WALLINGFORD, Conn. — When he found out he was going to be a father in the middle of 2011, Erik Merliss shifted his focus.
The 38-year-old project manager was about to get a lifestyle change — and an unexpected boost in his Tecmo Super Bowl game.
“My girlfriend was happy that I started to spend more time at home than what I was accustomed to,” said Merliss, a Wallingford, Conn., native. “It showed on the Tecmo side of things as well.”
Merliss went from being an average player to making the playoffs in every season of his online Tecmo leagues and eventually winning his first-ever title.
From there, Merliss won three consecutive live tournaments and has racked up numerous other online accolades.
He said it was “a night and day between how the game had slowed down and how much better I had become since beginning online play five years ago.
“But now with a 14-month old son, I haven’t had the time I used to for Tecmo dedication.”
After grasping the ins and outs of early fatherhood, Merliss is ready to compete in his third Midwest tourney on July 27. His last appearance was in 2009.
Merliss is one of the furthest participants to travel to this year’s Midwest, as he prepares to drive 14 hours to Fairfield, Ohio.
“I enjoy traveling to these live tournaments for a number of reasons,” Merliss said. “There’s nothing like playing versus people live, face to face and then playing against different people rather than the same few that live in the same area.
“This makes the travel worth it even that much more,” Merliss added. “I’ve become friends with fellow Tecmoers, and a chance to hang out with them for a weekend a couple of times a year is worth it.”
Merliss additionally has made trips to the last two tournaments in Madison, Wisc., the epicenter of the Tecmo universe and home of the covenant 224-man tourney.
“To not have anything else matter except playing Tecmo for that short period of time makes the experience worth traveling the globe,” Merliss said. “As most of us have jobs and families. Our high school or college athletic careers are over, so it’s great to keep that competitive fuel going in Tecmo games just like we did back when we played high school sports.”
HIGH SCHOOL AND TECMO
A friend of his brought the cartridge over after one day in high school. Merliss hasn’t put the controller down years later.
“I immediately claimed I was the best and use to have people from school come over all the time to play,” he said. “I always beat them.
“There’s something about the game I understood much quicker than most people,” he added. “Whether it was play choosing or realizing their formation weakness right from the very first few times I played.
“After awhile, nobody would come over to play with me. So I taught my (then) girlfriend how to play and we would run seasons with her as the 49ers or the Raiders and me as a lesser team in the AFC like the Browns or the Seahawks.”
His girlfriend got pretty good at the game and eventually beat his friend that introduced Merliss to the game.
“To this day, he’s still embarrassed about it as he’s a camera man for ESPN,” Merliss said. “So I ridicule him as often as I can that she beat him.”
Merliss never really put the old NES away or going more than six months between playing a season or against one of his old friends that would be over for a visit.
“I’m glad that I never put the NES away for good back before I found out about the online community and the large following still going on.”
Though he said he prefers playing on live console, Merliss compliments the cult following Tecmo has formed online.
“The Tecmo community is definitely worth mentioning. What other game from 20-plus years ago is still going on so strong?” he questioned. “The players that were in the game don’t talk about their games against each other as much as we do, a 200-plus group of people that play against others either online or at live tournaments.
“We are living the NFL games from 1991 continuously while the real life players are our idols for being in there,” he added. “I can’t name a full roster for any team in the NFL in any other year except for the Tecmo rosters. I can name every starting player on offense and defense.”
And there are others like Merliss who can do the same.
“Meeting another person with the similar experiences that have all led to the same spot now — it’s neat,” Merliss said. “We are all in the late 20s and 40s and playing the same game that I did in 1991.
“It’s the most unique video game ever for standing up against the test of time,” Merliss added. “And the best part is that it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.
“Because of national exposure, it is actually growing,” Merliss said of the NFL Films Presents: Tecmo Super Bowl documentary that aired in 2012.
The NFL Films documentary has indeed unearthed hidden talent. And that’s kept Merliss even more interested in continuing his Tecmo career.
Winning the New York City tournament in 2011 has pushed him for more as well.
“That’s the biggest highlight of my Tecmo career,” he said.
The trophy currently sits in his office.
“My girlfriend thinks that I’m crazy about all this Tecmo stuff,” Merliss said. “She hates everything about it. Just the sound of it makes her sick.
“Obviously she thinks I’m crazy for still playing it, but she doesn’t understand what the real quality of life is about,” Merliss added. “I bet if there was a My Little Pony game she played back when she was in school and if it was still being played nationally and she was to find out about it, I would be happy for her that she’s doing something she enjoys and isn’t harmful in any way like other vices are such as drugs and online porn.”
And Merliss said he isn’t going to quick playing competitive Tecmo anytime soon.
“My cousin was a Nintendo kid that could tell you any secret or ending to every game ever made,” Merliss recalled. “I used to make fun of him and joke with him that he would walk around school with his NES handle not plugged in and would press the buttons all day long trying to control people with his controller.
“Now I’ve turned into that kid who walks around with his controller in his hand everywhere I go.”
He’ll have his controller during the 14-hour drive to Fairfield.
Follow this reporter on Twitter @vogtcd or @mwtecmo.