Thirty-Nine / 三十九

Year thirty-eight was pretty strange, y’all.

I went to look back at last year’s birthday post so I could address my successes and failures—and I didn’t make one. I suppose that’s basically 2018 in a nutshell. Some thoughts about the last year of my life, though:

My thirty-eighth was a year of professional growth.

I hit some personal milestones I’d set for myself in my career last year, and it feels pretty great. I’ve been working on an important and long-term project at WordPress.com VIP, and seeing that progress has been really good. I feel respected and valued, even when I’m not feeling great about myself or my abilities.

I’ve also been able to continue to build a reputation as a hard-working and dependable volunteer at fighting game events in the Midwest, and have been recognized with staff positions at Frosty Faustings and Combo Breaker, the two premier events in the Midwest.

Having teenaged kids is pretty fun.

I now have three teenagers, and I’m constantly interested in how fascinating it’s been to watch my kids grow up to be young adults. It’s challenging at times, and I feel old a lot more than I used to, but I really enjoy engaging with them and finding out what they are interested in and who they are going to become.

My health continues to be problematic.

I’ve really failed at this one, yet again. I’m still around the same weight I’ve been for several years, and what started as a fairly dedicated gym routine at the start of the year ended up being months of just not going and putting in the work. I have no-one to blame but myself on this one. I just haven’t been able to turn my diabetes around and get ahead of it.

Here are my hopes for year thirty-nine:

It’s time to learn JavaScript.

I’ve been neglecting this professionally for too long. JS is becoming more and more the language I’ll have to work with on the web, and not being at least somewhat proficient with it will eventually become a deficiency. I’m spending some of this week at work on experimenting with JavaScript and trying to learn how it and other modern front-end technologies work.

I’m using NodeCG as a bit of a starting point, because it has a lot of crossover with my hobby life, and presents interesting challenges I can attack that will teach me the concepts I need to continue to develop my technical skills.

I’d like to hit 250 pounds by Combo Breaker.

Can I lose thirty-some pounds in the next five months? I’m invested in finding out. I need to lose some weight. It holds me back in so many aspects of my life, and is a prime indicator of how well-managed my diabetic condition is. I know that weight can be just a number, but this is just a part of my life I feel I need to conquer before I’m 40.

And in the end, the only person I can be accountable to is myself. It’s going to be hard work, and I’ll have to give up things I really like—such as being lazy and a number of food items I love—but I need to get back to physical activity and pair it with controlling my carb intake properly.

I want to start streaming local events.

Last year, I came back from Frosty Faustings and my first work on stream direction alongside Will English with goals to establish myself in the St. Louis area as an event streamer. I have most of the gear I need for the job, and really enjoyed helping run the stream at Frosty. For various reasons, this never materialized.

There’s a possibility that the opportunity will present itself again this year, and if I can smartly approach it, I plan to. I’m still not going to stream anything where I’m unable to attach my name or channel to it in some way, and I hope attitudes towards that have changed here in a way that will allow for me to get more event experience. We’ll see how it goes.

I’d love to be able to engage with the FGC outside of those two specific events every year, but it’ll take some effort and luck.

I’m going to conquer learning Japanese.

Some of you know that I started down this path last year, a bit too late to take advantage of the yearly sale at WaniKani. I managed through the first two levels of learning kanji, and put my learning on hold around mid-year so I could purchase a lifetime membership to the site once the sale came back around at the end of the year.

I purchased my lifetime membership a couple of weeks ago, and I’m already back to where I was when I stopped (I reset my progress back to level one when I purchased the membership).

I’d like to be at level 20 by the end of the year, and start working towards speaking proficiency as well. I’ll be reading through some grammar within a few months, and I would like to be able to take the test for N5 proficiency in December.

So I begin year thirty-nine.

It surprises me sometimes when I think about how much stuff in my life is now significantly far away, temporally. Lots of things have been over for a while now—high school was two decades ago and change, my career change is now over a decade old, and my children are approaching the age when I went off to college. We’re officially done with the “little kids” stage of our lives, and there’s an uncomfortable inevitability to that notion.

I recently listened to a recording of a performance I was part of when I was only two years older than my oldest son. It was sobering to consider.

I’m by no means done with, though. My life didn’t really have solid direction until I was thirty, and there continue to be opportunities that will present themselves as we continue to forge along in life. I count myself amazingly fortunate to be accompanied on this journey by my wife, who supports and encourages me along the way. And we are likewise enriched by the presence of our children.

I’ll try to check in on this stuff every so often throughout the year. And I’ll be streaming live on Twitch later today, as well! It’d mean a lot to me if you’d stop by on my birthday.

Be seeing you.

