and ESL.
Three of these players earned flights, accommodation and a place in the tournament by winning a regional qualifier. The others earned their place at the last minute through the PAX tournaments.
Now, they were all in touching distance of the top prize – flights, accommodation, and free entry to compete at the NEC 20 Pro Kompetition qualifier in Philadelphia, USA, as well as a share in over $20,000 worth of prize money.
Tasman “Waz” Stoker was one of the players around which much excitement was generated. Representing the esports organisation Dark Sided, his achievements include a 5th place and 9th place finish at Combo Breaker 2018 and 2019, respectively.
He was also one of only fourteen players from around the world to be invited to compete at the 2019 Summit of Time – a tournament at which he mashed buttons alongside 2018 Esports Player of the Year, Dominique “SonicFox” McLean.
Having won the Sydney regional qualifier for the TOTAL KOMBAT AUSTRALIA tournament, Waz starts the finals series on the winner’s side of the double-elimination bracket. Contrary to his opponents, and in defiance of most Mortal Kombat highlight reels, he favours a slow and controlled fighting style. He prefers to poke at his opponent and whittle down their health bar.
In a game where players are punished by hard-hitting combos and take massive damage if their selections are not frame-perfect, Waz’s strategy may seem risky. But he assures me that it’s actually a safe and consistent way to play. Waz dispatches three players to the loser’s bracket and sets up a final match between himself and Edison “Googie” Nguyen of Oddity Esports.
The opportunity to represent Australia at an international qualifier was now closer than ever.
At this point in the tournament, it is past 9pm and the free food and open bar have long been forgotten. All eyes are on Waz and Googie as they take to the stage for the final match. This roped-off corner of the PAX exhibition hall is now packed. Standing room only is not a deterrent.
Waz looks relaxed. His demeanour isn’t a result of arrogance; rather it is all part of his strategy.
“I always like to meditate or relax before the set, it’s just a way to keep me focused and not let nerves or anything get in the way,” mentions Waz post-tournament.
Having breezed through the winner’s bracket with mostly 3-0 victories, he has had time to sit back and meditate through the last few. Googie takes a deep breath. He hasn’t had time to regroup. The seat is still warm from where he sat, moments earlier, trying to keep his tournament hopes alive.
He has played double the number of matches as Waz and each one was under the intense pressure that comes from the threat of elimination. There was even a shaky moment where he was a set down to the dark horse of the competition. How could that not play on his mind?
As training partners, Waz and Googie have a read on each other. “Facing your training partner is certainly a double-edged sword,” admits Waz. “On the one hand, it is good because you know a lot of their tendencies. However, they also know a lot about your tendencies.”
There would be no need to collect data on the opponent by starting with standard play. It would require rapid innovation from either player to gain an edge over their opponent in this match.
Unsurprisingly, it is Waz who brings something different to the stage. He selects Cetrion for the first set – a fighter we haven’t seen yet this tournament. The crowd erupts. Googie responds with Geras. Maybe this is his counter-pick. Maybe he has faith in muscle memory.
As soon as they begin to fight, it is clear that Waz will continue to dominate this competition. He effortlessly transitions between a poke strategy and huge damage-dealing combos. The first set is over … and then the match. Waz earns himself the title of Australian Total Kombat Champion and punches his ticket to the US for the NEC 2020 qualifier.
“I’d like to give a big shout out to the whole AUS/NZ community for keeping the game alive,” says Waz after the tournament.
“Thank you to Googie and Blake “Castiel” Asquith for training with me so much in the weeks leading up to PAX, and to my team Dark Sided and my family for backing what I do. I expected the grand final to be closer because Googie has been training with me so much and has levelled up a lot, but I think he was gassed out by the time he got there.”
One thing is certain – those 200-odd people in the exhibition hall at PAX late into Saturday night witnessed something special. It was artistry from a true master of Mortal Kombat.
If you would like to become involved in the Mortal Kombat community in Australia, you can find out more information via the links below: