A retrospective of the 2016 tournament that crossed the nation.
It’s not that easy being “green”
The energy drink creator and esports sponsor Red Bull hosted the Red Bull Proving Grounds, a tournament that spanned six cities over the summer of 2016. The event was designed to give players across North America the opportunity to compete against similarly-skilled players with less than 100 Capcom Pro Tour points.
The Proving Grounds gave players nationwide the chance to compete in tournaments like never before. The usual hot-spots for tournaments are New York in the east, California in the west, and once a year in Las Vegas with Evo. This proves difficult for players wishing to escape anonymity due to travel and financial constraints. Along came the odd-colored bull, with hopes of changing the scene and discovering unfound talent.
Many players were incredibly appreciative of the opportunity for greater representation. Devon Petties, known as MikeandIke12, only recently began competing in the fighting game scene, starting in 2014. Normally, the player competes online due to travel constraints, but thanks to the convenient location of the Proving Grounds, he was able to promote himself and his skills with Laura, all leading to a sponsorship with Gut Tough Gaming.
“The only reason I went was because it was close, it was only a 30-minutes away from my house,” said MikeandIke. “It was also really cheap, I thought to myself, 20 dollars, I can do that!”
Naasi Nixon, another player from the east coast, goes by the name Ice Effect in the fighting game community. The player flew all the way from Atlanta, GA to represent his home state and the players supporting him. In the end, Ice Effect just wants to be recognized among his peers.
“I’m a very competitive guy, but really I just want to be known,” said Ice Effect. “I want someone to look at me and say, ‘Hey, there’s that guy, he’s really good!”
For many players, the Proving Grounds was their first major event. Jonathan Ng, known by the letters JLMN, journeyed all the way from Southern California to Seattle to participate in the competition. This Bison player rose above the competition, claiming first place in the region. He wants to prove that Bison can be a competitively viable character and will go to any lengths to do so.
“Not a whole lot of players use Bison,” said JLMN. “Nothing is given to you with Bison, you have to work hard for your victories.”
Red Bull gave plenty of players the chance to prove they’ve got what it takes to rise above the competition, along with the grand prize of $2000 and an all-expense paid trip to the Red Bull Battle Grounds in Seatle, running from November 4–6.
The players aren’t too tense before the finals commence
SRK was invited to Red Bull’s headquarters in Santa Monica, California to attend the event to get to know the players in a setting that was nothing but personal. The players all practiced, discussed, and lounged about the Red Bull auditorium room. One day later, this room would be filled with incredible feats of sportsmanship from all sides.
Van Nguyen, the lone combatant from Canada, spent much of the day before the big event observing his competitors and their playstyles along with some helpful online tools.
“It’s really cool to experience this, it’s at a different level than I have ever experienced,” said Nguyen. “I think watching videos helps, seeing what all the other top players are doing, seeing how they deal with certain situations, seeing what their tactics consist of, strategies, and so on.”
Twenty-two-year-old, Julian Jones, also known as Squall, ranked 3rd in the Chicago branch of the Proving Grounds by playing Necalli. Squall has been playing competitively since he was 18. Over the course of his competitive career, the player has been balancing school, athletics, and Street Fighter.
“The atmosphere is incredible,” said Squall. “Being one of the top 16 players, this is where dreams come true.”
Christopher Gonzalez, more commonly known as NYChrisG, has been around the competitive fighting game scene since 2010, but was in the arcade scene. He spent most of his time relaxing the day before the competition alongside MikeandIke12.
“I’m feeling pretty good, chilling, talking a bunch of crap,” said ChrisG. “I think that’s the best part of going to tournaments!”
By the end of the day, each player got to know their competitors very well in that auditorium through practicing, spectating, and comradery.
The tournament with an audience both big and small
The Red Bull Proving Grounds was streamed online via Twitch, and witnessed by thousands at a time. The true audience consisted of the players, the casters, and staff all in Red Bull’s corporate screening room.
Marcus Redmond, aka The Cool Kid 93, had the most vocal support in the room. This Rashid player had his partner-in-crime, Joy Goodwin accompany him for the final competition and she made sure the crowd knew he meant business.
The Twitch chat was live with fans of every competitor. The digital commentary went by so quickly it was hard to keep up. The one thing that they may not have known is that there was a 20-second delay between what occurred and what was seen on the screen.
That being said, the Red Bull showroom was also on a timer set to turn itself off after so many minutes of activity. This led to common instances of the players gathering around a certain journalist’s laptop screen to catch every moment of the tournament.
Michael Mendoza, known by his commentator name, IFCYipeS, also discussed the tournament outside of his stream among the competitive audience. Sometimes the rowdiest of the bunch, YipeS always had something profound to say.
“First and foremost, guys of this caliber, like Red Bull, for them, just being involved it’s just a beautiful thing,” said YipeS. “It gives us more of an opportunity to get into the grassroots of things of the FGC.”
James Chen, alternatively known as JChensor, was one of the commentators of the Proving Grounds. He appreciated the lengths Red Bull went through to promote unknown talent.
“It’s cool to see these guys treated the same as everyone else,” said Chen. “I am sure these guys are just as good as the pro players out there, but they don’t get to travel.”
After each game, players congratulated the victor and consoled those who didn’t make it. There may have only been one winner, but every player in the audience acted as one. They cheered together, laughed together, and shouted together. It was obvious that every player wanted to win, but they were cordial with one another from beginning to end.
Propositions for the future of competition
While Red Bull certainly deserves to be commended for undergoing such a large scale event, there are a number of things to be learned from the expedition.
The Proving Grounds did a good job of reaching out to players on the outskirts of the U.S., but Canada only received one spot and the entire middle of the U.S. was left out. In order to establish a complete assessment of a continent’s skills, every major region needs to be accounted for.
Understandably this is a very large undertaking. Hopefully, the Proving Grounds found the success it needed to grant more players their chance at the spotlight. There were online matches to accommodate players who could not attend, but they were not given the same kind of treatment as their physical counterparts.
The event would also benefit from a more cohesive website. The information surrounding the event was spread across multiple pages of the Proving Grounds website. Some information was only shared in video format. It would be much more beneficial for both players and spectators to have all of the details regarding the event to be held in one place.
More frequent updates would also be appreciated. Additional information on the top 16 players was not officially released until the day of the tournament. The official rankings remain to be updated on the official site days after the event.
The company should also be more proactive when it comes to adjusting its production. Red Bull officials asked the players what needed to change about the production in order to make it more comfortable after the first day of the finals.
This led to the players being required to wear provided headsets. Some players found the headwear uncomfortable and unstable. NYChrisG’s headset muted the sound a number of times during his final bout with Di3mini0n, causing the player to lose focus. All things considered, the changes should have been made after the dress-rehearsal, not mid-way into the tournament.
In the end, the Red Bull Proving Grounds certainly proved one thing: The need for local competition has never been higher. After the showcase of talent from across North America, more players will see the event as their opportunity to play among the greatest talents in the community.
All they needed was the opportunity. Hopefully, it won’t all be on Red Bull’s shoulders. Other companies need to see the benefit in supporting local scenes. There are players out there with the talent, all they need is that one chance to make their mark in history.