Our series of Red Bull Proving Grounds regional organizer interviews has gained insight into the inner workings of the process of these events, history, rivalries, and the some of the human aspects. Today we set our sights on Florida’s regional event, being held at Citrus Clash.
John “Zidiane” Silvia: Alright, well. Would you mind introducing yourself for the folks that don’t already know you?
Andres Velasco y Coll: Hi! I’m Andres Velasco y Coll, but most people online know me as nothingxs. I’m the head TO at CEO Gaming, Evolution, and a TO with Combo Breaker. For the most part I was an old Capcom vs SNK 2, 3rd Strike, and KOF player before I decided to volunteer at bigger tournaments, and I cut my teeth with TOing by just running stuff at Evo. I’ve long been thinking about a way to make a higher impact and higher reach event that would attract people around Florida to play regularly, and I think Red Bull’s given us the perfect opportunity to do exactly that.
Zidiane: Which specific event(s) are you running now? I see Citrus Clash appears to be the Red Bull qualifier, yes?
Andres: Yes! Our monthly event is Citrus Clash, and yes, it is a Red Bull Proving Grounds qualifier.
Zidiane: Where is that held, venue-wise?
Andres: The venue is The Geek Easy, a sort of bar that’s hidden behind a comic book shop cleverly named “A Comic Shop,” located in Winter Park, Florida–basically a sub city of Orlando.
Zidiane: Sounds nice. What kind of pull does it get, as far as the player base goes?
Andres: Well, it’s amazing–you get a lot of local Orlando heads that come through, and a lot of people from the neighboring areas… Kissimmee, Winter Park, Lakeland a bit to the west, and Orlando proper. But because Orlando is such a central point in Florida, you really do see people from just about everywhere in Florida. Players are driving in from Tampa, Miami, West Palm Beach, Ft. Myers, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Port St. Lucie… We’ve had a bit of everything so far. Right now we’re hoping more people local to Orlando get a wake-up call so that Miami doesn’t take spots 2-5 again like last time. (You know, even if I’m from Miami.)
Zidiane: Seems like a nice even spread of players from across the state. Is Miami the top dog as far as players go?
Andres: Well, it’s hard to say. Tampa seems like the strongest region at the moment, and they’re just an hour drive away. NuckleDu is, of course, from that area. But there are killers there that didn’t show up yet last time who I am expecting to see this time around. José “Mexican Seth” Campos just recently beat NuckleDu at a local tournament 3-0 while Du was playing Guile, and he’s an old Florida head with a lot of experience, so I’m really looking forward to that. I also hear that Dexter “TampaBison” James is keeping himself ready and might be showing up, so there’s that.
That’s not to say Miami is weak– we still have Peter “Flash” Susini, who is looking forward to his Vega buffs. And Orlando Rodriguez always does well at every event; he came in 3rd last time. There really are a large number of strong players in the entire region. I want to see how the top 3 shakes up for the Proving Grounds themselves.
Zidiane: Sounds like a fair bit of anticipation regarding potential killers. You just said it’s uncertain right now, but do you have any predictions about what the top 3 players will be for proving grounds?
Andres: Frankly? I have no idea. And that’s what’s exciting. I think Flash might have enough CPT points to where he won’t be eligible, and Du is obviously out since he’s already a shoe-in for the CPT in the first place.
I think the talent in Florida just needs to learn to be consistent. Whoever gets to consistency first will be representing Citrus Clash.
Zidiane: So, no one who’s eligible for the spot is consistent enough to win right now?
Andres: I don’t think so. I hope they use this to try and prove me wrong, though.
Zidiane: Some of the other regions I talked to were confident in their players and already had consistently placing players. If it continues to be this uncertain who’ll win until the end, do you think your players will struggle by the time the actual East Coast vs. West Coast portion starts?
Andres: Maybe, maybe not. To be fair, those other regions have people who feel like they’ve already separated themselves from the pack, and it’s not many of them.
When I say we lack consistency, I’m more talking about the fact that there’s a lot of people who can take each other out. I think the group that’s separated itself from “the pack” is simply larger in Florida. We’ll see if I’m right come June, though, won’t we?
Zidiane: Fair enough. As far as Proving Grounds go, what’s the player reaction like? I’m sure it was largely expected that Florida would participate this year, but what kind of reactions did you get with the 2017 announcement?
Andres: The reaction was positive, but I think a lot of people sort of knew what we were up to when we announced a monthly around the time a lot of other regions suddenly announced their own, too. It was a sort of “about time” reaction, and I can see a lot of hunger coming from participants. People have shown a lot of interest, really, and the official announcement feels like it really cemented that they NEED to be here to take advantage and to level up.
Zidiane: You mentioned that Orlando players need a wake-up call, and you mentioned that now there’s a sense that they need to level up. Combined with the comments about no one coming ahead as a clear winner, it just seems like there are many potential killers that were perhaps not giving it their all before now.
Andres: Well, the players in Orlando proper certainly need a better strategy than to let Tampa and Miami come in and walk away with all their money. I’m not sure whether that’s because they are sandbagging or because there’s catching up to do. I know there’s plenty of talent in Orlando, and there’s certainly a lot of talent in Florida–they just have to show it.
I think as a region, we’re as strong as anywhere else. Du won Capcom Cup, for crying out loud, and is probably currently the most dominant SFV player in the US (with all due respect to Smug, you can catch anyone on a bad day, fam). I want to see people in our same region try to come and challenge him again. This is a good stepping stone for that.
Zidiane: I see. Moving away from the players themselves for a bit, we’ve had some mixed responses throughout these interviews with regions considering themselves true East or West Coast as far as the overall event goes. Does that East Coast branding mean something to you and your players, or does your identity as Team Florida supersede that?
Andres: Man, everyone outside of Florida keeps saying Florida isn’t part of the East Coast. Maybe they’re right. We’re on the East Coast, but Florida is honestly its own thing. The East Coast branding honestly doesn’t mean anything outside of being the division that we’ll be playing in once we make it to the final Proving Grounds event itself. We’re just as happy to try and bop the NLBC crowd than we are to bop Vanguard or Rivals.
Zidiane: Other than who you’re matched up against, it makes no difference which team you’re on?
Andres: Not particularly. We welcome all comers.
Zidiane: I normally would have asked what you think of your East Coast competition, but that question feels premature before having a good idea of what your top players might look like. Do you have any opinion on your fellow East Coasters, or if you make it to the final round what team you think you’ll see meet there?
Andres: I’m primarily worried about the players we’re going to see out of Philadelphia’s Broad Street Battles–there’s a lot of good players there. If Punk doesn’t make it to the CPT, there’s a good chance we’ll see him in June.
I’m otherwise, unfortunately, not much for trash talk. I’d rather leave that to the players.
Zidiane: That’s about it for my questions so far, though. Did you have any last comments before you leave?
Andres: I’m looking forward to the communities at each of these events to rise up to the challenge of trying to be the region that wins the Red Bull Proving Grounds!
And I really want to emphasize one thing to players: support your new local event series. These organizers are working hard to put this together, to try and give you a tournament experience of this caliber on a regular basis. If something’s nearby you, go and play! Many of these events are supporting games other than SFV. Citrus Clash added UMvC3 and KOFXIV for April.
Other events are running a gamut of events, and many are open to running your favorite game so long as you show that you want to come out to play it. Take this opportunity to meet other players, network and improve your play. Let’s make this an exciting season of play in the FGC. We hope to see you there!
[Feature image courtesy of Robert Paul]