[This essay was funded by my generous Patreon supporters. If you liked this and want to see more, please consider joining the crew!]
When I think about my time spent at fighting game tournaments, I mostly think about the fun I’ve had and the friends I’ve made, and it’s hard for me to imagine why someone wouldn’t want to go to one. But when I think about the time I first started going to arcades to play fighting games, I think about how it took me weeks, maybe months, before I felt comfortable talking to people at tournaments.
A few weeks ago I worked with the Caliburst crew to put on a Guilty Gear beginner bracket. It was a good time for new players to come and learn, and it was heartening to the veteran players to see so many folks jamming out casuals the whole day. (Check out the stream archive!) By the end I was convinced that beginner-friendly events are one of the most powerful things local FGCs can do to grow. Let’s talk about what we did and why it worked.
How it happened
We have a couple recurring monthly events in the Bay Area, and Clark and Andrew organize one called Caliburst. Despite the name, Caliburst hadn’t been running Guilty Gear for a while, and I had been hoping to bring it back. However, it didn’t make sense to just add another GG tournament to the local roster when we already had it at two WNFOaklands and one Norcal Dogfight in any given month; for the past year or so, GG at Caliburst was just a smaller subset of the people who would show up for GG at NCD anyway.
One thing I’ve learned from streaming Guilty Gear for the past year is that simply labeling a stream as “beginner-friendly” is enough to get people to check it out and play who might not have otherwise felt comfortable playing. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not gonna get bodied (which is fine!) — the thing they were worried about was being mocked for being bad, and the “beginner-friendly” label helps reassure them that it’s okay to suck. I think experienced fighting game players tend to be a bit more comfortable with being bad in public, and can forget how intimidating that can be for other folks who are new to this kind of thing.
So, inspired by Mikado’s Beginner/Intermediate GG tournaments and Sway’s suggestion from the one about locals, we figured we’d give a beginner tournament a shot. It wasn’t too hard to get the word out, since the Bay Area FGC is reasonably organized on Discord/Twitter and lots of folks in the anime FGC are happy to support anyone trying to get more players into the scene. By the time the bracket closed, we had 28 signups; for comparison’s sake, that’s only ten players smaller than the Guilty Gear bracket at NorCal Regionals this year.
TO tech for beginners
There are a couple things I’d recommend doing differently for new player tournaments, in case you want to run your own.
Budget a little more time than you’re used to, because new players take longer to play a match than stronger players do. This is particularly true in anime games, because new players likely don’t have very good combos yet, or very good oki to open their opponents up. So you can expect sets to often go longer by a couple minutes. We got lucky with Caliburst this time because DBFZ got canceled, so we didn’t end up delaying anything else, but next time we’ll plan for it.
Definitely run it as a free tournament — no entry fee, no cash prize, just a venue fee if you need to. You don’t want folks feeling like they lost something after the event, nor do you want to create an incentive for stronger players to enter. For Caliburst, Clark provided a special prize: A Collector’s Edition DVD of The Sixth Sense.
Provide food if you can. Shared food is an easy way to get people to hang out and talk to each other, and it means you don’t have to worry about people leaving early to eat after the tournament. Local GG homie Chris threw down on some pizza for everyone, and I accidentally over-ordered, so we ended up with 18 large pizzas. That’s hella pizza.
Also, make sure you have plenty of setups for casuals. The tournament will be fun, but casuals are where they’re going to learn the most, have fun, and maybe make a friend or two. Plus, it’ll get them more comfortable with playing casuals at their next tournament — so when you’re wrapping things up, don’t forget to connect folks to other local events and social channels so they can easily stay engaged with the scene.
How beginner is beginner?
I had a couple people asking how I was going to define “beginner”; the answer is a combination of “You’re a beginner if you say you are” and “You’re a beginner if you can’t beat Aaron Lan” because he seemed like a good place to draw the line.
There are a couple different reasons why new players would want to go to a new player tournament. Some people are new to fighting games and just want to find other people who are pretty new, and for older anime games in particular, that can often be hard to find. Some people are new to tournaments and don’t know how they work; simple stuff like calling next at a casual setup can be super stressful for new players. I hear from a lot of new players who don’t mind losing but are worried about wasting stronger players’ time; labeling an event for beginners means no one has to worry about that.
Defining beginner isn’t really that big a deal, ultimately. There’s no prize, and if you’re motivated by the glory of winning a beginner tournament you’re definitely a beginner. So if you think you’d want to enter as a beginner, just enter. If you do well, don’t enter the next one and come through for casuals instead.
For fighting game players at any level of expertise, tournaments are the excuse that gets people to play seriously. It is the tournament that makes us play with more commitment and focus than we would otherwise — just like a real martial art. Knowing that I’m going to play For Real a week from now is what’s going to get me to log a few extra hours of training mode or netplay instead of watching random YouTube bullshit.
But if your expected outcome is going 0–2 in an open bracket, it can be harder to motivate yourself to practice quite so hard. Many of us have done this over and over, and that is commendable, but it’s not wrong or unusual to need to feel like you have a shot at winning a match or two. It’s hard to throw yourself at a brick wall over and over, and while anyone who sticks with fighting games will eventually learn how to do this (and enjoy it), it doesn’t necessarily need to be at your first step as a beginner.
And this lack of confidence isn’t necessarily related to how good that player may be; there were plenty of folks in the beginner bracket who I think could have won a match or two at a regular GG local. But because they were too shy or too intimidated to check out the regular locals, they never had any useful point to compare themselves to.
Get your active players involved
Even though the tournament is meant for beginners, it’s a good idea to get experienced players out there for casuals and coaching. We had quite a few local active GG players come out to support, and for them it was a nice opportunity to hang out and have fun without feeling any tension or stress about playing competitive matches.
Perhaps most importantly, having the active players present at a beginner event shows new players that the local scene is welcoming of new players and wants them to get involved. For a new player worried about whether they’ll feel like they belong at a fighting game tournament, this can mean a lot. And hopefully, the folks who decide to start hitting up their local scenes after the beginner tournament will feel a little more comfortable at their next event because they’ll see a few familiar faces.
As a competitive player, your focus will likely be on your own play the vast majority of the time, and that’s fine. But if you can make a little time to grow and support the scene, it’ll give you a deeper and richer community to tap into and train with, and that makes it even easier to get on your grind. Playing the game isn’t the only way to get better at it.
Thanks for reading!