Greetings, fight fans! The time has finally come for the first match of the second annual Blogger Blitz competition! As much as I want to jump right into the bout itself, I know some folks may be seeing this post for the first time and thinking “golly gee, what is the Blogger Blitz anyway?” Well, Blogger Blitz: Black Sheep is a friendly-competitive blogging tournament where bloggers choose their favorite villain and put them through random and wacky events designed by other bloggers. You can check out a full description of Black Sheep here or head over here to view the match schedule for the whole first round.
Today’s event was designed by jumbling together ideas from Chris of Overthinker Y and Kim from Later Levels, and it’s called Totalitarian Teatime. The villains are at a tea party where they must overcome their fiercest rivals in a battle for social control, but every bit of witty banter costs stamina and only a sole focus on tea preparation can restore that stamina. The rivals, though, are using paid DLC to cheat their way to victory! The villains competing in today’s match are Marjolaine from Dragon Age (sponsored by Athena of AmbiGaming) and Bowser from the Super Mario Bros series (sponsored by Ellen of Livid Lightning). You can click their names to find them on Twitter or click their blogs to go straight to the posts they’ve submitted for this match!
Once the posts were submitted on Monday, our three noble judges began the difficult work of deciding a verdict for the match. Kim, Pix, and Destiny all combed over each submission, analyzing it for pros and cons and comparing the two posts to determine which one better solved the conundrum that is Totalitarian Teatime. Now, their work is complete, and by the end of this post you’ll know who won and what it was that set her apart from her opponent. Now that we have all the goofy intro stuff out of the way, let’s bust out our teapots and watch the very first match of Blogger Blitz: Black Sheep unfold!
If you haven’t been following the Blogger Blitz from the beginning, I think it’s important that you understand the context of this match. Marjolaine has a huge advantage going in thanks to her skillset being perfectly tailored for the Totalitarian Teatime event. She’s a talented manipulatrix and the Game of politics is one with which she is quite familiar. She’s certainly more than a match for Bowser, a guy who has about as much class as a bear in a tuxedo.
Here’s the thing, though – Bowser isn’t sponsored by just anybody. Oh no. Bowser’s sponsor Ellen is the champion of the previous Blogger Blitz competition, and being the underdog in a match is pretty On Brand (TM) for her. Whether it was an intentional strategy or just a side effect of her character choice, Ellen underdogged herself right into the championship last year, so in a way, being at an obvious disadvantage here is exactly where she wanted to be.
The other big factor in this match is that Athena and Ellen aren’t strangers paired against each other in a random competition. These two ladies are friends, a fact which is clear and obvious to most who have frequented either of their blogs or who know them on Twitter. So you can see how the first match of Black Sheep – an apparently one-sided battle between two friends involving an underdog champion – might be one in which folks were expecting sparks to fly. Think of the potential violence! The evil strategies! Surely this would be the most epic of bouts to begin the competition!
Instead, Athena and Ellen chose to redefine the game. Rather than fight to live up to expectations, they subverted them. Marjolaine and Bowser are not foes in either of these posts. They aren’t even two separate villains working towards individual tasks. No, these ladies portrayed their villainous champions as allies. In the weirdest team-up since…well, since the last time Bowser was buddies with Mario, the manipulatrix and the bumbling Koopa king work together to defeat each other’s rivals instead of their own. It’s a Totalitarian Teamup!
This was a bold move on behalf of our competitors, one that put the match in a different context and certainly started off the tournament with a bang! Both posts had some common elements between them that helped to sell the team-up scenario. Each took place in the Winter Palace in Orlais, and both involved an agreement of sorts between Bowser and Marjolaine that they would help each other to achieve their goals. How they came to this agreement, though…well, that’s where things start getting complicated.
In Athena’s post, there is very little which addresses exactly why these two are motivated to work together. In fact, Bowser contributes so little to the process that this seems more like Marjolaine taking advantage of his bumbling nature to achieve her own ends than it does a villainous team-up. But what are Marjolaine’s ends? What does it do for her to take out Mario? We never learn the answer to that question in the text of Athena’s submission.
On Ellen’s side, a little more justification is offered for the team-up. Outside of the fiction of the game world, Nintendo and Bioware are motivated by the alluring scent of money to be made. In the game world, Marjolaine offers to get Mario off the table if Bowser agrees to handle Leliana. It’s not much to go on but this simple motivation makes sense for the Koopa king. Still, it wasn’t quite enough to convince the judges that such a partnership was likely.
Destiny wrote of the team-up: “I don’t know that villains would align themselves to one another so quickly without much discussion.” Kim added to this that “they’d certainly be suspicious of each other, and possibly do a double-cross!” In a competition focused on villainy, the choice to ally seemed an odd one. On a more practical level, though, it made the judging process more complicated. Because neither character truly faced their fiercest rival, it felt to the judges like the terms of the event weren’t met. Pix wrote that “although I really enjoyed the unusual way both writers tackled this and the way they worked together, I couldn’t help thinking that by taking out each other’s rivals they were missing an opportunity to show how they would actually best the rivals who have been defeating them all these years.”
