TOing as an exercise in vibe cultivation

Patrick Miller
8 min readJul 5, 2023

[This essay was funded by my generous Patreon supporters. If you liked this and want to see more, please consider joining the crew!]

Ever since I started TOing events about four years ago, I’ve been constantly experimenting with different kinds of event formats and play flows to see how they yield different experiences (see Starting your own FGC local, Running beginner brackets, One year of alternate events, and Should I charge an entry fee for my locals? if you want to read up on the archives). If you’ve ever wondered why the Xrd community has a rather impressive array of different events going on all the time — open brackets, beginner/intermediate brackets, showmatch cards, random select tournaments, team tournaments, etc. — well, I think we can claim a decent amount of credit for leading by example here, and it’s been dope to see the other Xrd TOs follow suit with their own novel experiments as well.

TOing for a mature fighting game is a bit different; you can’t count on the hype of being a shiny new Evo main game to get you new players, and the wide gaps in experience between new players and veterans mean that it takes a bit more work to keep the new blood in the game. We initially started running beginner brackets because I wanted to widen out the local NorCal Xrd matchup pool, and then we started running showmatch events because we wanted to give people at all skill levels the chance to scrap in the spotlight with people at their own level. Double elim/best of three is a solid general format, but it’s not enough to sustain a community for a game as old as Xrd, so we built up different kinds of events to help our community thrive and grow in different ways and it’s been paying off most excellently.

However, the landscape for Xrd events has changed dramatically over the last nine months. The addition of rollback (thank you ArcSys and the rollback dev team!) has meant that we can actually have a quality netplay experience (actually better than the Strive experience, as of this writing), and the number of regular Xrd brackets has increased dramatically as a result. REV2SDAY is still the highest-profile weekly netplay event for Rev2, but we’re not load-bearing in the same way we were over the last few years because there’s often at least 4–5 other events running every week. And while it has been awesome to see the Xrd community have so many opportunities to compete, it also means that the brackets themselves can get kinda same-y after a while, which motivated me to continue experimenting.

Last month we tried a couple best of one brackets for REV2SDAY, since I had played in some single-game events during our trip to Evo Japan and I was inspired to try it out here. I’m always a fan of single-game formats because everything is high-stakes, and in a game like Xrd it means that players don’t have much time to adapt and are just going to pull their maximum bullshit out immediately, which is a good thing for a player to learn how to do when preparing for bracket play anyway. (It’s also fun to run single-game because the possibility for major upsets is much higher, which is particularly exciting for Xrd because otherwise most of the matches for the first 2–3 rounds of a bracket are basically free for the high-seeded players.)

Switching to single game cut our weekly runtime down by about half, which was awesome for our TO crew since it meant that we got to still enjoy our Tuesday evenings, and it still made for a hype stream, though the shorter event format meant that everything moved a bit too quickly for a real sense of narrative to play out — something that bo3/double elim events do quite well when it comes to the latter third of the bracket, since players have a bit more time to download their opponent and there is a high likelihood of some notable runbacks happening in the Losers Bracket.

This week we tried running a Ladder format, which is a neat thing that StartGG built a while back and I’ve played in a few times but hadn’t run before. It basically mimics an online game matchmaker through the webapp, so players can click to queue up, get paired up with someone else looking for a match, coordinate via StartGG chat or Discord, play their match, and report their results. As the TO, I can choose when matchmaking opens and closes, and once it’s closed I can take the Top X players and run them through a finals phase (in our case, we did Top 8 single elim, best of 3 until grand finals).

While I’m typically not a fan of rando matchmaking in my video games, using it with a limited pool in a shared social context like REV2SDAY gets rid of most of its downsides, and gives us a lot of upsides. For starters, it means that everyone gets to play a lot more than they normally would in a bracket, which is great — one of the main reasons I see competitive players avoid netplay tournaments is because the downtime between matches is much longer than just playing casuals. And since you don’t get kicked out of the matchmaking pool for losing, players who would normally go 0–2 get to keep going as long as they like and gain more valuable competition experience. Double elim is great when you’re constricted on the number of concurrent matches you can run at once due to in-person event logistics, but when we’re mashing on netplay, we can run as many sets as we have pairs of players, so might as well keep people going.

