Beyond the Hype – Final Round 19 Issues Raise Questions About Tournament Organization

By on March 22, 2016 at 11:34 am
fr19-ptb-2-750

This past weekend, the longstanding Final Round tournament series returned to Atlanta, Georgia. As the first premier event on this year’s Capcom Pro Tour, it put on a hell of a show. One thousand players showed up to compete in Street Fighter V, and fans were treated to the highest level of play that currently exists for the young title.

On the ground, however, there’s an entirely different story surrounding what took place. Details have been coming out at a blistering pace, telling of poor experiences throughout the entire weekend due to the event’s organization. So many, in fact, that we were prompted to ask what exactly happened in Atlanta these last few days. We’ve reached out to as many of the team members as possible to have those questions answered today.

I want to preface this by saying that, as a tournament organizer, you have good days and you have bad days that might not be in your control. The venue isn’t adequate, the internet provider you hired put down a bad line, or a crazy weather event or accident causes issues. These things do happen and it sucks for everybody. We all understand this, but in light of the information that’s surfaced recently, we do need to ask what could have been avoided with better planning. We all want better events.

When talking to staff, the first major point that I’ve heard is that there was no consistent schedule in place at any level. The schedules that were available were rife with inconsistencies, and nobody could get clarification on what was actually going to happen. The schedule was so jumbled that, at some point, a tournament organizer told players to arrive for their Sunday finals at one time, only for a different schedule to be posted on Facebook saying they needed to be there two hours earlier. To add to this, official tournament rules also weren’t posted in advance, leaving players and organizers alike unaware of legal procedure for many games.

Furthermore, preparations for who would work and where were far from finalized the day of the tournament. Multiple instances occurred of teams and events popping up throughout the weekend that weren’t known to staffers, which caused relocation and confusion throughout. The arrival of the Tekken broadcast team was unknown to most streamers, and they ended up being shuffled around, left wondering what exactly they were in charge of streaming.

The failure in communication and event mapping is something that could have been avoided. Having a clear, easy to access schedule available ahead of time is something every event needs to have at a base level but wasn’t present here. Combine this absence with miscommunication among staff, and things aren’t going to go well. Many attendees were completely lost as to when they should be arriving to play games, and while these issues were brought up privately by staff well before the event was scheduled to take place, it’s obvious none of them were addressed.

fr19-ptb-3

The next thing that I’ve been told repeatedly from different angles is the method for generating pools this year wasn’t quite prepared ahead of time. The organizers switched over to Smash.gg after past problems with other event planning programs, and the folks in charge of individual games were told to create pools on their own and have them ready to be posted.

A common theme in my discussions with staff is that many lacked proper training in how to use the new site. Smash.gg has been utilized by large-scale events without problem countless times, but in this case the changeover was last minute with very little oversight. People weren’t prepared to use the system and it showed, with some staff reportedly having less than an hour of actual experience with the site.

Pool issues

The second issue this caused was that most of the pools were created in a vacuum according to the individual games on the signup sheet. The problem here is that organizers weren’t able to communicate with each other if a player needed to be scheduled to play around the other games they entered. As we saw, this resulted in many competitors being scheduled to play in multiple tournaments at the same time, which, when combined with the previously mentioned schedule problems, resulted in a large number of disqualifications.

To top this off, the number of Street Fighter V players ended up reaching cap with 1024 players. Around 163 of those players ended up registering at the door. Staff was not prepared to deal with these late registration numbers, couldn’t communicate with pool runners, and ran into issues using Smash.gg, resulting in pools being created at midnight on Friday for events that were happening at 8 AM on Saturday.

Large numbers happen, and they can cause problems when it comes to setting up and coordinating pools. However, a lot of the problems outlined to me were not the result of the large numbers. The large numbers made the situation worse, certainly, but the base level of communication and organization wasn’t there to begin with.

fr19-ptb-4When using a program to generate brackets, all staff members should be up to date on how it functions in the case they are needed. Multiple sources confirmed to me that this wasn’t the case. Communication between tournament organizers and a system to identify players entered in multiple games should be there. None of that was present and we saw the results immediately. Late registration piles on a ton of new entrants to put into the system and, while it has its merits, allowing players to register at the door has proven time and time again to cause more headaches than it’s worth.

This is the exact point where a huge breakdown in communication sets the stage for the rest of the weekend. There’s a handful of lessons to learn here, but if anything is going to be taken from what transpired, it’s that communication needs to be open, clear, and consistent at all levels of organization. Staff needs to be prepared beforehand for the challenges they’ll run into, but they weren’t due to not having the proper tools given to them.

Final Round did make an attempt to hold staff meetings, but they were too late and many did not attend. I’ve had figures like 70% thrown at me regarding how many did not participate. A large number of the staffers on-hand were made up of unpaid volunteers, which for an event of this size is a huge liability. It’s clear nobody wanted things to happen this way, but attempts to correct the problem were unfortunately too little, too late.

