DreamHack Winter Tournament organiser interview

Photograph: Benjamin Cotton

Last week, DreamHack (DH) Winter took place in event hall Elmia, situated in Jönköping, Sweden. With Smash’s first appearance at the Winter LAN festival, the event is considered a major milestone for the European Melee community. The 350 players that entered were competing for the 2nd largest Smash Bros. prize pool to date, which totalled $30,000. The Europeans were joined by a large delegation of American top players, lured by money and glory. It turned out to be a wake-up call for the European Melee players, with Armada ending up as the only European in singles top 8. Team Liquid’s Hungrybox took both singles and doubles (with teammate Tempo.Axe), upsetting the best player in the world in both events and ending Armada’s winning streak since Evo 2015.

SmashEurope writer Joeri attended DH Winter and got together with Lolex, TO of the the Melee event and Fredrik, the main contact for the FGC portion of DH, to hear about their impressions, communication and challenges for the future of Smash at DH.

DH picking up Melee

Photograph: Sebastian Ekman

The Melee community has been enthusiastic about the idea of Smash at DH for quite some time now. What went into the decision to include it this year?

Fredrik: We haven’t done a lot for the Smash community in recent years, but we worked together with Swedish community members back in the day. They ran smaller tournaments, so we basically let them have some floor space to hold them. That was like 5 to 6 years ago. We know that many people wanted us to run a bigger Smash tournament for quite some time now. We’ve looked at the game before, but didn’t feel like it fit our current strategy at the time. However, this year we expanded DH to the United Kingdom and thought it would be really nice if we presented something that we had never done before in a new event. When we looked at the Smash community in the UK, we found that there was quite a good scene over there. With London and DreamHack Winter we thought we could bring a good story by having Smash at DH, so we decided to go for it. We’ve been talking to Armada and the community for a couple of years now and we knew we had a lot of fans that would want to watch and play it on location.

Did the inclusion of Smash at the Evolution Fighting Game series factor into things at all?

Fredrik: We look at what other tournament organisers do. All of us at DH love to follow Evo and the hype they create around the FGC in general, and of course Smash. That’s why we think Smash is a good fit for DH, because the game has a lot of fans on both the tournament and casual level that want to play the game. I think it shows at DreamHack Winter. I don’t have the exact numbers ready, but a lot of players have shown up to support their favorite games and we’re very happy about how things turned out. We are definitely talking about what the future of Smash at DH will be.

We’ve been proud to announce DH is coming to the USA, in Austin, for the first time in 2016. The gaming community there is huge and Smash is part of that line-up. The pre-sales of the general event were fantastic: we’ve sold out in less than 24 hours for the LAN area and competitor passes will be available at a later date. So the interest is super high and I think Austin is a good location for us to do a first event.

Do you have experience running grassroots events in addition to the larger scale eSports events?

Fredrik: DH is a grassroots event in many ways, because we are gamers who work in both the event and eSports business on a super grassroots level. You could say we are grassroots on a big scale. We do everything from big arena events that are broadcasted live on national television to local level super grassroots stuff. So everything on all levels fits at DH in some way. Obviously though we’re a business that’s looking to make money off of what we’re doing, but as a whole we support small games as well and all have the same backstory as many others.

Running Melee at DH

Lolex, could you tell us a bit about the relationship between you and your staff with the organisation of DH? How did you get in touch and how did you communicate leading up to the event?

Lolex: If I remember correctly, Fredrik contacted Neophos, an old member of the Swedish scene, who then referred to me as a big TO in Sweden. Then we just started chatting on Skype. He asked me what I did, if I liked DH and if I was interested in holding Smash at it. Several Skype meetings followed and we hosted DreamHack London, which was really great. In general, I think they’ve been really great to work with. Both Fredrik and another guy called Mike, who helped me at DreamHack London, as Fredrik wasn’t there, helped us a lot. Whenever we need something they try to arrange it for us ASAP and there were very few problems.

Fredrik: It’s super important for us with all games that we work together with the community. We want to hold the event on the terms of the players of the community. We’re not interested in shoving something down anybody’s throat. If the players aren’t happy with it, it’s in vain, so we want to operate as close to the community as possible and give them tools to grow and help them out in various ways. As an example, we love to have the speedrunning community at DH and lend them equipment if they need something to run their own events. I think that is the only way to have about 800 people in the crew that are committed and dedicated to providing a good time at DH.

Lolex: Which is something we as a community really appreciate and like. If you look at MLG they prefer to force their own way on the communities. They are much more strict in their ways as opposed to DH, where they can be really flexible in ways that suit us as the community best. That’s really great.

Fredrik: *jokes* Shots fired.

In terms of staffing, how large was the DreamHack Smash team?

