About the Author
Fuel is a medical student at the Memorial University of Newfoundland by day, and a prominent commentator, tournament organizer, and community leader for the Smash scene in New Brunswick, Canada by night. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or join the Smash New Brunswick community online at http://www.facebook.com/groups/hubcitysmash. Smash New Brunswick streams weekly on Thursday/Friday/Saturday at http://www.twitch.tv/smashnb.
When eight people showed up for the first Smash tournament I ever organized and five people showed up the week after, I was ready to quit.
After spending a month planning and organizing, asking more experienced TOs for advice, preparing the venue, acquiring a stream setup, and working the social media angles, I figured I had it in the bag. I knew what would work and what wouldn’t. I had backup equipment prepared for every possible accident. The one thing I hadn’t prepared for was the possibility that no one would show up.
After handing the tournament champion his grand prize of $5 in psychedelic Canadian space money, I felt discouraged. It seemed like I had put so much effort into something that I wanted desperately to work, only to discover that it either didn’t work as well as I had hoped or others didn’t share my dream.
The dream, of course, was to “be eSports now.” In the past few months, there have been a fair number of posts on both Melee It On Me and r/smashbros about how to build up local communities, and being from a fairly small community in Atlantic Canada, these articles really resonated with me. In most matters, my home province of New Brunswick has always been the sleepy, boring cousin to its industrious neighbour, Nova Scotia, and to the merry northern island of Newfoundland, and Smash is no exception. Halifax, Nova Scotia is not only Atlantic Canada’s largest city, but it also has the largest Smash community in the region, drawing over fifty or sixty people to its monthlies. You would think that the b’ys up in St. John’s, Newfoundland, who are isolated from the rest of Atlantic Canada not only by distance but also by a prodigious amount of water, would be struggling to build up their community, but they’re currently attracting over forty people to their PM weeklies (even just for friendlies!) and over fifty players to their monthly tournaments. New Brunswick, by comparison, was struggling to reach half those numbers during the first half of 2014, and our events occurred far less frequently.
I spent the past school year in St. John’s, and after joining the competitive Smash community there in April, I became spoiled by the rapid growth of their scene. When I returned home to Moncton, New Brunswick in late Spring, I was disappointed to find that, aside from some smaller monthlies in the provincial capital of Fredericton and some sporadic tournaments in Moncton (both of which were attracting around twenty or fewer participants per bracket), there wasn’t much of a scene to speak of. I was just getting used to competitive Smash and all its associated bells and whistles like streaming, commentary, rankings, and such, and I came home to a community that had none of that.
The problem is at least partially geographic. The New Brunswick scene is almost evenly divided between the small cities of Moncton and Fredericton, but the distance between the two is a two-hour drive, and few of our players have a reliable means of transportation. Not only that, but the two cities are a three-to-five hour drive away from Halifax, so we don’t get much crossover with Atlantic Canada’s biggest scene. We have a handful of very competitive players, but the distance between the major cities means they don’t get to play against each other as often. These same players often lamented the sluggish growth of the New Brunswick scene, so I knew that they, like I, longed for the robustness of the Nova Scotia and Newfoundland Smash communities.
In Newfoundland, the scene had already been carefully cultivated by the local TOs over the course of a year by the time I arrived. New Brunswick, however, was mostly a blank slate. My initial disappointment quickly gave way to excitement as I realized that there was a very unique opportunity here to essentially build a scene from the ground up. Rather than wait around for someone else to light a spark, I decided to take matters into my own hands. The ultimate result was extremely rewarding, but as the opening lines of this article suggest, the growth was not immediate.
Over the past few months, I’ve learned a ton about trying to build up a very small Smash community. I recognize that there are communities like New Brunswick all over the globe, with frustrated TOs trying their best to drive up attendance and disillusioned players lamenting the lack of decent competition. My heart goes out to these small scenes; this article is for you. I wanted to share my experiences here so that you guys can learn from my successes and mistakes and use that knowledge to improve your own scenes.
First off, temper your expectations.