With that out of the way, what happened on the actual floor of the event? After the issues with registration, some organizers were handed newly generated brackets that did not match previous information. Players now had to figure out which pool they were in again, the unlucky ones waking up after their assignment was already changed. Some pools were posted as late as 4 AM on Twitter and Facebook, and there was no clear hub where players could get this information. Some organizers simply fixed the brackets themselves using other methods and tried to get things running smoothly on their own.

While these methods had their successes, things still suffered. Killer Instinct pools were merged, and the schedules and rules changed the day of the tournament, all thanks to the problems we covered before. Needless to say, that did not end well. Smash organizers managed to recover their previously generated brackets and things went okay for them, but an issue regarding the Super Smash Bros. for Wii U payouts popped up somewhere in the middle of all this. The teams in charge of Guilty Gear and Mortal Kombat worked hard and was also able to recover from this mess. That’s not to say it wasn’t extremely stressful on everybody, but the tournaments happened thanks to a lot of hardworking people on the ground.

But as hard as those people worked, they couldn’t overcome failures that were out of their hands. Pools regularly ran anywhere from one to three hours late. Players didn’t know where to be and were disqualified. Frustrated volunteers walked out of the venue, and in some extreme cases nobody was present to run pools. The tournament structure as a whole was entirely crippled, and organizers scrambled to get through the day.

No breathing room

In the middle of all of this, space issues reared their head, and the numbers of the monstrous Street Fighter V event came crashing down hard. This is one of those things that can be mitigated through proper use of space, but at the same time is a failure of the venue. We’ve seen pictures of players squashed together, and events held in the main ballroom were so limited on space they couldn’t get setups out in order to run on time.

Again, attempts can be made to mitigate issues when they get this bad, but they weren’t. Players in pools were bumping into each other mid-match, unable to move around setups. For a tournament with stakes this high, this is simply unacceptable. Regardless of the venue’s failures, steps needed to be taken to try and keep some space, but a poor floor plan contributed to the issues instead of alleviating them.

With so much on the line in Street Fighter V’s competition, there is an expectation that tournaments on the Capcom Pro Tour maintain the consistency necessary to faithfully represent their importance. Apart from the aforementioned space issues, I’ve confirmed with multiple sources at the event that there was indeed an unpatched Street Fighter V setup used during pool play, and it was not corrected for a substantial amount of time, if at all. It doesn’t matter if this happens during pools; tournament play is tournament play, and for tournament matches in the Capcom Pro Tour to not be held on the proper version is not okay. As an organizer, this can slip through the cracks, but it should be immediately corrected. The fact it was not is completely inexcusable.

We’ve heard countless personal stories from the event, both good and bad. While it’s true that Final Round ended strongly and treated viewers to incredibly high-level play, we still need to have a conversation about the standards to which we hold events in the community. The standard of quality for Final Round has fallen to a point where we have to ask if it’s still acceptable. Nobody wants to see them close down; it has a storied history and the utmost respect is due for their contributions to the community. That said, we want it to live up to that respect and represent us well, which, at the moment, we can’t say that it is. Accountability for this decline in quality needs to be held, and we need to know future events won’t continue on this downward trajectory.

At the moment, we have staffers with history at the event saying they won’t be returning and people completely lost as to what went wrong. By bringing forward what happened and offering solutions, we hope to see these problems addressed. By making players aware of what can and did go wrong at the event, we hope that they can be prepared and understand better what actually transpired. This is going to be a hard year for all events on the Capcom Pro Tour, and it’s likely every tournament will be dealing with growing pains. As a community, we need to be prepared for this, which brings us to today.

What needs to be improved?

Do we really need late registration at the door? If it comes down to causing these issues, we should rethink the system altogether. Venues need to be chosen far more carefully. A reliance on unpaid volunteers is starting to become a liability, even though many work hard and mean well. Proper training needs to be handled weeks in advance, and organizers need to have backup plans for their backup plans. There should be a place to go for information everybody can access, as relying on social media obviously isn’t the answer.

Most of all, though, this event has shown a huge failure in communication at all levels of organization. Of all the issues I’ve heard over the past few days, simple communication is the one thing every single staffer repeated. The chain of command was so gnarled that they couldn’t talk to the person above them when issues arose. If there is one important lesson to take from Final Round, it would be that communication is key and organizers need to be open and approachable.

Our hearts go out to everybody involved with the event, and we want to thank the extremely hard working people who truly made the best out of a bad situation. But we also don’t want to see these bad situations become the standard, and it’s time to start seeing some changes in the way our tournaments are hosted.

fr19-ptb-1

Efforts were made to contact both Larry “Shin Blanka” Dixon and Capcom before publishing; Dixon declined to comment before an appearance on The On Blast Show, and we’ve yet to receive a response from Capcom. All images in this article c/o Chris Bahn