Guest Speech: Soraky On the SCV World Championship

Soraky, a former fellow Norcal player and current Las Vegas local, was lucky enough to be in attendance at the SCV World Championship last Tuesday. When he subsequently informed me that he was interested in sharing his thoughts on the experience, I happily agreed to turn over this week's column to him.

I'll be back with my regularly-scheduled pontification next week, so don't you worry your pretty little heads about that. Also, everything that follows is solely Sora's opinion, etcetera, etcetera, so assign all praise and blame accordingly. -Hates

The hype has come and gone from Namco Bandai’s SC5 World Championships, held in Las Vegas this past week. I was fortunate enough to have been at the event personally. Now, I will leave it to smarter minds that can kick my ass to analyze the blow by blow for the matches; what I want to talk about is how this event was run. In particular -- if this is how fighting game tournaments, both the #FGC and #eSports variety, should evolve to get higher prizes and accommodate wider audiences.

Also, in order to give this article the tiniest shred of credibility, I work for the company who does events such as E3 and GDC, so I hope to apply the same knowledge here.

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Is it just me, or does adding hashtags make everything sound cooler? #randomthought

Spotting the Difference

Before going into the actual event itself, I want to define the difference the difference between #FGC and #eSports events, at least in the confines of this article. I may make some generalizations and stereotypes here, but bear with me.

#FGC events are typically grassroots events, organized by anyone from random volunteers to leaders in the community. These can be held from anywhere between a player’s basement to a hotel lobby in Vegas. One identifying mark of the modern FGC event is its rowdiness/hype level – anything from stream vulgarity (with some restriction) to flipping tables usually pass unscathed. It is the traditional way to run a very non-traditional event.

#eSports events on the other hand are more… well, professional. The focus is on displaying the game being played at the highest level (with sponsored ads, of course). The ‘hype’ is generated more from the game itself and within the confines of the mind of each player, rather than spread throughout the entire venue. As a result, it is a lot more quiet but more organized and in most cases, run efficiently (albeit the incessant ads).

TLDR; #FGC events is like watching the Super Bowl at a house party with alcohol, while #eSports events is like watching a really engaging game of chess.

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Can’t you just feel the hype?

Doing Things Right – Catering to the Crowd

Like mentioned, I conveniently work for one of the biggest trade show companies in the United States. One of the things I learned quickly on the job was that for an event to be successful, you have to literally do everything for your audience (or make it seem like such). Now, this seems to be common sense, and it is, but the tricky part is how exactly does one go about it? In particular, how do you deal with the expectations of your audience? You can make assumptions and generalizations of course, but you’re talking about 100 or so different people in that venue, each coming in with different expectations about how the night should go down. And with the dawn of the internet, if you somehow piss off the wrong person, chances are he/she will bite you in the face by taking your event, and your brand, and smearing excrement all over it for the whole world to see.

The way Namco did it was to try its best to exceed every expectation possible. Being that it was only an 8 person tournament, for a relatively niche FG no less, I don’t think anyone came in expecting the same level of treatment as it would’ve been if it were an EVO Marvel championship. However, Rich made sure that the event catered to everything Soul Calibur and fostered an arena not unlike a UFC or boxing event. Having a very focused plan of attack will always help the event to be a success. Here’s the running list of things he offered, for ‘free.99’ to both the online and local audience.

·High quality stream via Team Spooky
·Online, more than 10% discounts on joysticks
·Free food
·2 hour OPEN BAR
·Showroom type seating for the audience, complete with lounge chairs and bar tables
·Two dedicated SC5 only setups
·A shuttle ride to and from UC Irvine for 50 hyped FGC members, all of whom were given a ‘swag bag’ including a free Hori or Madcatz SC5 stick, and free Namco game.
·Did I mention OPEN BAR?

Admittedly, from our perspective, Rich already hit it out of the park by abiding by the golden rule of gaming – ‘anything + alcohol = godlike’. But, what really struck home for me was that they didn’t just throw a bunch of giveaways with their branding all over it to the players -- they threw us an EXPERIENCE. If you take away the swag and the food from the list above (since these are infallible), they still went far and beyond what I personally expected from the event. Rich knew that we’d need hyped players to attend, and so offered free transportation from Socal to Vegas to anyone who would like to join the festivities. He used an open space beside the ballroom to create a narrow, darkened walkway that helped set an arena where something epic was going down. Aside from the seating, we had two front low monitors which displays the ‘stats’ of each player to simulate a ‘tale of the tape’ comparison from boxing. Two upper front monitors were directly feeding from the PS3 itself. Two side setups were also included to accommodate for money matches as well as for members of the audience to fight some of the top 8. To top it all off, there was also a DJ that set the tone and atmosphere all throughout the night by using rock music and even music from the game itself. Epic soundtrack is indeed epic.