Combo Breaker 2019 Is a Go

This will be my fourth year attending Combo Breaker, and my third year helping staff the event. Combo Breaker is an event like no other, staffed with amazing people who go the extra mile and ensure the experience is top-tier for everyone involved.

I’m not even sure yet what I’ll be doing this year staff-wise, but I’m excited to find out. I’ve run brackets, helped with security, manned the TO desk, done A/V setup and lighting, and generally been available to help with anything needed.

Is this the year I submit a commentary reel and get behind the mic? Stream run? Run emcee for an Auction Tournament? Camera op? My quest to do literally everything I can behind the scenes at a fighting game major continues.

Think about attending and find out with me. Over 700 people have already registered, and it’s only been a few hours. Come celebrate the best of the fighting game community in the Midwest for one weekend to start the summer. I promise you’ll have a great time.

Plan to be in the west suburbs of Chicago on Memorial Day weekend. Don’t miss out.

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.

Prelude to Combo Breaker

The road started yesterday morning, very early. We tossed the kids in the car and started on our way.

The weather was pretty crazy a good chunk of the drive up to the Chicago area, including this rather impressive-looking cloud formation:

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Before arriving at Pheasant Run for the 4 p.m. check-in, we decided to do a bit of a tour with the family to visit various locations from our college years—where we met and then got married, so a bit special to us.

After taking them around the Concordia University area, we met my in-laws for dinner and enjoyed some family food while we waited to take off for the venue.

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The floor wasn’t open yet (it opens up at noon today), and I had to be up for the volunteer orientation at 10 p.m., so we took the time to enjoy the resort and have some fun. So far’ it’s been a great stay and everyone is having a good time.

I got a good peek at the show floor, which is seriously impressive and I’m looking forward to getting out there and playing.

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If you are interested in following along while I see what I’m capable of this weekend and just play some games, meet some people, and have a good time, here’s my schedule and links to the brackets (with links to streams if my pool times are scheduled for stream). I’m also judging some brackets to give back to the community.

PLAY – Mystery Game: A1 – 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. Friday
http://combobreaker.challonge.com/2016_myst_a1
(http://www.twitch.tv/teamsp00ky)

PLAY – Tekken 7: B1 – 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. Friday
http://combobreaker.challonge.com/2016_t7_b1
(http://www.twitch.tv/tekken)

ADMIN – Street Fighter V: E2 – 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. Saturday
http://combobreaker.challonge.com/2016_sfv_e2
(http://www.twitch.tv/bgcallisto)

PLAY – Killer Instinct: F1 – 12 p.m. – 2 p.m. Saturday
http://combobreaker.challonge.com/2016_ki_f1

PLAY – Street Fighter V: G4 – 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday
http://combobreaker.challonge.com/2016_sfv_g4
(http://www.twitch.tv/bgcallisto)

ADMIN – Tekken Ball: H1 – 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday
http://combobreaker.challonge.com/2016_tball_h1

PLAY – Tekken Ball: I2 – 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. Saturday
http://combobreaker.challonge.com/2016_tball_i2
(http://www.twitch.tv/tekken)

The floor is almost open – time to get playing. Here’s hoping to no 0-2!

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Scrub

This is the start of a journey.

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First Sight

I’m 11, and my favorite thing to do when traveling with my family is to find the local arcade. I’ll play anything you put in front of me, but I love games where you work as a team, so I’m searching for games that have two sets of controls.

There’s a new-ish game in the arcade, and it’s bright and colorful. Someone’s standing at it and playing; it looks like a beat-em-up, like Final Fight or Double Dragon. Punches and kicks happen. It looks and sounds amazing.

I walk up to the machine and ask if I can play with him. He nods or something and I put in my quarter and hit 2P start.

I recall being very surprised when the game pitted us against each other and I suffered greatly at the hands of a weird green manimal-thing named Blanka. I walked away from the machine, disappointed at the meager time my quarter granted.

The impact Street Fighter II left was real.

Later, the Pizza Hut out by my house kept a Champion Edition cab forever. Other cabs would come and go, but that one—that one was always there. We’d sit down and order our pizza; I’d ask my dad for some quarters and play against the AI because we always got to the restaurant early to get in our order before the dinner rush and no one else was there.

I always picked Vega because the wall dive was cool.

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Arcade Rats

Kevin was a kid at my school who knew a lot more about video games than I did. He was almost always better than I was at them, too. I’d stay at his place Friday night through into Saturday, and we’d play anything and everything we could get our hands on.

We’d also take regular trips to the Red Baron in Taylor, Michigan.

I looked it up recently; the Red Baron has been gone for years. It was the ugliest thing you’d seen: an arcade stuck inside a building constructed to look like a giant barn. It had armed security and operators who hated it when you got salty and slapped a machine.

