This week is going to be heavy (HEAVY) on non-gaming stuff, so I am leading in with the gaming stuff and then, should you so desire, there’s gonna be a ton of wrestling content just below that, because it is the one week of the year where I stay super-current with what is happening and watch closely!
But first, games!
WoW – Conclave Eludes, Old Raid Soloing for Gold
Conclave of the Chosen Heroic has continued to stymie my guild for another week, but the attempts this last week were so close that, if we had all of our DPS players in raid, we would have won. Frustrating to be so close, but yet, progress has been made and I suspect that another week of additional gear and a fuller roster and we will win. The kill order is dialed in more or less, the fight mechanics of the early stages are mastered, and all we need is a bit of practice with Akunda and we’ll win!
Outside of that, I’ve been slowly adding more WoW time by farming old raids, just to ensure my gold stash is not hammered too hard by not playing outside of raids. It’s been pretty fun to go through the old raids (moneyzone is Cata heroics/Mists heroics) and so it is a fun, casual way to burn some time.
Final Fantasy XIV – All Things Manderville
Despite having played FFXIV for nearly 5 years now, I have never done the Hildibrand quests, and that has been something I’ve been working on over the last week. Hildibrand quests are…odd, but they add a fun comedic touch to the game with unique animations and dances, an underwear-toting old man, and fun little investigations that always seem to work out despite the bumbling nature of Hildibrand, with some resonant themes that were genuinely touching. I’m up to the Stormblood quests now, working through the current expansion of his hijinks at last, with the goal being to reach the trial added to the end of his quests in the recent patch!
Along with that, the Final Fantasy XV crossover event happens in two weeks, and the rewards require MGP, the currency from the Gold Saucer, a name that rings a bell if you’ve ever played Final Fantasy VII! I’ve never gotten into the Golden Saucer, just due to not really trying it, so I’m going to have to dive in, because the Regalia mount from the FFXV crossover costs 500,000 MGP, which is quite doable, and the mount can fly and seats 4 (?!).
Tetris 99 Before Bed To Keep the Brain Sharp
…that’s my excuse, anyways. Last night I had my best showing, placing 14th in a match, which has only motivated me to push harder towards a top ten showing. Some of it is luck (no random attackers, good block order) but sharpening my Tetris skills under pressure is also going to be key! Gotta love being able to play in bed, thanks to the game being on the Switch.
And now, wrestling:
Wrestlemania is this Sunday, and it is sort of easiest to understand as wrestling Christmas, in a way. It is the time of year where WWE tries to write better stories (sometimes doing too much writing, as we’ll discuss in a moment), present better matches, and where the production values are dialed up immensely. Wrestlemania is a large-scale stadium show that has unique stages, fantastic pyrotechnics, and the best match quality WWE puts on all year (outlier contests aside). No matter how little I tend to keep up with things the rest of the year (reading recaps and watching YouTube clips as opposed to watching full shows), Wrestlemania time turns more of my attention to the show (although mostly just for the ‘Mania weekend events, as WWE’s weekly wrestling shows total 6 hours of content!).
Wrestlemania itself, now that they own their own distribution backbone via the WWE Network, has exploded into a show that is too long – going from 4 hours plus a 2 hour preshow to nearly 6 hours plus a 2 hour preshow, resulting in nearly 8 hours of content in a single stretch. This year’s looks to continue that trend, as currently, there are 14 matches, with rumors of at least another being added this week or during the show, for a total of 15. Even with that, neither versions of the men’s tag team titles are currently scheduled to be defended, which could theoretically result in 17 matches if they end up deciding to put those titles on the line (which is unlikely at this point, but you never know!).
The headlining match this year is a first for the show, as the Women’s Championships of both WWE brands (the shows, Raw and Smackdown, both have their own rosters of talent and championships) is scheduled to be the main event for the first time ever, with Ronda Rousey (the Raw Women’s Champion) facing off against Charlotte Flair (the daughter of wrestling icon Ric Flair and current Smackdown Women’s Champion) and Becky Lynch (legitimately the most popular wrestler in the company at the moment and the winner of this year’s Women’s Royal Rumble match).