Lolex: I’m the head admin and organiser. I’m supported by two other admins, VJ and Isa. Then there’s Liva from GeekyGoonSquad, who streamed the event on the DreamHackSmash Twitch channel and has Chirou to assist him. We also have six casters. That’s about all, I think.

Fredrik: Yeah, but then there’s also the DH game crew who construct the tournament areas. They total about 50. It’s quite a big organisation that does everything. We have the DH TV guys who handle the projectors and cables etc. and we have people dedicated to logistics, who drive out to buy stuff if it’s needed. The core Smash team is about 10 people.

Lolex: Yeah, the core is about 10 people, but this is another good thing about DH: you can ask any crew or any team to help you out and they are willing to do so. It all feels like a big team effort.

How long did it take to set up the Melee area?

Fredrik: I don’t have an exact time available, but for DH in general the first person enters on the Friday before the event, so 6 days before the festival starts. It takes about a week to set everything up and 1,5 days to tear everything down.

When did you start communicating about logistics with the Smash team? Does this happen months prior or a few weeks in advance?

Fredrik: Directly after DH London we reviewed what we should change and what we need, but about two weeks prior to DH Winter it ramped up and everything got settled. Some things were set in stone a little too late for my taste, an example is picking up TVs. This was because Lolex was in the USA. Sometimes we cut it close, but it usually works out.

Do you think the staffing was adequate? Was it stressful to run the event and did you feel like you could have used more help?

Lolex: I think myself, VJ and Isa, who form the core of the BEAST team, can do the admin job with just the three of us. The game crew helped out with things you need more people for, like logistics, so I think that was about enough.

Reflecting on the event

Photograph: Benjamin Cotton

What do you think went well the past days?

Lolex: I think most things went really well, although we had some problems with the registration and tournament editing, setting up the bracket and all that. Other than that, most things ran really smooth and I’ve only heard positive comments from the people who’ve been here and even from the viewers at home.

Fredrik: As far as I know everything ran smooth, we put a lot of trust in our admins and game crew. If they need anything we try to support them as best as possible and react if something is needed. In general I think all tournaments at DreamHack Winter ran very smooth, though there are always small hiccups. By now we’re quite experienced and ready to handle any situation that’s thrown at us.

Did you underestimate anything that came up during the past days?

Fredrik: Maybe the floor space could have been a bit bigger, but that’s one of the biggest problems with DreamHack Winter and Summer. Elmia is big, but we always want it bigger in certain areas. Games like Counter Strike Global Offensive have 3000 people in the audience, who need an enormous amount of space, so smaller games of course get smaller areas. Since Melee has large TVs and comparably quite a lot of people, more space would have been better.

Since this interview took place, the DH Smash crew has addressed some of the issues encountered at DH Winter that were voiced by the European Smash community at large. This response can be found in the EU Melee FB group.

The prize pool

Photograph: Benjamin Cotton

What does the prize pool for Melee consist of?

Fredrik: We have no sponsors for the Smash tournaments, so it’s 100% ticket sales that finance it. It’s easy to calculate and conclude that we’re taking a loss if we single out Smash. However, we do a lot at DH that might not have a specific sponsor, but still adds value to the event. We use ticket sales to finance events that might not have been fully financed by sponsors. Hopefully DH will continue doing to this, since we aim to make money off of our business. So how did we come up with the sum for the prize money? Well, we basically looked at what other events where offering and then said “maybe we should have the most”. *grins to Lolex*.

Lessons from eSports for the grassroots scene

What do you think our grassroots community can learn from the organisation of an event like DH?

Fredrik: I’m not sure. It’s hard to answer, but I think it is super important that grassroots events keep popping up and events are organised on the local level. Sometimes it feels like some communities think it doesn’t matter if they do anything, since there are always bigger events that are doing it better. I think it’s really important to have all levels of events going on. That’s why we encourage people to host more events, even if that’s a local in the cafeteria at school. Host events, because that will grow the community and they will also enjoy the small events.

Lolex: I agree, I think that our weekly small gatherings in Gothenburg are as important as the biggest tournaments that I host. Even though BEAST is 300 times bigger, I still think the locals are as important. The scene will die out if we don’t hold small events more frequently on the local level. Regarding what we can learn from DH, I think we can mainly learn how to make events look more professional, both in logistics and the appearance of the event in promotional material and the stream layout. There are many small things that make DH look clean, big and professional.

Thank you for your time. Do you have any closing remarks before we end the interview?

Lolex: Well, I think everything has been great. Thank you to DH and Fredrik for taking us in and I hope we will come back.

Fredrik: Thanks for the support and keep giving us feedback at esport@dreamhack.se. It’s always appreciated and we make sure to answer the mails from everybody all the time.

Thanks go out to Marc for editing. Images used were shot by Sebastian Ekman and Benjamin Cotton of the DreamHack Flickr account

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