In the end, all three judges agreed that the characters’ choice to face each other’s rivals and not their own was interesting to read, but difficult to judge. Blogger Blitz may be wacky and fun but the events do have a structure to them, and too much deviation from the established rules complicates the process of objectively choosing a victor. While the alliance may have allowed the competitors to conserve their stamina, it drained even more from the judges, so both characters will receive a metaphorical infraction for that one!
Speaking of stamina, let’s talk about this part of the two-part event. In addition to overcoming their rival in a social showdown, the competitors were meant to be dealing with a frustratingly-implemented stamina system in which all actions (even social ones) depleted their limited stamina bar. The only way to recover stamina was to focus exclusively on making tea. Meanwhile, the opponents (Leliana and Mario in this scenario) used paid DLC which made their stamina unlimited.
This is another area in which the judges felt the posts were hit-and-miss. The actual implementation of the stamina bar in each post was excellent. Athena contextualized it within the fiction of the game world in a clever way that demonstrated Marjolaine’s cunning and observation skills, and Ellen’s fourth-wall-shattering jokes via Bowser’s dialogue perfectly reflect the way his character behaves in games such as Paper Mario or the Mario and Luigi series. The judges had glowing praise for both posts in this regard. Pix said of Athena: “The way Bowser reacts to the Stamina Bar is just wonderful; I can totally imagine him not understanding it and trying to get rid of it, which contrasts beautifully with Marjolaine’s refined response to it.” Regarding Ellen, Kim stated “Bowser is a fun character and he’s a force of nature, so having him not be so careful with his stamina worked really well.” The use of the stamina bars worked out great – it was the recovery of them that the judges felt missed the mark.
The rules of the event specifically mention that the process of making tea is necessary to restore stamina. What we see in each post is a focus only on drinking tea as a method of restoring stamina. This gives the characters an advantage – particularly in Athena’s post – because they can just sip tea to restore energy rather than having to take their attention away from the social gathering at hand. Conversely, in Ellen’s post the stamina recovery process is glossed over in only a sentence or so. “I think they may have focused too much on the stamina bar itself and didn’t pay much attention to the rule of having to make the tea to regain it,” Destiny said. Kim also pointed out that “the DLC aspect was only touched upon,” noting that Ellen only mentioned Mario’s unlimited stamina briefly while Athena didn’t seem to bring it up at all. So while stamina depletion played heavily into both posts, the misinterpretation about how stamina recovery was supposed to work added another layer of difficulty to the judging.
Now it may seem that the judges were pretty tough on the submissions for this first match, but we’re just getting started and now that the rules have been addressed, we can get to the good stuff – the posts themselves. This department is where both Athena and Ellen start to shine. Let’s tackle each post one at a time and talk about the many pros within.
We’ve already touched on the way in which Ellen’s post captured the essence of the Koopa king. Bowser may have some witty one-liners in his games but the approach is never subtle. He breathes fire, he breaks things, and he takes what he wants by force. Lightning Ellen shows us that Bowser throughout the post. From his negative comments about paid DLC to his criticism of tea-making minigames, Bowser is a relateable character who you can’t help but cheer on. Kim said of this post: “Poor Bowser had it tough from the start with this round and was always going to be the underdog in something like Totalitarian Teatime. However, Ellen completely understood this and even used it to her advantage, allowing his weaknesses to bring out the comedy in her story.” Pix stated that Ellen’s portrayal of Bowser was “right on the money” and that “the meta elements of the story are awesome.” Using the meta-narrative to her advantage and portraying her character as an endearing underdog are techniques we’ve seen Ellen use effectively in the past, and once again they are strong tools in her toolset here.
Destiny particularly appreciated how, of the two posts, Ellen’s adhered more closely to the stated rules of Totalitarian Teatime. “She paid a bit more attention to making tea and when she wasn’t making tea, she made it an in character thing. Like Bowser just charged through to try and use what he had already in an effective way.” Whether Athena’s portrayal of the characters recovering stamina by drinking rather than making tea was an intentional choice or a genuine mistake, the point stands that when it came to following the rules of the challenge, Ellen did a better job of incorporating the stamina mechanisms properly.
Now let’s talk about what Athena brought to the table. The first compliment shared by most of the judges was that Athena did an excellent job of communicating the kind of person that Marjolaine is with this post. None of the judges nor myself knew anything about Dragon Age prior to Blogger Blitz, but it’s easy to gather a strong impression of Marjolaine from Athena’s writing. “As someone who hasn’t played much of the Dragon Age games at all,” Kim said, “I got a real feel for Marjolaine’s character in Athena’s writing. She’s cool, calm and evilly intelligent.” These qualities about the character draw you into the post and immediately let you know that she’s up to something.
