Eclipse 2 TO interview

Eclipse 2 continued the collaboration between Smash Norge and Pressfire. The Eclipse series aims to stand out through its production quality. The second incarnation featured a hand crafted commentary desk, an FM channel for the attendants to tune in to the commentators and on-stream interviews with top players between sets. Unlike most European sponsors, Pressfire is closely involved with the organisation of the event itself. That’s a rare occurrence in the European scene and though it offers a lot of benefits it also raises questions concerning the marriage of a grassroots culture and eSports aspirations. Joeri travelled to the event and managed to sit down with Havard ‘Howie’ Ottosen of Smash Norge and Erik Fossum of Pressfire to provide more insight into their collaboration, the challenges they faced and their perspective on Smash in Europe.

Håvard ‘Howie’ Ottosen – Community Organiser, TO and Community Leader
I’m Howie, I function as tournament organiser and community leader in Norway along with Askeflink and I’m the head of developing tournaments in Norway.
I play Ice Climbers and Fox.

Erik Fossum – CEO of Pressfire
My name is Erik Fossum, I play a lot of Smash but not competitively, when I do I play Captain Falcon. I’m the co-owner and CEO of Pressfire. We are a company that runs a news site called Pressfire.no and we also do eSports stuff like events and all that jazz. Eclipse is pretty much us and Smash Norway.

The Norwegian scene

Can you give us a bit of background on the state of the Norwegian scene of the past few years? The scene used to be quite small but I’ve observed it really grow in activity over the past two years and I’d say the last year especially.

Howie: “About two and a half years ago we started the organisation Smash Norway. That kind of put together a dedicated crew for developing the scene. We also got some great contacts and venues so we could start hosting official tournaments and not just tournaments at home in people’s living rooms. After that our FB group went from 200 to 800 members in a little over a year. Our scene has grown massively in terms of tournament attendance. Our locals in Oslo, bi-weeklies, have between 60 and 100 attendants every time. The skill level of the players has also improved quite a bit. Some players are now taking a year off to focus on the game. When one player’s skill improves within the community the other players can kind of leech off of that skill and improve as well. Allowing them to hit a high target.

Erik: “It’s kind of like in cycling, where you have the leader pulling the entire team.

What would you say are the key factors that influenced that growth over the past years?

Howie: ”They key factors were the organisation and appearing more organized and professional, easier to reach out to new audiences and easier to get in contact with new partners like Pressfire for the Eclipse series. That way you appear more professional as a community.

Erik: “When we were looking for opportunities to do things with eSports by far the most organized part of eSports, at least in Norway, was Smash. Because they have a legal organisation it was much easier to find them. When we had the first talk about Eclipse it was just an idea, like “let’s do something”. I just wanted a cup of coffee and say hello to them but they showed up with 8 people as super serious guys. I didn’t know they were only a year old back then. To me it appeared as if Smash Norway had been doing this for 15 years. That made us want to do more with them as well. After meeting 2 all the plans were already finalized.

What would you recommend other scenes that are looking to do the same, considering the growth that you went through and what actions you took to put that in motion?

Erik: “We’ve been looking at this from an outside perspective and it’s pretty apparent that as soon as you’re organized and you start doing things on a regular schedule then you’re making it possible for other people to join. Instead of there just being tournaments at someone’s house which might be difficult for a potential partner to attend. Actually holding it at a venue is the almost deciding factor for many to come. Most don’t like to show up at a group of friends that they aren’t familiar with. You’re coming there to visit the organisation and then you find the community there. It’s also easier as an organisation to get funding and it’s easier to cooperate with other organizations as I know Smash Norway kind of does. They are part of a larger organisation network called Hyperion, which does everything from card games to board games and video games. The Norwegian subname of Hyperion translates to ‘the organisation for people with fantastic interests’.
So appearing more professional, even though you might not be professional in the sense that it’s still a grassroots thing, is very important. Just having that coat of paint on top, like an organisation so you can be found through google or ensuring something as simple as contact info is easy to find is bound to lead to good things. And that was the case for Eclipse.

How did you come up with the name ‘Eclipse’?

Erik: “That one is easy. It was supposed to be called Ragnarok but then the Street Fighter crew took that name straight from under our noses. So then we didn’t know what else to call it. It was actually a graphic designer over at Pressfire. He saw the Smash logo and he just drew this half moon thing over it and just said Eclipse. And that’s it. So that was easy.

