Critical Success

Julio Hamm Hernandez and David Fishhouse went from playing old school video games in their attics to competing in worldwide video game fighting tournaments against top players to opening up their very own arcade in The Valley. Running an arcade in 2018 sounds like it’d be a bust, but these two Valley residents show that the business is still very much alive by balancing old and new technology.

Hernandez, 32, and Fishhouse, 33, are the owners of a hidden gem in Alamo, Critical Hit Arcade, where a visit is like walking into an ‘80s cabinet arcade. Arcade cabinets line the walls with notable classics such as Tempest, Magical Drop III and, Sunsetriders. The more contemporary gamer can enjoy games like House of the Dead Four, Aliens, Dance Dance Revolution Extreme and Cruis'n’ World. The arcade has been modernized by doing away with coin based machines, they now have the player pay a one time fee of $5 to have unlimited access to cabinets all day.

The true inspiration for Critical Hit arcade comes from their passion for competitive fighting games. Hernandez is an IT systems engineer for a company called Masterbrands Cabinets INC, and he is in charge of IT infrastructures that operate 24 hours. Fishhouse works as an IT technician for McAllen Renaissance Hospital. They met in a high school band where Hamm served as an alternate. Their love for video games goes back to after school hangouts in Hamm’s attic and LAN parties with friends on weekends. LAN, or local area networks share a common communication line that usually connects to computers.

The first taste of competitive gaming came from a game called Street Fighter II (1994). This would be the game that Hernandez would spend hours upon hours playing and perfecting, to this day it is still his game of choice.

As video games came into the mainstream so did the competitive scene. It all began with the founding of the Evolution Championship in 1996. It wouldn't be until 2005 that Hernandez set foot at EVO hosted in Las Vegas. He has made it a tradition to recruit 10 to 15 players in The Valley to travel and compete in EVO. EVO is short for Evolution, and is the world’s largest fighting game event.

This friendship turned into a partnership when they decided to bring vintage arcade gaming to The Valley by hosting old school video game fighting tournaments through conventions like South Texas Comic Con and Omnicon. Now they have a permanent building where there are weekly fighting competitions Friday and Saturday night. Friday Fight Nights include Street Fighter Super Turbo 2, Magical Drop and Puzzle Bubble, while Saturday night has modern fighting games you would find on modern consoles like Tekken 7, Street Fighter V, Dragon Ball FighterZ and Marvel vs. Capcom. There is a $5 entrance fee to enter the arcade it includes unlimited access to arcade machines and provides consoles until closing time. The fee to enter any fighting tournament is $5.

A weekly console and arcade tournament at Critical Hit Arcade. Photo credit: Julio Hamm Hernandez [email protected]  

Hernandez says that the Rio Grande Valley Arcade scene died in 2008 around the time online console gaming became more affordable and accessible.

“... The arcade scene died in 2008, gaming was now online via Xbox Live and PlayStation Network,” Hernandez said. “From there we started competitive gaming at my house which resulted as training grounds for five years.”

A PC tournament at Critical Hit Arcade. Photo credit: Julio Hamm Hernandez [email protected]

Arcades suffered a decrease in clientele as a result of online gaming, inevitably causing arcade businesses to shut down. Arcades were selling their machines at discounted prices, and that’s when Hernandez began to scout the nation for functioning cabinets. Even if they weren’t functioning, Hernandez would revitalize old machines.

Ruben Garcia, 16, is a volunteer at Critical Hit Arcade and a student at Memorial High School in Alamo. He does cashiering and maintenance on arcade machines. Hernandez teaches his volunteers how to keep up with arcade machine maintenance, and diagnoses technical issues.

“I’m young, and it’s video games. What person my age doesn’t want to be here.” said Garcia.

Daniel Lozano, 27, has been aiding in the success of the arcade for about three years volunteering to becoming tech support. Lozano has volunteered setting up video game and card tournaments with Hernandez and Fishhouse. Lozano was also taught by Hernendez to handle maintenance.

“I do everything in this room.” Says Lozano. “I restored and wired two of the candy cabinets. I do maintenance, diagnosis, cosmetic and host tournaments. It doesn't really feel like a job though.” 

Fishhouse and Hernandez plan to continue weekly fighting tournaments and to bring their arcade to conventions in the area. Hernandez passed the ownership over to Fishhouse to begin training for EVO 2018 where he hopes to recruit a team to take with him to Las Vegas this August. In the age where nostalgia is sought after and hard to come by, Critical Hit Arcade offers old and new generations an authentic arcade experience.

“Support, empower, grow. It’s about the players. Gaming and hanging out with friends makes you feel good about yourself.” Fishhouse said.