King Of Styles 2
Reflecting on the early 2000s legacy of dancing games in London
Words by Guest Writer ted.
During this time, London was one of the best places in the world to experience the core social buzz of arcade games. The same can still somewhat be said of today.
But in 1999, at the short-lived Namco Wonderpark on Great Windmill Street, Dance Dance Revolution (known as “Dancing Stage” to Euros) reinvigorated the capital’s arcade-hype considerably.
As with much of the rest of the world, the player-base flourished and grew across the country. Other great dance games came along, but DDR was the face of this growing culture.
The eccentric, ever-popular arcade-goer that was Jason Ho once said,
"It's just a social thing".
And during those embryonic stages of arcade rhythm games, in a pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, pre-Discord age, driven by basic Web 1.0 sites and BBS message boards, Ho could not have been more correct.
Bigger and better things started to occur off the back of this hype; The first King Of Styles tournament was staged at Las Vegas Arcade owned by the Family Leisure Group in Soho during 2000. But this was just the beginning.
Just streets away from Las Vegas resided a Piccadilly Circus tourist staple, again with involvement from Family Leisure - the Trocadero, a Grade II-listed building with a rich history of entertainment. Within that building was one of the utmost premier arcades in Europe; Funland.
A refurbished maze of escalators and neon, Funland in 2001 had risen from the multi-million pound ashes of Sega-World.
Long gone were the entry-fees and statues of Sonic the Hedgehog— very few of the "futuractive" rides introduced by Sega remained. In their place, more arcade machines, bowling alley bars, and the expectation of clean, fun, family entertainment.
Dance games were not quite family entertainment. On peak days, hordes of players would flock to the numerous cabinets - Dancing Stage, Pump It Up, Ez2Dancer - and brought forth the second King Of Styles tournament, now held at Funland.
Sponsored by community hub dancegames.com, King Of Styles 2 was held on the ubiquitous Dancing Stage Euromix, then still fairly new to the world. As the name suggests, this was all about freestyles, far more integral to those early generations.
Entrants came from all over the country, continent, and world, with Italian, French, and Spanish players making their presence felt. This was a tournament to rival even the earlier Super Street Fighter II events at the Trocadero.
Some players' efforts have since passed down into near-legend. Take Haerang Dong, walking away to Dynamite Rave and whipping up the crowd with an infectious, gleeful abandon - MFCs were irrelevant at the time.
Dong would eventually walk away with a 3rd place title. The winning routine, set to DJ Kazu’s Luv to Me, was performed by the inimitable London Ting, also famous for giving wise words of wisdom to not bang machines, as can be seen here.
Donning a matching silver Pump-It-Up tracksuit for Stomp To My Beat, famed UK player Phil Moulson came second to Ting, and had the misfortune of having his backpack stolen and freestyle video subsequently posted under the title “Crazy white guy DDR” on Kazaa.
Moulson would ultimately have the last laugh, however - he later reached the 2006 World Hip Hop Dance Championships in L.A. as part of UK dance group Pink Mafia. Not many other dance game players can lay claim to such a feat.
Other freestyles were performed by the likes of Matt Marini, Kevin Amon, and Vykkye on Euromix classics like Magic Alec, Do It All Night, and Afronova - all out there and preserved, albeit in the usual low resolution/bitrate video of the time…
Even in their crunchy, watermarked quality, a very specific energy still emanates from some of the in-action photos. It’s exceedingly hard to imagine some of these moves being pulled on the battered 20+ year old pads of Dancing Stage cabinets still in service now.
And a specific special mention must also be made for the editor who chose to deploy early photoshop effects on a PIU-merch wearing London Ting, taking his freestyle ego down a peg or two through the medium of editing a low resolution .jpg images:
King Of Styles 2 was another great tournament at the height of the early generation of dance and rhythm games. Over the course of 2001, several more were held, even in the shadow of antisocial behaviour and an armed robberies at an understaffed Trocadero.
King Of Styles 2.5, held in January the following year, was now held on Andamiro’s Pump It Up. It drew quite possibly the biggest crowd Funland ever saw, defiantly affirming the Korean game’s western popularity. But 2002 would also mark a turning point — people moved on, the following King Of Styles 3 was not as big.
The days of western dance game freestyle came to an end, as competitive DDR became more score-based for many. The UK’s playerbase in particular tailed off after the mid 2000s, as a result of poor official support from Konami, community infighting, and the mere passing of time.
A dedicated circle of players continued to play other games, including the aforementioned Pump It Up, at Funland. Amid long-running internal strife and money mismanagement at its parent company, the arcade closed its doors for the final time on 2nd July 2011, confirming its closure on the 4th.
Funland’s unfortunate closure, the sorry demise of the Trocadero altogether, and the loss of epochal events like King Of Styles are ultimately things that should not be forgotten in arcade and gaming history, despite their end. Two opposing forces come into play here: community driven hype, and corporate failure.
Many of the misgivings of the current UK scene’s remnants can be blamed on players suffering at the hands of big business. Yet, what persisted was a wonderful sense of community spirit, one sufficient enough to make a chance within the scene.
Over the past 5+ years, efforts from numerous people involved in the UK have created new, independent spaces to play - Chief Coffee, Arcade Club and others are expected to expand, making their mark on a reforming underground scene of players.
From the original wildly successful reinvigoration of Soho’s Las Vegas by scene veteran Toby Na Nakhorn in the 2010s, to the more recent importing of many desirable machines from Asia and setup of fan-ran networks helping along new startups like Freeplay City, the scene is at its healthiest for some time.
To give unfortunate contrast to this growth, the days of freestyle dance games remain a distant memory in the west. DDR is almost entirely a score-based proposition across the world, and making a further effort to style play only remains as prevalent as it does in Asia, with newer games like Dance Station and DanceRush.
It is more difficult than ever to imagine a King Of Styles ever happening again in many corners of the world, especially right now. However, with promising but small attempts in Europe at new score-based events like March 2020’s second DDRevival in Arcade Club Leeds, anything could possibly happen again one day.
Yet, 20 years on from its height, Funland continues to fascinate and shape people’s lives, including those who never got to experience it. Western arcade culture and players of the past 20 years all owe something, big or small, to the legacy of Funland.
Further reading on the Trocadero and King Of Styles