Destiny noted that Marjolaine’s excellent portrayal has some practical advantages on the competitive side too. “[Athena] did a good job making her character ‘in charge’ of the situation. Her character seemed to be the leader over Bowser, which kept the focus on her.” Marjolaine’s portrayal as cold, calculating, and always one step ahead – contrasted with Bowser’s bumbling – gives the impression that she’s fully in control and that perhaps this arrangement between them is all just some part of a grander scheme. In control is good for a competition like this: Marjolaine demonstrates that Bowser needs her to succeed in his own plans, while it seems that she can accomplish hers just fine on her own.
Of course, Athena didn’t just write a good Marjolaine – everyone else was portrayed in a compelling way too. Pix says: “The way Bowser reacts to the Stamina Bar is just wonderful; I can totally imagine him not understanding it and trying to get rid of it, which contrasts beautifully with Marjolaine’s refined response to it. Athena handles both characters wonderfully.” She also discussed the portrayal of Peach and Mario’s relationship, calling it “sublime” and that it “works perfectly with Marjolaine’s ‘weapon’ against them, which is really just a few well chosen words.” The fact that every character in this post was done in an engaging way helps Athena’s submission to shine.
So as the match came to a close, the judges had a tricky proposition to work with. Two posts, both deeply flawed when it came to adherence to the rules but both compelling stories with great characters and hilarious dialogue and narration. Choosing between the two was complicated anyway, and the addition of the alliance convoluted the matter even further. Kim mused on the final moments of the judging: “Both Athena and LightningEllen are great writers who really understood their characters. If this competition was being judged on story quality alone, I’m not sure it would be possible to choose between them.” She also added that “the alliance formed in this match made the judging more difficult.”
Of course, not all three judges felt that way. Destiny settled on her verdict pretty early: “I’m going to say Lightning Ellen and Bowser, because she paid a bit more attention to the official rules of the event/challenge.” The fact that Ellen’s post adhered more closely to the intended rules of Totalitarian Teatime gave her an edge early on in the voting, as this ended up being the deciding factor for Destiny between two otherwise equitable post submissions.
Pix, like Kim, had a harder time deciding, particularly because she felt that Athena and Ellen had very similar pros and cons to one another. She provided two for each person, and one of the two cons for both bloggers was one they shared between them: “What I did wonder though was whether the process of ‘allying’ would be a huge drain on stamina in itself, and whether either of them considered this.” She also stated that “I would like to see how Bowser would take on Mario and Marjolaine would take on Leliana themselves, as an actual alliance between them seems unlikely.”
So how did the votes ultimately shake out? Who won the first match of the Blogger Blitz: Black Sheep? Well, the answer to that is:
Marjolaine and Athena! While Ellen might have held more closely to the rules of Totalitarian Teatime, Athena stuck closer to the spirit of the event: a social battle where the goal was to defeat your rival with clever words. The way Marjolaine crafted an elaborate scenario in which the weaknesses in Mario and Peach’s relationship would be exploited, the way she saw and recognized how the stamina system worked and managed her words carefully until she understood it – it’s artfully executed and the payoff at the end is so satisfying. Meanwhile, Ellen felt that sort of portrayal for Bowser would be an out-of-character choice and chose to go with a different method. Considering how universally praised her post was for its amazing portrayal of Bowser as a character, it may be that Ellen employed the very best tactic she could and it simply wasn’t good enough this time around.
I want to take a moment to emphasize one more time that these posts were both thoroughly enjoyed by the judges. There was a lot of constructive criticism shared today, but that’s all a part of the competition! The judiciary wants to see every blogger perform to the best of their ability, and Athena and Ellen both wrote excellent posts. In the future, having submissions that adhere more closely to competition rules will make it a lot easier to focus on those excellent posts.
I want to extend my thanks once again to our three judges for their hard work this week. These posts were close in skill level and even though a verdict was finally reached, no one felt too strongly about this one and a single argument the other way might have been enough to sway the majority. Congratulations to both Athena and Ellen for contributing such great works to the Blogger Blitz canon, and although the alliance ultimately led to a judge penalty, it certainly was an interesting way to start off the competition!
That’s gonna be it for me, fight fans. If you enjoyed this week’s match, you’re definitely going to want to come back next week to see Xehanort (@overthinkery1) and Thel Vadam (@xgamersunitedx) compete in the Great Baddie Bake Off! I now open to comments to you, fight fans – do you agree with the judges on Marjolaine’s victory? What were your favorite parts of each post? Who do you think will win next week’s match? If you want to keep the Blitz buzz going, come follow me on Twitter where there will almost definitely be some great reactions and smack talk. Thanks so much for reading, and join me in congratulating Athena on a match well won!