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.

One-Second Galaxy Fight

I’ve actually never played this game before, but this tournament(?) of matches for an (I’m assuming relatively) obscure Neo-Geo title with the timer set to only one second is beautifully insane:

A port of the title to PS4 was released last week, and you can buy that here for $7.99.

It’s been confirmed the one-second round timer is possible in the port:

If anyone knows any of the other rules that were used in the Japanese tournament video, let me know; it looks like it’s at least set to Level 1. I’m not sure there are any other settings that matter. :)

2017 Addendum

Things I left out of my 2017 goals because I either think they are a stretch too far, or I think they are poor choices for goals:

  • Stream more often, at least once a week: I just never seem to feel up to the task of doing this. I promised myself about mid-year last year that I would do more of this, and I failed horribly at it. So I’m going to try to do it more, but I won’t be heartbroken if I don’t make it.
  • Any specific weight goal: I touched on this earlier, but I think at this point in my life this is just counter-productive. I set goals for it, and then when I don’t meet them, I end up stress eating, which just sets me back further. I think it’s much better to focus on the underlying stuff that will help my health than focus on a weight number.
  • Work towards a St. Louis FGC yearly in 2018: Let’s face it; 2018 is the earliest this could even be a thing. And it will take a minor miracle to build up something new that would be able to support such a thing. More than one person has waved me off from even the idea of trying to do this. But it’s in my mind. 2017 is the year I either help boost the local FGC or make every player in St. Louis mad at me for trying. As with streaming, if this starts coalescing, I am not going to complain and I’m going to dedicate myself to the concept. But if it’s still too far off, I won’t be disappointed in it, because I know it’s possible the local community is not ready for it.
  • Speak at more WordCamps: This is something I would love to do, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to properly devote the time to it amongst the other things. If you want me to speak at your WordCamp, you should contact me, but I am not going to actively seek this out because in the time I have available, this is probably the first thing that’s going to go.
  • Blog more regularly: If I had a dime for every time I thought I should do this, I wouldn’t have to work. :)

I think what goals you don’t explicitly set for yourself are just as important as the ones you do. These things are my “nice-to-haves” for 2017, but the real stuff I want to get to over the next 12 months is detailed in my previous post.

Brainstorming an StL FGC Event

Ever since I attended Combo Breaker back in May—and quite honestly before that—I have been thinking about what would be necessary to bring a regional fighting game community event to the St. Louis area.

The Midwest has a good number of regional events. So why not something here in St. Louis?

I want to take the things I have learned from paying attention to various events and in the small picture I was able to form from volunteering at Combo Breaker and apply those things to creating a new event here in the St. Louis metro area for the FGC. I figured I’d sit down and compose some of my thoughts about this concept and process while I reach out to other TOs to get their thoughts.

Basic Principles

The event should be:

  • Fun. We should have a realistic understanding of the capacity of the space and metro area and make sure we can serve attendees by providing them with a well-run, on-time, and professionally-managed event.
  • Well-located. We should find a venue that is willing to work with us in crafting a positive, professional, safe, and exciting location, in terms of the available facilities, room accommodations, stream capacity, and walking-or-transit-distance food and entertainment options.
  • Open. As much as possible, we should be open, available, and communicative regarding as many aspects of the event as possible. This should include costs, schedule decisions, and community concerns. We should gather feedback from attendees and report on that feedback after the event is over, then act on that feedback in successive years.

Existing Knowledge

From volunteering and listening to what TOs have said and how other tournaments are operated:

  • We need to set expectations well ahead of time. Things like game rules, scheduling slots, codes of conduct, and player on-time expectations should be written out and communicated repeatedly and as early as possible.
  • Events like this can run on time. By setting those expectations for being on-time, training judges properly, and having overflow time built into the schedule, the event can be created in a way that it should stay on-schedule (or at least as close as possible).
  • We have examples and other TOs to learn from. This doesn’t have to be from scratch. Events like this have been done before and have been done well, and we can learn from and build on that knowledge to create something uniquely St. Louis but still in the image of other established events.
  • It’s not going to be big the first year. People probably don’t want to take a chance on a new event with an unproven staff the first year it’s out. The goal should be to make the event the best possible event and build reputation over time. That’s how you grow.
  • It needs a time of year that stays away from as many major events as possible. Yeah, right. Have you seen the calendar recently? :) But with St. Louis heat/humidity, I’m thinking late March is a pretty good target. It avoids the pre-Evo road of Combo Breaker and CEO. It’s usually not crazy cold, but it’s not summer, either. And it avoids both hockey playoffs and the beginning of baseball season, both of which will affect hotel availability in this city significantly.

