Zack Schaff er and Rui Couto met at a video game swap meet in Waterloo a little over 10 years ago. Schaffer was vending–he has an unbelievable collection of Nintendo games and memorabilia–and Rui had his eyes on a copy of Pokémon Red.
“I really like your beard,” Schaffer offered from across the table, breaking the ice. “I’ll give you a discount if you buy it.”
About a month later, the two would reconnect by chance via an exchange on Kijiji. Schaffer was selling a copy of Wild Guns for Super Nintendo.
“I’ll never sell this game because of the memory behind it,” Couto stated with pride as he slid the game out of his bag, handing it to Schaff er. Schaff er laughed and then the two grinned in unison.
Both Schaffer and Couto are avid collectors, with Schaffer specializing in Super Nintendo and Couto leaning towards NES games. As he explained further, he pulled out an authenticated test market copy of Super Mario Bros.
“I’m a few years older than Zack, so I focus on Nintendo Entertainment System [games],” he said. Couto also has an extensive collection of comic books, including an original copy of “Superman” No. 1. Together, Schaff er and Couto have spent the last ten years traveling around southern Ontario and sometimes beyond in search of new ways to expand their respective collections. Along the way, they have made many connections and built a community around their shared passions for collecting and, of course, video games.
The duo will share a full circle moment when they host their very own game swap meet at the place where it all began, the St. George Banquet Hall. Zack & Rui’s Excellent Retro Video Games and Comic Books Swap Meet Extravaganza is set to take place on April 17 and will coincide with several events at local businesses around Uptown Waterloo and Downtown Kitchener.
“It wasn’t a crazy revelation, Zack and I connected over games years ago and it’s something that keeps us together,” Couto said.
The idea for the swap meet came about organically; both Schaffer and Couto concluded that KW was the hub for retro video game swap meets for several years. The student population and the booming tech sector have always meant that there were plenty of unique and rare items up for grabs.
Schaffer and Couto hope to tap into both of those markets and once again bring people from the community out to connect over video games and collectibles.
In the past couple of years, we’ve seen a lot of people pick up the controller to help pass the time.
According to Statista, the global increase in time spent playing video games during the pandemic amounts to 39 per cent. Alongside this rise, many will also point out that contemporary and mainstream gaming platforms have leaned increasingly towards profit models that are tied to gaming as a service.
It’s safe to say that if you are playing video games in the year 2022 you fall in one of two camps: you game online with your friends a few nights a week, or you just drove into a suburban neighbourhood to buy a copy of Midnight Club Los Angeles off of a 15-year old that you met on Facebook Marketplace.
Schaffer and Couto will look to tap the latter group over the former, but both emphasized the diversity of the gaming community and the importance of engaging people in a variety of ways.
There will also be prizes given away, events tied in with local arcades in the community, and a gaming tournament for those who lean more towards playing games than collecting them.
The duo aims to make the event as wide-reaching as possible using their local connections.
According to Allister Scorgie, director of Sport Hosting at Explore Waterloo Region, the gaming community in Waterloo is one that is expansive, diverse and at times loose-knit.
“It’s astounding to see the growth in the last 20 years, and I think with COVID and everyone being stuck at home, that has certainly accelerated that and amplified it,” Scorgie said, describing how the tourism department shifted their focus to eSports in 2020.
Scorgie’s team began offering eSports camps as a way to safely engage gamers in the region during the COVID-19 pandemic. While events are currently formatted to prioritize remote access, Scorgie said that his team is eager to hit the ground in Waterloo when they can safely do so.
“From a reach perspective, there is tons of value in doing things online and engaging with the community there,”
Scorgie said. “But there is also value in doing things in person,” he said. “If we’re going to have hockey arenas and concert halls and parks—why not have something for gamers?”
“We want to do more things live, but virtual is always going to be there,” he added.
Although he was sparse with details, Scorgie also alluded to some projects that his team is currently supporting. A top priority among them is going to be the creation of venues and more spaces tailored towards gaming in the region.
“I can’t say where or when, or with who, but there is going to be a dedicated eSports venue in Waterloo [soon] and that’s super exciting,” Scorgie said.
While Scorgie’s team is focused on developing opportunities related to eSports and gaming, he emphasized how accessibility and diversity are key factors in developing communities around gaming. As for the physical realm, Scorgie pointed out how things like couch co-op and video game collecting are bound to increase in popularity alongside other channels that are also popular in the gaming community.
“There are also all the spin-offs, the chat groups on Discord and the communities built around gaming on YouTube, streaming, Twitch,” he said. “People getting together to watch people play video games, people talking about video games–It’s exploded, like skyrocketed.”
Scorgie’s observations touch a nerve. Gaming has become such a massive part of the entertainment industry and it’s increasingly hard to ignore. For now, we don’t need to look any further than Zack, Rui, or local arcade bars like AOK and Pin-Up Arcade for proof of concept. If you need any other evidence to help see the writing on the wall, you’ll just have to wait and see at this point. Time will tell.
Whether you are looking for a leisurely Mario Kart league to join, a copy of Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars to own, or you are trying to play League of Legends competitively, the gaming community in Waterloo Region is increasingly diverse and growing at a fast rate.
Your turn to hold the controller may be much closer than you anticipated.