April 4, 2023
Thoughts on EVO Japan 2023 from a Volunteer
Table of Contents
This year, I once again volunteered for EVO Japan. I volunteered for it once previously, in 2018, and was happy to do so again this year. A few months back there was a call for volunteers, and I applied. Back before Corona I used to go to weekly locals, and really enjoyed meeting people, helping new people out (usually visitors who don't know Japanese), and helping with whatever tasks pop up.
EVO Japan is a chance for people to come visit the country, see what the local scene is like, and play against Japanese players they might not otherwise get a chance to see. I know I'm not going to do anything big as a player, but as someone behind the scenes helping out, I can help make this massive tournament happen, and maybe I can help out some people here and there. I know this can be exhausting, and I always want to make sure I can fully commit myself, so I took time off from work for Thursday (the first day for volunteers) and Friday, and blocked out the weekend.
I'll collect some pictures and thoughts about 2023 EVO Japan from the perspective of a volunteer in this blog post.
I've seen at least one other blue shirt tweet thread, so that might interest you as well. Jiyuna shared his experiences as well.
1 My event timeline
I don't recall when the call for volunteers went out, but I know that I applied as soon as I saw it. Then I wait for quite a while - I was worried I missed seeing an announcement or something, but finally a week before EVO Japan I got an email saying that I was selected. There was a Discord server this year, which is great; the previous time I volunteered there was no communication channel set up. We were supposed to let the organizers know the days and times we could work, so I did that. Otherwise, there wasn't much communication on Discord.
Thursday March 30th was the first day of volunteer activity. The day started at 1pm after you got your own lunch. At 1pm I showed up at the venue - it's fairly close for me, only three stops on the Rinkai line where I live. We showed up, and there was a small desk to check-in, get your "Volunteer" pass, and volunteer shirt.
Note that there are multiple classes of volunteers:
- Blue Shirts. These are people that volunteered and do not get paid. I initially thought that people here would be from the FGC and know how things run, but over the course of the three days I found out that there are also blue shirts that don't know much about fighting games. There were some young people that I think were from one of the universities like Sofia University with bilingual students that didn't seem to know much about fighting games at all.
- Red Shirts. These are people that are paid, though not much. They are not necessarily involved in the FGC, though I didn't talk with many of them. They are the most likely to die in an away mission.
- Black Shirts. These are the people that are involved in the organization and decision making. These people span all disciplines, from production to technical support, bracket runners, stream support, and so on. Many of them are recruited from contacts like Matsuda's crew (the owner of Game Newton, heavily involved in organizing and fighting games - and Matsuda was a "Director" for EVO JP) or Nyanshi/Toyata's crew (Toyota is the founder of TOPANGA, and also has been involved in almost all fighting game events in Japan since the start). The major players for different games have groups of people that they often work with, and many of them came in as black shirts.
- Black Shirts with ribbons. Even more power.
I can’t remember the last time I bought a real paper magazine. Only two pages on Tanukana but it should be a fun read.— FuguTabetai (@DocFugu) March 30, 2023
We waited around in the volunteer room for a while, I took the opportunity to read the Weekly Spa! issue that had an interview with Tanukana. It was a short two pages, check the twitter thread for some comments.
After a while we got the call to action: the day was going to be spent putting together the bags that attendees will get. There were about 20 or so of us, and we went down to the venue, lined up at tables that were too short, and started an assembly line to put four flyers, one jelly drink, and one protein bar into the EVO JP bags. The tables were about six inches too short to be comfortable, there were no chairs, and there were lots of bags to stuff.
We had I think two breaks of half an hour, and we might have been provided a bento box for dinner; I just don't remember. I struck up a few conversions, all the blue shirts I talked to were fighting game fans (veterans even in some cases). One person was relatively new to fighting games - they saw an arcade near their university, and started to go there about two years ago. Out of all the games, they thought Street Fighter III was super cool, and so her start with the FGC was Street Fighter III. In 2021. Tell me that isn't awesome, because it is awesome.
