January 30, 2018

Thoughts on EVO Japan 2018 from a volunteer

The crowd watching losers pools SFV Day 2
Ultra David
James Chen
Sajam and Tasty Steve
With Skisonic
SNK King of Fighters cosplayers
With Yumesuke2016 as Laura
MissShinoBee as Elphelt
MissShinoBee as Elphelt
Justin Wong
Oil King
Oil King
EVO Japan 2018
With FightingGameESL
Cory Bell and junjunmjgirly play an intense set in SFV Day 1 Pools.
Akihabara Esports Square setup
Preparing Takoyaki at Akihabara Esports Square
Preparing Takoyaki at Akihabara Esports Square
Making Takoyaki at Akihabara Esports Square

I've been playing Street Fighter for a long time. I first encountered it in probably 1991, in the back of Aljon's Pizza in West Windsor, New Jersey. I didn't know what was going on, but I loved it. At one point, I figured out how to do Guile's flash kick: you had to block down for a bit, then wiggle the joystick from the back corner to the front corner, then back to the back corner, the up and a kick. In those early days, if you knew how to do a move, you didn't tell anybody and you kept that tech to yourself. Ever since then, I've been playing some version of Street Fighter, or Darkstalkers, or some fighting game.

Ten years ago when I moved to Japan, I was pretty busy with post-doc research, and then I joined a company, and threw a lot of my energy into that, then I got married, we had a kid, and while I was playing online matches (THawk in all the SF4 versions, Zangief in SFV) at some point I wanted to get back into the Street Fighter community. So I started to look around, and found out that Twitter is where all the information is now. So I set up an account and started looking around. I actually first found out about the Tokyo FGC from the Jump In Podcast when Kim 1234 mentioned that there is a weekly gathering at Akihabara Esports Square. I've been going ever since.

When I saw on Twitter that EVO Japan would be a thing, I knew that I couldn't miss it. So I signed up when that opened, and then I also volunteered to help out as volunteer staff. I was pretty sure I wouldn't get out of pools, and since I know Japanese well enough I thought I could contribute to making the event better in some way if I joined as staff. I was pretty excited when they accepted my application, and I was in.

I took two days off of work – there was an organizational meeting on Thursday the day before EVO that I had to attend, and of course I needed to be free all Friday. I had to work out childcare arrangements for my son, and did that. So what are my thoughts overall?

1 The Good

Overall, I had a great time at EVO Japan. It was exhausting - I had two 12-14 hour days on my feet the whole time, didn't have time for lunch either day, and was running around like crazy. It was really fun though. I really enjoyed meeting with and talking to other fighting game fan enthusiasts, and the atmosphere in general. I loved that there were side tournaments, some of which were run on arcade cabinets. I wish I had time to watch some of the USFIV tournament. Writing this up, I'm a bit sad that my list of good things is much shorter than my list of things that can be improved, but that is not a reflection of my overall experience. I had a great time, and would absolutely do it over again in a second.

  • A huge turnout for lots of games. I primarily play and watch Street Fighter, and there was immense turnout for that game.
  • For the number of people, and how much reliance there was on volunteer staff, things ran well. I don't think there were major mix-ups, and things went smoothly for the most part. Almost all the volunteer staff were themselves FGC players, and it really showed in how the community pulled together to pull of this logistically intimidating event.
  • Lots of people from all over the world came, and I think really enjoyed Tokyo.
  • Lots of places to eat / shop near the venue. Some 24 hour places too.
  • The event was streamed on Twitch with English commentary. Also, a second stream from Capcom Fighters covered most of the Street Fighter matches with English commentary.
  • I liked the exhibitor booths that were there, and the preview of Soul Caliber was great.
  • A really great atmosphere for all players involved - people were friendly and approachable.
  • Entry was free. Free. Are you serious!?

