The Fall Classic is the culmination of some of the best tournament minds of the east coast coming together to throw one hell of an event. “Long Island” Joe Ciaramelli and John Gallagher of East Coast Throwdown, Larry “Shinblanka” Dixon of Final Round, and Eric Smalls of Big E Gaming (Northeast Championships, Summer Jam, Winter Brawl) all know the process of organizing and running tournaments inside and out. Their events have their own personality, style, and status. They are the pride of the east coast. If we had a poster of The Expendables, they would be photoshopped over Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis.
Even still, whenever you have a collection of very strong personalities chipping in their ideologies, it’s not always smooth sailing. Brilliant people have to be twice as brilliant when working with other equally brilliant people. Bringing together something like this for that one fateful September 14 weekend in Raleigh, North Carolina is not an easy thing to do, by any means. I got a chance to sit down with LI Joe (clearly the Schwarzenegger of the group) a couple weeks ago and ask him exactly that: how they fused together another major event for the east coast, with such a big concept.
ZAID: So, first things first—The Fall Classic is something that you’ve been working on. My question to you is how did that come up? Whose idea was it to get all you guys together and throw this kind of a major? Who initiated the dialogue between you guys?
JOE: As far as who really came up with it—it’s hard to really pinpoint—I used to talk to John all the time like “dude we should really do something together with me and you and some people we can really work with.” Because a lot of the time TOs don’t—it’s not that they don’t—no it really is true that they don’t see eye to eye. It’s also really hard to make someone who’s been doing it for so long, or people who do it right and do it their way, and then when you have other minds come into play, y’know, not that they don’t want to hear your opinion but they’re a little skeptical about it.
“I’ve been doing this for X amount of time and things came out perfect!” So it’s really hard to figure out who you can and can’t work with, as far as that goes. But it’s something John and I spoke about numerous times when Season’s Beatings kind of sorta said they were gonna bow out of the scene almost. As soon as Chris Ghaleon said, “There’s not gonna be one next year,” I called up John and said, “Dude, now, we have a spot.”
Because that’s a hard thing to do, to find a spot to throw a tournament, and now it’s not just east coast, west coast, United States—now you got people going to Europe, people going to Japan, people going to Australia, people are going to South America—so you really don’t want to be stepping on everybody’s toes.
So once that hole opened up with Season’s Beatings, I called up John and said, “Dude, if we’re gonna do it, now’s the time.” And we have a pretty good relationship with Eric and Larry. I’ve been to Final Round 2008 and last year, I’ve been to numerous tournaments with Eric, so we do have a pretty good relationship and we’ve always kept in contact. John has helped Eric almost every single tournament, whether it be Winter Brawl, or Northeast Championships, or Summer Jam—so Eric kind of knows John, and Eric has been to East Coast Throwdown, so he knows that we kind of sort of know what the hell we’re doing. We’re not just two random dudes asking for them to come join us and do something.
As far as the initial thing, I guess it would be me calling John and being like, “Yo, Season’s Beatings kind of backed it—if we’re gonna rock, we gotta rock right now.” So then we spoke to Eric, we spoke to Larry, and everybody was like, “Yo, that’s a really, really good idea. We can actually work together.” Because like I said, a lot of times TOs are so set in their ways ththat things don’t really happen that way.
ZAID: That’s actually one of the things I wanted to ask you about. Because whenever you get people running a tournament, you could say it is kind of an art. It’s kind of your own impression of what you think an event should be. So running any event is always indelible of the people running it. My question to you is, when you guys set out to organize it, was there a lot of butting heads or was it all hunky dory and agreements along the way?
JOE: In all honesty, there was—there still IS bumping heads. I talk about it all the time with John and with the other guys, both Eric and Larry. Eric and Larry, first of all, are the KINGS of the east coast—let me just say that. Larry’s been doing this for like 16 years; Eric’s been doing it for 14 years. Those guys are the undisputed kings of running tournaments on the east coast. No questions asked. No buts, nothing.
But they’re used to just working with themselves. Eric does his stuff, and Larry does his stuff. When you think of Eric’s tournaments you think of Eric, when you think of Larry’s tournaments you think of Larry. But when you think of ECT you think, “Oh it’s Joe and John.” So John and I know what it’s like for him to have an idea and for me to say, “No that’s not gonna work,” or for me to have an idea and for him to say, “That’s not gonna work.” When Eric and Larry have an idea, they just go about, throw it out there, and they make it happen. But now, you see, they’re working with three other people. So it is a little bit different for those two guys as opposed to John and I who are used to that whole argument. “It’s not gonna work,” “No, what do you mean it’s not gonna work, we can do it,” “No we can’t dude,” “Yes we can, we’re gonna do it like this,” “No but that’s not gonna work.”
