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In surge to the top, Cedar Rapids gamer goes Down Under

World's best Galaga players face off over arcade game in Australia

Jordan Dorrington takes a moment Saturday from practicing at Quarter Barrel in downtown Cedar Rapids. He routinely practiced there until he got his own Galaga arcade game at home. This weekend, Dorrington will be competing in an international Galaga tournament in Australia. (Ben Roberts/Freelance)
Jordan Dorrington takes a moment Saturday from practicing at Quarter Barrel in downtown Cedar Rapids. He routinely practiced there until he got his own Galaga arcade game at home. This weekend, Dorrington will be competing in an international Galaga tournament in Australia. (Ben Roberts/Freelance)
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Entering his teen years in the 1990s in Cedar Rapids, Jordan Dorrington remembers the video arcade scene being nearly nonexistent. Personal game consoles were the thing by then, and he was just as enthralled as anyone.

But every so often, Dorrington and his dad would encounter a bar or restaurant with Galaga — a Japanese arcade game released in 1981 that lets you control a spacecraft and shoot down enemy aliens.

“It was rare,” he said. “But we would stumble upon one, and we would play a game. I would never get over 10,000 points when I was a kid.”

Jordan of 1999, check out Jordan of 2019.

The 33-year-old Four Oaks youth worker-by-day and Galaga phenom-by-night holds the No. 2 or No. 3 spot on the international scoreboard — depending on the day and the prowess of his competitors. In Galaga, a player can be captured or destroyed five times before a game ends.

“I average anywhere from 2 to 3 million points a life,” he said. “My best score on five lives is 7.3 million points.”

That had him at No. 2 as of last week and within range of the world’s No. 1 — held by an Armando Gonzalez, with a top score of 9.5 million points.

“It’s definitely within reach,” Dorrington said. “It’s at a point right now where any game I play from here on out, I could potentially be the best in the world.”

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This coming weekend, Dorrington could help the United States establish itself as the globe’s Galaga goliath when he competes on a team of four Americans against four Australians in the “Gala-Gala — Battle for the Hemispheres” in Brisbane.

The duel initially was conceived as a livestreamed tournament. It would connect players out of the Australian arcade “Pincadia” with players out of an arcade first in Chicago, and then Texas, and then Colorado. But as U.S. plans kept falling through, “Pincadia” decided to pitch a more direct faceoff.

“Out of nowhere, they contacted me and a couple others that were the best in world at the time, and they were like, ‘What if we flew you guys out here, and you battle people here in Australia?’”

Dorrington was wary. Events in the arcade community frequently fall through.

“I just felt like this was not going to happen,” he said. Until it did.

“All of the sudden, the tickets came in,” Dorrington said. “And I was like, ‘Oh, this is real.’”

But let’s back up before going Down Under with Dorrington.

It’s 2015, and he’s working at Rapids Wholesale, a kitchen and bar-equipment supplier in Marion. Cedar Rapids’ Quarter Barrel brewpub and arcade has not yet opened. But it’s about to.

“The people who were running Quarter Barrel had come in, and they were making orders, and I had heard about them putting in this ‘barcade,’ and I asked them, I said, ‘Are you going to have Galaga?’” Dorrington said. “And they laughed and said, ‘Of course we’re going to have Galaga.’”

Recalling memories with his dad, Dorrington made a half-serious, half-blustering vow.

“I told them,” he said, “I will be in there, and I will be No. 1 on that board.”

But even he didn’t portend the possibility of his international prowess.

After playing a few games upon Quarter Barrel’s opening, Dorrington surprised himself.

“I realized, ‘Wow, I’m actually, really, really good at this,’” he said.

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Having seen a documentary featuring Twin Galaxies — a Guinness World Records-affiliated organization facilitating international gaming competition and recognition — Dorrington drove to Ottumwa, where Twin Galaxies was founded, hoping it still had a presence there.

It didn’t. But he did find an arcade in town — Ottumwa’s Old School Pinball and Arcade.

“It was a letdown when I got out there because it wasn’t a Twin Galaxies thing,” he said. “But I thought, all right, I’ll go into this arcade and play a Galaga game.”

His skills impressed the Ottumwa crowd, which started streaming him live on Facebook. The livestream caught the attention of a wider Galaga community, which cued Dorrington into more challenging settings.

“I had no idea they existed,” he said.

That was in March 2018 and Dorrington has continued to dominate the Galaga scene.

“I’ve been playing every single day for about a year on the hardest settings, trying to get my name up there on this international scoreboard,” he said.

Last July, he graduated from regular practices at Quarter Barrel to his own personal, bar-sized Galaga arcade system — which he’s situated in the corner of his kitchen, next to the toaster and the coffee maker.

His fiancee, Naomi Foley, 29, not only doesn’t mind the kitchen space wars, she asked for it.

“He wanted to put it in the basement, but I told him I would never see him,” Foley said.

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Plus, she said, Dorrington’s alien-fighting skills are part of what attracted her in the first place. She was a waitress at Quarter Barrel when he was establishing his Galaga dominance.

“It was mostly his character,” she said. “But him being so good at Galaga was always a fun conversation to have.”

And although Foley said she wouldn’t mind having more games in the kitchen, she doesn’t share the Galaga gift.

“I’m more of a pinball gal myself.”

For more information on the March 25-27 “Gala-Gala” battle, visit the Pincadia event page on Facebook or the official event website at pincadia.com/galagala. Check out Dorrington’s bio here.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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