Racing for greatness: The UK and Ireland talent playing classic Super Mario Kart competitively

Racing for greatness: The UK and Ireland talent playing classic Super Mario Kart competitively

Dominic Sacco
20 min read | 25 Aug 2019

It might have first launched some 27 years ago, but Super Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo (SNES) console remains one of the most influential games ever made. And it’s still being played competitively to this day.

From August 13th-17th, the 2019 Super Mario Kart Championships took place in the Netherlands, where the world’s best players gathered to compete for the title of world champion.

We spoke to key figures from the UK competitive Mario Kart community about our impressive talent in the 16-bit game – including Sami Cetin (pictured) – and how they got on in the finals.


How did the UK get on at the Super Mario Kart Championships 2019?

There were 10 UK participants at the 2019 SMKC (also informally known as CDM). Chris Barker, one UK player, tells the British Esports Association how things went.

“This year’s tournament has been a great success for UK participants.

Sami Cetin came 2nd overall by virtue of winning gold in Time Trial mode, silver in 150cc GP, bronze in Battle Mode and bronze in Match Race.

Conor Wood came 7th and Leyla Hasso 11th, both of which are superb results.

Chris Clark of came 19th overall and has a new tournament first of being the first Super Mario Kart CDM Championship player to have participated and won through all six forms of “knockout-barrage” that are possible at the tournament. A great accolade.

Adam Ferguson, a rookie UK participant, had an outstanding overall result, taking 9th in Time Trial mode in the last man standing rounds, along with 21st overall. He took the best rookie/newcomer award at the tournament and has a bright future.

I myself was a rookie participant – I came 23rd overall and am hungry for more next year.


LEFT TO RIGHT: UK Mario Kart talent Simon Read, Sami Cetin, Leyla Hasso and Conor Wood gather for the finals


Paul O’Kelly, the first CDM participant from the Republic of Ireland, also came 26th overall which is another great result.

Further first-time participants included Holly Watson, Lucie Moules and Simon Read who had a great tournament experience.

Finally, David Moll, another veteran UK participant, came 24th overall. David has recently been the architect of promoting further forms of online netplay of Super Mario Kart within its community, and without his tireless efforts the above results from the rookies would not have been possible. We rookies thank him most sincerely for his guidance and the camaraderie he evoked.


“Both the UK and Ireland players would like to build on this result to raise awareness of this great retro electronic sports game with 18 years of annual tournament history, and around 11 years at the global level.”


The gameplay always looks amazing on Twitch, and we hope that this will inspire various other people to partake in the game.

The British participants are also seriously considering organising either a British and/or Irish Open in 2020 to build on this year’s successes.”

The Game has grown in 2019, and great artistry is being made in the tournaments. The UK team however wishes to sustain this momentum.

We have lagged behind the French team for years and this is because their sense of community is tremendously strong.

Should the UK be able to sustain this community bond, and should this article be able to attract other top esports players to join the artistry of this game, then perhaps the UK finally has a shot of reaching the zenith of the game, and find its potential on the world stage. So who wants to join us for the ride?”


What makes the Super Mario Kart Championships special?

The Super Mario Kart Championships have been running in France and the Netherlands for some 18 years now.

There are tournaments in several categories, including Time Trial, Battle Mode, Match Race and the 150cc Grand Prix.

There were some 25,000 unique views on Twitch during the tournament. And an article on one of the Japanese participants, Takashi Ogasawara, had over 100,000 views online.

Dutch TV was also present at times, plus Dutch newspapers published a multi-page article containing some great snaps of the Belgian, Japanese, Irish and American participants.

This year, the tournament was won by France’s Julien Holmière, with the UK’s Sami Cetin in second place (you can see more breakdowns and info on the finals and standings here). But it’s about more than just the standings.



LEFT TO RIGHT: France’s Julien Holmière and Geoffrey L finished first and third respectively, while the UK’s Sami Cetin (far right) finished second overall



Karel van Duijvenboden (aka KVD), the number one Dutch Super Mario Kart player and one of the organisers of the tournament, explains what makes SMKC stand out as a competitive gaming event:

“I would 100% say tradition. It’s been going on since 2002 and the culture of the event is id imagine very much different from more contemporary gaming tournaments. The core members have been meeting yearly (or more) for over 10 years.

“They are not only competitors, but often good friends who visit each other on holidays outside of the gaming realm as well.

“In terms of the culture, the first few years players spent the night camping and it was a very free-spirited event, almost hippy-esque even. That spirit has stuck, even though all players stay in hotels and airbnbs nowadays. The competitive aspect has always been there, but since there are no big monetary prizes, professionally sponsored esports players and careers to think of, it’s not completely dominating the experience. That’s not to say that the level is lower because of it.


“When you’re all playing the game for over 10 years, the evolutionary warfare that develops between players makes the overall level simply monstrous.”