So there is a little bit of butting heads, but it always pans out and it always pans out for the better. Everyone just has to realize that we are four different people and we all do bring something different to the table when it comes to running an event. And as time goes on, everybody’s getting a little bit more easygoing.
ZAID: What was your reason for joining? I know you contacted John about it, but personally what was your reason for wanting to build The Fall Classic? What motivated you to make it happen?
JOE: I’ve been saying since ECT3 that John and I should maybe do one more event. Whether we come up with something new, and do one sort of close to the summer and then one closer to the fall-Christmassy time. But as we’re talking, we start naming tournaments: “Alright, Season’s Beatings is September/October, and then after that you have NEC, which is always the first week of December,” so it was kind of hard to find a spot for it.
So, it was really hard we didn’t have the time; we couldn’t find the spot to do it. But I just really enjoy the whole thing. I really wanted to do it after ECT2. So when this opportunity opened up, there’s no way I wouldn’t want to be a part of it. Some people obviously know me as being a player, but I’m also starting to get known more as the dude who runs ECT. So it is a good thing that I’m kind of on both sides of the fence. I am a player at heart, but when I have to TO, I don’t play in my tournaments. I only did the first one and the second one, but when we started getting serious numbers? After ECT2 I realized, “Alright, I can’t play anymore. I have to be there for John, the staff and the tournament.”
ZAID: If you could pick one, playing or being a TO, which would you be? You obviously have a passion for both. I’ve asked Valle the same question and various other players seem to really love the TO side of things as time goes on. What do you prefer? Because they’re two very different muscles I’m sure, so which brings you more satisfaction?
JOE: It’s… I’ll be honest if I could do—if I had to pick one I would probably… man. Okay, because the way my life is now and the way that I live, if I had to pick one—I have the ability to run the event a little bit better than I do to be a top player. I’m a little older now, there’s more responsibilities I have to deal with, so it’s really hard for me to be that player I was almost 5, 6 years ago. It’s really hard for me to get there because I don’t really play as much, I don’t really travel as much. I use to be at Chinatown Fair, you can ask anybody who’s ever gone there, I used to be there every single Friday. I used to get out of work at 10 o’ clock, I used to drive there and get there at 10:45 even though I should’ve gotten there at like, 11:15. I used to fly there, and I used to play there all night. I used to sleep in my car outside of Chinatown Fair, just to go back inside and play on Saturday if I knew people we’re gonna be there. Because we’d stop playing at 4:30, go eat, get done at 5:30, and I’m like, “I’m not gonna go back home just to come back.” No joke dude, I used to sleep in my car, go to the bodega up the road to get some mouth wash, eat, use the mouth wash, then go right back to playing.
But I don’t have the time to do that kind of stuff anymore. Being a TO…it’s not as time consuming as being a top player. There is more involved with hitting the books and all that, where as players are just playing—but the good players that play are playing often and they’re playing A LOT. Being a TO is not as constant, and you don’t have to practice at being a TO as much as you have to practice at being a top player. I’m a little more the TO kinda guy. But now that Injustice is out I’ve been grinding hardcore on that, so we’ll see how that turns out.
I do like the playing, but the time it takes for me to be as good as everyone else—I just don’t have it. I guess I have to be a TO now, but I’d rather be the player again.
ZAID: As somebody who organizes ECT, which gets bigger every year, what constitutes, in your eyes, a successful major? How do you want to see that embodied in The Fall Classic?
JOE: A successful event in general is just the basics, man. You have a good amount of people, a good staff, a decent enough sized ballroom, an event schedule where things aren’t really overlapping. You don’t have an OVERWHELMING feeling when you’re at the tournament. An overwhelming feeling is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s always good to be able to have that kind of lax feeling at a tournament because you gotta know, the pressure’s on when you play anyway—so you don’t want to just be in a room getting anxiety from everything that’s going on.
It is a good feeling to see a very, very busy tournament, but it has to be almost like controlled chaos. Things have to be set in a certain way, in a certain position in a certain area. Y’know, when we look at a ballroom? There’s a lot of things people don’t realize—that when we look at a ballroom, we actually plan—“Put these certain games by the doors,” “We can’t have these games over here because the crowd is gonna be huge, so we gotta kinda put this game next to this game so the crowd is kinda small over there,” “The door is over here so we gotta kinda make room for the door.” There’s a lot of things that go into it that people don’t necessarily realize.
That’s just one side of making an outline of a good event. Good staff, good venue, great atmosphere, a stage… I always love that feeling of walking into a ballroom and seeing what’s going on up on a projector. A lot of tournaments have that now, and they didn’t used to back in the day. And competition. You don’t want to go to a tournament to play people you play every other day. When I go to a major, I don’t want to play people I play from Long Island, New York—so when I go there I’d like to play people from different areas, other states, other regions.
