One year of alternative fighting game events

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One year ago, while preparing to run our first Caliburst Beginner Bracket, I wrote down my goal as a local Guilty Gear TO:

Make NorCal a GG powerhouse region. So good we don’t have to go to Japan to get high-level matches in any matchup.

I didn’t specify a time range for this to happen, but I remember thinking that if I could do this within five years, I’d be happy.

This Saturday marks the Play Guilty Gear crew’s one-year anniversary of joining up with Caliburst to bring some fresh energy to the local Guilty Gear scene. Half of that time has been spent in quarantine netplay, but despite that, I can see our scene growing and gaining, so I figured I’d write about some of the things we’ve done to help our community get bigger and stronger.

Oh shit we got a promo video!

Locals are necessary but not enough

I stumbled into all of this after I asked WNF NorCal’s head TO Rose if she had floor space at ESA Oakland (RIP) for us to run Guilty Gear every other week. She said yes; I showed up and started setting up a janky stream setup and borrowed another PS4; Starsky and Aaron saw that they could help with calling matches and stream production, while TheRalMan held it down modding stream chat. We finished up the tournament tired as hell, and we all showed up two weeks later to do it again. These days our stream layout is a lot nicer, we’ve got some sweet sidebet bots, and we have to do everything on netplay, but it’s still the same idea.

Regular local tournaments are an important part of establishing a local scene, and we found that there are a lot of different ways to tailor local events to shape the vibe we want (some tips here!). But locals alone weren’t going to get us much closer to building up our region overall, especially when it came to nurturing the wide variety of character specialists we’d need to round out our matchup experience.

Local tournaments are useful for establishing which players are the most consistently strong, and that’s important for helping people focus their energy on getting better and giving people goals to work towards. However, there are a couple issues that come up if people over-focus on local performance as their primary motivation for improvement:

  • Players can feel disincentivized to help each other get stronger, as that might hurt their placement in the next tournament
  • Once a game has been around for a while, tournament results often stabilize, and even small changes in placement can be few and far between
  • New players will go 0–2 in open brackets for a long time, which can be demoralizing and make it hard for them to see progress
  • Focusing only on open bracket performance can discourage players from finding other ways to get good, because those efforts might not immediately affect their local results

So while the Play Guilty Gear @ WNFOakland / WNFxNorCal Online weekly series is at the heart of our local GG community, we’ve tried out a bunch of other stuff to encourage local players to keep on rockin’.

This is one of my favorite top 3 photos.

Going beyond the open bracket

It turns out that when you have a dedicated event crew and a local community who loves Guilty Gear, you can do a lot of fun stuff.

The Caliburst Beginner + Intermediate Brackets are hands-down my favorite events, and I look forward to them every month because it’s like running our own local Chuunin Exam. I’ve written about them a couple times (how we do it and what we mean by “beginner”) but I cannot stress enough that giving new and mid-level players some space to shine on their own is really important for them, and really entertaining for everyone else. Watching “high-level play” is fine, but watching two people at around the same skill level scrap is always fun no matter the skill level.

We’ve also run a random select tournament, which was great for getting people to break out of over-focusing on their main characters (we explicitly didn’t let people draw their mains). A lot of learning Guilty Gear is learning matchups, and if you don’t have hands-on experience with each of the characters it can be really hard to play against them, but picking up a secondary character can often feel like wasted time if a player is focusing on their tournament performance. So we ran a random select tournament to encourage people to try out different characters in a fun and low-stakes setting, and it was super cool to see people picking up other characters and trying them out.

Team tournament formats give people a chance to help each other out and cheer each other on, which is a nice way to break ice between people who might only know each other as competitors. I particularly like running random teams, because it makes everyone take the outcome a bit less seriously, and massive two-team tournaments (“Ketchup vs. Mustard”, or Team Hot Chipp vs. Team Chipp Was Always Hot) because they create some real goofy moments.

Since we’ve established decent diplomatic relationships with our SoCal counterparts at Wild West Guilty Gear, collaborating with them on joint regional events has been fun as hell. They may have blown us the fuck up in the NorCal/SoCal 10v10, but we definitely got hungrier after falling that hard, and having a regional rivalry does a lot to get local scenes working together. We’ve also been continuing to run the United WNF Championship Series as a way to keep the two scenes connected without having to suffer awful netplay lag for an entire bracket.

Most recently, we’ve started experimenting with showmatches for intermediate and advanced-level players. I got to play a Tension Pulse set a couple years ago, and I found that it was a really cool way to change my approach to practicing Guilty Gear because I got to focus on a singular opponent and matchup instead of having to prepare for everything in a bracket (which generally meant I didn’t do much specific preparation at all). It’s also just a really satisfying format for the players who are motivated by the spotlight, since they get some dedicated stream time to show off against an opponent of similar skill.

The last thing I’ll mention is the Goodbye Kumite we’ve run at a couple WNFs for folks who are leaving the local scene. Every GG local event is another chance for us to savor our time together, but nothing lasts forever, so when someone has to leave NorCal and has time for one more tournament, we like to send them off with a proper beating that they’ll never forget — and make sure that their next local GG scene knows they’re lucky to get some new NorCal blood in the mix.

Of course, none of this happens without Aaron, Starsky, and TheRalMan’s dedication, the Caliburst crew YuzuManabe and Drewchuck, our home venue Gamecenter, or all the help we’ve gotten in commentary and logistics from Babbaloo, Takeahnase, Pepsi, Adapt, 1bin, Strobes, and several other folks. And it definitely doesn’t happen without all the people who play in our tournaments. So thanks, everyone.

Here’s to another year of Caliburst. Love your life, be good to one another, and Play Guilty Gear.

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-patrick miller

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