Red Bull has been very active in the FGC scene for the past few years, holding tournaments and supporting community events. Street Fighter V is, of course, the latest big thing for the FGC–and this year’s Red Bull Proving Grounds seeks to bring a whole new flavor to the competition with this regional rivalry theme. To get some better insight into these different regions and what’s going to happen when they all meet June 24-25th, we’ve been reaching out to each region’s tournament organizer for insight.
Today’s interview focuses on some of the more classic aspects of the fighting game culture, as well as some history involving the old days, and how it relates to the recent Red Bull event. We hear from the SoCal TO today, running the Vanguard series.
Jimmy “ShinJN” Nguyen: My name is Jimmy Nguyen and my gamer handle is ShinJN. I am a native of Southern California, and I am a co-founder and the President & COO of Level Up, LLC. I wear many hats, but the key ones are business development, adviser/consultant/mentor/teacher, CFO, TO & event manager, activation/project manager, and live-production engineer/director/producer.
Like most OGs, my Street Fighter career began with SFII and this franchise has been a part of my life ever since. It gave me opportunities to be part of the Southern Hills Golfland community and become friends with the old-school guys like the Cannons, Javi Moreno, Joey Cuellar, Alex Valle, and John Choi; just to name a few. Other than playing games, I have been producing content and running & organizing events since the arcade and pre-Evo years. I took a break between 2002 and 2008 to focus on my professional career, but always kept my feet in the FGC in varying degrees.
With the experience I gained from both my trade and gaming careers, I came up with the idea to start an event and production company, now Level Up, shortly after the announcement of SFIV (Q4 2008). It wasn’t until 2009 when I started finding the right people to turn this idea into a real company. In 2010, Level Up was co-founded by myself, Alex Valle, AJ Papa, Frank Reyes, Bryan Gateb, Mike Ortiz, and Walter Ly. Once I had the right people in place, I started building the foundation of the company by learning more about startups, combining all our strengths, and learning from our weaknesses.
I like to lay low but you can catch a glimpse of me in the B5 DVDs and some older videos on YouTube, as well as some recent content. You just need to dig for it.
Zidiane: You said you started with SFII. Was that the original when it first came out way back when, or did you come into the scene sometime after then?
Jimmy: Yup, that would be the original World Warrior, glitches and all. I met a lot of random players in pizza joints, convenience stores, and mom & pop arcades. Being a kid at the time, the communities I were a part of were my school friends, where we played SFII whenever we could. It was tough fitting in back then because everyone was territorial, so your friends were the first people to fit in with.
Zidiane: The scene must look quite different with that as your original introduction. What’s it like seeing and being a leader of the scene in its current state?
Jimmy: There is a huge contrast between now and then. In the past, you had to really prove yourself to play on the arcade machines. Even when you did get a chance, there was a lot of intimidation. There is still some of this today, but it’s not as cutthroat. I definitely don’t want to see that repeated today. Engagement, inclusion, relating to everyone, and showing empathy are some of the key things I focus on to build the FGC. It’s great seeing how the “community” in FGC is really evolving when you approach it with that mindset. It also is very nice to see how we came from grassroots and still maintain the roots while creating opportunities for each other.
Zidiane: In the context of this latest Red Bull Proving Grounds event, I’ve heard it said that it’s a return to some of the rivalry and regional pride that was everywhere back in those days. Do you see it that way, and if so, do you think it’s good for the community?
Jimmy: RBPG is trying to resurrect the rivalry and regional pride. When I was brought on to do PG last year, I was immediately on board when I heard the pitch. Rivalries and regional pride are great for the community because they give the players something to strive for and it also validates all the effort they put into the game to become better. Look at sports, there are many rivalries there. SoCal vs. NorCal. WC vs. EC vs. MW. Let’s go! Some of the old rivalries need a spark or fuel to create a new fire. Rivalries are a means of motivation for players to play more fighting games and get better.
Zidiane: That’s of course what we all want, to play more fighting games. Speaking of regions, yours is of course LA and the specific regional event will be Vangaurd, correct? What’s the venue like?
Jimmy: That is correct. Vanguard is the LA region event, even though we are in Orange County. The venue we are using is PlayLIVE Nation in Fullerton, CA. It is a beautiful new venue that opened in October of last year. It is focused at providing guests a LAN center experience but instead of PCs, they use consoles, which is perfect for us. They also sell and host trading card games, if you are also into that genre.
Zidiane: As far as that area, what does the player pool look like? SoCal and NorCal are two of the most talent-rich scenes in the FGC, but from what you see and what you expect, who are some notable players that are going to be competing this time around?
