Samuel King Jr.
EGLIN AFB — A 350th Spectrum Warfare Wing Airman and his holy-water-tossing vampire slayer avatar made a smash at this year’s Department of the Air Force Gaming League’s Global Championship on Dec. 1 in Orlando.
Airman Justin Staton, of Eglin Air Force Base’s 39th Electronic Warfare Squadron, won the North American title in the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate video game tournament and finished second in the worldwide Air Force competition.
Super Smash Bros. is a video game series in which Nintendo’s famous characters battle each other using their various powers in one-on-one and team matches. Staton uses Richter Belmont, a hatchet-wielding vampire hunter from the “Castlevania” video game series as his character of choice in the battles.
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The month-long, gaming-league-sponsored online competition attracted almost 200 Air Force airmen and Space Force guardians. Air Force Gaming, part of the Air Force Services Center, is a new organization focused on building resiliency and retention with its esports platform for community tournaments and leagues. A final four emerged in the Asian, European and two North American regions and competed in person to determine an overall winner.
“I never thought I would be playing ‘Smash’ in the Air Force,” said the 25-year-old intelligence mission data analyst, who joined the Air Force in October 2020. “I love the Air Force is involved in something I love to do. There are not a lot of careers that let you pursue your hobbies at the extent the Air Force does.”
Staton discovered the gaming league approximately five months ago, soon after arriving at his first assignment at Eglin. The new airman followed his father, mother and younger brother into the family business of Air Force intelligence.
He quickly signed up and discovered there was a big tournament of his favorite game about to begin.
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“I’m a very competitive person, and ‘Smash’ is such an outlet for my personality,” said the San Angelo, Texas, native. “It suits my competitive side because it’s a fighting game. It’s about being better and beating your opponent, and I like being the best.”
Staton, a lifelong gamer who played all five iterations of the Super Smash Bros. series, grew up playing various Nintendo games with his family. Retired Master Sgt. Rick Staton, Justin’s father and early video game teammate and competitor, was shocked that his son would be playing video games for the Air Force.
“My friends and I were surprised the Air Force was involved in gaming,” said the father. “Gaming to our generation was just an escape and hobby to clear our minds.”
His son took his high-level hobby skills through early tournament rounds and swept all four finalists when they played for seeding at the final four tournament. He became the favorite and the airman to beat after that.
After winning one match and losing another, Staton faced off against the other North American contender to see who would be the representative in the final. It was a close match that came down to the final contest in the best-of-five match. He got behind early in the last match and was facing defeat. Staton, who goes by the username “Panda-B” during Super Smash Bros. league and tournament play, said he feels he plays better with stacked odds.
“It was a very stressful game,” said Staton, who pulled from his deep experience in local Super Smash Bros. leagues here and in his hometown to overcome in the game. “I said ‘I’m just not going to go out like this with my family, friends and squadron watching.’ ”
He battled back and finally took the victory as the North American region winner. Although Staton beat his finals competitor during those seeding matches, the eventual tournament winner, Senior Airman Isaiah Colon, European region, devised a strategy to defeat him in a 3-1 victory.
“I was very cautious as he (Staton) is someone who has the ability to adapt to play styles,” said Colon, a fuels service center controller stationed in Turkey. “He is extremely knowledgeable and a true character specialist. He proved this in the matches in our grand finals set, which were very close games with me just having that extra edge to take the victory. I hope to see him in future AFG Tournaments again someday.”
Staton said he contemplated retiring from Super Smash Bros. competition while on top to devote a little more time with family. After encouragement from his family, particularly his spouse, Christina, he said he hopes to strike a balance between continuing to game and family life.
Staton’s victory and the final round of competition can be found online at https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?ref=watch_permalink&v=4457853047662910. The North American competition starts at 25:45 into the competition, Staton’s win to get into the finals can be found beginning at 2:28:00, and the championship begins at 2:55:00 into the video.