Tournament Organiser interview: Helix (Germany)

The efforts that go into a tournament from an organisational perspective are often overlooked and underestimated. In an attempt to share more information about this important part of maintaining a competitive scene, SmashEurope writer Joeri reflected with several members of the Helix TO team on the event itself, the state of the German community and potential lessons for other European TOs. Though the team had more than three members, Joeri chose to interview staffers that each were responsible for a different key aspect of the organisation.

Steffen “Stivo” Weber – Marketing & Promotion

Steffen Stivo Webe - Marketing

“I’ve been a German Smash Brothers player since 2007 and I’m from the northern part of Germany. I started playing early, but had no other players near my region, so I got introduced to the scene later on. Due to my remote location I got used to travelling large distances to compete pretty early. That’s why nowadays I like to focus on getting players to travel. Usually I’m that guy you contact on Facebook and ask questions about Smash and I see myself as an encourager for my local scene in the north, together with PheX who’s also a part of our team.”

Dusan “Usleon” Haro – Main Event Organiser

Dusan Usleon Otto - Main Event Organiser

“I’m a Chilean smasher that moved to Europe about six years ago and more recently to Berlin. I’ve been living here for two years and am trying to grow the local scene together with Luma and some of the other Smashers we have. I started playing competitively in 2006 and lived in Finland for a while, so I know some other European Smashers, in addition to Chileans like the ariquenoobs and Dark. It’s kinda nice to experience the contrast between the European and Latin American scene.”

Luma – Bracket Manager (TO)

Luma - Bracket Manager (TO)

“I’ve been playing Smash since the release, playing competitively since 2004. Nowadays my main goal in the community is to just get people to know Germany. I’ve always been trying to get Germany on the board, first in Europe and now in the whole world. People know Ice and perhaps reaper, since he beat Professor Pro at DreamHack, but most people do not know very much about the German scene. I’m just trying to raise our standards.”

The German scene

To put the event in the proper context, it helps to know that the German scene has been like in the past. Luma was asked to shed some light on this.

Luma: Back in the day the German scene was really small. For the longest time our nationals only had like 30 to 40 people and it wasn’t until the big boom of the Smash Documentary and Evo that we started getting more. Before that it was quite hard to get people into the scene and keep them there. I’m not sure why that was, seeing how we had a decent website, so if people wanted to find us it was pretty easy. We could have tried doing some more promotion, but at the time we were all kids, so that wasn’t really a concern for us.

You guys were quite early with your own forum in comparison to most other countries.

Luma: We had our own boards as early as 2002, but we had some problems because people kept disagreeing on how to run it. That sort of split the community for a while, until the website that we use now (germansmash.de) reunited everything again. We’re still pretty active, though of course nowadays a lot of stuff is on Facebook, especially regional things like people looking for others to play with. Big tournaments and discussions are still posted to the boards though.

What impact do you think that Helix will have on the German scene?

Luma: I hope some people will see this event and think “it’s really cool, I wanna do something like this as well”. We’re always willing to give advice to aspiring TOs. To this day I’m contacted at least once a week on Facebook for advice on seeding and other situations, which I always try to help with. I also hope Helix gets more people to travel in Germany and perhaps inspires players to travel out of country. Big events lead to bigger international events.

The venue

The crowd at Helix
The crowd at Helix

Helix served as the German qualifier in the European Smash Circuit and was the first German international event in years. It was an important milestone for the German community on the way to becoming a scene that facilitates a larger national playerbase and draws in international talent. Since the German Melee community has always been made up of several TOs hosting small locals, it was tough to find the right team for a qualifier on a larger scale. The various TOs fortunately managed to get together and even secured the Microsoft Atrium in the process. Because it was a difficult process that paid off in the form of a prestigious venue, we were curious how this came to be.