This format also proved to be a bit easier on the TOs, which was hugely appreciated. Normally we have to do a bit of hustling to make sure everyone’s playing their matches on time and reporting the results so we can move on with the bracket, but in a ladder format, players have to make sure they do that stuff themselves if they want to keep playing, and if they don’t, the only people they’re inconveniencing is themselves. Hell, I don’t even have to DQ people who registered but can’t make it, since if they’re not there, they just won’t enter the matchmaking queue, so it doesn’t create any traffic jams. We need about 2–3 bracket runners on hand to make a standard format REV2SDAY go smoothly, but our first ladder event just had me checking in on it while also streaming/commentating and it went fine; we managed to get an hour of matchmaking time in, then a top 8 single elim bracket, and we still finished about 20–30 minutes earlier than our usual brackets go. Players overall reported really enjoying the ladder format, and although the stream experience wasn’t quite as good as a typical bracket, I’ve got some ideas for how we can change up the stream format for the matchmaking phase to make it a bit more fun, and I think it’s a much better fit for a weekly event anyway.

The proliferation of double elim Xrd brackets and high-quality netplay has also changed up our priorities a bit with Caliburst, our in-person monthly at Gamecenter in Belmont, CA (first Saturday of every month!). Previously, my priority for Caliburst was ensuring that we had enough time to play through a regular bracket and grind casuals, since the gap between local play and delay-based netplay was big enough that logging in-person hours was a major factor for improving as a player. But rollback made it easier for us to get casuals and play in brackets, so while it’s still good for us to compete and grind in person, I decided it was more important to make sure Caliburst was first and foremost a good time to kick it with the homies IRL, and give people opportunities to form those face-to-face bonds so that the people they’re playing with online over the next month feel like friends, not strangers. Basically, the vibes come first.

Shoutouts to Joymba Juice.

Practically speaking, this has involved two main changes.

The first change is to the schedule; Xrd is now the first event, rather than the last, and we alternate between double elim brackets and other formats, like random team 2v2s or crew battles (Pineapples on Pizza: Yes vs. Whatever was the theme for this past month). Since REV2SDAY is still basically our local weekly, it’s not as important to run standard brackets, and team formats are a really fun way to take advantage of the fact that we’re all in the same place at the same time. The vibes are real good for this stuff because it’s a good way to celebrate the game we’re playing as more than just a 1v1 competition, and it gets the whole crew watching each others’ matches across the skill spectrum, not just for the strongest players.

Once Xrd is over, we run our Xrd Beginner Backyard Beatdown (a play format we developed a while back that is very similar to the ladder format, but uses a winner-stays queue instead of a matchmaker), and then we open the floor up to whoever wants to run a small side game event. Our community is down to play all kinds of stuff, not just Xrd, so giving them the chance to share the games they love and get some low-pressure TO experience is a good time. So far we’ve been seeing people run Melty Blood (both AACC and TL), UNI, SF6, Puyo Puyo Vs Tetris, Skullgirls, and some other real dope stuff. (I even ran a novelty CVS2 tournament off the arcade cab where everyone entered in teams of three players, and each player played a single character, which was a super fun way to introduce the game to new folks while still letting the veterans carry their crew.)

The second change we made was to the food; in the past, we had defaulted to Costco pizza, or Slice House if we’re feeling bougie, and we got Starsky to come by and make pizza onsite for a couple special occasions. As we’ve grown, though, we’ve been lucky enough to welcome folks into the community who love cooking, and they’ve been stepping the food game up most excellently. elgrandepedro, Bancho, Joy, Keiji, and Myung have all killed it with onsite food lately — we’re talkin like, beef bowls, curry, burgers, smoothie bar, Hawaiian cookout food, all that kinda stuff — and that’s motivated other folks to bring more food as well (Bears made dorayaki! Jigz brought deep dish chocolate chip cookies!). Caliburst is our monthly block party, and the vibes are immaculate.

Elgrandepedro cookin away on some gyuudon.

The funny thing about all of this is that I never wanted to get into running in-person events because the logistics are a lot messier than they are in all the other work I do, but once I started doing it, I realized that there’s actually nothing more important than getting people together to have a good time playing video games, so we’re just gonna keep doing this until we drop. Hopefully this motivates you to try experimenting a bit with how you play your games, too! If you come up with anything neat, drop me a line and let me know how it goes.

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-patrick miller

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Patrick Miller

a little bit miyamoto musashi, a little bit yoga with adriene.