FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
"Yu-Gi-Oh!" duelists hone their skills at Da-Planet in University Square to ready themselves for this weekend's tournament at Blaisdell Center. Anthony Oana, left foreground, and Scott Butay are among those eagerly awaiting the showdown.
Duelists gear up for tourney
"Yu-Gi-Oh!" gamers gather for a tournament this weekend at the Blaisdell
"YU-GI-OH!" Shonen Jump Tournament
Place: Maui Ballroom, Blaisdell Center
Time: 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
The battle cry of the Japanese-created "Game King" has captured the imaginations of millions around the world since 1996. "Yu-Gi-Oh!" continues to be serialized in the monthly manga magazine Shonen Jump and televised during the 4K!dsTV Saturday block on the CW.
Fans, meanwhile, have taken to heart the gaming aspect of the story line, both via video games and, more importantly, through trading cards.
"We've seen grade schoolers as young as the first and second (grade). Because they start younger, they're used to tournament play early on."
Matt Dunn / One of 10 judges at the Hawaii showdown
Taking its cue from the popularity of "Magic: The Gathering," the "Yu-Gi-Oh!" card game has surpassed Magic in popularity. The basic scenario is the same: Two "duelists" strategically put together decks of cards, which are collected from starter and booster decks regularly released by cardmaker Upper Deck. Each player begins with a set number of "Life Points," and as duelists challenge each other with monsters, spells and traps, player points start whittling away. The game ends when a player hits zero points.
Back in March 2006, Honolulu hosted a major worldwide "Magic" tourney stop at the Hawaii Convention Center. Likewise, "Yu-Gi-Oh!" gamers are assembling, albeit on a much smaller scale, at the Blaisdell Center this weekend.
While the high cost of fuel and airfare might cut down the tourney's mainland and international contestants, organizer Michael Otsuji said that "our company, Da-Planet, and Upper Deck have invested a lot of time and money to give the Hawaii players a chance to play in this prestigious event. Players from all islands will be flying in (and) we have also heard that players from Australia and Japan may attend.
"This event for 'Yu-Gi-Oh!' is the equivalent of the U.S. Open for tennis and golf."
That may seem to be a lofty claim, but prizes for top players include a laptop, an iPod Touch, a Nintendo DS Lite and Wii Gaming Console, plus booster packs of the most current "Yu-Gi-Oh!" set, "Light of Destruction," and the Shonen Jump Championship Prize Card, the ultra-rare "DoomCaliber Knight."
In addition, local regional winners will have a chance to compete in the national championship tournament next year on the mainland.
Several locally ranked players, who've each participated in mainland contests, gathered together one recent Sunday afternoon at Da-Planet's store in University Square.
Albert Lee, Josh Barbian and David Bustillos played in a bigger regional tournament earlier this year in Costa Mesa, Calif.
"Playing in a tournament like that really tests your focus," said Lee, who added that "dueling with others in round-robin play can amount to an eight-hour day or longer."
Barbian's interest was sparked when he first heard of the game through the TV show, and then saw the trading cards being sold on eBay.
"I used to live in upper New Mexico," said Bustillos, "and I used to buy my nephew booster packs, but he didn't have anyone to play with, so that's where I picked up the game. Later, I would play all night long with my college roommates."
"I think 'Yu-Gi-Oh!' not only has more youngsters involved in the game, but a higher percentage of female players as well," said Matt Dunn, one of 10 judges who will work the Hawaii showdown. "We've seen grade-schoolers as young as the first and second (grade). Because they start younger, they're used to tournament play early on." (In fact, the group recalls an 11-year-old winner in 2005.)
"As they pursue the game on a competitive level, it helps develop a work ethic, because there's a lot of preparation and practice involved," Dunn said.