Usleon: It was kind of a lucky shot, I guess. I was on holiday back in Chile when Stivo and me were looking for venues and started Googling for different options. Stivo found the Microsoft Berlin website and said ”hey, take a look at this, it will be super sick if we got this venue”. I was very sceptical in the beginning and thought there was no way we were going to get it and that it would be super expensive. Then we had a couple of meetings with the event manager of Microsoft and arranged some pretty good deals. He was quite fond of the stuff we did, so somehow it worked out. We agreed to pay for various things, like hiring security and a technical support person who’s present all the time, which resulted in a somewhat higher venue fee. I’m aware some people complained about this in the beginning, but without it there was no way we could have hosted Helix.

You got Tempo.Westballz to go to Helix, which was quite surprising. How did that come about?

Stivo: That was also kind of lucky. Usleon can be an opportunist sometimes and he managed to convince Westballz to come over when he heard that he was going to DreamHack London. We had contacted some other American players, which didn’t work out. Fortunately, Westballz was glad to go and we’re very happy about that.

Helix Marketing campaign

In the build-up to the event the TO team sent out weekly updates
In the build-up to the event the TO team sent out weekly updates

While securing a proper venue and having a dedicated TO team is the top priority, generating awareness of the event is also important. As the communities grow and the number of events increases, it’s no longer just a simple matter of posting a thread on a local forum or Smashboards. The Helix marketing campaign was noteworthy, considering the TO team managed to hit the cap while colliding with several other big events. An important promotion tool was the weekly update, which provided information for attending players and encouraged those still on the fence. Stivo was in charge of this and shared a bit about the underlying strategy.

Stivo: We had huge plans for the marketing campaign for Helix, which I especially was very excited for, that we decided to launch after Heir II. Suddenly more tournaments started popping up out of nowhere, like Call of Ragnarok in Norway and DreamHack London, while we had announced Helix months and months ago at that point. Of course, DreamHack is amazing and I want to emphasise that I’m proud of the community and happy to see Smash get included, but for us it was kind of a bummer. In a matter of 3 or 4 days we had all these events really close to the Helix date and soon after there even was a UK monthly announced for the same day as Helix, encouraging players to stay over after DreamHack London.

Back on the subject of the marketing campaign, we had a website live in the weeks prior to Heir II, but didn’t promote it yet at that point. We had a trailer shown at Heir II and then really kicked things off with five weeks of weekly updates, which was Usleon’s idea. He has experience writing for a Chilean gaming site and did the writing, while I took the part of webmaster. There’s always room for improvement, but I’m pretty proud of what we managed to accomplish. Something to improve on would be tweeting during the event.

Issues the Helix staff ran into

The staff worked hard all weekend
The staff worked hard all weekend

I’ve been told that there were many last minute issues that caught you guys off guard. Can you elaborate on this?

Usleon: Yeah, there were a lot of problems that came up. One of the worst issues we ran into was that very few people in Berlin have a car or even a driver’s license, so we had to count on our local players a lot. To make matters worse, the person who was supposed to help out with TV transportation got sick, so we had to find a replacement on very short notice. Another issue is that we had ordered wristbands for participants to facilitate entry, but the mail made a mistake: we ordered them two and a half weeks prior to the event with express delivery, but they didn’t arrive till the Saturday of the event. We ran into a similar problem with some T-shirts that we had ordered. We also were not allowed to come to the venue early, so that’s why setting up ran late and we had to start a little later than scheduled.

What would you do differently for a second Helix?

Usleon: We would probably have a better task distribution. I think some people had a lot of stuff to do both before and during the event, while others didn’t do much.

Luma: I think the biggest problem that we had at the tournament itself was the lack of communication between the TOs, because we had never done an event this big. The biggest event I and Usleon hosted prior to Helix had 80 people and was still doable with the two of us, but now we needed a bigger team and were just lacking in communication left and right. That made it a lot more stressful than it should have been. Also, while I have to say that Usleon is a really good TO, he’s not a good main organizer. He knows that as well, but that’s something we have to work on next time.

