Mike “Elvenshadow” Boczar has made a name for himself by carving out a niche in the fighting game community: Having built a two-day major out of his famous Frosty Faustings event that started off as a small annual event in the Chicagoland area–the event has always featured Guilty Gear as the main event, and drawn a large crowd.
While at Frosty Faustings IX, we sat down with him to talk about what makes this event tick.
Corey “Missing Person” Lanier: Mike, you had another very successful year with Frosty Faustings. How are you feeling now that the dust is settling on the event?
Mike “Elvenshadow” Boczar: It’s a unique mix of accomplishment, success, and exhaustion. I’m running on four hours of sleep, and didn’t eat on the final day of the event until 9:30 at night. The tournament ran smoothly, and everyone seemed to have fun, so I’m really happy about that.
Missing Person: Frosty Faustings is one of the few events that features Guilty Gear so prominently in main-event status. How does it feel seeing the game you love so dearly receive all the attention and hype it gets here?
Elvenshadow: Well, you obviously have events like CEOtaku and Anime Ascension, but the reason I started this event was to build the Guilty Gear scene. I always wanted Guilty Gear to be in the spotlight. We had a lot of viewers this year, we had players from ten different countries come for this event. It’s just awesome. It makes me want to keep promoting Guilty Gear and getting more people involved in the game. A lot of people that watched the stream and stayed to watch top 8 got interested in the game, so that’s success.
Missing Person: Do you ever worry about losing viewers when Guilty Gear comes on as the main event, as opposed to more popular games like Street Fighter? Or do you believe that you can generate enough hype with Guilty Gear that the risk pays off?
Elvenshadow: The risk is absolutely worth it. Guilty Gear is what our event is known for. Other games obviously come with their own crowd, and they still generate and get a buzz from our event as well. We’re happy to see numbers for every game we run–and we ran 32 this year. But every year sees numbers grow for every game, and I’m happy for it, but it’s nice to see overflow during the event for the game I love.
Missing Person: What do you feel has been the biggest obstacle in bringing Guilty Gear to the forefront and being widely adopted in the west?
Elvenshadow: I think there are a few things. A lot of people just don’t even know about it. It isn’t heavily advertised here and so when people who aren’t involved in the FGC think about fighting games, titles that come to mind are usually Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. Within the FGC itself, I think a lot of players are discouraged to try it out due to a perceived high barrier to entry. While the game does have some difficult things to execute, people who regularly can do complex combos in Marvel or land 1-frame links in Street Fighter shouldn’t have too much trouble as long as they are willing to put in some work in the lab. It’s all about first building the muscle memory and from there applying it.
I think once people get past that point, they can really start to enjoy the game more as they see improvement. GGXrd is much easier to get into compared to previous games in the GG series. I would say if you are the least bit interested, talk to people in your local scene that play it or people online and ask for advice. There are tons of great resources out there and many people are willing to help!
Missing Person: Frosty Faustings started off small. Can you talk about that for a bit?
Elvenshadow: Well, we initially started off in a small hotel venue. It was about half the size of the hallway of the venue we used this year. The next year, we ran it in the same venue, but had a bit more space. We then moved to Nickel City Arcade for three years. Then the year after that, we ran it at a game bar that is no longer in business. For Frosty Faustings VII and VIII, we ran it at another hotel, but this year’s venue was far bigger. Every year just grows exponentially.
Missing Person: How difficult was it planning the early events with you being located in Japan at the time? How has that changed since moving back to America?
Elvenshadow: Back when FF started out, it was during simpler times. Streaming tournaments wasn’t really common and we had no sponsors involved. It was mainly a matter of finding a venue, coming up with tournament list and schedule, and assigning roles to other staff members.
In some ways, it was easier because it was a smaller and less complex event, but the fact that I was halfway across the world with a 15 hour time zone difference from Chicago made things difficult at times. I had limited opportunities to make phone calls overseas, and when I did, I needed to use a prepaid phone card. Most of the coordinating with staff happened over forums and private messages but most conversations did not happen in real time. I did my best to keep up with what was going on in the local scene, but sometimes it was hard when I wasn’t physically there all year.