Open Questions

It’s really hard to get started with this thing when there are clear holes in knowledge that appear to have been passed from TO to TO through private channels rather than in the open. Because of this, I have questions given that I have not been involved in an event beyond the floor-level. Here they are, and if you can help me with these, please drop me a line and let me know.

  • How do you plan for demand? To reserve space, I have to know how much of it I’ll need. And that contract is going to have to be signed MONTHS ahead of time. How do you find out what that number of people to plan for is?
  • How do you cover costs? All the math I have done on venue fees tells me that they are not going come close to covering the costs that such an event would incur. I want the event to be cash-positive, mostly because I can’t afford to eat any costs we don’t make up. Where does the money come from?
  • How do sponsorships “work?” This is pretty unclear to me. Is there a standard “agreement” floating out there? How do you set rates when you don’t know the size of the event?
  • How much organizational prep is necessary or desired? Do we set up an LLC for the event planning purposes? A bank account? An accountant? Does the event have to pay taxes or report taxes on payouts?
  • What are the actual event planning priorities? I know the things I want out of the event in a perfect world, but it’s not a perfect world. From a logistical standpoint, what do I focus on first?

Again, if you can help me with some of these questions, please let me know as I know that the time available to plan an event for next year is rapidly dwindling and I might already be looking at planning something in 2018 instead. I’m willing to think long-term here. I’m not leaving St. Louis, I’m not leaving the FGC, and after having a great experience of my own at other events, I want to help others have a great experience here.

I’ll update here as the process continues and time allows.

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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Accessibility Microtransactions?

Mortal Kombat X came out late last night, and I took some time to mess with it. I was having a good time, minding my own business with the story mode and enjoying myself. You know what? This is a pretty good-looking game, I must say:

It looks great, plays well, and has a fairly interesting character selection.

During a match, I paused the game to get a look at the movelist for my character, and I saw this:

I like a lot about this. I like the quick reference to the special moves. My eye moves down, sees “Easy Fatalities.” I remember hearing them talk about this on one of their pre-release streams – simplified button inputs for the series’ trademark ultra-violent finishing moves.

You know what? That sounds pretty cool. Not everyone has the ability to put in those commands within the timing window available. I think to myself, “That’s a pretty cool feature.”

There’s a red skull icon next to the commands; I think nothing of this as there’s also an icon that’s to the left of some of the special moves because they are limited to a specific character variation. No biggie. Later in the night, I’m wrapping up and I’m sitting at the main menu.

I figure I’ll take a look at the Store and see what’s in there; I already have the DLC pass as I bought the special edition at discount. Wonder what else is in there?

Oh, OK. So they are going to take lazy people’s money. That’s fine; I’m not lazy so I won’t bite, but sure – go ahead and take what you can. I’m sure some people will throw down an additional $20. (BTW, this would make the game cost $110 at this point if you also bought the season pass.)

Next page:

whhhhhaaaaaaaaatttttttt

This causes me to double-take. And I look at the pause screen yet again:

It’s not just an icon. It’s a consumable. OK, I guess, sure, I’m not going to use this, but that’s a bit dodgy that you put the command inputs that make people spend bits of money on the pause screen and hide the real deal behind another button press, but sure, whatever—I’m starting to expect this out of AAA games.

This morning it hits me—they are putting a microtransaction price on accessibility. The simplified button inputs, combined with other system and button-level changes on the PS4, would definitely help people who need accessibility options play this game, but this is a pay-to-play lock on content for people who might need the command assistance.

You (and everyone else) should be angry about this. Games already have enough of a problem with being accessible to everyone. Now we need to put something that would be honestly helpful behind a paywall?

WB Games/NetherRealm Studios, I urge you to do the right thing and make Easy Fatalities a non-consumable feature. Charge for other things. I know I and probably a lot of other people would buy some skins for the fighters that have some nostalgia or other hook to them. I’m willing to bet there will be purchasable characters beyond the season pass, just like you did with Injustice. And I’m perfectly OK with that; it’s part of the business now.

Accessibility shouldn’t be something that goes behind a microtransaction paywall.