2 The Bad

While I really enjoyed EVO Japan 2018, and have nothing but good feelings about it, there are some things that can be improved. I really think that these are improvement opportunities, and in no way do I buy into the theories that the event was run for advertisers or media (I've been reading things like that on twitter). I'm not hooked into the world of the TOs and runners for this, but I know that some of the people involved on both the US and Japan sides are themselves home-grown FGC veterans and enthusiasts.

One thing you need to keep in mind about EVO Japan is that Japan is a country that loves their laws. In particular, there are laws about gambling that make it impossible to collect an entry fee and also have a pot to payout to the winners. I'm sure there is some way around this, but Tokyo Cup didn't have a prize because of those laws. EVO Japan was free to enter - which is amazing - but I think because of that, they had to gather most of their capital from advertising and exclusive streaming agreements with e.g., OpenRec TV and AbemaTV. I think the overall size of the venue was due to the overall expense, and also since this was the first EVO Japan, an underestimation of interest. (The Sai tournament did happen last year, but I feel like that wasn't a proper estimator for the interest of an EVO Japan event).

So here are some things that I think could use some improvement.

  • The venue was a bit difficult to find. I'm more or less fluent in Japanese, and I had some trouble finding the venue. Once you make it to Sunshine City, getting to the Convention Halls is still quite a hike through the shopping complex. You get dumped out onto the first floor, and you have to know that Hall A and B are on floors 3 and 4 (I think). I should have talked to someone about putting up signs in English telling people where to go.
  • The venue was too small. Running pools on the first day - about 2500 SFV entrants - was tough. We had one machine for each pool (this is ok) with about 8-10 people per pool. There was nowhere near enough room for 8-10 people to stand around the machine, since we had eight stations on a table, and another table not too far behind that. It was very hard to get to your pool if it was in the middle of the table.
  • There weren't enough seats in the venue to sit down. As a volunteer I was on my feet 14 hours a day, and that is expected, but there wasn't enough seating for people in general.
  • Overall, I don't think the organizers did a good job of communicating in general, and in specific communicating in English. When I volunteered I thought I would be involved from a much earlier stage crafting signs, information, templates, things like that, but I didn't hear anything about organization at all until the day before the event.
  • Confusion over pool numbers. On the first day, the stations were numbered with three digit numbers, but pools were denoted as (A|B|C)##. It took me a while to understand what the relationship between the pool numbers and station numbers was. A future run should have a simpler to understand system, like "Morning XX", "Afternoon XX", "Evening XX" where XX is the same as the number on the station.
  • Confusion over where pools were for people that made it out. There was a lot of confusion over where players should go once they made it out of their pools. As someone running one of those pools, I didn't know until about 10 minutes before I ran the pool. The best advice I had to give people was to wait by their station for someone to call your name. This is something that was addressed on the second day where with Tekken people got cards that said what pool they would be in, so I'm glad to see that an adjustment was made.
  • Confusion about what time players would play. This is something that generally happens I think, but I wasn't able to tell people when they would play. I just ran the pool in Winners up to Winners Final, and then ran the Losers. I'm not sure what could be done here. I think it would be great if Smash.gg could integrate a notification system to call players when they are up or when they would be the next match.
  • Volunteers were not organized in any way. I expected that a few days before the event, I would be told that I am running pools XX and YY, and where and when they were. That didn't happen. We gathered in the morning right before the tournament started, and were told to just go stand in front of a station. Confusion was the order of the day. That said, I think we did manage to run all the pools and there weren't many problems with it, but it was not what I could call planned or organized.
