A while back Loki asked me to write a piece on building a sustainable community. Back in May 2012 the Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament 8 (UFGT8) featured a series of community panels covering a wide range of topics. Of particular interest to me was the panel on community building hosted by Alex Jebailey, the organser of Community Effort Orlando (CEO), and multiple fighting game tournament champion Alex “calipower” Valle, co-founder of Level|Up, the organisation behind world-renowned tournaments including Wednesday Night Fights (WNF) and the SoCal Regionals.
This week I’ll provide a summary of the one-hour community building panel from UFGT8. The three topics I’ll address are what it takes to be a tournament organiser, how organisers can go about building their local scene and how to expand your efforts to form a major tournament.
Firstly the video of the panel I’m referring to is provided below. The video features three segments. The first two segments involve each host taking turns to outline their thoughts and experiences about community development and tournament organisation. Alex Jebailey kicks things off (0:00:00 – 0:22:00) followed by Alex Valle (0:22:00 – 0:44:00). The remainder of the panel is dedicated to a Q&A session with panel attendees.
The discussion jumps back and forth across a wide range of topics, so here I’ll summarise what I think are the three main subjects covered by the panel.
The Anatomy of a Tournament Organiser
The first pre-requisite for becoming a tournament organiser is a strong desire to be a part of the fighting game community. Organisers have to be passionate about the games and the community that plays them to have any hope of succeeding.
Running tournaments is a hobby, not a career. If you start running tournaments in order to earn money then chances are you won’t be running tournaments for very long. Even if you do stick around for a while the chance of earning revenue from tournaments is very low. The primary objectives of any good tournament organiser are to have fun and not lose money.
Becoming a tournament organiser means sacrificing your own time playing these games so that others have the opportunity to enjoy playing them. Thus running tournaments is certainly not for everyone. Ultimately a tournament organiser “wins” by making the tournament attendees happy, not by competing in the brackets that they are running.
It’s still possible for organisers to be competitors, however if you want to focus on competing you should do so by attending an event you are not organising. When running a tournament your first responsibility is to the event and its attendees, not your own tournament performance. Given that you can spend months planning an event chances are your play time will be reduced significantly along the way. You need to be able to accept this before you can become a successful tournament organiser.
Generally speaking organisers are rarely great players themselves. It’s their passion for the scene that drives them towards running events, not a desire to stand on the winner’s podium.
Building Your Scene
Despite competing in many tournaments Alex Valle knew little about running tournaments before co-founding Level|Up. Valle started out by inviting players over to his house but quickly found that private venues are a deterrent for people, especially those that don’t already know you personally. Just as arcades once provided “neutral ground” for people to meet and play, so to must tournament organisers try to provide public venues that are welcoming to veterans and newcomers alike.
People can’t learn or enjoy themselves if they’re forced to play against people that are a lot better than they are. For your tournaments to appeal to everyone you need a mix of skill levels in attendance. Obviously the more people that attend then the easier it is to achieve such a mix, however you still need to provide an environment where beginners aren’t forced to spend hours butting heads with tournament veterans.
At WNF Alex Valle provided multiple setups and classified them by skill level. Players that won consistently were promoted to the “top player” station and vice versa. It’s important to remember that not everyone is going to develop the competitive spark that will push them to improve. However you should also remember that just because a player is learning at a leisurely pace it doesn’t make them a “scrub”. Some well-timed advice and the right atmosphere will go a long way towards making sure players want to come back for more regardless of how competitive or casual they happen to be.
It’s important to keep your events affordable for the players. Use your entry fee levels to set the tone for your events. Charge more when you want to emphasise competition over casual play, while charging less will encourage newer players to have a go. Focus on meeting your costs and avoid overtaxing the players financially.
If you’re starting up a tournament in an area that already has people running tournaments it’s a good idea to make contact with those people. You should attend existing events to demonstrate your interest in the overall scene. Nobody benefits from a “divide and conquer” strategy here. Remember that this is a hobby, not a business. If an existing event is doing no harm to the community then you won’t make anyone happy by trying to damage it.
Promoting your events is incredibly important. Whether you like it or not you must use social media to properly promote your efforts. People won’t notice you unless you make noise on a regular basis.
Make daily updates to social media sites and keep track of how people are connecting with you online.
Taking it to The Next Level
In the beginning you should avoid working with large corporations. Organisers require flexibility to meet the needs of the community and that’s not possible when you have a corporation setting your agenda. Don’t start looking for sponsors at the beginning either. The sponsors will come once you’ve proven yourself by running successful events that the community enjoys.
Like many things in life it’s all about who you know rather than what you know. Your most likely sources of sponsorship and volunteers will be the friends and contacts you’ve established to date. With this in mind it’s important to build friendships and be honest with people. If you can secure a well-known top player to attend your event that will add credibility in the eyes of the community at large.
When deciding on the content of your events, focus on the games and deliverables that you personally care about. This will give you the best possible chance of creating something with a level of quality that everyone will enjoy. If you want to expand beyond your immediate interests draw upon the contacts you have. For example Alex Valle had no interest in streams. The WNF stream succeeded because someone passionate about streaming approached Valle and asked if he could run a stream.
Ultimately the people you want to work with are the ones that come to you and offer to help. Conscription doesn’t really work and paying people is rarely an option. If you want more people helping out you need to draw upon those that share your passion as an organiser. Don’t be afraid to cast a wide net when building a team of volunteers. Geographical barriers no longer exist thanks to the internet, so keep an open mind and make the most of any good relationships you’re able to develop.
Finally if you want to expand your efforts then you must be willing to take some risks. This doesn’t mean you should “get in over your head”, but rather that you must be prepared to take calculated risks in a bid to grow your event. Everyone starts out small at first and builds towards something bigger over time. Even the OzHadou Nationals started out in the safety of an arcade and made the leap to function rooms in a bid to grow the event. As long as you care about what you’re doing and you keep at it, then success will come in time.
This marks the end of the Bracketed article series. I set out with the goal of producing weekly articles continuously for one year. Having reached this goal I find that I’ve exhausted my list of topics on tournament organisation.
Thanks to everyone that has read these articles and provided feedback. A special thank you to JBHewitt, hebretto and Loki for submitting guest articles to help broaden the content of the Bracketed series. I’ve enjoyed sharing my thoughts and experiences on tournament organisation with the community and I hope these articles have provided some useful insights, or even inspiration, to anyone in the scene that’s interested in organising tournaments of their own.
]– Ziggy –[