So what are the goals of Eclipse and how would you say it differentiates itself from other European majors?

Erik: “From the business perspective and what image we want people to have from Eclipse I’d say that, compared to other European Majors, what we can bring to the table is a bit more professionalism. Eclipse is its own thing, in that we strife to make it a really good tournament but not necessary like Heir which is more grassroots community based, it feels more like a summercamp. That’s awesome but it’s not the profile that we can do. So we’re really looking at the United States for inspiration when it comes to the future of Eclipse and I hope we made some good strides with this years addition. The finances look good so we’re definitely going to do it again I think though we have to evaluate this of course. It is easy to say after a hype grand finals but yeah we’re definitely looking to do more.

The Eclipse 2 commentary desk

I also want to add that we like Smash. That is the main reason we do this. I’m not just a business pleb talking about how we can make things bigger. We do this because we love Smash.

Howie: “Eclipse as project for Smash Norway is the definitive peak of anything we’ve ever done, it really gives a lot of room for the entire community to strife to improve because we feel the pressure when there’s another company involved that’s putting their reputation on the line for us. That makes us way more serious as an organisation and gives a lot of motivation. It introduces the same driving forces like those that are used in professional organisations or to drive the developments of a community. You get milestones and whenever you have one of those milestones in front of you, you have to improve and develop your community. Then you get another milestone and another milestone and as you keep improving, hitting those milestones become more and more rewarding. It definitely also puts the Norwegian Smash scene on the world wide map for Smash. It gives us a lot of exposure and it gives us the opportunity for a really good reputation.
Eclipse’s existence also definitely inspires the Norwegian players, we see higher attendance at local tournaments after huge tournaments like Eclipse and also other promotional tournaments.

Also since we are holding this event in Norway which is quite expensive, we know that people need to save up money for it and really need to consider if it’s worth to attend. That motivates us to provide quality. It really has to be worth coming here. Because if someone had a bad experience here they will really struggle when considering to spend that money to attend the next event.

Example of Eclipse visual style
Considering the professionalism of events, how would you say the identity of Eclipse influenced the visual style?

Erik: “For us it’s important to appear professional but also be open. People are playing a 15 year old fighting game on huge tv’s and having fun and everything is fun. So even though we want to be professional we don’t necessarily want to be super serious about it, it should also be a place where it’s just fun to play Smash. But hopefully the image of Eclipse is that it’s taking things a step further towards the huge productions we see over seas. Of course there are going to be stepping stones along the way.

Howie: “You also want to appear relatable.”

So talking about staffing a bit, what is the staff size of Eclipse and how are the roles divided?

Erik: “We have a very open structure. The business side of things is pretty much done by Pressfire. We take care of everything surrounding the tournament like the venue, sponsors and we’re pretty much paying the bill for the whole thing. When it comes to the tournaments themselves that is Smash Norway’s speciality. Which is a pretty good deal. We work from each other and for each other.

Howie: “You can sort of say that Pressfire is the project manager.

Erik: “When it comes to actually sitting down and planning the event we have had regular meetings and discussions surrounding what we do. These are usually held at Pressfire’s offices. Eclipse is pretty much an open invitation for volunteers in the Smash Norway community and then we have Lolex from the Beast series from Sweden helping out a lot.

So we haven’t necessarily defined that this guy is the finance guy or this one is doing the banners and so forth. We discuss everything together, reach a decision and then we just act on it.

Howie: “Yeah it’s a very flat democratic structure”

Erik: “Sometimes thing get out of hand during the meetings.

Howie: “On top of that it’s mainly Erik and I who need to be in control of everything, the control freaks.”

How many volunteers do you have?

Howie: “We can round it to about 10.”

Erik: “At last Eclipse we asked if anyone wanted to help out and 40 people actually came to help out.

Last year was actually kinda weird because we were renting this special venue and they had some insane time restrictions. We had to get the whole place up and running in 3 to 4 hours starting from 0.”

Howie: “yeah we were there at 6am on Saturday morning”

Erik: “And the doors opened at 10”

Erik: “For Eclipse 2 however we had an entire day of just setting things up. So that was better.”

Howie: “And we also have an entire day to clean it up.”