  • No breaks for Volunteers. Since we didn't have a schedule, we just were left on our own. I had to leave early one day and couldn't run an evening pool, so I just informed the blue shirted guy and took off. I hope things went well. It would have been better if we had volunteer schedules, so I would have had time to eat.
  • Not enough exhibitor booths. I liked the booths that they had. There just were not very many. I wanted to buy some of the specialty stuff, like the nice Sanwa stick, but it sold out pretty quick. Also, as a volunteer I had no time at all to actually look at what they had.
  • No artists alley? I can't believe they didn't have a big artists alley to feature all the great anime and manga art in Japan. The crossover potential is huge. It boggles the mind. There was one booth selling a manga which I bought (and got signed!) If there is another EVO Japan I really think they should think about getting a much larger space for exhibits and artists.
  • No organized after-parties? I've always wanted to go to Bar Fights. I didn't see any Gooteks out there setting up fun stuff to do. I know BAS was setting some stuff up, but that is more or less personal connections and friends going out. I would not have the stamina to go out and do something, but I'm sure many other people would be interested. Especially because the tournament ended early for a US tournament. Why did it end early? The last train! So events have to run on time or people might get stuck far away from home or hotels.
  • Talking about hotels, was there a venue hotel with a discount rate? Another missed opportunity.
  • Not nearly enough planning for who does what for the volunteers. I mentioned this before, but I'm shocked that we were able to pull this off with the lack of planning we had. In the morning of the first day, the volunteers were asked "What game do you know?" and then they went and ran those pools. This is something that can be determined ahead of time.
  • Not enough casual setups. I saw this complaint on twitter a bit. I know that it was possible to play casuals, but all the setups were used in official capacity at one time or another (aside from the BYOC area - which I was glad they had space for).
  • Not enough sticks to lend out. In most of the events in Japan, they are either held at an arcade (so you don't need to bring a stick) or setups are provided with sticks (because who wants to lug that stuff on a super crowded train to work just so you can go play a bit on the way home?) We had some people who didn't have sticks, and I think there were only about 6 or so available to lend out. There wasn't a system for that either. Of course, I think some good can come of that, because that forces people to talk to others in their pool and see if they can find a stick to borrow. In Japan, having an excuse to talk to someone is often necessary to start conversation, so that might have helped start some friendships. I know when I went to WNF last year, I didn't have a stick, and since Salilou let me borrow his stick I've really wanted to pay back that favor, and we've become friendly since. I suspect many Japanese were expecting that they wouldn't need to bring a stick though, and I certainly didn't see any official communication about that.
  • Really hard to watch matches. If you wanted to spectate pool matches, or later on streamed matches on Day 2, there was just no good way to do that. At some point a projector was set and that helped a bit, but the place was jam packed.
  • Lack of coordination between the EN streamers and TOs. I ended up being the intermediary between the stream station for US Twitch on Day 2 and the TO. I only did that because I wanted to be involved in the SFV stuff day 2, and when I went to talk to the stream staff, they didn't have any plan for how to move forward. So I stepped in and tried to help out. This is also something that really should have been worked out far in advance.
  • On the second day, since I noticed that there was confusing over who to talk to if you only spoke English, I recommended that we put on tags or stickers or something on people who were bilingual. We then split our group up (all eight of us!!) over all the games that were running. Those were some ghetto tags too. I hope it helped a bit.
  • Not enough tickets for the finals. Not much more to say about that.