You won’t be able to build your community into the new SoCal or your stream into the new VGBC overnight. Realistically, your community may be too small to ever reach those heights, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy a respectable level of growth. When I first started planning to build up the New Brunswick scene, I kept my goal realistic and decided I would be happy if our tournament attendance matched that of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. It’s not quite there just yet, but in two short months of revamping the scene, we’ve already reduced the gap by a considerable margin.
Be flexible, but stand your ground when necessary.
When I first began planning my weeklies, I had a very firm idea of how I wanted to schedule things: five hours on Friday evenings, with the first hour being dedicated to friendlies and the rest of the time being allotted for staggered Melee and PM singles tournaments, both of which would have no entrance fee. I saw no reason to deviate from this schedule, but my players had other ideas. Several demanded 64 be present, while the Brawl players also inquired whether I could fit them in. I had a dilemma on my hands, because I certainly wanted the additional attendance from the 64/Brawl players, but adding too many tournaments would run the risk of going over time. I formed a compromise whereby I would hold 64 and Brawl tournaments on a trial basis, and if there was enough regular attendance, they would become a regular part of the tournament docket. Despite this opportunity, few players registered for these games, and everyone felt my decision to permanently remove them a few weeks later was justified.
Most of the time, if you’re asked to change something and it has little to no significant negative effect on you or anyone else attending your tournaments, just go ahead and acquiesce. I’ve changed tournament times to make things easier on players travelling from afar, I’ve accommodated small seeding suggestions (“I play against my friend all the time, so can you please pair me up with someone else in the first round?”), I’ve switched tournaments from double elimination to round robin, I’ve added doubles events, and I’ve introduced a small entry fee and collected a pot, all at the request of the players. I’ve given them what they want as long as it doesn’t make things harder for me or the majority of our community. Still, you must always bear in mind that some people will ask for unreasonable things, and it’s up to you to stand firm if you believe that giving in would ultimately be to the detriment of the community. A smart TO has the critical wherewithal to evaluate everything in the suggestion box and cherry-pick the most reasonable requests; a weak TO either stubbornly ignores all suggestions or says yes to everything in a futile attempt to please everyone.
Hold events frequently.
One of the biggest problems with New Brunswick’s scene was that organized events were irregular. To fix this, I created a weekly tournament series in Moncton as a means of giving players regular, organized practice time. A lot of players here often play a few hours of friendlies at each others’ houses whenever they can, and while that’s certainly an important part of anyone’s training, there are few replacements for the pressure of actual competitive play with money on the line. Attendance was initially low, but as more and more people found out about the events through word of mouth and social media, our weeklies have become a small haven for both experienced and inexperienced Smashers in New Brunswick.
Find a good venue that isn’t a cramped, non-air-conditioned basement and host your tournaments there. Most universities will allow you to book a conference room if you form a student group, and local pawn shops, comic retailers, and arcades are usually good about allowing people to book tournaments at their locations. Some of them, like The Last Gamestore in Halifax, even have their own in-house streaming setup.
Get a stream going and make sure it looks presentable.
If your livestream consists of a 4:3 windowed box showing Melee, that’s a good start, at least. But if you want people to actually watch your stream, you’re going to have to make sure it looks sexy. Viewers are going to subconsciously compare it to the VGBC gold standard, so at a minimum, you’ll need to offer similar features. A slick overlay and eye-catching but inoffensive font (I use Eras Bold ITC) go a long way toward impressing viewers, and other bells and whistles like player cams and commentary add another layer of professionalism.
The importance of streaming was impressed upon me when the Newfoundland crew started streaming their weeklies earlier this year and subsequently doubled their weekly attendance. Everyone thought it pretty neat that we were able to broadcast live the same way that the big scenes do, and regular players who weren’t able to make the tournaments on a given week loved being able to watch the proceedings online. Of course, having a stream dramatically increases your visibility and outreach, and is a key method of attracting new players.