The work was pretty tough, and near the end - I was there until about 7pm, so nearly five hours of stuffing bags - I was exhausted. I had hoped to meet people and go out to dinner, but I was too tired, and just went home to get some leftovers. We packed lots of bags though, and there is something to be said for doing physical work that results in a tangible result, so that was nice.
You'll note that there wasn't any training or anything - I vaguely recall at the initial meeting they asked who knew what was up, and we got separated out. According to an account on twitter it looks like people did get an hour or so information about how to run a bracket.
Report time for Friday was 8am, which isn't hard for me. I'm up at 6am most days, and it's only about 35 minutes door to door for me if the trains come quickly. Friday was the main day of work; I expected to run some brackets. Start time was supposed to be 9am for Street Fighter brackets, which I assumed I would be in since I was also playing in Street Fighter. The organizers did ask people what tournaments they were in, and tried to accommodate people - of course, what that meant is that you would run the bracket that you play in (which makes sense to me.)
We got in, then headed to the venue and were assigned to the games we would manage. They also asked us the languages we could speak, and people wore arm bands indicating the languages they knew, which is an improvement over the first EVO Japan. I remember at that one, I explicitly asked the organizers (Hameko actually!) to make some kind of marking (I think we improvised something with tape and markers?) This worked a lot better.
There were a lot more bilingual volunteers / staff this year than the first EVO Japan. That was nice.
After assignments were done, we did some setup work on the stations - one setup per pool, same as 2018. I expected between 30-40% no-shows, which makes running a pool with one setup not too bad. We also each ran two pools at the same time - or at least, I ran my two pools at the same time, I don't know why you wouldn't. The setup just included turning on the machines, and then logging into the accounts such that P1 was on the right, and P2 was on the left. No big deal. Then logging into SFV and making sure the illegal tournament stages were not selected for random select. I'm surprised we didn't run pools on training stage, but whatever.
Once things were set up, we had a lot of waiting to do. People were asking if they could run casuals on the setups, and we confirmed that they could (which was surprising to me - I'd normally think at a Japanese event they wouldn't want you to do that, but we got verification that it was ok.) 9am came and went, we were still waiting for the brackets and directions. A bit after that Toyota passed out brackets to us. We would mark the results on paper, and hand them in to the command desk to get recorded.
In previous events I've volunteered for we did bracket entry on our phones - they didn't go with that option this time because in the past so many people accessing the same event led to problems with the platform, so they wanted to reduce the number of people accessing the site at once. That does have the unfortunate side effect that it takes a long time to update the brackets on start.gg.
After that we went out and ran out brackets. No problem on my side. About 30-40% DQ rate, but I think I got done with both pools in about 2 hours. If you line up the next people to play it goes pretty quick. They did want us to run all winner's matches and then loser's, so theGameTwoK wouldn't be happy about that, but for pools it is easier to remember and do, especially with people that aren't familiar with running pools.
I, of course, went 0-2 in my pool. One of these days I'll get a win, but my first opponent was Arlieth, who is super good, and a good guy, so I didn't mind. I probably could have won my second match, but for some reason my stick wouldn't register back for blocking (it would backdash though) and after futzing around with it for a while I couldn't figure it out. I need to inspect the settings, but again, I can't complain too much about that, it was on me to make sure my equipment was working before I went to EVO. I totally should have played on that stick (I usually don't play on my Victrix because it's so nice) before I went.
After pools were done, they asked me to float around and answer questions / help out (since I'm one of the bilingual staff). At some point we organized shifts between the volunteers to head to the staff room for our (provided for free) bento lunch. We also took turns taking the blue shirts off and walking around the venue a bit to experience the tournament. It was nice.
The afternoon started a bit late - the brackets had to be finalized - about 30 minutes late I think. No problems in these pools either - in one of the pools I had cosplayer HiroandHiro_ who dressed as and played Cammy. She was super fun, and I got some pictures with her too. Misokrattz, a good Zeku player, was also in my pool, and she made it to loser's final. Near the end of the day, the staff asked me to hold the final match for the stream, after finishing up everything else, I took her and iEgis3rd up to the stream setup and did some minor translation. It was a super fun match, and when she won she was very emotional and excited. It was one of those fighting game tournament moments that I really enjoy seeing.