3 The Personal

The rest of this post is probably not interesting to people, but please do read on if you want to hear about things that just got me super excited.

I'm not particularly good at Street Fighter. I've got a Platinum/Gold Zangief, and a Silver Rashid. I really enjoy spectating Street Fighter though, and am familiar with most of the players and commentators. I love living in Japan, but I'm married to a Japanese woman who doesn't really care for games, so I can't talk to her about those things. It is very easy to get homesick and miss things from America (Pizza is one of them - hit me up if you want to know the best NYC style Pizza places in Tokyo). I really enjoy listening to UltraChenTV, The Gauntlet, and The Jump In on my commute to work. So meeting some of the people behind those things is something I was really looking forward to. While I also would like to meet players, I worry that top players are going to be preoccupied with preparing for their games, so I don't really want to bother them.

3.1 Commentators *

I was very excited to have met some real luminaries from the commentary world. UltraDavid from the UltraChenTV show and commentary fame took the time to chat and take a photo. I ran into James Chen on Day 1, but was in a real rush to get home so I could pick my son up from daycare. I actually butted in to his conversation with MajinObama (sorry about that!) to get a picture. I also met Sajam and Tasty Steve together. Last year I went to WNF in July and met Sajam there, and he was a really nice guy then. Steve is the most excited and hype person I have ever met. Both great guys. By the way, if you are interested in learning more about a variety of fighting games, check out The Recipe on CrossCounterTV. They talk about a bunch of different fighting games in an easy and accessible way. I also ran into skisonic who is another commentator that I enjoy.

There are lots of other commentators that I would have liked to chat with - Logan-sama, Jiyuna, MajinObama, Rynge, Rip, Zhi, etc. I was just super busy and didn't have a chance to wander around.

I sometimes hear people talking about who the best commentators are, and I just don't get that entire conversation. There is such a wide range of information and ways to express yourself that I can always find something to appreciate with the different commentators out there. I absolutely love when Zhi and MajinObama are on the mic because of just how "inside baseball" their discussion of Japan can be. I'm actually watching the Twitch replays of the Jump Off right now, and having a desk of 4 people talking about a variety of games is just so much fun.

What was a unifying theme about all the people I interacted with at the event is that everyone was kind, and we all have a shared passion about fighting games. You just can't under-sell how important that is.

3.2 Cosplayers *

I met some commentators, that was cool. I also met some cosplayers! That was cool too! First up, I snuck by the SNK booth before the event opened and got a picture with some of the cosplayers there. When I was running pools on Day 1, there was a Laura cosplayer in a pool behind me, and we chatted a bit. Very friendly. I was worried she might give me a knee to the groin. I also ran in MissShinoBee as Elphelt. I have GGRxd but I am just terrible at that game. It is beautiful though, and it is really nice to see that brought to life. Finally, I got a shot with Cory Bell in Sakura cross-play. That outfit is amazing. I think he could have gone into a Konami arcade and actually worked there for a bit before anyone figured it out.

3.3 Game players *

I met some players! Marn was in my pool, and had I won my first match I would have had to play him. Of course, I didn't. Still, Marn was really nice. If he has a bad rap, I don't know that would be. I met Justin Wong! He has been writing up a lot of cool stuff about his adventures in Japan, and he has got some great information. I always like to see people who appreciate Japan come out here. I met Oil King! His fashion is on point. I took a picture with Infiltration (the EVO Japan winner!) and Gllty! I didn't talk to either of them much, but Gllty is a regular at various Tokyo events and puts in real work. She's great. Infiltration seems like a nice guy too. I met up with Cory Bell, a Zangief that I've been following for a while. He's a fun guy.

I met Powell - this is a relatively unknown guy outside of Japan, but he's a Master Ranked Cammy from Nagoya. He came by the Esports Square event on Sunday and I got to chat with him a lot. He is a hilarious guy. He was talking about how he wanted Tokido to win so he could say he was the only one to have beat him. He also talked about how he was able to pull the ladies after his tremendous performance, but when I asked him how many he said "Uh, I took like, 3 back to my hotel!" I don't buy it, but this is one fun guy to hang out with.

3.4 People I didn't expect to meet *

One thing that surprised me is that some people came up to me and introduced themselves. There is absolutely no reason anyone should be interested in me, but I guess because of my Twitter Account some people know who I am. My goal with that twitter account is to make information about fighting game events in Japan more accessible. If I had known earlier about what was going on in Tokyo, I would have been much more involved from the beginning. The way things used to work though is that players hung out in specific arcades, and you just had to know what they were. E.g., everyone knows about the Shinjuku East Gate Namco, but how did you learn about that? I also think it can be very intimidating to approach famous players when you are just some random Joe Donuts in the silver league. So what I'm trying to do is put out information about FGC events in English as I see it fly by on Twitter.