The TOs at work

The Helix TOs mentioned that one of the key points for improvements that they identified was delegating tasks more instead of the main event organiser trying to take care of as much as possible. Are you able to delegate tasks properly or do you find yourself chasing after stuff all the time?

Howie: “I would say it’s the latter. I know that one of my biggest weaknesses both as TO and person is getting help from people. It has nothing to do with other people but has to do with the way that I’m used to working in the past where I always worked a lot on my own and needed to be in control of everything. That has kinda just carried on into Smash. It’s definitely something I’m working on improving and I have to improve. So we need more people to get involved. But that’s not a fault of the community but something I can improve in.

Erik: “Haha we always need more people.”

So you’re using Smash.GG for the event. What aspects of it are you utilizing, what do you think can be improved upon the service and what do you like about it?

Erik: “We’re actually not using any of the compendiums and purchase stuff on there other than basic registration stuff. That is something we are going to continue doing. I don’t think Eclipse will ever incorporate voting of compendiums or anything like that.

What is your reason for that?

Erik: “I don’t have a definite answer but I feel like we are trying to go beyond the grassroots feel of it. If we, Pressfire, do our job then we don’t need to have the crowdsourcing. The main idea is that Eclipse is going to be self contained because if you can do that then you can start improving as well.

So to appear more professional you don’t want crowd funding to be factor?

Erik: “No because with crowd funding you rely on someone else to run the show well. Let’s say that you’ve set up everything like compendiums or whatever you want to call it and then all of a sudden another big tournament ends up being almost on the same date. Than you might lose that crowd funding and everything goes to hell because you’re planning on getting money from other people. If we’re self contained, meaning have sponsors and thus money that we can put in upfront, then we can do anything we want instead of relying on the goodwill of people and asking them to spend extra money on top of what they are already paying for the event and the trip itself.

I want to emphasise that we don’t really look at making money from entrance fees. It looks kinda bad if all the money you’re making is through the attendants. Obviously we need to make money to make the thing go around but it should be more dependent on the sponsors that are the main driving force behind the event’s budget. We don’t want Eclipse to be solely community driven from a financial perspective. I think that’s perhaps the final step needed for Smash so it can really reach that eSports level of professionalism that it might lack right now concerning how things are ran.

Team Heir had issues regionally seeding players into waves properly using Smash.GG, is that something you encountered as well?

Howie: “Regarding region conflicts I can’t relate to much to those problems that Heir suffered. I actually found it way easier with Smash.GG because there are functions that can display a region and then it shows player tag and country. You see all that while you see all the pools and you can just drag and drop between all of them. It is probably just a preference thing.”

Howie: “Overal, regarding Smash.GG I wanted to say it’s a super deep organising program. It has a lot of features, especially in the export functions so you can get your hands of a lot of information really quick. So there’s no real alternative for it to run the tournament. The support you get from the people working there is awesome. You have a direct contact and they truly care for you. If we are using something else like challonge and something goes wrong I wouldn’t know who to contact. With Smash.GG they are always there.

Erik: “Smash.GG is also really good for doing promotional stuff. We can easily export the lists and sort things, that isn’t really possible with other software. So it’s easy for us to get numbers like who is registered and see if we can do anything PR related with the stats that we get from Smash.GG. An example is that we saw that there was an unusually large amount of Swedish attendants so we could use that on social media and thank them by showing a bit of social media love to them. There were about 70 players signed up.

So Smash.GG, thumbs up, good shit!”

Are there challenges that you’re encountering during this event and would like to warn fellow European TOs for?

Erik: “Location, location, location! It’s difficult to find a venue that is perfect in every sense, you have to look at so many factors. Like how much it costs to rent the venue and is the venue suitable for the special nature of Smash because you need more space to house all these CRTs than is the case with other monitor setups. And you have to consider what’s going on around the venue, can you fill the venue with things that are fun for people and are there areas where they can just relax? So there’s a lot of things to look at when it comes to venues. Right now we moved Eclipse out of Oslo and more towards Oslo airport just to make it easier for people to travel to the event but we’re also seeing that around an airport there’s not really much to do. So you have to weigh the pros and the cons and that can be quite hard.

