Chris Chike is the Lebron James of Competitive Dance Dance Revolution.
This is partly due to his immense skill at the precision-and-rhythm based arcade game; Watching Chike play DDR engrosses the viewer in a hazy, dream-like fog of disbelief as he perfectly times each footstep to the rhythm of an insanely fast euro-beat song from 2007. There’s another reason why Chike has this reputation, however. To a casual spectator, there aren’t many opportunities to learn about anyone else in the scene.
There are currently only a handful of comprehensive journalistic videos about the modern DDR scene on youtube, and if Chike isn’t the primary subject of all of them, then he has the most screen-time. For someone scrolling through the recommended videos tab on YouTube, he may be the only name that ever really comes up (sort of like how a guy at a bar watching the playoffs probably knows about Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, but not much else).
Despite this, competitive DDR is experiencing a sort of widespread renaissance as of the writing of this article. Tournaments across the country are cropping up and becoming well attended. There are tons of twitter accounts popping up in the last few years, posting screenshots of AAA scores from the inside of a Dave and Busters. The DDR subreddit, although occasionally barren, has a pretty solid base of posters and commenters.
To longtime followers of DDR, this rumbling of interest may seem familiar. There was once a time when tournaments and “freestyle competitions” were abound at arcades across California. The figureheads of the Californian DDR craze organized primarily on a forum called ddrfreak.com (this was before the era of social media). Unfortunately, the last post on that forum was made in 2011.
(Side note: there is an amazing documentary about the 2000's DDR scene in California which can be found here. It has a criminally low amount of views).
There are a few reasons for this decline. Firstly, the peripheral rhythm game boom ended a long time ago, and old arcade machines stop working after awhile (especially ones which are repeatedly stomped on for upwards of a decade). There is a relatively new DDR cabinet called “DDR Ace” which has a huge backlog of classic songs on it and a depth of functionality and customizability, which was heralded as a godsend by most DDR players. The problem with “DDR Ace” cabinets is that there aren’t very many of them.
Konami has an exclusive contract with Dave and Busters and Round1, meaning that you can only play the new DDR at these franchises. If you live in a small town, you probably can’t play it. Period. If you’re a Canadian then you are out of luck even further. D&B and DDR share an unholy union in the great white north, and some provinces don’t even have a D&B. So unless you want to hop a plane across the country... No DDR for you.
Konami’s relationship with its consumers has been infamously fraught with controversy and tension. Despite this, the release of a comprehensive new DDR cabinet was a surprising step in the right direction. People were really happy about it.
And that’s the thing: people care about DDR. It’s a fucking cool game. With the proper support and marketing, it truly has the potential to become a mainstream e-sport on the level of League of Legends or Overwatch. There is an inherent glitz in the competent execution of a DDR song - go to any arcade and you’ll see a crowd gathered behind the dance pad, watching as some sweatband-adorned gamer basks in the spotlight of his adoring fans. DDR is about cardio. It’s about precision and talent. People are watching that player because, on a subliminal level, they recognize that they are witnessing the performance of a skilled athlete. If someone started dominating at Overwatch at a party, do you think that same crowd would gather? Probably not. This speaks to the untapped potential of spectacle inherent in competitive DDR.
As for now, it remains a niche hobby. But one can always dream.