Battlesnake, a programming competition, will take place March 2 at the Victoria Conference Centre. (Photo from @FreshWorksApps/Twitter)

Battlesnake: A programming competition creating community

Event takes place on March 2 at the Victoria Conference Centre

Remember the game Snake that used to come pre-programmed into your old Nokia flip-phones? A group of programmers in Victoria has taken that game to the next level with Battlesnake, a programming competition that started at the University of Victoria in 2015.

Battlesnake, one of the largest programming competitions in Canada, is taking place on March 2 at the Victoria Conference Centre. Competitors will code a computer program to run their snake for them then test out their snakes with a battlesnake tournament at the end of the day.

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“We’ve set up a website where someone with any sort of programming knowledge can go write a program to play the game Snake,” says Brad Van Vugt, co-founder of the event. “They’re not actually playing the game like hand on the arrow key to go up and down, they’re writing a program to produce the next move.”

The first seven hours of the event competitors have to create their snake or put any final touches onto already created snakes; according to Van Vugt some people have spent years perfecting their snake.

At 4 p.m. the Battlesnake tournament is set to take place.

“Some teams that show up will never have seen this before and start programming at the event — so there’s a big space, really good Wi-Fi; there’ll be a lot of people with laptops that are actually programming and testing new ideas and new techniques at the event,” says Van Vugt.

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Battles can have up to eight snakes competing for the prize, and with $15,000 in prizes you can see why some people spend so long working on their snake.

“You have friends there, you have family members there — programmers are bringing their kids [to watch],” says Van Vugt. “The atmosphere is indescribable, there’s this level of energy about it, it’s very cool.”

This is Mykal Machon’s second tournament, and besides getting the chance to show off his skills, the third-year Computer Information’s Systems student says it’s a great event to make connections.

“When you think of programming, you don’t think of coming together with a bunch of people having fun and hanging out. I think of some guy at a desk working,” says Machon.

Machon has spent hours over the past four weeks coding his snake and preparing for the event. He even wrote a blog post detailing the goals he wants to achieve at this year’s competition.

“The first year I did it, my snake just went into a wall and died right away and I felt like an idiot,” Machon says, laughing at the memory. “So this year my main goal is just improvement.”

According to Van Vugt, the programming competition came after realizing there was strong programming talent in the city but finding there weren’t many ways or places for them to connect.

“What we wanted was to find a way to get them all talking to each other and get them all having fun together,” says Van Vugt. “We created this event to just grow the community and grow a sense of camaraderie amongst developers in the city.”

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Machon can attest that’s exactly what’s happening.

“It’s great for making business connections, it’s great for making friends and there’s a ton of learning that goes on,” says Machon. “It’s a really positive environment which isn’t something I think is typically attributed to the programming space.”

For more information on the Battlesnake competition or to register visit

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