Jimmy: SoCal has been known to be one of the top breeders of talent in the FGC. Vanguard: Chapter 0 earlier this month had a very stacked SFV tournament. It can be quite intimidating to compete in a SoCal weekly or monthly event. I always like following the players that seem to come from nowhere, or the ones that don’t always go to events, but come and destroy people. Commander Jesse is one of those stories with his continuous and exponential growth with Dhalsim. I would love to see him represent SoCal in the finals.
Bushinstyle is another player to keep an eye on. If you followed his grudge match vs. Marq Teddy a few years ago and compare it to how he plays today, there is a huge improvement in his game. His erratic style can really confuse some players. SD Pnoy from San Diego won Chapter 0. I always like seeing SD come and represent that city. He is one of the key players in keeping the SD FGC strong.
Zidiane: If you had to make a prediction, would you say those three would be the ones to represent LA in the main event?
Jimmy: I would say SD Pnoy, Commander Jesse, and Stupendous would represent the LA region. They just need to go to every Vanguard event! If not Stupendous, Chris T would be my third.
Zidiane: Alright. I did sit down with Carolyn, the NorCal TO recently. She talked a lot about rivalries, and mentioned the long-standing rivalry that NorCal and SoCal had with each other. It’s of course a well-established rivalry, but what does that rivalry look like from your perspective?
Jimmy: It is not as strong as the reputation makes it out to be. I don’t blame the players or the advent of online matchmaking, though. As mentioned before, the community is evolving and information sharing is easier and less confined. Players want and love to play each other from other regions. Individual rivalries are a lot stronger than regional ones. There still is SoCal vs. NorCal, but it’s usually us old guys that like to add fuel to that fire when those matchups happen. We just have to keep telling the stories so the newer generation can understand the rivalry. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when it comes down to NorCal vs. SoCal in the Proving Grounds West Coast bracket. It’ll be super hype.
Zidiane: So, as far as these regional rivalries not carrying as much weight as they used to, do you feel the same about the whole East Coast vs. West Coast theme of the event? Carolyn mentioned that the West Coast branding for the event was important to their players. Does it carry the same significance for you and your region?
Jimmy: When you have a collective of regions vs. another collective and enable them by providing an event such as the Proving Grounds Finals, it changes substance of the rivalry, making it stronger and more important. By branding it WC vs. EC, not only is RB preserving that longstanding rivalry, they are discretely forcing the players to band together and fight for their coast. It’s brilliant. EC dominated the finals last year, and we don’t want that to happen again (even though NYChrisG now lives on the WC and won the finals, the EC still claim him).
Zidiane: So far, most of the TOs I’ve talked to haven’t really felt any strong alliance to one coast or the other. Most of them felt like it’s them against the world, other than you and NorCal. Do you think it’s going to be different when it starts up, or do you think maybe the players have a different attitude about this than the TOs?
Jimmy: I think that is inherent to the mindset that Proving Grounds provides; prove why your region is the better of all the represented regions. I also believe that TOs are currently focused at developing their region, rather than the entire coast. But believe me, once we start getting closer to the finals and the matchups start happening, there will a lot more banding together and the smack talk will begin. Plus, us TOs like to jab each other occasionally behind closed doors. Not for public consumption. It’s kind of like a bunch of old high school friends sitting on a couch, watching a game, and giving each other slack. It’s all in fun now since we reminisce about our golden years of being players.
Zidiane: That’s a nice image you paint. So, as far as the event goes, if you guys make it to the Grand Final match, do you have any speculation on who you’d be going up against in the Grand Finals match from the East Coast?
Jimmy: Oooh. That’s a tough one to answer. I would have to go with Philly.
Zidiane: I keep hearing different regions say Philly, they look like they’re the EC team to look out for.
Jimmy: They are a strong region, but I can’t tell you how many times I have heard Big E say, “Come on man. You know Philly is going to take this. We got this. We. Got. This.” [laughs]
Zidiane: Well, those were all the questions I had for today. Did you have any last things you wanted to say to the readers?
Jimmy: For those looking to be part of the FGC or the competitive gaming scene in general, your options are not limited to only being a player. Look beyond playing and see what else you can do contribute to the community. You can admin at a tournament, be part of the production crew, band people together, and other countless opportunities. Like with anything in life, if you open yourself and broaden your perspective of the world, you will find its many gems.
And for the ninjas behind the scenes already helping the scene, you are just as important as those in the front, often times, more. Keeping doing what you do because we are all one team. If no one has recognized you, then allow me to do so right now! All volunteers, event staff, bracket runners, camera operators, production techs, lighting, staging, and all the unsung heroes, REPRESENT!
…. And stay tuned for an SCR announcement.
[Feature image courtesy of John Henry Photography]