The usage of Smash.gg

Smash.gg was used often before and during Helix
Smash.gg was used often before and during Helix

Smash.gg is a fairly new tournament hub, consisting of mainly US tournaments in its rapidly growing database. The Helix team chose to use Smash.gg not just for registration, but also for running part of the tournament. The TOs were asked to share their experience with the service.

Usleon: I would definitely encourage TOs to use it, because I think a lot of the main issues with bigger tournaments have to do with the registration. Like keeping track of who’s playing in which event and whether people have already paid. Smash.gg makes everything very simple, I basically had to do nothing after setting up the registration. Another very useful thing they have is that people can add information about where they come from. That helped us with the regional seeding for the first round of pools, so we didn’t have to ask every single community leader who people were and where they came from. They also have a bracket system, which I had not used before, to be honest. I hosted a local about five months ago and tried to use it, but didn’t feel confident enough to run it. They improved it a great deal over the past months and I think it worked out pretty well, but Luma was actually managing most of the bracket.

Luma: Like Usleon said, they improved their bracket system a lot, but that also brought some problems with it. For example, they now have a station manager, but one thing it doesn’t do, which TIO used to do back in the days, is that when you select a station to be played on it should be off the list. We also had a big issue with the round 2 pools, because it should have been an automatic system, but for some reason it was bugged: the names weren’t showing up right and people were listed twice etc. When we tried to do it on Smash.gg it still didn’t work, so we had to do it all by ourselves, which took a lot of time. If they can work out those problems, the website and the integrated bracketing system is great. While Challonge is nice, people mainly made the switch from TIO to Challonge due to its online functionality. You have that with Smash.gg as well and it’s even better now, because people can see the station manager online as well. What I wanted to do was tell people that, if they’re unsure about where they have to play, they can check their own brackets online and even see which station they have to play on. We didn’t quite follow up on that, but we might use that for future tournaments.

Stivo: I want to point out that the team of Smash.gg was very supportive and quick in their responses. We had a question during the bracket and they almost immediately responded and tried to fix it. That was very nice.

Advice and closing thoughts

Crowd watching a close set between Däumling from Germany and Peki from Finland
Crowd watching a close set between Däumling from Germany and Peki from Finland

Luma: If you have a team, communication is key. Not only at the tournament itself, but also in the months leading up to it. You have to discuss many things, even minor details about the ruleset etc. Make sure you talk a lot online, have meetings over Skype or in person when possible. Doing so makes the actual job so much easier. That would be my biggest advice to other TOs.

Stivo: Media presence is also very important if you want to promote your event and it’s something a lot of people forget these days. I think European teams have stepped it up in that regard, with team Heir being a good recent example. Also, don’t be too afraid of trying something new.

Game5 logo

What’s in store for the future of team Game5 [a German crew consisting of Usleon, Stivo, PheX, Yomi and .Tero]?

Stivo: We were just a smash crew back in the days, but we grew really tight and have all matured. We had a lot of fun this weekend! We finally got together again for the first time in a year or so and I feel there will definitely be more in the future. We’ve discussed plans for even bigger events and doing other events like Helix. We will definitely keep doing small events as well: Usleon hosts locals in the Berlin University, PheX in Hamburg and .Tero in Freiburg.

Thanks for the interview, do you have any last comments?

Stivo: The past few months and actually the whole year have shown really great progress in Europe. I hope that events like this keep coming up and that we can have an even bigger and better 2016.

Luma: I hope this event inspires some people to start hosting themselves and build up their own scenes. Start small with about 30-40 people, depending on how big your scene is, and then maybe go up to a national of like 80 people and build up experience along the way. I hope people liked Helix, I hope they can forgive us for all the small stuff that happened on the first day. And I hope Europe keeps growing and progressing and that if there will be a second ESC that we’ll also work a bit harder on that with a bit more structure, which comes back to communication again, which always seems to be the problem.

Thanks go out to Marc for editing. Images used were shot by MrSnakeEater and David Vázquez TO of Òssom Fights 2015

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