Which also makes me want to mention that I think Twitter sucks as a general communication and archival medium. I've been running this blog of mine since 1999, and if I ever want to find anything on it, it is indexed and I can get back to it. I can write more than 100 or 200 characters or whatever. I can put cogent thoughts together to form a cohesive argument. Twitter is not good at any of that. But Twitter is where everyone is at. That said, check out Burning Meter for archiving and adding your own FGC tech. I'm much more optimistic about that kind of approach. Sadly, once it gets popular hosting will cost too much and it will probably die (unless they go the advertising route, which I am fine with).

So, I use twitter, but I'm not an ardent fan. I was surprised then when Jun-ichi of Fighting Games ESL fame came up to me and introduced himself! I've been following him for ages and his tweets are an invaluable resource for people looking to learn Fighting Game Japanese. That said, man, I should put a webpage together of all his tweets or something.

I also met HiFightTH who puts out amazing clips for fighting game action all the time. I can't believe he does all of that himself. I met The Sentimental Typhoon who also translates interesting stuff every now and again. I met FubarDuck who made me think that maybe I can make some positive contribution to the FGC. These were all unexpected meetings, and I really enjoyed chatting with these guys. There are also other people I follow that do interesting translation on twitter, and I hope I get a chance to meet them in the future too!

3.5 I met Seth Killian *

Finally, I know I made a separate section for this, but I met Seth Killian! I've known of this guy (and Bob Painter, and Graehm Wolfe, and …) and a whole bunch of other since I started with street fighter from the venerable days of alt.games.sf2. What a nice guy.

I also ran into one of the Cannon brothers, and I'm ashamed to admit that I don't know if it was Tom or Tony. He even told me, but I've since forgotten. These guys (well, Tony I guess) single-handedly developed GGPO, the best online fighting games latency hiding system out there. Super crazy.

That said, I'm terrible with names. One day, HDJammerz stopped by Akihabara Esports Square, and I asked him if he was Infectious. Ugh.

3.6 Super Hype Games *

I saw some great games. One that sticks in my mind was on the first day, when I saw Cory Bell's Zangief take on junjunmjgirly's Ken. junjunmjgirly is the bassist in a super-popular rock band who is into fighting games. That match was super fun, because everyone watching was totally into it. While I was doing my volunteer duties, I didn't get to see many matches, but I'm watching stuff slowly later on in the archives. Just being around all these great games was lots of fun though.

3.7 Sunday casuals at Esports Square *

On Sunday, since I couldn't get tickets for the finals (who could!?) I helped Kagechi set up for a casual session at Akihabara Esports Square. He set the place up so you could relax and watch what was going on the big screen easily, and also planned to do 500 yen all you can eat takoyaki. A lot of people stopped by. In fact, a record setting number, and we actually had to turn people away so we didn't run foul of fire hazard regulations. Kagecchi was super bummed when James Chen and UltraDavid stopped by but had to be turned away. About 170 people came by, when on a usual night it is closer to 60. It was lots of fun, and the Takoyaki was great. I had a great time chatting with players from around the world and Japan. Verloren and Powell ran some pretty intense mirror match Cammy sets, and it was generally just a fun time all around.

If you are even in Tokyo and have time on a Wednesday night, drop by Akihabara Esports Square from 7pm. It is always lots of fun, and they are happy to see new people there.

3.8 Final words *

I had a great time at EVO Japan, and really hope there is another one. I think there are many things that can be improved, and if I'm in any position to do so I will work to the best of my abilities to help. I think overall people had a great time, and I'm convinced that Japan is a great destination for major tournaments because it is a great tourist destination in its own right, and has a long connection to fighting game history.

Some of the problems I think stem from the lack of really large tournaments in Japan because of the gambling laws, and also because traditionally people have just run their own tournaments in arcades in a kind of off-the-cuff manner. Events like EVO really need a lot more forethought and planning - and I'm not saying that didn't happen for EVO Japan 2018, but I think there could be a bit more.

I had a great time, and I hope you did too. If you ever come to Japan, feel free to hit me up on twitter or otherwise. Have fun, and watch out for overheads.


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