They came in droves during the Fall of 1981, players of all ages, filing into convention rooms across the country to compete in The Atari International Asteroids Tournament. Not much information remains on this nationwide event save for a tee shirt here, a small headline there. In fact, a lot of particulars have been lost over the decades or, perhaps, were never written down. For instance contestant’s and referee’s names, competition locations, any highlights whatsoever including video footage seems to be missing, appears to be lost. Hard to imagine that something this big and this organized vanished from memory without a trace. Surely it can’t be true?
I spent an entire afternoon trying to piece together the very basics of the history of this event -and that’s just it, it took me all afternoon to get not even the basics. There’s just not a lot out there. If it weren’t for a few tee shirts and the caches of photos archived by award-winning California photographer, Ira Nowinski, the whole affair may have been forgotten.
Check out these photos from San Francisco’s event in November 1981 and see why I’m intrigued:
From what I can tell, how these regional competitions worked is, players played the game on several specially built Atari 2600 cabinet-units available at the competition center, where each player probably had an allotted time frame in order to get the highest score. Each player performed with a referee watching the entire performance. High scores were then tallied against reining regional high scores. The highest scorers went onto the national competition where, finally, a single winner would be selected.
Participation in the regional competitions and/or obtaining a high score got you a tee shirt or a badge. Since some kids are wearing tee shirts with numerous badges my guess is they had already competed in other competitions held in their State; for instance for California those locations would most likely have been Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco. So there were definitely some serious competitors -albeit some quite decorated at a young age- who turned out for this event. This was serious business to them.
For those wondering the outcome of The Atari International Asteroids Tournament, according to Twin Galaxies the winner was 16-year old Andrew Breyer, who took home $5000 and an Asteroids Deluxe after wowing crowds in Washington D.C. during The Atari International Asteroids Championship finals. Breyer is rumored to have went on to star in Atari commercials. In 2014 Breyer was awarded a Twin Galaxies Trading Card in recognition for his victory. Although the event is printed incorrectly on the card I do believe the card was issued for his historical participation in The Atari International Asteroids Tournament and winning the world title but have been unable to confirm that yet.
I’m interested in learning more about this landmark event that, for whatever reason, escaped documentation. My thanks to Ira Nowinski for not only recording part of this illusive historical 1981 California regional event but for the sheer magnitude of photos he left behind of the video craze that a lot of us remember and never will forget. His work is invaluable. Good historical documentation always is.