Rich took the best elements that are identified with the core #FGC events – hyped players, high quality streaming and commentary as well as top level play. More than that though, he somehow made it work in an #eSports-esque environment. He successfully made the venue classy complete with good food and drink and kept the event neat, organized and most importantly, on time. He added an element of luxury not common in #FGC events, to the point where Rich apparently felt comfortable enough to invite the top brass of Namco as well as Daishi and Harada to watch the festivities. Getting away with giving everything to the players AND still being cool with your bosses at the end of the day? Not an easy feat.

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But I guess if your boss is like this, ‘getting away’ with things takes a whole new meaning.

The Next Generation Tournament?

Ever since the rumors of MLG picking up fighting games came up, people have been quick to defend the grassroots culture of tournaments up until that point and how everything – ads, sponsorships and corporate’ would ruin it. People on the other side have been quick to embrace it and dismiss the #FGC as a relic of the past. MLG’s first showing didn’t help this case either, as the stereotypes above were expectedly proven right. But despite this, Namco may have found a formula felt neither like #FGC or #eSports – it felt simply right. Sure, it had the word ‘swag’ written all over it (I think Rich said that 5790 times), but it felt a whole lot more presentable and enjoyable to the players, the local audience AND to the stream. Failing to appeal to at least one of these audiences is the current limitation of the tournaments we have been seeing, regardless if its an #FGC or #eSports tournament. If it’s any #FGC event outside of Evo, chances are there is an insane amount of heat, cramped spaces (Texas Showdown toilet stations?), or just plain unprofessionalism that turns off the players and the attendees. Go to the other extreme of #eSports, and you get a stream that doesn’t nearly display just how exciting, fun and dare I mention hype, fighting games can be.

So how can we find this formula that caters to all three? Here is my personal short list of what things tournament organizers may want to consider, especially with a shoestring budget:

·Make things seem like they matter. Any person is inclined to be apathetic to your cause, regardless of the common interest in the same fighting game(s). More than just saying ‘shit’ and ‘hype’ all the time, you can create an by being more creative with your onsite elements. For example, I would want to see a TO mess around with the lighting of a venue. I find that most gamers are nocturnal by design, so using a darkened room with lights emanating only from the monitors can get you a lot of mileage in creating an atmosphere without breaking the bank.

·Space, space, space. Of course, not every event has the budget of Evo so getting a large ballroom isn’t always possible. However, there’s no bigger turnoff to the environment than having too many people right beside you. If cramped for space, place your side setups in such a way that they do not take over half the space of your event, OR force limited audience seating. Unless you can afford the space for both, as a TO, you may have to choose either to get all the games done as efficiently as possible or get as many people to watch the featured game as much as possible. Again, focusing the goal of your venue is key. Host a separate room for side stuff, should players really want to.

·Never underestimate the online audience. The great thing about the internet is that it has ‘no boundaries’, meaning that you get one more attendee to your audience without spending anything except for the streaming equipment. The cost per ‘stream monster’ goes down as more people watch (economies of scale for you business junkies). I have not seen any significant effort to really capitalize on this fact -- arguably, marketing to the 1000 players watching online is just as important as marketing to the 100 players in local attendance. Offering discounts is the first step, but perhaps hosting an online-only contest during your event can also be possible. Online Evo anyone? :)

·Of course, Namco was not at all perfect. They had their share of logistical problems and limitations such as announcing the stream too late, laggy TV’s as side setups and an overall lack of marketing around the event. Most of all, if the SC5 community was given more notice about the details of this event, we would probably have seen a larger attendance and social media buzz. Minor notes for TO’s to consider.

