By Syphorce | @Syphorce | 1:00 PM EST, Tues., April 9, 2019

From Tuesday, March 23rd to Friday, March 26th, I had the pleasure of representing the Orlando chapter for the 5th Annual Extra Life United event during the Children’s Hospitals Week at Coronado Springs at Walt Disney World Resort (that was a mouthful). Short version: I got a chance to represent my city/hospital at a gaming tournament in the middle of Disney. It was dope…and here’s how it happened.

All the competitors got free Park Hopper passes to Disney in Orlando, Florida. (Photo Courtesy: Syphorce)

If you haven’t heard, Extra Life is an organization associated with the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals that uses gaming to help raise money for children in need and to keep these hospitals up and running. I met one of the members working for the Orlando chapter at a networking event over some drinks at a barcade. They had a couple of open spaces for people to compete and plenty of room for volunteers to organize and referee the tournaments taking place at the event. The chapter lead was specifically looking for streamers to represent the chapter in the tournament since we could use our influence to help raise money. The entry included meals, drinks, and a free ticket to Disney at the end of the event. As someone who has lived in Orlando for the past 4 years, let me admit this: I have NEVER made my way over to Disney because the cost of entry is too goddamn high. So of course, I couldn’t balk at the offer, and plus, it’s raising money for a good cause #4thekids.

Upon arriving to the convention, I immediately noticed that there weren’t many Black people or people of color in general. Not as volunteers, or as organizers, or as sponsors, etc. In my opinion, this observation reflects the gaming scene in general as sports and entertainment are more regarded in our community than video games and nerd culture. I was happy to have met those few that were at the convention and participate in the event as we attempted to change that narrative.

The Extra Life Motto: “Play Games, Heal Kids.” Photo Courtesy: Syphorce)

Although the convention took place over four days, the Extra Life game tournament only took place over Wednesday and parts of Thursday. At the convention, there were the kids who traveled from hospitals across the country to tell their stories and help raise money, as well as plenty of investors in suits there to listen to pitches and sip their wine. I honestly wasn’t there for all of that, so I couldn’t tell you what many of those meetings were about. Truthfully, if you weren’t a paid influencer or an investor, you didn’t get a lot of face time with the kids that we were raising money for unless you were lucky enough to meet them on the show floor as they tried to sneak in a game of Mario Kart. So, all that you are reading isn’t going to cover any heartwarming stories of children beating the odds and overcoming their ailments because unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet any.

What I did do was manage to win over $500 for the Arnold Palmer’s Children’s Hospital over the two days of competition! There were six games available for play during the tournament and competitors could only sign up for three. Puyo Tetris, Slap City, Starwhal were the three video games and Kingdomino, Villanous, and Azul were the board games. Each game had cash prizes for charity that ranged from $1,000-$10,000. Those who came prepared and practiced weeks before the convention got far and brought home the bacon for their hospitals. Others, like myself, who forgot to even sign up for a game, was randomly assigned to different games and had early exits from the competition. I am proud to say that I racked up three wins in Puyo Tetris and only saw my way out after I got beat by the winner of the tournament who claimed to be a part of the top 20 in the game. If you’re gonna lose, you better lose to the person that wins it all right?

Sean Rooney, left, raising money for his foundation in the name of his son Dominic whom he lost to cancer. He uses the #DominicStrong hashtag for his foundation. (Photo Courtesy: Syphorce)

Since there were over 200 competitors there to compete in the six games, there needed to be activities to hold the “losers” over…and in came the “Challenge Stations.” Here, they had games like Mario Kart, Tower Fall, Overcooked 2, and Super Smash Bros Ultimate where the winner won a set amount for their charity. Each Challenge Station had a pot of money that competitors could win and once that pot was gone it was free play only. It was here that money could be spread out and everyone could feel like a winner by bringing home some money to their hospitals.

Trust me when I say, it was not easy. You basically had to already know how to play the games or pass the sticks to someone else to try and win on your behalf. There was only myself and one other person representing the Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital, so the pressure was on to AT LEAST make what they paid for to get me in at the convention. Nothing comes free. The first time playing Overcooked 2, the referee didn’t even bother to go over directions or how to play. It was just jump in the game and start cooking. I never played the game before and gave up halfway during the session, literally putting the controller down on the table and walking away from the console as my partner struggled to put together a simple pizza pie all on his own (Sorry Josh!). I made up for it winning several games of Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros along with winning a single game of Blokus and a game of Tower Fall. $500 is more than double what it cost to enter the convention, so I hope that money does some real good for the Children’s Hospital.

My point in writing all of this is simply if you have an opportunity to attend an event: Go. Even though I couldn’t meet any of the Champions (the kids), I did meet many competitors and got to hear their stories on how they came to the convention and how they got involved in Extra Life. Playing video games for something more than just your ego has a whole other feeling and sense of purpose. That emotion feels even greater when you are doing it with more than 200 individuals by your side, each of you raising money for a great cause. #4thekids.

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Syphorce is a comedic horror streamer and a nerd culture podcaster. You can find him live weeknights at twitch.tv/Syphorce.