Over the past week we’ve been talking to all of the organizers involved in the coming Red Bull Proving Grounds qualifying regional events, such as Chicago, Texas, and Vancouver. Next up is a particularly notable regional qualifier, held by the first female event organizer participating in the Red Bull Proving Grounds series. She’s in charge of the NorCal Rivals event, which, as its name implies, is stationed in Northern California. We talked to her about the abundance of potential top players in the area, rivalries, and strong faith in the West Coast Army.
John “Zidiane” Silvia: Would you mind introducing yourself for the folks who don’t know you?
Carolyn Dao: Hi, I’m Carolyn Dao, aka MamaDao. I’ve been hosting NorCal tournaments in my garage since 2012, before I eventually branched off in Macro Micro Gaming’s Alpha Clash, then ShowDown GG’s Churning the Butter. Recently I stepped back from the FGC to go back to school, but Red Bull gave me an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.
Zidiane: So, the event that’s going to be hosting the Red Bull qualifiers is NorCal Rivals, correct?
Carolyn: Yup! It’s the first tournament where I get to be my own boss and call the shots.
Zidiane: Oh really? So it will be your first foray on this level of organization altogether. How did you end up running the event yourself, rather than working under someone else?
Carolyn: I left ShowDown to focus on school, but Rick “TheHadou” Thiher called me up and asked what they could do to get me to come back. I have a lot of anxiety and the thought of running something myself always scared me, but the other Proving Grounds TOs are all willing to share their support if I need it. I also finally have enough experience where I feel like I’m ready.
Zidiane: Okay. So, it was thrust upon your lap kind of suddenly, but you were ready to step up.
Carolyn: Yeah. They “gave me wings” [laughs].
Zidiane: So, as far as NorCal Rivals goes, what’s the player base like there? It is of course NorCal, there’s a lot of history and great players there, but what does it look like from your perspective?
Carolyn: A lot of our players are pretty much some of the best in the world. Although there is the CPT point rule for Proving Grounds that will knock out the obvious choices like Justin Wong, FChamp, KBrad and Ricki Ortiz, we still have great players like EchoFox’s Julio Fuentes, LPN, Snake Eyez, the Jeon Brothers, Kelvin & Brian, Rom, Pavocado, El Cubano Loco, WinterFox’s XSK Samurai, and a ton more.
Zidiane: From what it sounds like, you guys have more great players than you know what to do with.
Carolyn: The best part is they’re all hungry to play. Traveling to SoCal last year was what really held them back from Proving Grounds.
Zidiane: The location is much better for you guys now?
Carolyn: It’s literally five minutes from the main gaming house that includes Julio, Kelvin, Brian, me, and Joser. So, it’s amazing.
Zidiane: I’m sure it was expected that NorCal would be able to compete in some fashion, but that seems particularly great. I bet everyone was thrilled with that announcement.
Carolyn: Yeah, a lot of people were just excited to see me back. They were saying that Rivals is the “revival” of the NorCal FGC. Plus, the venue is Dave and Busters, which is a great place to grab a drink after a really salty match.
Zidiane: So, NorCal is about as West Coast as you can get, as far as this whole WC vs EC rivalry thing goes. I’ve talked to a few other TOs this past week, but they all sort of didn’t really consider themselves part of East or West Coast. Does the West Coast branding mean something more to you and your players?
Carolyn: For a long time, it was always the NorCal vs. SoCal rivalry, so we didn’t really focus on East Coast as a threat. I’m not a player, so I can’t really talk about how they feel competition-wise. Tournament wise, I always see them calling us “too esports,” but I think that’s important for the growth of the game. In a way, Proving Grounds sort of feels like a sports anime where the 2 rival teams need to work together to fight a bigger threat.
Zidiane: So, if one or the other of you makes it to that final stage against East Coast, do you think there’ll be cooperation to take out whichever East Coast team is standing in the way?
Carolyn: Oh, for sure. NorCal and SoCal travel back and forth a lot just to train, so when the time comes we’ll definitely have each-others’ backs. Even during the ESL East vs West King of the Hill, the West Coast collectively helped each other train in their matchups.
Zidiane: So, in a way, whoever makes it to that stage, you’re already planning on making sure they have all of West Coast’s support.
Carolyn: Yup! West Coast = Best Coast.
Zidiane: As far as your players go, do you have any idea of who might make that top 3 and represent NorCal? It sounded like you had a lot of killers out there, but do you have your money on anyone specific?
Carolyn: It’s hard to tell with the CPT points being a barrier of entry, but my top picks will be Julio Fuentes, LPN, and one of the Jeon brothers.
Zidiane: Can you give a bit of background on them, for people who haven’t heard of them yet?
Carolyn: Julio, who is now currently Echo Fox, is arguably one of the best Kens out there and has been passionately playing since 3rd strike. I knew he was a hidden gem when I helped “sponsor” him back in 2012 for SFIV:AE. LPN is our “jack of all trades” player on Circa that is focusing on Alex and Birdie last time I checked. Players need to really stay on their toes to keep up with him. The Jeon brothers include Kelvin Jeon and Brian Jeon aka “bjUNCHAINED.” To be honest this is my favorite rivalry to watch because they always go toe to toe and the sibling rivalry hits too close to home. That’s probably why I couldn’t choose just one in my top 3 list. Kelvin is a Mika turned Urien player, and Brian is a Necalli with a hint of Karin player. I love this top 3 list because even during the Churning the Butter days, you could never tell who was going to take 1st.
Zidiane: Sounds like there are rivalries every which way.
Carolyn: Yeah, I put a lot of thought into the name.
Zidiane: So, as far as the Proving Grounds itself, you’ll of course need to compete against everyone else on the West Coast in a round robin, but there’s only one East Coast team to worry about at the end. If you guys make it to that level, do you have any opinions on who you’d want to go up against from East Coast? Anyone you’d rather avoid, or someone you think you guys could take?
Carolyn: Avoiding players is for the weak and free! in terms of players to watch out for, I would keep an eye out for Smug, Dieminion, Idom, Alucard, Shine, and now Punk who is breaking out at a fast pace.
Zidiane: Hmm. The past TOs seemed ready to prove themselves, but you seem like you’re ready for the final stages already! It’ll be great, seeing what NorCal does in the coming days. That’s about it for my questions today, though. Did you have any last words you wanted to say before heading out?
Carolyn: I’d like to really thank Red Bull for giving me this opportunity to step up to the plate. There are a lot of expectations and I’ll try my hardest to hold up to them. Also, shout outs to 10/0 productions for mentoring me and listening when I need to vent. I’m happy and pumped to be back!
[Feature image by Avery Wong Photography]