Once I got comfortable with OBS and XSplit, I began making small additions to our overlay in order to make us stand out from the crowd. Remember how the Republic of Fighters 3 stream had colour-coded stock icons next to the player tags and how cool that looked? I decided I wanted that for our stream and added it in myself. After we started getting players from other provinces coming down to our tournaments, I added provincial flag icons next to the players’ tags to hype up inter-provincial rivalries. The reception to these additions, which are certainly not standard among Smash streams, has been very positive.
Here’s how the stream looked for one of our monthlies:
And another example, from the Fredericton Gaming Expo:
Start recording and preserving everything you can.
Having a stream works great for anyone who has the time to view your events as they happen, but not everyone has that privilege. YouTube is an invaluable resource for archiving videos of your matches, and Twitch actually has a built-in upload feature that links directly to YouTube. So you can stream on Twitch, chop up your six-hour broadcast VOD into individual matches via the Twitch highlight function, and then upload them to your linked YouTube channel, all without having to download or edit anything on your own hard drive. Players love having video of themselves that they can either share with friends, use as a training guide, or use for their own editing projects (like making a highlight reel or combo video, for example).
Another way to challenge players to level up and come out to more events is to introduce a power rankings system. I use an excellent utility called GlickoMan, which was developed by the Smash community member Zankoku as a means of easily calculating Glicko rankings (think chess’ Elo system, but with some important improvements). GlickoMan can easily import TioPro or Challonge brackets into a customized database, and it can also export your rankings leaderboard into a .csv file, which can be opened in Microsoft Excel. Despite only being v0.0.7.3, it is easily the best Smash rankings manager out there. Glicko and other Elo-style rankings are a great way to archive match results, track player-by-player progress, and entice players into always playing their hardest.
Use social media wisely.
For Smash New Brunswick, we have a Twitch stream, a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, a YouTube channel, and a Smashboards account. I also throw tournament threads up on reddit a few hours before the streams begin. Your goal should be to make sure all of these social media avenues are constantly maintained and updated, because if people perceive a lack of activity among your accounts, they may assume your community is equally inactive. I also ensure that URLs for our other social media pages are always visible somewhere else on the page so that new Smashers can easily find our main online hubs (for example, I put some copypasta in the description of all of our YouTube videos that has links to our Twitch, Facebook, Twitter, and Challonge brackets).
Auto-link everything you can to everything else (for example, allow Twitch to post a Tweet whenever your stream goes live), but don’t overdo things. I made the amateur mistake of allowing our YouTube channel to post Tweets whenever I uploaded a video or added videos to a playlist, and one of our Twitter followers complained about the volume of messages coming from our account. I turned off auto-Tweet and just threw up a single message whenever I uploaded a new set of videos, and I haven’t heard any complaints since.
Like your stream, your other social media pages should look presentable and professional if you hope to attract new players. Tacky presentation can turn off potential newbies who may assume your group isn’t focused or dedicated enough. For example, this was our Facebook banner when I joined the Smash New Brunswick group in late May 2014:
While this image of one of our top players with his meal of choice is certainly amusing, it looks amateurish and possibly even terrifying as a Facebook banner.
This is our current banner image, which was recently redesigned by the same guy who makes a lot of overlays for VGBC and Clash Tournaments:
It’s a world of difference, and the reception to the change has been incredibly strong.
Be welcoming to new players.
While most TOs are interested in growing the competitive side of their communities, much of that growth cannot be achieved without attracting new players. They are the lifeblood of your operation. It’s important to remember that just because a player isn’t good doesn’t mean they don’t deserve your respect and goodwill. They probably took a big step in coming out to their first event full of strangers (and maybe they were even brave enough to come alone), so you should reward their courage by doing your absolute best to make sure they feel comfortable. If they seem quiet or unsure when to jump in on friendlies, go over and chat them up. Find out where they’re from, how long they’ve been playing, who their mains are, and ask them whether they’d like to play a few matches. As a more experienced player, this is your chance to be an ambassador for the community and take these new players under your wing. If you’re outgoing and courteous and create an environment that is newbie-friendly, chances are they’ll come back next week (which is a sign that you’ve done something right), and then you’ve got them hooked. They’re now interested in the competitive Smash scene.