“For example, I trained weekly with my housemate Lafungo for approximately a year and that was still not enough to land him a top 10 spot overall (he finished #12). It could have been, but it wasn’t. That says enough. And he didn’t start at scrub level either, he already attended the championships before and is ranked top 25 in time trials.”

KVD continues: “Another eye catching thing is the narratives that exist between players. There are so many stories and rivalries there. And we can all keep track of them via the excellent FFSMK database.

“For example, for me personally, this rivalry between myself and French player and former Time Trial #1 Guillaume Leviach (aka Antistar) has been the best:

“The overall head to head results before the event stood at 12 vs 12, with our first clashes tracing back to 2007! I faced him during the current event and those matches felt extra special knowing what was at stake here. Due to my victory against him in the Match Race top-16 match I turned the heads up in my favour (at least for now). Let’s see if he can claw back in 2020 or if I can extend my lead.

“Also, through the years I have only won a single GP match vs Neo (who is widely considered one of the best SMK players in history) until this year. The headsup was 9-1 in his favour, so when we met in quarter final this year I knew I was facing one of the toughest opponents possible. But I pretty much played the best SMK match of my career last Friday against him and cruised to a 3-0 win. Quite an upset.”



Watch on Twitch: Super Mario Kart Championship 2019 – GP150cc – Quarterfinal – K. Van Duijvenboden vs F. Lecoanet



The magic also of course extends beyond the players. Norwegian commentator Marius Hukkelås (aka Sargoth, pictured below) has been part of the Mario Kart community since 2003 and has been involved in a lot since then. He attended the 2006 international Kart meeting in London, then, in 2007, held an international meeting called NLG which saw 40 competitors gather from all over the world, many of which are still part of the SMKC.

In the aftermath of NLG he was going to start joining the tournament himself, but life got in the way and Sargoth retired as a Mario Kart player in late 2008. But he kept in touch with the community, and as his knowledge of the scene never faltered, Sargoth was later inspired to try something new in this space.

Sargoth says: “Life passed quickly, but the Mario Kart pedigree doesn’t wash off so easily and in 2017 I entered the scene once again. I started Karthritis, a podcast centred around the Mario Kart community, especially focusing on Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64.

“Many of the episodes were teasers for the upcoming tournament of 2018, with interviews with former champions and gold medallists and in-depth talks about the game. When CDM came around in 2018, I was finally able to be there in the capacity as a commentator. This was a very fulfilling endeavour finally come to fruition.


“All these people that I have known throughout the last decade and a half are all meeting up to compete in what is now an incredibly competitive retro game with a skill ceiling so high, it will never be reached.”


“Of course I would make the return as main commentator in 2019, this time also handling a significant portion of the streaming station as well.

“It is amazing how this community has so many delightful personalities and dedicated people, as it really is a team effort to make the CDM happen each year. Even to those who no longer have hopes or aspirations of placing in the game still come out for this yearly event, which continues to baffle the audience into nigh-on disbelief at the quality found at the very top.”


Other tournaments

There are other tournaments outside CDM. Super Mario Kart SNES also had ‘American Championships’ in Monroe, Louisiana (USA) in March this year for the NTSC version, where several of the top players from USA were present.

To represent Europe, Sami Cetin, Leyla Hasso and Chris Clark from the UK attended, along with Karel van Duijvenboden and Martin van Haasteren from the Netherlands and Guillaume Leviach from France.

There was media coverage by KNOE including a video with interviews here.

“We are hoping that the American players can keep this momentum going too along with what we are doing in Europe,” Sami says.

Outside of the SNES version of Mario Kart, there are other tournaments such as the Mario Kart 8 World Cup.



WHAT THEY SAY: UK Super Mario Kart players on why they participate



‘It is not just about the game, but the people we meet’

Sami Cetin, UK Champion of Super Mario Kart SNES (London)

“It is amazing after 27 years of the game being released and after nearly 21 years of updating the Time Trial World Rankings at, we have a wonderful community that has flourished and is continuing to go in a wonderful direction for this classic game.

“The Esports Game Arena in Alphen aan den Rijn, the Netherlands was a perfect and central location to host the Super Mario Kart SNES Championships. We had a large amount of viewers on the Twitch Stream and hope this will help us to grow each year and get more players involved, as there were many back in the day with high skills who I am sure would love to participate too.

“Around 50 players from more than 12 countries attended including as far as Australia and Japan and there were some incredible matches over the 4 days. I was very happy with my 2nd Place overall as it required very high focus and determination in literally every match, and I was able to achieve 4 medals (one in every mode for the first time), thanks to my Battle Mode 3rd Place Medal. I also had 3rd on Match Race, 2nd on 150cc Grand Prix and won the Gold Medal on Time Trial!

“It will get tougher each year but we will enjoy it as it is not just about the game, but the people we meet and will certainly have life long friendships with.”