Tournaments aren’t just tournaments anymore. They’re becoming events now. Y’know, now it’s not just watching dudes play…there’s actually other things going on, you have side events happening, you have exhibition matches going on, and all that other kind of stuff. That’s something we want with The Fall Classic: for it to be viewed as a major event, not just a major tournament.
Zaid: Why North Carolina?
JOE: It’s right in the middle. It’s dead center in the middle of the coast, so it’s not too far for some, not too far for others. We also wanted to show some love to the middle of the coast, y’know… have you ever heard of an event in North Carolina?
JOE: Exactly. Tri-State, you have some things go on in Connecticut, you have things in New York and Long Island all the time. Then Jersey has majors, and Philly has majors. Then you’ve got Larry, who’s down there in Georgia, and Alex [Jebailey] has Florida on lock with Community Effort Orlando—so we wanted to give something, like, around the middle of the coast.
It’s also a good meeting ground. We want the whole coast—I’m sorry not just the coast—we want the entire United States to be part of this…we want the world to be part of this. It’s good for us, I mean, we’re throwing this on our side of the coast for a reason, we want to show love to our side of the coast.
It’s really, really cool—when we announced where the Fall Classic was gonna be at Final Round, there was a whole crew of North Carolina guys, and they stood up and were screaming and slapping each other on the back going, “YEAH! NC!” So it was cool to give love—not that they don’t get love—but give those people their own event. These dudes can be like, “Yeah, we got The Fall Classic, it’s in North Carolina.”
ZAID: Is this something you want to be a consistent thing every year?
JOE: I certainly hope so. I mean, I’ve said earlier I’d always love to run another event. It’s also cool because we all piggyback off each other. So the people who go to NEC are also gonna hear about The Fall Classic, and the people who come to ECT are gonna hear about The Fall Classic, and the dudes going to Final Round are gonna hear about it. So, I just hope it all comes together and becomes something that takes off really, really well.
We all have a really good background in this, so I don’t see why it wouldn’t? But I hope it takes off and I hope I can go down there every year.
ZAID: What’s the biggest obstacle you guys have right now in making this happen? What’s the hardest part of it? Not to say it’s been problematic, but just to give everybody an idea of the steps involved in this—what’s your biggest roadblock thus far?
JOE: You know what man… there really isn’t one! In all honesty, I wish I could say that it’s been kinda like a rough road but it really, really hasn’t.
The hardest thing was obviously us coming together on a place I guess, and going down there, and me and John are all the way up here. So we were actually supposed to fly down during the snowstorm we had here, and we couldn’t make it. John’s flight got canceled because of the storm. So obviously I couldn’t go either. Eric went down there with Larry—Eric flew down there a couple days before the storm, and Larry just drove up, I believe.
Getting the event was pretty hard too. Like I said before, we’re always bumping a heads a little bit when it comes to things but in all honesty man, it really hasn’t been that bad. If it’s because we all have a straight head and we know what we’re doing, or if it’s because we’re all set on making this whole thing succeed, or because no one’s really slacking or backing off saying like, “Oh I don’t want to do this,”—everyone’s kind of giving it their all, and giving it their all in the right direction.
But as far as serious obstacles? I wish there was one, I wish I could tell you we had a hard time but it really has not been that difficult at all.
ZAID: No! That’s good to hear! Alright, last question. What kind of vibe or theme do you want your event to have? For example, SoCal Regionals is always trying to bring back the 90s. CEO is always wrestling. What kind of experience and personality do you want The Fall Classic to have?
JOE: I’m not sure if we’re gonna succeed in this feeling, even though I think the event is going to be great, but the thing I want people to remember when they’re coming to these tournaments is where we came from. I don’t think a lot of players remember very well those olden days—I’m not trying to say we want to be like Valle and remember we’re all in the 90s. But I feel like a lot of players now, we’re all getting lost in the grand scheme of things, like sponsors, and money and all these other kinds of things.
I want players to come and play. I want them to play and be a part of it just like it was back in the day and not really worry about what’s going on or how much money they’re gonna make or what their sponsor wants them to do or what shirt they have on or all that other stupid stuff, man.
We all started in the arcade man, where it was 50 cents to play, and that’s all that we did. It was just about winning. It wasn’t about the money, or like the whole big picture of who’s watching—it was just us, we were in the arcade, and we were just playing.
All my friends make fun of me and call me old cause I always tell them stories about Chinatown Fair, around 2003 and 2004—and they’re like, “Yeah, shut up, you’re old.” Sadly, it’s not like that anymore. I just want everyone to remember what it was like back then, and what we played for, and the reasons why we played.
You can find out more about The Fall Classic on their Facebook page.