“RPS never lies,” says Master Pete Lovering, a local sales manager and the reigning World Rock Paper Scissors (RPS) Champion. In last year’s epic final, Master Pete won $1,200 by throwing a “rock heard round the world.” As he shuffles into Kool Haus, a cavernous Toronto concert hall, over 900 RPS fans and competitors squeeze closer to catch a glimpse of this grinning Zen Master. Wearing his distinctive green bathrobe and blue straw cowboy hat, Master Pete is favored to triumph again tonight, October 25th, his 36th birthday. Asked if he has a Babe Ruth-style prediction, Master Pete says simply, “There will be no error.”
But he’s facing unprecedented competition. According to organizers Douglas and Graham Walker of the World RPS Society, 320 competitors have trekked here from Scotland, London, Germany, New York, Hawaii, and across Canada. They’ve all come to win a grand prize purse of $5,000, plus the coveted championship trophy which looks like a gleaming Celtic goblet.
The rules are simple: Paper covers rock. Scissors cuts paper. Rock breaks scissors [although in Canada, the Walkers claim rock wins by “dulling” scissors]. There are many teams here tonight but everyone must compete solo in a tennis-style single-elimination ladder. To advance to the next round, a competitor must win a ‘Best Three of Three’ match. This means they must win two ‘Best of Three’ sets to be victorious in the match.
Their backs to the bar, two RPS masters size up their pre-event competition: Master Roshambollah, 32, a professional body piercer from Washington, DC, is ruggedly handsome in his trademark blue velvet tuxedo and conical bamboo hat. To his left, wearing a vintage cream suit, is C. Urbanus, 27, who was introduced to RPS in high school by actress Piper Perabo from Coyote Ugly.
Urbanus hails from New Brunswick, New Jersey where he is currently unemployed, leaving him plenty of time to practice his intricate RPS strategies.
According to Master Roshambollah, C. Urbanus is a notorious “scripter.” This means Urbanus plans dozens of moves in advance by linking three-move “gambits” [e.g., throwing a sequence of Paper, Scissors, Paper, known as Scissors Sandwich]. He also invented the Urbanus Defense, a tactic where he intentionally loses the first point in a match. “This lulls the other player into thinking they have an advantage, which in turn gives me the advantage,” says Urbanus. But despite the soothing presence of Lauren Hood, 25, his girlfriend and live-in trainer, Urbanus appears nervous before his first match. When pressed, he admits he’s nursing a scissors-related ligament strain.
The RPS Championship is like a high-stakes Star Trek convention, but with binge-drinking and better-looking women.
One fan favorite is a mesmerizing 21-year-old blonde known as Force of the Fist. Last year, she was the highest finishing female, clad in low-rider jeans and distracting lacy panties.
Tonight, Force of the Fist wears a tight pink Dirty Bird shirt, and is flanked by teammate ‘The Ba’, a guy wearing a neoprene glove with a built-in beer holder “to keep my playing hand warm.”
A third teammate, 26-year-old Fistful o’ Sneer, carries a measuring tape to psyche out opponents by measuring the correct distance between their throwing hands [According to the official RPS tournament rules (www.worldrps.com), this is “no less than 1 cubit and no more than 2 cubits.”].
Team Slut, a squad of hard-drinking trailer trash, prances for the TV cameras and pours beers on each other’s heads; they also have a teammate dressed in a lion suit with ‘Team Slut’ penned on his soft beige underbelly. He lurches around, bumping into members of Team U.K., six London dandies in identical Union Jack suits. “The biggest concern for us, frankly, are the rank amateurs in this hall,” says Team U.K.’s Andrew Cummings, 27. “It’s hard to defend against their random kind of game. It’s unnerving. If you’re playing against a professional, at least you know you’re on the same level.” To further confuse the Brits, a guy in a blue shirt unveils a laptop computer named Deep Mauve. The only non-human competitor tonight, Deep Mauve will compete by randomly generating rock, paper or scissors.
Seconds before the matches start, Team Bureaucrat rushes in, dressed in pin-striped suits and clutching stacks of documents. Bureaucratic spokesperson Paprillia Wate says their team mission is to show the world that “paper is the new rock.” Then the emcee announces, “Let your paper be horizontal, your scissors be vertical and your rock be rock hard. You may begin.”
The matches start with a flurry of fingers. Scissors chop. Rocks smash. Papers smother. Within minutes, dozens of competitors are crushed like the sponsored beer cans on the floor. A man screams and sinks to his knees, gazing helplessly at his outstretched fingers. Suddenly, the beer-drenched Team Slut lion is poached, and he falls heavily to the jungle floor. Adding salt to his wounds, someone steals the noble beast’s tail. He staggers around the arena, shouting, “What am I gonna do now? I look like a fucking retarded squirrel.”
Master tacticians climb the tournament ladder. Sloppy competitors earn scoldings from Elizabeth Bromstein, 31, the sternest ref on the circuit. “I take my job extremely seriously and I don’t respect competitors who throw [banned maneuvers like] vertical paper or horizontal scissors,” she says. “This is the international championship of decision-making. If you’re not prepared, you shouldn’t be here.”
