Bear Suit Guy Falls Short at 'Wiimbledon'

"Luigi" takes crown as Brooklyn bar hosts a "Wii" tennis tournament.

NEW YORK, June 24, 2007 — -- Adam Duerson came to Wiimbledon with a dream, but he left in defeat.

"I was one hundred percent convinced I could win and I didn't, and I'm devastated," said the 28-year-old sports reporter, who came to the tournament dressed in a bear costume, only to lose to a friend hours before the finals.

In anticipation of England's Wimbledon tennis tournament, which kicks off Monday, Duerson and 127 other competitors gathered Saturday at Barcade, a bar in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood. They spent the day battling for the top prize in Wiimbledon, a simulated tennis tournament where players competed against each other using the Nintendo Wii gaming system.

The Wii made a splash in the video game world when it launched last November with its unique motion-sensor controllers, and customers lined up for months in hopes of getting their hands on the sold-out system.

The Wii has outsold Sony's Playstation 3, which was released simultaneously to much bigger fanfare and expectations. Aimed at gamers and non-gamers alike, the Wii has found success by making its games into social experiences, bringing groups of friends together around titles such as "Wii Sports" and "Mario Party 8."

Calvin Wong, 28, was one of Wii's earliest and most devoted customers. He finally bought his Wii on the fifth try, after fruitless attempts to buy it online and in various Manhattan stores -- including an all-night wait outside of one Toys R Us.

After he heard about Wiimbledon, he started practicing nonstop -- as he put it, "like any professional athlete before a big match."

His dedicated regimen paid off. Wong won his first three games, only to be knocked out by a player he dubbed "Thunderserve."

"It was almost like missing those last few questions on the SATs," he said, hanging his head. "I felt really defeated."

James McIntyre, a 27-year-old investment banker, was also eliminated early in the day.

"I wasn't mentally prepared, I wasn't sharp," he reflected after handing over his Wii controller. "This might be the worst moment of my life. But I'll be back."

Lane Buschel, who co-organized the event with his friend Steve Bryant, couldn't stop shaking his head and smiling as he watched the goings-on around him.

"It's amazing," he said, standing behind the cheering crowd as two men in their mid-20s jumped around on a strip of Astroturf pantomiming tennis motions. "It's kind of unreal."

Buschel and Bryant hatched the idea one night at their local bar after hearing that Bryant had -- on a whim -- registered the domain name

"It was one of those grandiose plans," Buschel said. "Then we thought, 'Let's just see if we can do it.'"

Determined to keep it free, Buschel and Bryant spent the last month rounding up all the materials they would need, contacting sponsors and friends who were willing to donate TVs and Wiis.

One friend donated the turf, as well as a few other items.

"That's his mom's TV stand," said Bryant, pointing to a cart covered in a flowered drop-cloth.

Though Wiimbledon boasted some serious contenders, others were there just to have a few drinks and enjoy the atmosphere.

"This is wonderful," said Mari Steverlynck, as she surveyed the bar crowded with twenty-somethings in short shorts and '70s-style headbands. "It's such a funny mix of people. The Wii brings out the jock in the geek and the geek in the jock."

Steverlynck, a PhD student and Brooklyn native, was perfectly content to sit back and watch. "I'm a professional fan," she said. "I've been doing it for about six months. It was hard to focus at the beginning. But now that I have sat in on many practices, I can even give tips."

Thunderserve didn't need any tips: He went on to make it to the finals, as did a player dressed like Nintendo's Luigi character, who ended up taking home the gold.

Players dressed as Mario and Harry Potter weren't so lucky. They were both eliminated in early rounds.

Though Duerson, who quickly became known as the guy in the bear suit, was knocked out early in the day, his Wiimbledon experience wasn't a total wash -- he walked away the winner of the "Sampras Has Back Hair" award for best costume.

The prize? A Wii, of course.