The match itself should be really good, as Ronda Rousey is a legitimate fighter (although how much of her UFC record is worth recounting is debatable), Charlotte Flair is a former gymnast and fair-to-good in the ring (plus family pedigree), and Becky Lynch is a fantastic storyteller who can put on good-to-great matches. The storyline to get to this point has been overdone nearly to death, though. What started fairly simply with Becky winning the Royal Rumble in January, then appearing the next night on Raw to claim her title shot against Rousey at Wrestlemania turned into a storyline of Becky having a (fictional) knee injury but refusing to see a doctor, resulting in her being suspended and Charlotte being added to the match, while Rousey cut awful promos and let fans rattle her with boos. Despite the suspension, Becky showed up randomly at shows, appearing from the crowd, usually dressed like The Bride from Kill Bill, limping with one crutch and then beating the crap out of the two other ladies with said crutch, until she got a match to be added in to make the match a triple threat, which she won, after which the whole knee issue suddenly disappeared. Meanwhile, Ronda became a heel (wrestling parlance for villian) which means she has leaned more into being booed, but you can tell Ronda Rousey (the person) hates being booed, which makes Ronda Rousey (the character) feel a bit weird because the presentation is off. So now they’ve been taking turns showing up and beating each other up, since Ronda is a Raw talent and the other two are technically Smackdown, but Charlotte has basically been ignored, and then there has been a lot of meta-kayfabe happening on Twitter (Kayfabe is the wrestling term for the presentation of the stories as real), where they’ll sometimes acknowledge that its fiction, which led to Becky having some really good tweets and Ronda shooting a weird video where she pans wrestling for being fake (why did you want to do it so badly then?) and muddying the waters, while Charlotte enjoys being off to the side of the whole thing. This all culminated last night on Raw in a weird segment that was so bad and stupid it was funny and entertaining, where all 3 were “arrested” and taken backstage, only to get into a kick fight (they were handcuffed, you see), which led to Becky and Ronda being put into the same car, Ronda kicking the window out, Charlotte crab walking to the window and planting her knee in the side of Ronda’s head, Ronda driving the cop car into another cop car 5 feet away for no good reason, and then trying to figure out how 20 cops showed up with only two cars, while the two cars take Ronda and Becky while Charlotte mean mugs the camera.
To say narrative whiplash was happening would be an understatement. To make matters worse, while the match was originally solely for the Raw Women’s Championship, held by Ronda, last week, Charlotte won the Smackdown Women’s Title from Asuka (a fantastic veteran of the Japanese joshi scene who deserved better) which was done so they could announce the Wrestlemania match as winner takes all, not unifying the two titles but rather crowning a dual champion, which keeps their options open as they are about to change the television network for Smackdown and the new network, Fox, may want to have Becky Lynch as their champion, which would have been impossible in the original storyline but is possible now, since you can have her win both titles, then lose the Raw one at the next pay per view and move on. Yeesh.
Despite that mess of a story, I am still excited to see the match itself.
The rest of the card has a few potential winners, with one of the best matches being the WWE Championship match between Daniel Bryan and Kofi Kingston. Daniel Bryan was the biggest underdog in all of wrestling, a smaller, bearded man who won over fans in a big way leading to Wrestlemania XXX, resulting in him winning the title and being celebrated…until his history of concussions forced an early retirement in 2016. Since then, he went to tons of different specialists, trying new and cutting-edge procedures like re-oxygenation of his brain, and the end result of all of that was full recovery, and in 2018 he was finally cleared to wrestle again.
Since coming back at last year’s Wrestlemania, he continued to play his original underdog hero character until the fall, when he turned heel by kicking AJ Styles in the groin to recapture the WWE Championship, which he has held ever since. He’s done something many thought he would never again be able to do after his personal, real story of adversity – he gets booed for being a smarmy heel character who insults the fans, mainly because he is the best kind of villain – one that is correct. He rails against Vince McMahon, CEO of the WWE, calling his generation of baby boomers leeches and talking about how capitalism has destroyed the planet and held down people. He cuts promos about rabid consumerism that include throwing hot dogs in people’s faces, stomping on over-the-top promotional burgers, and complaining of the animal suffering used to make his WWE Championship, throwing away the old version of the belt and introducing a new one with a hemp strap and wooden plates. One time he even cut a promo at a concession stand, then walked through the crowd calling them impotent and yelling “FIX IT” at them, which worked really well.
Basically, he’s turned up his real self (he is a vegan minimalist type in real life) and made it hated by being extreme with it, which is one of the best ways for a wrestling character to get popular, and it is working. He gets great heel reactions and it makes his matches special for that reason.