Master Roshambollah advances, as does Master Pete. But Deep Mauve gets beaten in the qualifying round, as does a dejected C. Urbanus. “We were all hoping for me to go further,” Urbanus says afterward. “Especially me.” His live-in trainer, Lauren, is a novice competitor yet she advances to the next round. “Which is odd enough, because I pay her to train me,” says Urbanus. “You can’t help thinking in the back of your mind ‘maybe she set me up’. She wanted to make it, she knew who her top competition was, so… I’m pretty emotional right now. It’s horrible.”
Then a massive upset stuns the arena: Lauren advances to the round of 16 by defeating the No. 1 seed, Master Pete Lovering. The crowd is hushed. A giant has fallen. “It feels extraordinary,” gushes Lauren. Magnanimous in defeat, Master Pete doffs his cowboy hat and lends it to Lauren as a talisman. But when she faces her next opponent, she takes the hat off and plays bare-headed. She loses, leaving Master Pete disgusted. “I don’t give that [hat] away for nothing. It’s spoils of war. If you’re going to cut off somebody’s ear on the battlefield, you have to respect what you’ve just done and carry it through to the next battle.”
Tempers flare at 11:54 p.m. While the audience and media are engrossed with the final showdowns, two Team Slut members strip nude and start bashing a guy in a robot suit. The Slut lion jumps into the fray, swinging a paw at the robot’s head. Security guards kick them all out into the harsh Toronto rain. Then all hell breaks loose. Someone steals the RPS trophy. “It’s an absolute disaster!” says Graham Walker, 36, of the World RPS Society. “A ref chased the thief for two blocks. He got in a car and zoomed off. That’s how much people want to get that trophy.”
Realizing the fight was a diversionary tactic, his brother Doug Walker, 32, make an emergency appeal to a Team Slut leader. Fifteen minutes later, the dented trophy is found in a garbage can outside the nightclub. Graham says, “What bitter irony to the grand sport of RPS to find the Championship cup in, of all places, a garbage can. We don’t know who the Robot is and can’t help but feel bad that he fell victim to Team Slut’s trophy plot.”
The final match becomes an instant classic: The Trauma in Toronto, pitting Fistful o’ Sneer (a.k.a. Marc Rigaux) versus the Legion of the Red Fist’s Rob Krueger, 31, who wears a single red glove and a wig as black as doom.
The two warriors stand facing each other, alone beneath the spotlights. They stretch their necks. Krueger flexes his red-clad fingers. Fistful o’ Sneer seems to be favoring his right arm. Then the referee raises his hand to start the Best of Five finale. They simultaneously hurl scissors: a stalemate. Then they tie again, this time throwing paper. Then scissors again! The crowd’s hysterical. Four throws later, Fistful wins the first set by hurling a rock that deftly smashes (and/or dulls) Krueger’s scissors.
In the mosh pit, the crowd sprays beer at the photographers and shouts “Rock! Rock! Rock!” But Krueger battles back, taking the next two sets by flinging paper. So the crowd starts chanting “Paper! Paper! Paper!” On to the incredibly tense fourth set, where the referee penalizes Krueger for throwing “vertical paper,” which is an illegal hand foul. Krueger pauses, sucks a deep breath, then he and Fistful throw five straight stalemates. The crowd’s in a frenzy. Fistful loses the next point by throwing an ill-advised rock to Krueger’s canny paper. Fistful’s on the verge of defeat. But in the match point, with everything at stake, Fistful neatly snips Krueger’s paper and they move to the fifth and deciding set.
First they stalemate with twin scissors. Then identical rocks. But suddenly Krueger unleashes the Fistful of Dollars gambit (Rock, Paper, Paper), against Fistful o’ Sneer’s Avalanche (Rock, Rock, Rock). Paper covers rock! Fistful sags in defeat. The new World RPS Champion, Rob Krueger from Toronto, thrusts his red fist high in victory. The Bureaucrats were right: paper is the new rock.
The arena goes wild. Graham presents Rob with a gold medal, the dented trophy, and an oversize $5,000 novelty check. Rob’s sunglasses reflect hundreds of camera flashes. Asked if he has any advice for the youth of America, Rob says, “RPS heroes are role models. Get out and play. This sport rocks!” His teammates tackle him. They fall back through the curtain and land in a laughing heap backstage. Nobody asks for Rob’s urine sample, as the Society does not ban any performance-enhancing substances.
At the after-party in a local bar, Master Pete admits he’s relieved he lost his title. “It was too intense,” says Master Pete. “I did 100 interviews [for the World RPS Society] this year. It’s a great organization, but I’m the Gordie Howe of Rock Paper Scissors and they still made me pay to enter tonight. Don’t get me wrong. I love this sport. And the greatest weight I’ve ever had was just lifted off my shoulders.”
— Ken Hegan