Afterwards it was already pretty late, so I checked out and headed to Shimbashi where I met some friends for dinner - starting at 10pm! Super late for me, but I did make it home before the last train (it was close though!)
Saturday was a 7:30am start, which wasn't too hard for me. I'm not sure why the volunteers started so early; all we did was hang around the game area we were at and answer questions. They didn't need any volunteer Blue Shirt staff to run games, so I just wandered around and tried to help out where I could. Took some pictures. Had a lunch break. At some point an NHK camera crew interviewed me, said it would be on BS-3 at some point or something, but I know I'll never be able to find that, so too bad.
Once the afternoon came around, we got assigned to clean-up duty, and that was pretty tough work. I put myself on monitor duty, so I learned how to take down and re-pack the Sony monitors. Those monitors are pretty nice; well built and sturdy. I don't know anything about the monitor settings, and I'll note that none of us changed any of the monitor settings. I'm no Yung Art, so I wouldn't even know what settings would make sense. Based on people who know better than I do (Fubarduck) I'm not sure that the monitor settings would even make much difference given the PS4 hardware.
I packed monitors for a few hours, it was getting a bit rough. It was nice seeing all the Top 24s and such go on around us. Toyota came around and asked me to help with some translation stuff - that was nice. I always got the feeling that I annoyed him somehow, but maybe that's not the case. There were a few English speakers in Top 24, and he wanted me on call to help out if anything happened. So I sat down in the player section, met the staff there, and talked with them a bit. They didn't expect to need much help, unless an English speaker got into Top 8, in which case I'd need to help with translating for the photographer that would film the intro sequence. I ended up doing that with Punk and Oil King, and then Oil King also wanted to see if he could get a ticket for his wife for Day 3, so we talked to a bunch of people until we finally got an answer on that. All Top 8 competitors get a guest pass, you need to talk to the staff at the check-in desk on the day of, I really wanted to make sure things would go OK there, so it took longer than expected.
In the evening I wanted to meet up with the AnimeIlluminati dinner in Shibuya, but I wouldn't have been able to get there until about 10:30pm, which was too late for me. That's unfortunate; I haven't really had a chance to actually talk with any of the Tatakai Tuesday guys, and I've known them for a while, and have some friends there that I would have really liked to have spent some time with.
Nothing! On Sunday there were no volunteers (at least of the kind that I was) needed. When tickets went on sale, I bought the S class seat, so I was able to sit up as close to the stage as I liked - on a first come, first served basis.
I got a set up in front in one of the S-section rows, and ran into a friend or two by chance. So that was great! Strive was a lot of fun - I play a bit, but the Top 8 was much more fun than I expected. I particularly liked Poka, the 14 year old Happy Chaos player who came in his school uniform. School Uniforms in Japan are considered dress clothes, so people will wear those to weddings or funerals, for example. Gobou was the other player I really liked, well, along with Daru I-No. Gobou is just such a character with how expressive he is. Really good matches through the whole Top 8, and seeing Gobou win was great.
Before Tekken started I wanted to get lunch so I wouldn't be hungry during Street Fighter, so I went out, and met some friends and we all got lunch at McDonald's. That was really nice - it's a bit of a walk - but we got back to Tekken at the start of the Loser's matches, so we got to see a lot of that too. I was cheering for Arslan Ash - how could you not? - and so that turned out really well from my point of view. I'm not big into Tekken, the last one I played with any frequency was Tekken 2, but it is a fun game to watch. The announcements were great, and I really like Harada and Michael.
Street Fighter is the main game for me, and we were able to move to get seats right in front of Aru and Hameko on commentary. I was with one friend, and by chance two chairs away was another friend (someone who I used to see weekly at the SFV offline event, she often helped out run the brackets there - we haven't seen each other since Corono!) We were chatting, and the guy sitting in between us asked if he should move - we both were just talking across him, and I felt bad once I realized that, but he kindly swapped seats so we could continue chatting.
