With the Kong League, It's On Like Donkey Kong

Jason Bennett,

June 27, 2020 3:13 PM

For Tanner Fokkens, Duke Nickolas, and JP Buergers, High Scores Are Only the Beginning


When it comes to competition on classic arcade games, attaining the high score is the quintessential hallmark of success that dates back to the days of darkened arcades where players would earn the chance to enter their initials into the game’s high score table in front of admiring onlookers and enjoy the bragging rights of securing a first place score.

Until someone else came along and beat it, that is.

Competition on Nintendo’s Donkey Kong in today’s classic arcade community has done away with dimly lit amusement centers and bored game room attendants and replaced them with high speed Internet connections, Twitch streams and real-time chats. But the old school back-and-forth competition for the high score - which has seen John McCurdy, Wes Copeland, and current world record holder Robbie Lakeman trade spots over the last three years - has retained its arcade origins.

While every gamer secretly dreams of scaling the world record summit, it had the unintended consequence of putting the focus solely on that individual moment of triumph. As a competitive metric, score chasing was by no means the only way to measure the countless hours that players spent grinding out game after game learning and refining their game play.

Enter Tanner Fokkens, Duke Nickolas, and JP Buergers

“We have always felt that the heart and soul of the game [Donkey Kong] centers around the ability to compete under pressure and maintain skill over time,” explained Tanner. 

In 2019, the three top-flight Donkey Kong players began to discuss how the DK community could foster and display individual skill outside of a purely score-chasing rubric on their favorite title in a bid to revitalize the competitive scene. The initial discussion went in a number of directions before they settled on an idea that would help achieve their goal: the Kong League. 

“We're building the league around the concept of an easy to understand subscription model,” Tanner explained, “that appeals to the enduring and passionate player base out there that wants to be part of this tight niche community and share in the rich history of one of the most iconic arcade games ever created.”

The Kong League is a Discord entity and now enjoys a dedicated streaming channel on Twitch. Cagtournaments.com serves as the league and tournament host, and Donkey Kong Forum houses a sub forum for Kong League and acts as its scorekeeper and vets scores for tournament adjudication.

The 2020 season will bring together a range of discrete tournaments designed to appeal to and showcase the range of skills and abilities of DK players, whether veteran or newcomer. 

Players were put to the test while also raising funds for DK Forum [Source: Kong League]

“We have crafted [the League’s] tournament system for ranking current players’ competitive ability, versus purely high scores,” said Tanner. The goal of the league is to build upon the legacy of more traditional high score tournaments hosted at DK Forum like the Donkey Kong Online Open -- which makes its iconic return after a 4 year hiatus -- and combine them with original tournaments that offer new opportunities for players to shine such as the DK Masters tournament, which challenged players to master four Kong-related games: Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Junior, Donkey Kong 3, and Crazy Kong. Collectively, these varying tournaments will form the basis of ranking active Donkey Kong players by accumulated league points, advanced statistics, and scoring metrics.

And unlike the old school arcade, players can earn prizes to go along with the bragging rights.

“The model we are using involves an entirely crowd funded prize pool through the use of ‘tiers’ [including] bronze, silver, gold, platinum,” Tanner outlined. “These tiers will not only open up players to more tournament opportunities, but supporting the league also ensures that the fun continues for years to come.”

To kick things off, players will compete in the upcoming Survivor Series tournament, the league’s first featured event that starts July 1 and will be based on a multi-round elimination format with cash prizes as well as other bounties. 

Survivor Series is a 3 round elimination Donkey Kong event [Source: Kong League]

“This will be our first major tournament in the system so we are going to make an effort to put the most focus into it,” Tanner declared.

To continue the momentum of the Survivor Series, Tanner, Duke, and JP are drawing inspiration from previous competitions like DK: On the Run and DK: Randomizer. 

“[These two contests] in particular were brand new ROM hacks crafted by our in-house ROM hack extraordinaire PaulGoes,” shared Tanner. What set these two contests apart was that they both “marked the first time that an original game had been created specifically for an arcade tournament, which we take a lot of pride in.” Looking to the future, Tanner confirmed that the League organizers “have plans to continue this tradition of creating original ideas for tournaments as time goes on.”

The Kong League permits players to participate in tournaments with either WolfMAME or arcade according to each platform’s rule requirements. As well, participation in the league is flexible so players can participate in select tournaments based on the demands of their own personal situation, although “[it’s] beneficial to play in as many events as possible since we will rank overall player statistics and award season long accolades."

“We are wanting to to build a data-driven league that ranks players in online events that run alongside the physical events,” added Tanner. “This, more than ever, is essential as it gives players the ability to compete safely within the confines of their own homes when so many events have been cancelled.”

With the summer shaping up to be an active season for Donkey Kong competition, the Kong League is primed to harness that energy and create a renewed sense of camaraderie and optimism by building on past successes and offering new pathways for players of all skill levels to realize and celebrate their achievements.


Players interested in getting involved or with questions can head over to the Kong League discord (invite: https://discord.gg/aFm8Dnu) and sign up for Kong League at https://www.cagtournaments.com/DKSurvivor

The Kong League has specific information on the format of all 2020 tournaments on CAGT, Discord, or Donkey Kong Forum announcements 



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