We were there the first week Mortal Kombat came out, and I remember the insane crowds around the cabinets. It was bloody, it had real people in it, it was janky—it was fresh and new. We’d go back there only occasionally as it wasn’t a short drive and we didn’t have our own cars, but I played a lot of Mortal Kombat, MKII, and even vanilla MK3 there before I ended up moving away.

The arcade in my new city didn’t have any good fighting games.

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Scrub-Zero

I recall a specific day at the Red Baron where I had untold riches to spend on the day’s games: twenty dollars’ worth of quarters. Kevin and I had played a lot of Mortal Kombat II over a period of months.

I never won.

That day was going to be different. I changed my twenty dollar bill for a pocketful of quarters. Stepping up to the machine, we started the challenge. I was convinced that if I just tried enough times, if I dropped enough coin in the machine, if I tried the right characters and did the right specials, sooner or later I’d end up with a victory.

I dropped every quarter into that machine right in a row and lost every match.

It was only recently that I recalled this and finally understood why.

I was a scrub.

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Ultra

I bought Street Fighter IV like a lot of other people, even played through the single player here and there.

Around AE and Ultra, things changed. I started stream monstering a lot more. I made some friends via various internet channels who also loved fighting games—we watched matches and talked about them, and even played here and there. I started learning more about the game.

I read sites and tutorials. I learned what footsies were, and what it meant to make an attack meaty or keep an opponent guessing with pressure. Understanding combos, positioning, and execution were new to me, but I made an effort to see the game underneath the game I had thought I was playing.

I picked up a “main” for the first time, and started playing onilne. My play became more frequent. I bought a stick. I learned to react to things, and I had a money Ultra I could execute with good reliability. My win rate was maybe 10%, but it was slowly getting better.

I thought it was pretty rad that I was a C- Sakura player by the time Street Fighter V released.

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Deconstruction

I bought in to Street Fighter V hard.

At the beginning of 2016 I told myself that I’d stop messing around with buying a bunch of games I never play and instead focus more of my time on getting better at something I had loved for decades.

I’ve been spending at least an hour a day playing Street Fighter since launch. Some days, it’s more, some days not at all, but it’s been consistent. I win a bit less than half my matches in ranked, which is only good enough to get you into the Bronze tiers.

I wanted to learn more and get better. Maybe prove myself. So I went to the local for the first time ever a couple of times last month.

I lost every match I had both times 0-2.

I went to Wizard World and entered the SFV tournament there.

I went 0-2.

I decided I needed help and asked for some assistance with my game from the local community. The response wasn’t stellar, and I got kind of salty about it. Even with my grumpiness, I did find someone in the local scene who offered to play me a bit and evaluate my game. I figured I wasn’t that bad – I had some problems with strategy, but my basic reactions were OK.

I got demolished.

And then came the evaluation:

“You suck. You’re not good at much. Your reaction timing is bad. Your AA is bad. Your neutral is nonexistent. I haven’t seen you combo yet, but I assume you can do those. You’re like a human training dummy.”

I used to think that the instant you realized you were a scrub and you wanted to learn, you weren’t anymore.

Now I’m pretty sure I’m still just a scrub. Deep down, I’m still that kid who just keeps dropping quarters into the machine, hoping that maybe this time he’ll get the upper hand.

It’s pretty disheartening.

Combo Breaker

Knowing that I don’t know very much and that I don’t understand the neutral game is something I’m trying to incorporate into my play. I was always looking at it and trying to figure out why I didn’t win, but I thought it was the adages you still hear: you jump too much, you press too many buttons, you press buttons at the wrong time.

When I started trying to play more seriously, I realized that I was always backing into the corner. I don’t know how to approach an opponent. I don’t know what moves to use to get in and I don’t know how to make an opponent respect me enough for me to even start getting in anything more than random strikes.

I am still not sure how I am going to learn this. I am fairly certain I don’t really understand how to use training mode, even though I’m in it a lot of the time. I’m not going to stop trying, and I’m not going to stop playing.

I’ll be streaming and writing about my journey out of the basement of fighting games, and I hope you’ll join me. I stream on Twitch as Backlogathon and you can follow my Twitter here if you want to know when I’ve posted. I’ll try to do what I can to keep up with what I’m doing with regular videos and updates on how things are going. I’ll try to analyze my play better and figure out what I’m doing wrong.

Combo Breaker is coming up in less than two months in the Chicago area. It will be my first time attending a fighting game major. I don’t plan on wasting the opportunity.

I’ve dropped the money to register. I have a room reservation. I’m going. I’m not going to get out of my pools for sure, but you know what?

I’d like to not go 0-2.