I really enjoyed the SFV finals, I won't talk too much about the games. I was supporting Punk and Mono as NA competitors, but once they were out I was hoping for a Momochi - Nemo finals. I had brought the book Nemo wrote "The Power to Believe" in hopes I could get him and Itazan to sign it, but a good time never came up. I'm sure I can get it signed at some point, I run into those guys with reasonable frequency. I was also wearing my Shinobism Polo shirt - and really, why aren't there more nice, comfortable, subtle e-Sports Polo shirts? This shirt is super comfortable, I can wear it at work without looking like a race car, and is all around nice.
Seeing Oil King win was nice though, and when he ran out to hug his wife I was super happy for them.
Things went long, and while I was hoping to meet people for dinner, by the time things wrapped up, it was too late for me (I've got work!) so unfortunately, I didn't get to spend as much time with people outside of the venue as I would have liked.
2 The Good
The tournament was held at a really nice time in Japan weather-wise. It isn't too cold, and it definitely isn't too hot (outside the venue), and it was right during Cherry Blossom season. That's a nice timing coincidence. With people visiting from overseas, they get a very nice Japan experience. I'm also glad this isn't held in the summer - apart from overlap with other large tournaments, summer is just terrible in Japan.
The venue is pretty nice compared to the first EVO JP I attended in Sunshine City. Sunshine City was a bit of a complex venue to navigate, and EVO JP was spread out over two large rooms, with some walking between them. In Tokyo Big Site, everything was contained to one large exhibition hall, which is nice. Kokusai Tenjijo isn't the best area in terms of hotels, restaurants, or nightlife, but it isn't too far from the JR line via the Rinkai line or the Yurikamome monorail. The larger all-in-one facility was nice, I thought.
Top level competitors from around the world. As part of the EVO brand, this is to be expected, but it is a real draw. There's also a lot of very strong Japanese players that don't travel, and giving them a stage to shine on is nice too.
Lots and lots of side tournaments. There were many side tournaments. I didn't and couldn't count them. If you are interested in a fighting game, there is a good chance that there was a side tournament for it.
Cost of entry. How much did you pay to enter EVO Japan 2023? For days 1 and 2, you paid nothing. Free entry. For Day 3 you needed to have some purchased ticket, with prices ranging from 2500 JPY (Standing), 4000 JPY (Free seating), or 8000 JPY (Free seating closer). I got the most expensive ticket, which didn't seem very expensive to me (but I'm an old working man.) Those first two days were totally free though! And you got some stuff for it too - a little bag with some fliers, a protein bar, and jelly energy pack, as well as various freebies from the booths (a free poster from SNK, or a free Shirt if you just registered for the free KOF 15 bracket - which I'm still mad I didn't do!)
Lots of support on a what I can only assume is a small budget. Since there was no registration fee, aside from the final day ticket for finals, all of the money for the event had to come from corporate contributions, sponsors, advertising, or EVO itself. I can only imagine that this is a smaller budget than EVO in the US, which does have some amount of funding for each person that comes - and note that those fee structures scale with the number of people that come, compared to the model in EVO Japan. If you wonder there wasn't a registration fee, it has to do with Japanese laws around advertising (not gambling as many people think, though there are gambling considerations as well). I wrote about marketing and gambling laws based on some of JeSU's actions a few years ago if you are interested in reading about that.
Even without the registration fee, there was a lot of support! We ran a huge tournament with lots of people, and there were bilingual staff around to help people out! There was commentary and streams! Nice BYOC areas, and real arcade machines! A large and spacious venue!
Most of all it was super fun.
3 Things that could use improvement
One big complaint that people had was that the venue was too hot. On day 1 I was there from the start, and it was chilly in the morning. As people came in, it definitely got a lot hotter, and a lot steamier. I'm a veteran of Japanese summers, and usually here people like it warmer - the Japanese Government recommends Air Conditioners be set to 28 C (82.4 F) in the summer - that is too hot for me, but I'm not pretty comfortable at 26 or 27 C. So I thought it was hot, but not unbearable. I'm sure for people from the US though, it was pretty rough. On the second day, I noticed that the large cargo loading doors were opened about a foot, which did let in a bit of the cooler outside air, which I thought helped, and I didn't notice it as much on the second day. The third day seemed fine to me.
