The Pulse of Pokkén: Top Players Talk Present and Future of Pokkén Tournament’s Scene, Part 1

By on October 4, 2016 at 2:00 pm

Feature image, from left to right: Cat Fight, Milln, BadIntent, Swillo

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer, and do not reflect as a whole.

We live in a time where fighting games are enjoying a larger amount of tournament success and publicity than ever before. Pokkén Tournament had an international circuit, a strong Evo showing, and even televised events in its home country. No one could have predicted the release of this game, or it’s tournament hype, five or ten years ago. When you’re not at the very top of the food chain, however, there is going to be moments of pause in your scene’s growth. These can be the most important, and difficult, times in an game’s life–surviving to the next season.

Those that support Namco games know this well. For years, Tekken and (at one point in time) SoulCalibur would stay on arcade release cycles regardless of what the rest of the industry chose to do. These games would spend years buried in the corners of malls and arcades around the world before showing up on console. And even after the ease and success of patching for console releases, there would be a long wait times before a patch came out–with no patch notes to ease tensions of what would happen with the game.

In 2016, some big titles still have players waiting patiently in the dark. Pokkén Tournament is one of them. Unlike SoulCalibur and Tekken, it doesn’t have an established pedigree. On the flip side, unlike most other new IPs, it has great sales numbers, and the publishing and development names of two of gaming’s largest juggernauts. In these unique circumstances, it can seem impossible to objectively judge what the future holds for Pokkén.

Especially if you’re on the outside of it.

I sat down and talked with four active figures in the Pokkén scene from across the US. No one is going to know better what is actually happening in Pokkén better than those living the life. I wanted to know what they saw, and what they expect will happen in the future.

Omari “BadIntent” Travis is a professional Pokémon-turned-Pokkén champion from Antioch, California.

Wesley “Cat Fight” Garland  is a mod at PokkenArena, champion of Apex 2016, Warpath 1 and 2, and is a sponsored player with Circa ESports.

Willie “Swillo” Barr is a multi-game specialist, placed 3rd at Evo, and is sponsored by Debow Gaming.

Jonathan ‘Milln’ Conaway is a sponsored player for FlySocietyGG and the co-admin of PokkenArena.

Crow_Spaceboy: I’d like to get a sense of your local scene. What is it like? What kind of events do you hold?

BadIntent: For me, there’s two local tournaments. I live in Antioch, and there’s tournaments in Modesto and Stockton. They are 45 miles away from me! The problem is they are Monday nights when I have class, so I can’t go to them. It’s difficult to play, so I only really get to go on holidays. On top of all of that, there’s only a few players there. But! The tournament organizer does a great job managing everything. It just needs more people. It’s hard for me to play because online isn’t that good. I have to do a lot of training mode. That’s why you see me going to Majors so much, because I get most of my real training there. It’s difficult, but that’s how it is.

Cat Fight: I live in New Jersey, so we have Hitbox Arena every Wednesday. It’s about a half hour away. Our scene is pretty consistent, but low in numbers. Around 9-12 every week. It’s been tough to grow beyond that. Elsewhere in Tri-State, we have two in New York. TNT is on Tuesdays and there’s another event on Thursdays. There’s one in PA too, a smaller local. These are all small locals, a lot of them don’t travel outside of their state. That’s changing though–NJ just went to NY for Rebellion. We just had a big crew battle, it went really great, and I think that motivated the NY players. Seasonal Crew Battles are starting to seem like a good idea. Honestly, I think Tri-State… or, the East coast in general has the best scene in Pokkén. Specifically, Tri-State because we have a lot bigger events then other regions–we seem to have 2 or 3 events a month.

Swillo: We’re pretty fortunate to have a really nice game center in South Florida, and we have weeklies here every Tuesday. Sometimes we even have just “Pokkén fests” on Monday where we just do casuals, maybe a crew battle. It just kind of depends on how many entrants show up each day. We’re active on Facebook, Discord, etc. Our scene is really close, and we’ve all been active since week one. New people come here and there but it’s mostly our main, devoted crowd. Sometimes numbers fluctuate but I think it’s a healthy scene, overall.

Milln: It doesn’t exist. [laughs] I’ve tried to get something going, but there is nothing in middle Tennessee that will meet on a regular basis. There are players, but they will not come out and play. It’s tough, because everyone knows who I am. The people around here don’t want to see me as a resource. I’ve tried to teach. People are always going to stick with what’s familiar to them… Pokkén is really different, mechanically, then most stuff out there. There’s a lot you have to know before you can really start playing.

Crow_Spaceboy: What do you want to see the Pokkén scene do now that EVO and Worlds are over?

