For a little over a year now, Maiman has served as a DanceDanceRevolution (DDR) pied piper of sorts. Under the collective name RhythmCore Gaming, he and a few friends have been hosting DDR tournaments, meetups and community outings at local arcades throughout the Northeast. His most recent tournament, held in Middletown, NY -- a sleepy town about two hours outside Manhattan -- drew a crowd of more than 80 attendees.
With the release of Dance Dance Revolution A in North America in late 2016 -- the States' first major DDR release in nearly a decade -- Maiman has noticed a renewed interest in the once-venerated arcade series.
"What I've learned, quite simply, is that anytime you say, 'Let's have a DDR meetup,' people will come," he says. "Just create a Facebook event and post about it on DDR sites, and boom: It's a chain reaction."
In an age when esports have become synonymous with big business -- with the Overwatch League selling out Barclays Center and DOTA 2 smashing global Twitch records -- American DDR remains a strange anomaly: a completely grassroots movement with regional organizers keeping their local communities engaged.
"It's sort of like we're in a secret society," says Damonte Salkey, one of Maiman's RhythmCore partners. Even fighting games, once a similarly niche, grassroots community, have gone corporate, now boasting major TV coverage and prize money.
"I sometimes look at tournaments like EVO and get a little bitter," Salkey continues, "because I feel like DDR should have that same experience. But that's what we're working towards."
With zero support from Konami, the game's parent company, American DDR competitions are entirely passion projects: Maiman and other organizers sometimes spend hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets to host each event. But they are dedicated to growing their communities, and prominent coordinators across the country are tackling as many small towns and regions as possible.
There's David Seltzer in Texas, David Hua in California and Anthony Capobianco in the Midwest, just to name a few, all ensuring that tournaments are held from Fresno to Grapevine, Urbana to Columbus. Some organizers even host tournaments out of their own homes, spending thousands of dollars on arcade cabinets for the benefit of the community.
These private cabinets are typically well maintained and offer a nice change-of-pace from local arcade machines that are sometimes left in disrepair. For example, the DDR at Dave & Buster's in Times Square is notorious for its malfunctioning dance pad. "There's only one machine in Midtown Manhattan," one gamer lamented, "and it's the worst-conditioned thing on Earth!"
Steve Foster, another member of RhythmCore, recalls a home tournament he attended in New Jersey a few years ago.