Communication between staff and volunteers could be improved. The first time I volunteered for EVO Japan in 2018, there were no real communication channels. This time around I thought we might have a nice channel: there was a Discord Channel set up that everyone joined. The channels were (apart from the "I'm going to be late" channel) read-only, and there was not a general questions channel, there weren't per-game channels, there wasn't an announcement channel, etc. I would have loved a way to ask questions - as it was we could go to the "command center" desk, but that seemed to be hit and miss. Even general announcements like "We will be finalizing brackets in 10 minutes" or something would have been great. All that communication could be in Japanese - most of the volunteers were bilingual (and the more I think about it, the more I think you really need to be bilingual to be successful) so it shouldn't add any additional overhead; it would just streamline and improve communication.
General lack of pre-planning. My impression is that there wasn't as much pre-planning as I would expect for an event of this size. Volunteer selection was only communicated until a week or so before the event. Perhaps pool runners could have been assigned earlier. More detailed schedules could have been circulated. There could have been information stations for each game, and some way to post up on a big screen per game who needs to report to which pools.
There should have been more information in English on how to get to the venue. I tweeted something, but I'm just some dude without many followers. Then again, with Google Maps and phones maybe that isn't as big of a deal.
Lots and lots of side tournaments that were hard to find out about. Having lots of side tournaments is great, the downside is that it was very difficult to find information about the side tournaments, and most of that was in Japanese, making it hard for non-Japanese speakers to navigate. I don't think there was any dedicated staff for side tournaments, and I suspect there were communication difficulties.
One downside of the venue was that there could have been more food options. There are some places to eat at Tokyo Big Site, but not many, and I wouldn't call them great options. One thing that everyone seems to like is food (or maybe Fuudo?) and there are FGC hotspots in Tokyo. It would have been awesome to have an in-venue Kikanbo booth, or some massive Milk Tea vending machine. Food is a big part of people visiting Japan, and a natural fit for the FGC. I'm sure Ryo151 could put together a great list of vendors to contact. I'm positive people would pay good money too.
For the finals day, I really enjoyed my time, but the seats were not great. I understand why we had folding seats, and even why they were zip-tied together, but those were hard to sit in for the entire day. I would have really preferred a change of venue to another space with real theater seating. I can see how that would be hard to do though, and could be confusing - I think keeping things in one venue at least made it easy to understand where to go.
Another complaint about the seating is that it was hard to find seats where you could see both players. I'm very happy with the experience I had, but I also spent the entire day with my neck craned up to look at the big monitors because I just couldn't see the action otherwise. I always wanted to see both players, but in the three spots I tried, I could only get a good view of one of them - though I loved being right in front of the commentary desk. That was awesome.
Finally, I should weigh in on the Stream setup latency. Many players were complaining about lag on the stream setup. I don't know much about that stuff; I'm glad the staff switched out some equipment (though it did take a while) to address one complaint. I think that is a tough situation all around; you really need to test things in the environment to make sure you have everything set up right. More knowledgeable people than me have weighed in lag and stuff, I just hope we have the best environment we can make for our players. I don't mind delays as long as it is for a good reason.
4 Final thoughts
I'm really glad that I was able to volunteer again. I enjoy fighting games, and prior to Corona going to the weekly SFV event in Akihabara was what I looked forward to every week. Since Corona though, I haven't engaged as much - and Japan is really only just now (for me anyway) opening up again. This was the first time I got out of the house for an extended period of time for myself, and it was great.
I know I won't have any real results as a player, but I am able to help the community by dedicating some time to help make events like this successful, and I get a real feeling of accomplishment when I'm able to help out, whether that is by stuffing flyers in bags, breaking down setups, or helping players out by running brackets or doing some translation. I'm encouraged to see other people volunteer their time to do the same; we need that for events to be successful.
It was a great chance to connect up with some people that I haven't seen in years, or meeting people that I've known through twitter, and meet new people. I wish I had been able to go out more and see more people, but there is always next time.
If you are able to, I highly recommend thinking about what you can do to make a contribution to the fighting game community. I recommend volunteering, but there are many ways to contribute and bring joy to people's lives.
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