Ultimately, props to Namco for not only throwing us a heck of a party but also supporting top-level SC5 play. Whether this is a sign of more things to come from Namco themselves, I don’t know. But, as is with anything in our community, we adapt, we learn and we grow. I’d love to see community organizers take notes and see where they can take this new formula of tournaments. We already are in this limbo of #eSports and #FGC and maybe this is the way out of that. No one can really say for sure. In fact, I’d love to hear not only your thoughts, but exactly how you want our tournaments to evolve. Are we heading into this direction where our tournaments will become synonymous with #FGC and #eSports? Let me know!

In the meantime, I’d like to leave you with what really mattered – the epic night with epic players and the epic community.

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The top 8, Daishi, Japanese guests, Las Vegas locals and one bonafide scrub.

Signing out,

Sora
 

Comments

Fantastic write-up. The event was really classy. It's exactly what the community deserved, despite what recent public opinion would dictate.
 
#eSports events on the other hand are more… well, professional. The focus is on displaying the game being played at the highest level (with sponsored ads, of course). The ‘hype’ is generated more from the game itself and within the confines of the mind of each player, rather than spread throughout the entire venue. As a result, it is a lot more quiet but more organized and in most cases, run efficiently (albeit the incessant ads).

TLDR; #FGC events is like watching the Super Bowl at a house party with alcohol, while #eSports events is like watching a really engaging game of chess.
It seems the fighting game community makes an effort to remain uninformed. I have not seen this.You make it sound like golf.
These so called "Esports" events do have hype. When something amazing happens in a SC2 match people do scream, yell or cheer. Hell tune if for one Halo match during MLG, you'll see how far you're from the truth.

The actual differences of what separates "Esports" from the "FGC" is that players are heavily sponsored something that is already happening for fg players. And because of this players are expected to act with integrity and professionalism. Because as a progammer you don't just represent yourself, but your team, fans and especially your sponsors. Noone is stopping you from jumping up down in celebration after a victory, but you can't just give someone the middle finger.
 
It seems the fighting game community makes an effort to remain uninformed. I have not seen this.You make it sound like golf.
These so called "Esports" events do have hype. When something amazing happens in a SC2 match people do scream, yell or cheer. Hell tune if for one Halo match during MLG, you'll see how far you're from the truth.

The actual differences of what separates "Esports" from the "FGC" is that players are heavily sponsored something that is already happening for fg players. And because of this players are expected to act with integrity and professionalism. Because as a progammer you don't just represent yourself, but your team, fans and especially your sponsors. Noone is stopping you from jumping up down in celebration after a victory, but you can't just give someone the middle finger.
Agreed. I admit the limitation of the article only has one MLG event that featured FG's to base upon, so it unfortunately comes off as harsh. However, that one event that featured FG's were also obviously not as well run and 'hype' as it would've been for SC2, Halo, etc.

This article isn't aiming to criticize the #FGC or #eSports; it's aiming to point out stuff to improve on from the World Championships, even as its already changing.
 
The casual stations were laggy and unpatched, quite a disappointment for me who wanted some legit matches from top players. I still had a great time though, and free stuff was greatly appreciated :)
 
To top it all off, there was also a DJ that set the tone and atmosphere all throughout the night by using rock music and even music from the game itself. Epic soundtrack is indeed epic.
I had to read that twice because I forgot that DJ doesn't always stand for Devil Jin.
 
great article. hopefully, you can be a regular writer here.

this comment really put esports and fgc events into perspective. thanks!
TLDR; #FGC events is like watching the Super Bowl at a house party with alcohol, while #eSports events is like watching a really engaging game of chess.
 
good job on the write up sora, i think you summed it up pretty nicely, i also really appreciate that on top of praising the event, u did not just kowtow to namco and the event as if it was the epitome of perfection, there is always room for improvement, and we need feedback in order to grow and become stronger in our major tournament productions
 
I could be in minority but I would have liked to see 3 0ut of 5 sets for the whole tournament, since there were only 8 (of the best) players. They were ahead of schedule a few times, would have been nice and I think people would enjoy it. Next time maybe?
 
Not to mention the food was gourmet quality.

I've never been to a tournament where they had food that good. Hell I've never even ate a hamburger with sweet rolls instead of buns.

Namco = godlike.
 
I could be in minority but I would have liked to see 3 0ut of 5 sets for the whole tournament, since there were only 8 (of the best) players. They were ahead of schedule a few times, would have been nice and I think people would enjoy it. Next time maybe?
I do actually agree with this. The only problem is logistics, given that some FG tournaments take so long already.