Facing off with him is Kofi Kingston, an 11 year veteran of the WWE who once, way back around 2010, was due for a shot at the WWE title, until a slight miscommunication in a match with veteran and company favorite Randy Orton led to him being pushed down the ladder. Since then, he’s been a foundational part of the group New Day, which has been one of the most entertaining acts on either brand. In February, during the build up to the Elimination Chamber pay per view, one of the wrestlers set to face Daniel Bryan in the titular Elimination Chamber match was forced to the bench for a concussion, leading to Kofi being added to the match. Kofi has, in many ways, taken on the underdog role Bryan used to exemplify so well. The fans are solidly behind him, and the story has organically used this along with some reality-based elements to drive this home. Over the recent weeks, Smackdown has featured multi-man gauntlet matches, forcing Kofi and his New Day teammates to face off against 5+ opponents and win against them all for the chance to have Kofi face Daniel Bryan. Kofi won his, up until Daniel Bryan himself was added as the final opponent and quickly won over Kofi, and the New Day won theirs, locking in the match.
Both wrestlers are excellent talents in-ring and the match itself should be excellent, but on top of that, the storyline has been perfectly executed (largely by luck) and so of the matches on the card, this is probably going to be my overall favorite.
The rest of the card is not quite as noteworthy, with a rematch between Seth Rollins and Brock Lesnar being the main title match for the Raw brand (outside of the women’s main event), and the Smackdown brand’s standout matches being a US Title match between Samoa Joe and Rey Mysterio, AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton in a fairly interesting minimal story affair, and Shane McMahon vs The Miz in a match that hearkens back to the most recent Saudi Arabian show the WWE did that they would rather have people forget.
There are also a few battle royals designed to get everyone a spot, with both the second annual women’s battle royal and the fifth Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, which will also have Michael Che and Colin Jost from SNL in it, for some reason.
Outside of the main show, the weekend is also a major lightning rod for other wrestling, with a Friday night major card from WWE’s developmental brand, NXT, which is going to be really good, the competing Ring of Honor pairing with New Japan Pro Wrestling to host the G1 Supercard, the first non-WWE wrestling card at Madison Square Garden and one that will feature a lot of great matches between the two companies with each bringing a featured title match for their biggest titles, the IWGP Heavyweight Championship for NJPW and the ROH World Title, with a 1v1 match between Jay White and Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP belt and a 3 way ladder match for the ROH title between champion Jay Lethal, Marty Scurll, and Matt Taven. Beyond that, a handful of independent promotions put on shows for the weekend in the area, capitalizing on all the wrestling fans in town, many of which are now broadcast online and can be watched from the comfort of home.
On top of all of that is the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony, which is the night before Wrestlemania, and then the weekly television shows, which will be live the two nights after Wrestlemania and are typically your season premiere, in a manner of speaking – new talents debut here a lot, the storylines wrap up and move in new directions after Wrestlemania, and the fans are very snarky and often chant a ton of memorable things at the show.
To make things even more interesting, comedian John Oliver has thrown down the gauntlet by hosting an expose of some of the awful business practices of WWE on the most recent episode of his show, Last Week Tonight, with the encouragement for fans to chant various things at the show. (the short version – WWE wrestlers, despite not meeting the criteria legally for being defined as independent contractors, are classified as such anyways, meaning they are responsible for paying their own taxes, providing their own health insurance and benefits, and can basically be cut loose without a lot of the protections that an employee status would provide. Coupled with the inherent problems of the profession, this is a problem and has often led prior generations to painkiller addictions, alcoholism, crippling injuries, and early deaths – which Vince McMahon, the CEO of the company, takes no responsibility for and lashes out against the suggestion that he might bear any responsibility for it.) This environment, especially the shows after Wrestlemania, back in a closed arena from the open air stadium hosting the big show, means that we are likely to see some fan chants focused on providing better lives for the wrestlers (to be fair, wrestlers today are slightly less prone to the demons that plagued the past generations, although many still have various injury issues and the physical demands of the profession weighing on them, and it is a known factor by fans, who often push back on the company for their treatment of talent, while still supporting the show and the talent by watching).
After all of that stage-setting, to recap – I am most excited for the Kingston vs. Bryan match, followed by the women’s triple threat, and then most of the NXT card, then the G1 Supercard, and then various other things happening which I will probably catch clips of later!
That summarizes my hype for the week! (“summarizes”)