VRAM: The Konami Arcade Championship informs the uninformed that DDR is not dead

By Robert Johnson Jr.

Arts & Features Editor

News flash, and this might come to you as a shocker – “Dance Dance Revolution” is still a thing in America.

Although “Dance Dance Revolution” lost mainstream relevancy stateside after the release of 2006’s “Dance Dance Revolution SuperNOVA,” people in Japan and other Asian countries kept stepping on metal pads and grabbing onto bars, maintaining a competitive grassroots community in the process. 

At the same time in America, the internet – especially YouTubers who were looking to prove themselves – was fixated on rhythm games like “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band,” despite the former running itself into oversaturation with a new game every year from 2008, onward. 

However, while people were spending every waking moment banging on plastic drum kits and strumming on plastic bars that moved up and down, the competitive community for “Dance Dance Revolution,” adjacent games, such as Roxor Interactive’s “In The Groove,” kept operating as normal in the United States.

All of this context might seem unnecessary, but it sets the stage for an event that happened 12 years after a “SuperNOVA” exploded into arcades – the ninth installment of the Konami Arcade Championship (KAC), that went from Feb. 1 to Feb. 8, spread across two weekends.

When the first KAC happened in 2011, it was a Japan-exclusive event, in the sense that only rhythm game players from Japan could duke it out with their fellow countrymen and women, but as of the most recent edition, people from the United States, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and a whole slew of other countries can enter and prove themselves to be the best BEMANI player in the world.

Games such as “Pop’n Music,” “Jubeat,” “Nostalgia,” “Sound Voltex,” “DANCERUSH,” and even “Dance Dance Revolution” were put on display for spectators to witness. 

Of course, with these games, there have to be competitors, and with those competitors, there are stories – much like those you would see in something like baseball or American football.

In “Pop’n Music,” spectators were treated to more of the same. This is a good thing if you’re TATSU, a repeat winner of the biggest tournament in BEMANI. He has attended and won every KAC for the game since the event’s inception in the Male Division – which, as a concept, was added in the 2016 edition of KAC. 

The Female Division winner of “Pop’n Music,” 8322, claimed her second straight title, but fourth overall, thanks to 10kai’s victory over her in 2018’s KAC, disrupting the streak.

However, the biggest story of the tournament cycle was found in Chris Chike’s journey in “Dance Dance Revolution A20,” being the United States’ “golden boy,” favored to win the tournament.

Chike, or “iamchris4life” as he’s often known, has a background in rhythm games that dates back to before 2008, being a prominent member of many “Guitar Hero” communities, setting world records left and right in “Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock.” 

This domination over the game led to a Guinness World Record for his efforts in conquering the game’s hardest song, DragonForce’s “Through the Fire and Flames.” This was a record he traded with Danny “GuitarHeroPhenom” Johnson until Johnson got the upper hand in that duel.

On the topic of “Dance Dance Revolution A20,” though, he was the number one seed in the six-man bracket, and while his rival, FEFEMZ, was not able to attend the ninth KAC, due to his mandatory military service, Chike’s run to the top was still not going to be easy. 

Yet, somehow, after an hour-and-a-half of close matches and thousands of steps on metal pads, Chike hoisted a trophy above his head in victory – his second in the four KACs he has attended, so far.

What I’m saying through all this is the following – rhythm games can be just as competitive as your favorite contemporary esport, and the stories are just as impressive, if not more so than most. If you have an afternoon to spend in front of a laptop, I advise you check out a few of the KAC archives on YouTube and see some truly world-class talent on Konami and BEMANI’s biggest stage.

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