BadIntent: The #1 thing I’d like the Pokkén Scene to do is for it’s players to go to Majors. I think The Pokémon Company wants to see numbers. They are really looking at how many people are attending and watching these events. If we can show them “Yeah, there’s a huge community still playing this game,” there’s an incentive for The Pokémon Company to say “Hey, maybe if we make a season two, it’ll be worth it, because of all these viewers.”

Another thing is, if you have streaming equipment… you would be surprised at how many people show up just because you play the game. We need to stream more. I want to say go to locals, also, but that’s really tough for some people.

Cat Fight: I want to see the scene grow from the ground up. I think, with the circuit, we were really fortunate that we got to jump into these bigger events with large prize pools. Not every community gets that, and we’re now in that phase where our numbers won’t really go up without developer support. I think content creators and streamers realize this, too, and they’ve been putting in more effort into their work. The forums have been more active. I’d just like to see the community continue on that path and become self-sustainable.

Swillo: This is where we can focus on expanding the meta. The meta is not as good as it could be in the US. We don’t use online resources much. It’s kind of difficult to figure out some things in the meta because we don’t have a really good training mode like other fighting games do. Since we’re in a downtime period, this is a great time for players to talk more about match-ups. I want to see the game fleshed out more in the US… when we fought Japan, it really felt like they were playing a really match-up based game, and we were focused on player habits. We have really strong players, and sometimes playing against the player wins, but we need to play more optimally.

Milln: Well… obviously, I want it to grow. As far as where I want it to go? I mean… we’re already in the right places. We’re at NEC. We’re at The Fall Classics. We’re at Rumble in the Tundra. There’s lots of stuff going on.

I’d like to see more content. I’d like the mid-and-low levels to start using top level players as resources. I feel like there’s lots of Pokkén players. I see them, you know. I see them on forums and Discord but I’m usually only talking with top players. It’s not even a signal-to-noise ratio thing where I’ve blocked myself off. I’m the co-admin of PokkénArena. So, I am eternally available for that entire site and that entire forum.

Crow_Spaceboy: What do think, moving forward, is the most important thing to the Pokkén Community: weeklies, or Majors?

BadIntent: I think Majors are more important because that’s what The Pokémon Company can see. I’m sure they were really encouraged when they look at the Evo numbers, for instance. They saw all the people that entered! It’s cool that scenes like South Florida, for example, has really consistent numbers, but I don’t think that alone will influence The Pokémon Company. It really just comes down to Majors because that shows them it’s worth advertising and investing in another season. Everything else I can think that “helps” the community hinges on being visible.

Cat Fight: That’s really tough. I think weeklies, to be honest, because I hear people complaining more about weeklies than any other thing. Just today, in the Chandelure Discord, someone was talking about how motivated they are to become the best in their state, but they don’t have a local scene to play in. They have to rely on online, and they don’t have the best connection. I feel for players like that because I was able to travel to four different locals every week, and there’s people still struggling to get their day one experience in. Being able to go to a local offline is the most important thing.

Swillo: To me, weeklies are way more important than Majors right now. There’s actually a lot of Majors announced! For me, this is not that great because I don’t think some of these Majors will have that high of attendance. I’d rather have more, bigger local scenes in the US. Bigger local scenes gives everyone more resources to practice, and a wider pool of playstyles and players to play against. Also, it gives top players a way to make some side money to put towards traveling. A lot of people want to travel for Pokkén. Not everyone has the money to. Strong weeklies helps get your scene’s best player to get more exposure and get out there.

Milln: Even though the bulk of my experience is Majors, and I don’t have a local scene for Pokkén… it does not mean that I think locals are less important. What is more important is simply people playing the game. That is the most important. We don’t need Majors. We don’t need TPCI. What we do need are locals. We need weeklies, we need monthlies. We need people gathering together and playing the game, anywhere. I just got back from Gwinnet Brawl, it’s like a 150-200 player monthly. Pokémon doesn’t run that. Gwinnet Brawl does. It’s not even a Major.

So, yeah, we need locals to move forward. We all know it. This has been a conversation among the top players recently. You don’t need prize pools or Majors to play a game. You know what? Look at Melty Blood. Look at it! Melty Blood will never die. People still play it. It’s an un-dead game. You cannot kill poverty games. [laughs] You cannot kill that which is already dead. They are always going to be around. Melty Blood had stage time at CEOtaku. And if it didn’t, they are still going to find a way to play it in the parking lot. The Third Strike players are going to pull up a car, put their laptops on the hood, pull up some sticks and play Third Strike. They are going to do money matches right there. So… it doesn’t matter about Majors. It doesn’t matter where you play. We need locals first. Play the game.

That’s not all these great players had to say. Stay tuned for Part 2, where these Pokkén Pros will give their insight on Pokkén integrating into other scenes, the announcement of the NX, and what changes they would like to see in the game itself.

Hey, I'm just a 3D-head in a 2D-world. I like pretty much all FGC stuff, and I really like hearing about the way people think about games.