Preparing to Run Brackets at Large FGC Events

Combo Breaker 2017 is coming up in a handful of days, and I’ll be on the floor helping run brackets to do my part to make it a great experience for competitors.

I enjoyed my volunteer time a ton last year, and I’m happy to help make this year’s event a similar success. Assuming there are new volunteers this year who haven’t run brackets at a big event before, I thought I’d put together a list of things that have worked for me in running an efficient, well-organized bracket and getting the most out of my volunteer time.

So, here we go, in no particular order other than this first one, which is most important:

Attend the Volunteers Meeting before the Event

This is non-negotiable. Every event will have specific ways they do things. They are not always going to be the same from event to event or even year to year. They are almost certainly different from what you have been running for your locals, house events, or whatever you have run before. Your head TO or other bracket coordinator should have sent you a message with the meeting times. Show up.

When you are there, the most important thing you can do—even if you have been to a million of these—is to listen. Things may have changed from the previous year, and there will be others at the meeting who have not done this before. They need to be able to hear, and for that to happen, everyone in the meeting needs to be listening.

If you have questions, ask them at the meeting. It’s far more efficient for you to have your questions answered before a single bracket has started than to try to track down other staff once there are hundreds of people on the event floor and you are facing a time limit for running your pool.

Do Your Homework

You will have your pool assignments ahead of time so you know when you are needed and can schedule yourself accordingly. Players will have their pool assignments ahead of time so they can plan for their matches.

This means you should know who is in your pools before you get started. You’ll also know what games you will be running. Take the time to see who you’ll be working with, study the rules for the games you have been assigned, and make sure you know when you are supposed to be there.

Know who your game’s TO is and what they look like. Know who the head TO is and what they look like. You need to have this information in your head so you can quickly and efficiently get help if and when you need it. Come prepared.

Wear a Watch

You’ll be responsible for getting your brackets done on time. This means you will need to know the following at all times:

  • How long you have before your next bracket starts
  • Whether you are at the threshold of time for you to start DQ’ing players (varies by event)
  • How much longer you have to get the pool done to end on-time

You need to have a clock somewhere on your person the whole time you are staffing the event. A phone is fine, but phones can get dropped, run out of battery, be misplaced, or the like. (I carry a portable charging battery with me at all events in case my phone starts running low.)

YMMV on this suggestion, but I prefer a watch because it’s less obtrusive, easier to glance at when needed, and far more incident-proof than a phone.

Carry a Notebook

When you run into a sticky situation, or if you need to track what’s going on at any given point during your bracket, notes can save you from problems or time-delaying issues. Assume the following when you are running the bracket:

  • Someone will have to go to the bathroom and will (or should) tell you they are doing so to prevent being DQ’d
  • A player will ask you about the rules for the game you are running
  • You’ll need to look at your own schedule to keep things straight and report to the correct place
  • Someone not even in your bracket will see your staff shirt and ask you a question to which you may or may not immediately know the answer
  • Other staff people may have things they need your help with that you can’t get to immediately

A notebook is your lifeline in most of these situations. Things I recommend for your notebook:

  • Put your schedule in it so you can refer to it at any time
  • If someone asks you something and you need to get to it later, write it down so you don’t forget
  • Jot down the rules and default settings (or anything specific that’s different!) for the games you are running so you have it available instantly
  • Write down player names if they leave and inform you they are doing so, as well as what time they left the pool stations (when they leave, you should tell them how quickly they should be back to avoid a DQ situation)

Last year, I carried my Moleskine around in the venue, but it was overly bulky and not very practical. I recommend a smaller notebook style, like a Moleskine Cahier or a Field Notes notebook. They fit in a pants pocket and are easier to move around with.

Relatedly, when you take a pencil for writing on your brackets (because events use paper brackets), take two so you have a backup.

Early = On Time. Be On Time.

Find out what the expectations are for players and when they should report to a pool station for their brackets. Be there five minutes before that time so you are there when players arrive. Politely clear away any casuals at the station in advance of your brackets by setting time expectations with those players as you get things ready. Mark players on your bracket as they check in with you so you know who is there.

Take Care of Yourself

Don’t forget to eat something. Drink water like it’s going out of style. Wear comfortable shoes you can stand in for a couple of hours at a time without problems. Clear any bathroom breaks you might need before your bracket starts. Get some good sleep the night before.

If you are miserable, you are going to pass that savings on to your players, and they won’t have as good a time. Which brings me to my last point:

Have Fun. Help Players Have Fun.

This is your job when you help run an event.

Yes, you are there to enforce rules, make sure players are not being disruptive or otherwise problematic, and to run your brackets on time. You can do these things and still have a good time, which will result in your players also having a good time.

Bracket runners do not get salty. Be fair. Be calm. Encourage your players to have a good time. Answer their questions. Thank your players for being there when they are out of the pool. Congratulate the players who escape the pool to later brackets.

Anything Else?

If I missed something here you think is important, drop me a reply on Twitter and let me know. I’ll be happy to add things to this guide.

How to Replace a Balltop

A super-quick, cheap, and easy-to-install method for adding some personalization to your fightstick is to replace the stock balltop with a different one, maybe of a different color or from a different manufacturer.

Parts Used in This How To

For this how to, we’re using a MadCatz TE2, which comes with a Sanwa JLF-TP-8YT lever as a stock part. Those levers come with an LB-35 balltop.

  • Sanwa LB-35 Balltop (35mm, yellow)
  • Seimitsu LB-39 Balltop (35mm, blue)

Any 35mm balltop will work when following this tutorial. This includes stock balltops from Sanwa and Seimitsu, as well as the stock balltop on the Hori Hayabusa lever, and many custom balltop replacements. (The vast majority of balltops you can buy are 35mm.)

Tools Used in This How To

  • Flathead screwdriver (the tool included with the TE2 counts)

How To Replace the Balltop

OK, first, open up your stick or otherwise get it to the point where you can get at the underside of the mounting panel. On the TE2, use the catch button at the front of the stick and swing the panel up.

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Turn the stick so you can access either side of the mounting panel at the same time.

With one hand (I’m left-handed), grab the balltop that’s currently installed.

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With your other hand, take the flathead screwdriver and insert it into the screwhead on the bottom side of the joystick lever. Hold the screwdriver head there so you can apply torque to the joystic shaft without it rotating entirely. (If you want to see what that looks like, just rotate the balltop without having the screwdriver in place.)

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Using one hand on the balltop and the other hand on the screwdriver handle, rotate the two so the balltop starts separating from the shaft. After a few rotations, it should look like this:

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Once you have removed the balltop, set it aside. To stop it from rolling around on your work surface, set it down with the screw mount flat on the surface.

Grab the new balltop you want to install, and reverse the process you used to remove the previous one. With one hand on the balltop and the other on the screwdriver handle, rotate the two so the new balltop tightens on the lever.

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Slowly but firmly continue to screw the balltop onto the mount until you feel resistance. Give it one last gentle tighten and you’re done. Remove the screwdriver from the bottom of the lever assembly and check to make sure the new balltop is flush with either the shaft itself or the shaft cover if your stick has one.

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You’re done! Close the stick up and give it a test. It should freely rotate in your hand without coming away from the shaft.