I think one of the biggest challenges was trying to change venues. We ran the event 3 years in a row at Nickel City (FF III-V) even when it was clear that after FFIV we had pretty much outgrown it. There weren’t many other options I knew of at the time, and hotel-hunting without being able to easily call and physically check the venue in advance made things difficult. Game Pazzo worked well for FFVI, but closed down soon after. For FFVII I was back in the States months before the event, so it was much easier to shop around for a bigger venue.
I’d say that now there are many new challenges we face every year, which is a result of the event growing and us wanting to make improvements. I spend much more time on planning than I used to. There’s a lot of work to do but the more we do it, the better we get at doing things more efficiently.
Missing Person: How big do you think it can get? Do you think Frosty could be a three-day event at some point?
Elvenshadow: We could, but we’re not sure if we want to. We like that our format is tailored to people who have difficulties traveling. That’s why I designed the schedules so that no games overlap between Friday and Satuday. You don’t have to worry about missing a day because of the possibility of your pool landing on that day. Instead, you can come for one day, play the whole way through, and you’re done. You can carry your own momentum through the bracket.
I think our format is really unique and cool. You can also go out and party on Saturday night, and not have to worry about catching an early morning flight the next day to go back to work with a hangover. But it’s something to consider where we could even run pools for the larger games on Friday night.
Missing Person: You had probably one of the most hype matches of the event in losers bracket with PG|MarlinPie. You were so close to clutching out the set. How did you feel in that final game?
Elvenshadow: I felt like it could’ve went either way. That second round started off really bad. I was knocked down right away with the drill because I tried to play it safe by backdashing. I had to play very defensively at that point, and had a burst at the end. I knew he was going to bait it, but I still did and regret it. I can’t feel bad losing to MarlinPie. He is a great player, and we always have great sets in tournaments. I’m happy I even made top 8.
Missing Person: How do you feel the west is doing in catching up to the Japanese players in Guilty Gear?
Elvenshadow: I feel like the skill gap between US and Japanese players in Xrd has been gradually getting smaller. If you compare the skill gap between US and Japan in Accent Core, we are definitely closer now than we used to be. I think it’s also a bit hard to judge accurately at times because there are only a few Japanese players that are coming over here frequently who compete in Xrd. We don’t often get to see how a lot of America’s best players do against a wider variety of Japanese opponents. Obviously Evolution is the exception and even with that we have seen a US player in top 8 both years Xrd has been present at Evo, with several other players getting close to top 8, and many Japanese players have lost to US players outside of top 8. I think we are on the right track and just need to keep working hard to improve.
I think the biggest things we can do to close the gap is to play a wider variety of opponents and play more often. Matchup knowledge is key in Guilty Gear due to how unique each character plays. Many scenes don’t have people playing certain characters so we have to rely on net play or traveling to other regions to learn every matchup well. Playing regularly is also important. It doesn’t matter how naturally good you are, if you don’t stay in practice, your skills will deteriorate or become stagnant. Japanese players have the luxury of regularly scheduled gatherings at arcades with a wide variety of talent and character variety at their disposal.
If we want to compete, we need to do our best to cultivate our scenes and train with a variety of people as often as we can. This also means making an effort to travel to events and play new people, even if you think you are going to go 0-2, attending just for the matchup experience and practice is worth it alone. Combining all that with regularly studying Japanese match videos, as well as studying your own matches, I think we will continue to see overall improvement in the US scene as long as we stay motivated and work together to get better.
Hopefully the gap in release time between Revelator 2 on arcade and console won’t be very long, so that we don’t fall farther behind in the new version, but I have a feeling the gap won’t be as bad as previous releases. Just remember that once REV 2 drops in arcade, we shouldn’t lose motivation to keep playing just because it’s not on console yet. Just because there will be some balance and system changes doesn’t mean that staying practiced up on the version we have right now won’t be beneficial, as most things will still carry over.