Normally I treat New Year’s Day as a welcome opportunity to reflect on the work of the last year, sort through what worked and what didn’t, and determine what I’ll do to change course for the next year. However, when I look back on 2020, I don’t think I’d do anything differently. I’m incredibly happy with the work we did.
My office cleared out in early March, about a week or two in advance of NorCal’s regional lockdown, due to a coronavirus exposure in one of our office neighbors. I remember packing up my work PC, pulling down some last minute files off the network, and heading off to run WNF Oakland Guilty Gear. That weekend, we met up at Gamecenter to run the last in-person Caliburst of 2020. After the brackets were over, someone accidentally touched the last slice of pizza, and no one else would eat it.
ESA Oakland closed down. Every major tournament in North America is on hiatus. We haven’t been able to play games in-person for over nine months now, and we probably won’t be able to play for at least another nine. But we didn’t let any of that stop us.
Within two weeks of the Bay Area’s initial lockdown, Rose and the NorCal WNF team had set up the tools we needed to pivot to online-only tournaments. The Play Guilty Gear crew started digging into the logistics and tech we needed to produce better and better netplay events. And thanks to the support from our local community, our Twitch and Patreon subscribers, and our co-conspirators all across the Internet, we managed to do our best work so far this year. Let’s recap!
Play Guilty Gear @ Wednesday Night Fights x NorCal Online
Running GG for WNF NorCal has been the single greatest contributor to my sanity this year, and I know I’m not the only one. (When you’re stuck inside every day, it’s pretty easy to forget which day it is, but on Wednesday, we play Guilty Gear.) When I look at what we’ve built with our online WNFs this year, I feel pretty comfortable saying we’ve got the best virtual tournament experience going on so far.
Straight up: Xrd netplay sucks, and the network congestion caused by quarantine (aka the Telenovela Install) and home networking issues only exacerbated NorCal’s existing infrastructure problems. The fact that we’ve been able to cobble together a netplay tournament experience that doesn’t crumble horribly is honestly a big win in itself! But that wasn’t enough for the crew.
After locals shut down, we doubled our frequency, switched from single elimination to double elimination, and saw a ~70% increase in tournament entrants. We’ve run 41 online WNFs this year! And since we haven’t had to worry about traffic or venue hours for netplay tournaments, we’re able to start at 730 and finish before 1030. Shoutouts to Aaron for his efficient bracket running. (The switch to weekly cadence also means that people are taking my $20 twice as often, so thanks again for the Patreon + Twitch subs ❤)
And thanks to Starsky, our stream production quality is only getting better and better. He made us Blazingbets, our stream side bet bot, as well as a tool we can use to check tournament match history — both of which have been incredibly effective at getting everyone more engaged with the stream and building up our narrative angles. Alongside Twitch Chat Legend TheRalMan’s support, our stream community is tighter than ever.
Perhaps the sweetest thing that has come out of our netplay WNFs, though, has been our ability to build bridges with SoCal’s Wild West GG crew. Going down to play them at Anime Ascension in the beginning of the year was a fantastic experience, and I’m really happy that we could jam together every week with the United WNF Championship Title series.
Our WNF streams have been a fantastic anchor point for our community, and I still can’t believe that we managed to actually grow our streams and local playerbase, especially considering Xrd is an older game that isn’t really supported very well any more.
If WNF is our weekly Monday Night Raw equivalent, Caliburst has become our monthly premium show. We kept up the Beginner + Intermediate Brackets up this year, and they’ve continued to be great for giving new players a welcoming entry point to the local community and a path towards the top. Local open brackets tend to be really predictable, especially in a game like Xrd, so creating some opportunities for skill-matched brackets can really help boost new/mid-level players’ motivation to keep going.
We also expanded our Caliburst offerings to include alternate formats, including Random Select, 3v3s, and various showmatch exhibitions, as well as an open +R bracket by Yuzu. Running the showmatch series has given me a chance to indulge my fightsport side, and between the Pepsi vs. Daymendou Caliburst Christmas Championship and the 3v3 exhibitions, I get to be a little bit of Vince McMahon and a little bit of Dana White.
Caliburst is great because we get to create opportunities for players to shine all over the skill spectrum, and the best part has been seeing those players rise to the occasion — either through playing, as many do, but also in helping build up the event. Special shoutouts to strobes, Pepsi, and all the help we’ve gotten from the Carpool from Hell, Last Kids Picked, and Team 7 in building up the hype around our Caliburst showmatches! I really can’t wait to see what we get going in 2021.
Play Guilty Gear International Survey
About halfway through the year, we got to a point where we were pretty stable and consistent with our netplay events, but when we looked around to see what other regions had going on, we didn’t see many other regional GG communities doing anything close to what we were doing. So we decided to help them out.
We started by running a survey to see who was looking for local GG scenes to connect to, and then wherever possible we routed them to the appropriate regional FGC Discord communities for those regions. All told, we ended up with about 300 responses from would-be GG players all over the world! Many of these players were able to successfully plug into local GG netplay tournaments, and this work definitely helped contribute to the formation of more GG beginner brackets in the Pacific Northwest, Midwest, and SoCal regions, which was super cool to see as well!
Fighting games have always been important to me as a way to push myself to reflect and grow, and in 2020, a lot of other people found themselves in a place where they needed this as well. My content will likely never have a very wide reach or scale because it’s fairly niche in nature — not many people are looking for self-improvement through video games — but the kind notes and comments I get on my work have done a lot to remind me that the words I have to say can be profoundly important to the people who need to hear them.
When it comes to my writing, I felt like I was able to dig deeper than ever before, and it enabled me to tackle topics that I definitely would not have felt up to just a year or two ago. “Why complicated fighting games are weirdly good for beginners” and “Why fighting games are hard” got a lot of people to reframe how they thought about what it means for a fighting game to be friendly to new players, and “Developing the training mindset” and “Asking and answering questions” helped folks build plans to be the players they wanted to be. But the work I did on helping people work with their emotions and mental management, whether it was on ADHD, anger management, building confidence, and learning to be a good sparring partner was probably the most powerful overall writing I’ve done this year, and it reinforced in my mind how important fighting games can be in helping folks learn to surpass their weaknesses and grow strong in whatever dimension they choose.
I also had an excellent opportunity to grow my own skills by learning how to edit and write for video. I stitched together the Play Guilty Gear OP and Caliburst trailers (December and January are the best). I tried my hand at a couple video essays on The Importance of Homies, Why People Taunt, and Why Combos are Cool. I even did a stream series like a fitness instructor with the Guilty Gear Warm-Up Videos! And, of course, I had the chance to pair up with the Core-A Gaming crew on Why Getting Bodied is Good for You and Why Fighting Games are Worth It, and jam with the homie Aevee Bee while we played several sessions of MBON before digging into Garou: Mark of the Wolves, Touhou: Immaterial and Missing Power, Sailor Moon S, and Umineko: Golden Fantasia. Also, I hit over 500 hours streamed last year!
Phew, that’s a lot of stuff! We did a lot in 2020, and the work will only get more important in 2021. So thank you, to everyone who helps with all this. Every time you enter one of our tournaments, share our stuff with your friends, tell us that our work has affected you, or help fund our work, it gives us the energy and motivation we need to keep it up. We survived 2020, and we’re going to fucking body 2021.
Thanks for reading! If you found this essay valuable and want to support my work, please do not hesitate to share it around on your social channels, follow me on Twitter, check out my Twitch stream (Mon-Thurs 830PM-1030PM PST), or join my Patreon.