‘Our Championship proves more and more difficult each year’

Leyla Hasso (London)

“With an ever-growing competition and an increase in player’s levels across the board, our championship proves more and more difficult each year. Despite this inevitability, at this edition I managed to reach my first Quarter Final in a multiplayer mode (Match Race), by knocking out the fantastic former Match Race Semi-Finalist Jeremie Clement (France) with a score of 5-4.

“The most special part about that victory was not just that Jeremie had defeated me in the Top 16 in previous years, but the fact that this time I was 4-2 down and saved 3 match points in front of a large audience, amidst growing pressure. It was by far the best performance memory I have from 8 editions of the Championship and it will definitely be hard to forget!”


‘The game wouldn’t be the same without the personality of the players’

Conor Wood (London)

“What makes the Super Mario Kart SNES Championships special to me is not only the community but how the competition allows players of all skill levels to truly enjoy themselves.

“Group stages are organised as such that everyone plays at a minimum 14 matches a day, and depending on whether you are winning or losing you get opponents that match your ability. This means that both new players and experienced players get to play close matches against those in their own skill level.

“By having esports draw in all new players from around the world and the ability to afford equipment from sponsorships to match the size increase, I believe competition will get bigger and better as the game wouldn’t be the same without the personality of the players, both new and old, and what they bring to the game.”


‘Playing against the best is a very humbling experience’

Simon Read (Essex)

“Watching pro Super Mario Kart players battle each other in a competitive environment is an exciting event, playing against the best is a very humbling experience.

“The SMK community has so many amazing and nice people who made me feel very welcome and it’s been a fantastic experience playing at the eSports bar in Alphen aan den Rijn, in thanks to all of the hard work those who organise the event put in.

“I truly hope to see the friends I have made this year return again for battle in 2020.”


‘The community is helpful and welcoming’

Jonathan Steel, UK candidate player for 2020 (Lincolnshire)

“I have just got back into SMK, and having seen how welcoming and helpful the community is, it has been a pleasure communicating with competitors and sharing strategies, where before I was playing alone and competing against names with no faces.

“I’ll be doing my best to attend future meet ups as it looks like I really missed out on this one! Currently prepping for CDM 2020.”


‘This gave me one of the most amazing moments of my life’

Paul O’Kelly (Ireland)

“It is hard to believe that the journey from playing the game up until my participation in this amazing event was only 10 months long.

“The Team UK players were all so helpful and inspiring to make me push myself to be at my best in the lead up my first CDM. At the tournament itself I learned skills from players of all nations and the welcome was unbelievable.

“2020 cannot come soon enough to compete but more importantly to meet the new friends and community that gave me one of the most amazing moments of my life.”


‘By the end of the tournament I felt part of the family’

Lucie Moules (Yorkshire)

“Never having owned a SNES as a child, SMK only entered my radar a few years ago when I met my partner. After years of CRT TVs in the living room and watching hours of practice, I was excited to go to CDM as a spectator to support my partner.

“To my surprise and horror I found myself on the stage on the opening night as part of Team UK. I was taking part in Battle Mode, which I had played for around 30 minutes a few weeks before. Oh my word!

“I needn’t have worried, despite playing against three of the world’s top players, I’ve never been made to feel more comfortable and happy to play a game I knew I would losing, so much so that I resigned myself to practicing and entering more modes next year.

“The SMK community really are a wonderful bunch of people; welcoming, kind and helpful beyond belief. By the end of the tournament I felt part of the family and the excitement when players asked me to sign their posters has sealed my fate for next year. I’ll be back, and this time I’ll get in 40 minutes practice ;)”


A word from the champion

France’s Julien Holmière (aka ScouB) is a quadruple world champion at SMK, having won championships since 2016). Here’s what he had to say:

“I discovered the community in 2001 and quickly entered the time trial ranking website. My first championship was in 2004 and I was just 18 years old, I finished 4th which was nice. It was a wonderful experience and I made a lot of friends in these champs since then.

“The competition is not just about winning but is a lot focused on the community itself, gathering together and having fun for a couple days. Even though we are having fun, the competition’s level is pretty high and we push ourselves to the limits on this game. But funnily, it seems there are no limit to this game as we keep discovering new things and improving world records every year.

“Also, there are multiple ways to play the game (competing in time trial ranking, in gp150cc, individual tracks ranking, gp speedruns, multiplayer aspect online or IRL and at the championships, for example). There are so many layers to that game that its lifetime seems to be infinite.”



Super Mario Kart country champions’ – the fastest player of each of the 12 countries (Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, Australia, Japan, Netherlands, USA, France, Spain, Belgium, Norway, UK)



Videos of the finals


Follow UK and Ireland players on Twitter


Other UK players

  • Chris Clark (Hertfordshire)
  • Holly Watson (Hertfordshire)
  • David Moll (London)
  • Jonathan Steel (Lincolnshire)

More UK players (left to right): Adam Ferguson, Chris Clark and David Moll)


Other related links

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