One of my little tricks is to match up weaker players against each other in the first round of the bracket. One of them has to win, and that guy is going to feel like a million bucks for winning his first tourney match, and will want to keep coming back because he feels that if he’s done it once, he can do it again. The other guy will feel that it was so close, and it could’ve easily gone in his favour if X hadn’t happened. He won’t feel like victory was completely out of his reach, which is probably how he would feel if he was seeded against a veteran in the first round (which is generally how traditional seeding works). Yes, it means that better players will probably end up facing each other earlier in the bracket, but what I’ve found is that regardless of seeding, the best players still make it to the final rounds despite knocking each other out of the winners bracket early on. In smaller scenes, you can get away with a little harmless collusion if it means creating a more enjoyable experience for newer players. Of course, once your scene is big enough to have non-negligible prize pots (ie. something worth more than a few coffees from Tim Hortons), it’s best to revert to traditional seeding rules to avoid unfairly maligning the old guard.
Another way to create a newbie-friendly environment is to host fun side events that promote inclusiveness. Running a doubles tournament in which every team consists of one veteran and one new player is a great way to allow new players to potentially enjoy the experience of going deep in a bracket, and they can receive helpful coaching from their partner along the way. Draft crew battles take the feeling of being on a team one step further, and new players feel less pressure when the expectation is to “just take a few stocks” rather than win a match outright. My first competitive Smash experience involved a draft crew battle, and having my teammates cheering me on despite my complete lack of skill played a large part in my desire to return week after week.
Get to know your community members and utilize their unique strengths.
This is perhaps the most important point of all. As much as you’d like to, you can’t do everything yourself. Usually everyone involved in a local scene plays Smash on some level, but what else can they contribute to the community? The graphic artist who does VGBC’s stream overlays, Jp3, is actually a New Brunswick local. He was more than willing to contribute a high-quality, very classy overlay for the Smash New Brunswick stream, which has added a layer of legitimacy to our online presence and has garnered many compliments from both local and non-local viewers. Stryker is an outgoing Monctonian Smasher who has not been shy about contacting local companies and acquiring sponsors, and he has also taken the initiative on designing a website for eSports in Atlantic Canada. JerFlip is not only a top-level local player, but also a very skilled TO and a pretty great mentor to boot. All of these guys were extremely forthcoming in terms of sharing their considerable knowledge of the New Brunswick scene with me, a relative newcomer. These names may not be familiar to you, but in our community, they’re well-known for their unique contributions to the scene. Every scene, no matter how small, has people with hidden talents; it’s up to you to find them and integrate them into your vision for the community.
I thank my lucky stars that I didn’t pack it in after the mediocre response to my first tournaments. I powered through, made minor adjustments, attempted to be as accommodating as I could manage, and in the end, it paid off. We’re seeing results in our sleepy little province, having just held our largest monthly ever at almost forty entrants, which was over double the attendance of the previous tournament. We get new players at the tourneys and new viewers on the stream every week, and our retention rate for veteran players is very strong. Every week, I get a message from someone on Facebook, Twitter, or reddit telling me that they saw my post or Tweet, they’ve been looking for a local scene for a while, and they were wondering if they could attend one of our events.
On August 9-10, 2014, I feel like we really hit a huge milestone. The hype leading up to the Fredericton Gaming Expo was through the roof, with interest being so high that we actually had to cap pre-registration for both Melee and Project M at 80 entrants apiece. We had players from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI, Newfoundland, and Quebec in attendance, and seeing all of them shaking hands, chatting, talking strategy, playing friendlies, and cheering on each other made me experience something very much akin to actual emotion. Heck, the total Smash prize pot of nearly $1000 even enticed one Mew2King to trek across the border. A year ago, having a top Smash pro come up and visit our quiet little province would have been inconceivable. Before he committed to pre-registering, someone probably should’ve told him that it wasn’t New Brunswick, NJ.
FGX was the perfect capstone to an amazing summer of growth for Smash in New Brunswick. Against the odds, we’ve built something extremely promising from something stagnant, and there’s no reason why you can’t do the same for your small local scene. Don’t wait for someone else to come along; be the one who sets things in motion.