Gamer Wins Glory For Singapore, But Few People Know
Singapore has done it again — We have just been crowned world champions, though we might not know it.
Not in swimming, not in table tennis, but in commanding an elite squadron of Star Wars starfighters to victory.
Commander Justin Phua
Mr Justin Phua is a lawyer. He is also a father of two kids.
Oh, and he’s a fan of cyberpunk group Arctic Moon and Japanese-American rock musician Joe Inoue as well, according to his Facebook profile.
But his numerous commitments did not stop him and his 2 buddies from travelling more than 14,000km to Roseville, Minnesota for a shot at glory in the 2017 Star Wars World Championships, in The X-Wing Miniatures Game.
And his gamble paid off handsomely.
For the cynical ones who are questioning the prestige of the tournament, rest assured.
Organised by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG), the event boasted a top-notch production crew and actual, physical judges for the competition.
The entire event was streamed live on Twitch as well, with thousands of viewers eagerly tuning in.
Heck, they even hired two commentators to do the play-by-play!
When a game featuring 1/270th-scaled Star-Wars figurines has higher production values than a football match involving the Singapore national football team, you know they’re really taking things seriously.
Tough Victory Against The Odds
The odds were stacked against Mr Phua before the competition started.
Not only did he have to endure a gruelling 20-hour flight and the subsequent jetlag — Minnesota is 13 hours behind Singapore — the organisers did not seem interested in hosting them.
Mr Choon Voon Lam, one of his friends who competed alongside him, described in a Facebook post that they did not receive support from the FFG.
Instead of moaning about it, however, Mr Phua “kicked in their front door” and registered for the event successfully.
Getting registered is one thing — he then had to work his way up the ladder against 400 other competitors, some of whom are established podcasters, celebrities, and even veterans of the tournament.
Each game usually lasts around 40 minutes to 60 minutes, although some intense matches can take up to 2 hours.
If you have ever played a strategy tabletop game, or just your usual chess and checkers, you’ll know how mentally draining it can be to get through one round.
Mr Phua had to do battle a grand total of twelve times… in the short span of two days.
And his opponent in the finals?
None other than 2016 world champion Nand Torfs.
Dealing with an out-of-sync body clock and mental fatigue, Mr Phua understandably got off to a bad start against Mr Torfs, who was much chirpier and less lethargic in comparison.
With an element of luck present in the game, he soon pulled off a play that swung the tide of the match, one that had the audience squealing with obvious delight.
Even his opponent offered a gracious clap, and conceded defeat in a Facebook post.
Judging by the commentators’ excitement and the increased commotion in the crowd, it was only a matter of time before Mr Phua wrapped things up.
The organisers were clearly not prepared for his stunning win, with events manager Zach Reyburn failing to articulate his surname properly when offering his congratulations, mistakenly pronouncing it as “Foo-ahh” instead of just, you know, “Phua”.
What’s This “X-Wing” Thing?
The Star Wars X-Wing Miniature Game is a table-top strategy game that pits two players against each other as they aim to annihilate the opponent’s fleet of fighters.
Apparently, this game enjoys a decent following in Singapore. There’s a whole group dedicated to the hobby on Facebook, and weekly events are organised at game stores for fellow geeks and board game enthusiasts to bond and engage in skirmishes.
Even Japanese bookstore chain Kinokuniya carries the game. The most basic set starts from $59.90, with expansion parts costing a few hundred more in total.
The mechanics can seem daunting and confusing at first, if the complexity of the rulebook is anything to go by.
Indeed, the game boasts such lengthy rule sequences, game developer Fantasy Flight Games had to install a “code of conduct” called “Fly Casual”, which encourages players to remind each other how the game is supposed to be played.
For those interested, however, we suggest taking a look at the following tutorial:
Not A Dream
When interviewer Alex Davy pressed him further on his thoughts on becoming world champion, Mr Phua seemed overwhelmed with emotions, and could only mutter a feeble “thank you”, which prompted wild cheers from the audience.
After settling down, he said he was worried that ”all this was just a dream”.
Rest assured Mr Phua, it certainly wasn’t one — the 3,000-plus people witnessing your victory from around the world could attest to that.
As the father-of-two held up his trophy, we couldn’t help but beam with pride as he struggled to contain his tears.
After all, a Hollywood ending for a middle-aged man chasing his dreams is always a good alternative to an onion-cutting workout.
While the winner might only walk away with a “one-of-a-kind playmat, bragging rights and an all-expenses paid trip to the next championship”, Mr Phua will always be remembered as a world champion in our hearts, similar even to Joseph Schooling, even if it’s an event that no one but diehard fanatics know about.
And considering that gamers can now win medals at the Olympics, who knows, maybe tabletop gamers like Mr Phua can be next.