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An archive of the 2013 Big Buck Hunter tournament will be online at the site in the next few weeks.
Melinda Van Hoomissen of Vancouver clenched her teeth when she realized she'd be facing rival Sara Erlandson early in the Ladies Big Buck Hunter championship in Chicago.
Erlandson, defending two-time champion, is about as good as they get at the fast-paced hunting and shooting video game.
Van Hoomissen, 39, finished second to her last year — but she wasn't about to let that happen in 2013.
"My husband and I talked, and I said 'I have to destroy her now,'" Van Hoomissen said, knowing that she was likely to play against Erlandson, who is from Wisconsin, again in the tournament's final round.
As the two women faced off in their first game Friday night, Melinda's husband, Scott Van Hoomissen, stood nearby, too tense to even cheer.
"All I did was stand in the same place with my hands over my face half the time," Scott said. "I was petrified. I know how hard we both worked for this."
The couple, who have six children, spend countless hours practicing on a high-definition version of the game at Jake's Bar & Grill, 4602 N.E. St. Johns Road, and on a less-tricked-out machine that they own at home.
Finally, all that work, and the five or so years that the two have played the popular game, paid off.
Melinda beat Erlandson in the early round, securing a small cushion that helped her take the championship when the two faced off in the final.
"It was just crazy," Melinda said. "It was all a blur."
The video game, played in bars, on consoles and even smartphones throughout the world, is a fast-paced shooter where players compete to have the cleanest, quickest kills of virtual animals. Play Mechanix, which makes Big Buck Hunter, has about 40,000 machines networked together in bars around the country.
With the win, Melinda took home the $5,000 cash prize.
The couple went into the tournament with Scott ranked in 10th and Melinda ranked in 11th place in the world. They came in 25th and 26th, respectively, in the main tournament, dropping some because they spent so much energy on the ladies' championship, they said.
"Her victory, that's all I wanted all weekend," Scott said. "I was consumed with her victory. I don't think I've ever loved anybody like I love her. I'm more proud of her than I could even be of myself."
The achievement doesn't mean the couple plan to sit back, though. Next time, Melinda and Scott said they want to win the whole thing.
"I want to win the main event next year," Melinda said. "A girl has not done that yet."
When she makes the attempt, she may face a familiar foe.
George Petro, president of Play Mechanix, said Erlandson is the woman who's come closest to winning the main tournament in its six-year history. She finished fifth last year, he said.
"It's not easy," Petro said. "(Melinda) is a really good player and she tries really hard. I'm really happy for her and her victory this year."
People who play the game have developed friendships all over the world. Through online play the Van Hoomissens have met a whole community of people who feel like family, they said.
"It was a whole bunch of our old friends there, and a whole bunch of new friends," Melinda said. "And Sara (Erlandson) was a total class act. She has a bar in Wisconsin and we want to go visit sometime soon."
The $5,000 in winnings is already spoken for, though, and won't be used for travel expenses. The couple plan to buy a brand new Big Buck Hunter HD machine for their home, so they can practice even more before next year's tournament, they said.
"I just knew she wasn't going to lose this year, I just knew it," Scott said. "And now, 2013, Melinda Van Hoomissen is the best woman Big Buck Hunter player in the whole wide world. It's impressive to be able to say that about anything, even tiddlywinks. I'm incredibly proud of her."