Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not reflect Shoryuken as a whole.
“So, wait. How would you even run a tournament for Pokkén?”
This has been the question that has plagued this game pretty much since its inception. Frankly, this was my thought, too, despite my place as a more vocal supporter of the game. It is no secret at this point that the game has a very experimental way of being played, one which causes a particular set of hardware hurdles for tournament organizers, small and large.
There were lots of little things that DreamHack did for the streamer and spectator that really showed they were trying to run the highest quality event they could for this odd sport. These little things–like the switching player perspectives on the main stage between rounds–are great, but they are not the focus of this article. I want to document, instead, how they tackled Pokkén’s penultimate rival: logistics.
Prior to DreamHack, I can only think of two Pokkén events post-launch that I would qualify as majors: Final Round, which ran so soon after release that almost no one had time to actually study or play the game, and Texas Showdown, which had a comparatively smaller, and less publicized, 31 man tournament.
Pokkén’s stage being setup up minutes after doors opened on Friday.
DreamHack’s 105 entrants are 1/10th the size of those that have already signed up for Evo. So, while only a microcosm of what’s to come, it’s an important one. You can, in a lot of ways, consider this a experiment for all other future big Pokkén Tournament, well, tournaments.
DreamHack is obviously a company with a long history and strong reputation, so while I was certainly expecting them to be able to at least run a competent tournament, I was not expecting 32 monitors and Wii U’s at the ready, all LAN’d in pairs, all equipped with Pokkén controllers.
A row of casual setups as the doors opened on Friday.
The sight was disarming.
Considering this was advertised as a BYOC event (and still is, in fact, as of this writing), you can imagine my surprise. GamingGenerations partnered with Dreamhack to provide the setups for Pokkén (and SFV, too!), and this expenditure saved DreamHack a lot in the way of headaches.
Contrary to popular belief, Pokkén Tournament is pretty easy to run once you get past the equipment hurdle. Community has also been great.
— @CEOJebailey May 8, 2016
There’s something of a marketing genius to be mentioned about the Pokkén controller. It’s unique enough and comfortable enough to at least entice a purchase, but, well, I never went that far. I just use the Wii U GamePad at home because I already had it and just never really bothered to set aside the time to investigate the controller further. I adjusted to the controller on-site very quickly because, let’s be fair, it’s not that much different. It’s lighter, smaller, wired, and has huge shoulder buttons that you can’t miss. That this thing doesn’t work with other titles seems criminal, as I think I would probably play the Wii U a lot more with it as an option.
But, I digress. The decision to cover every station with controllers meant that anyone at anytime could play. There was no waiting for people to bum controllers off others, and matches never slowed down because a stick broke.
If anything, in that light, they were over-prepared. It was wonderful.
But not every hardware related decision was a good one.
Since the real tournament didn’t begin until Saturday, DreamHack treated Pokkén delicately, sweeping it constantly with employees to ensure everything was running smoothly. In light of the game’s hardware, this was important for obvious reasons. However, DreamHack decided to make things harder on themselves by removing the Wii U GamePad from every station, so if a LAN acted up or if the system had to be restarted for any reason whatsoever, they would have to go fish for a wireless Wii U controller to sync up.
DreamHack’s Champion “Bim?”, standing, was one of the first players to arrive for casuals.
At a later point someone had used a Wii U controller to play during LAN mode, instead of the Pokkén controller. How do I know this? Because once you are in LAN mode, any other controller other than the one you are using becomes inoperable.
That’s one way to prevent wireless controllers from pausing tournament matches!
But because all Wii U GamePads were inaccessible, you would have to wait for an employee to get a controller, sync, restart, etc. Unless other events, too, manage to have a Pokkén Controller per setup at the ready, I can see this being very difficult on organizers.
Still, there may be a bigger problem than controllers themselves: LAN mode.
Crowd watching Pokkén during top 16 on Saturday.
Pokkén finished on time and was a great experience for a lot of reasons, but one of those reasons was definitely not LAN mode. Now, DreamHack cannot be held responsible for the mode itself. It’s not their fault that sometimes you are just sitting there staring at “Searching!” on a screen for up to a minute or more. (Bizarrely, my experience playing online is that I almost never spend longer than 5 seconds before a match appears. Go figure.)
Adding on top of that was the actual LAN adapters for the Wii U. The Ethernet cables from each machine were plugged into the adapter, which rested on the table itself, and then the cables were zipped neatly into holes that lead underneath the tables. Sure, this solves a clutter problem, but having the adapters sit on the table is worrisome. I wondered why I occasionally saw matches drop during casuals. I think I found out why, later.
I was labbing with one of our locals, Slippingbug (Shoutouts to you for getting top 16, bro!), and we found some cool tech. I let out an “A-ha!” and palmed the table with not a particularly large amount of force. I’m animated, okay? The game didn’t appreciate that. It dropped us both immediately the moment my wimpy hand touched the table. It happened again later when I found something that made me erupt in table-slapping laughter. We investigated the LAN adapter, which as far as we could tell, had not actually been impacted in any way.
I am 5’4” and 135 pounds. You would not mistake me for Rico Sauve. I hope you understand my point.
I do not believe this happened for any tournament matches, though I can easily see an emotional player having something not go according to plan, then inadvertently rage quit with a bump. There were connection issues multiple times during even top 16 and 8, though nothing as monumental as a connection dropping mid-game. Between the very real problems of waiting for LAN to find opponents, and the hint of a possibility of a game dropping mid match, I believe future events must be prepared for anything like this if they want a memorably smooth tournament.
Which, ultimately, DreamHack was. I got hilariously sick, had to take an alternate route to the event because Mo-Pac was shut down, lost my parking pass, and didn’t make it out of my pool. Yet, the tournament organization, the staff, the people I met, and the games I played and watched were so great that I wouldn’t have traded it in at all.