Howie: “When it comes to running it some of the challenges were running on time and then primarily ensuring we start as early as possible. That is probably the biggest tip that I can give that everyone will benefit from. Anything that you can do, do it as early as possible so as the event approaches you’ll have less things to worry about”

Erik: “Also the work for the next big event starts at the previous event. That was one thing that we did bad at the first Eclipse. We forgot the easy stuff like taking a lot of pictures, having stuff that we can work with through the year to build up hype and to remind people about the event. Our video material wasn’t that good either. So it’s important to remember that to make a second tournament more successful than the first you have to work hard from the moment the first one has started”

Ice's performance vs Armada and Leffen was the highlight of the day

Are you satisfied with the event so far?

Erik: “Well we are only two days in but so far it’s been really great. We learned a lot from Eclipse 1, I guess we learned more about what not to do and what to do. Now we’ve gotten more help from the excellent Liva of Geeky Goon Squad. That helped us out immensely. So just getting the right people to do the right things. We haven’t really hit any big snags this year. We had all the proper equipment, we have backups where we need to have backups, the stream is going well.

I have no main concern for tomorrow which is kinda weird because something is definetly going to happen I guess. Hopefully we have enough setups and we can avoid time snags like the event slowing down in the first 2 to 3 rounds. We had to start a bit late today because we had to take a strike into account in Norway by train operators. That restricted people to the bus so that stalled the first wave which delayed everything by half an hour. That isn’t much but it’s something we wanted to avoid as last time we also had an hour delay.

About Liva. I had never met him before, only seen his amazing work. I was yelled at by the community last time because we decided to go with a tv crew last time. That was a huge mistake. We thought we had the necessary equipment, which we had, but we didn’t necessarily have the knowhow. We had done other eSports well before but Smash is a different kind of beast. There are so many things that people in the scene are accustomed to that we perhaps couldn’t deliver 100%. In our defence we also had a very big misfortune that the French shooting last year required the TV crews that we intended to use for Eclipse had to rush to France to cover that tragedy. So we were short on people and equipment. That’s not an excuse but an explanation to what happened.

We were new to the scene then and we’ve learned a lot over the past year so we hope that we can actually manage to think about what we can improve and actually improve it.

And Liva is awesome, seriously that guy!

Liva
Philipp ‘Liva’ Bürkner of Geeky Goon Squad hard at work behind the scenes

Howie: “I am satisfied. Something that often happens is that for the tournament that I run the attendants are satisfied but as TOs I see potential improvements and you I become sort of a perfectionist. So you can go for few hours and feel that you’re not ahead but everyone is super happy which takes a lot of weight of your shoulders to get that confirmation.

Erik: “We also like trying new things. So regarding our relationship with the streamer we just said if you want to try something new then just go crazy and we’ll get the equipment for you to handle it. We’re trying out a couple of things with both the on stage presence, broadcasting the commentary over FM radio in which I think we are unique. I see people going around with radios though I don’t think it’s being used to the full extent because it’s new so we could probably improve in how we facilitate the usage of it.

Are you considering multi language commentary at some point?

Erik: “I think that when we are at that point when can have multiple commentary tracks then we’ve really made it. I guess it’s possible and is a good idea actually. But as far as I know the Smash scene is intensely occupied with English. Even at Norwegian locals with Norwegian viewers the commentary is still in English.”

Howie: “We usually prefer English commentary because of the promotional value but if we have aspiring commentators then we allow them to commentate in Norwegian to grow comfortable in the role and then move on to English afterwards. So we don’t do English exclusively. We need more commentators in Norway!

Erik: “I also think that with multilanguage stuff you’re dividing things where it’s not necessary at all. It’s an international thing. I know the big players do it like DOTA has it’s own chinese production for the international events but I’m not sure if the Smash scene is better served by having multi language.

Howie: “As we are still a community in development, I wouldn’t say that multilanguage commentary is the primary focus and we have more important focus points. “

The European Scene

Looking at the European scene as a whole, what direction do you think the scene should go in?

Erik: “Keep going! That’s pretty much it. We have a healthy scene right now. Of course there are some countries that aren’t on the way up as much as the others but you’re getting some distinctive tournaments going on right now. Like Heir doing their thing, Syndicate growing, Eclipse and Beast is branching out into other games. I feel like almost every member of the group of large European tournaments has their own identity and that’s quite important. If everyone was the same then it would be much easier to skip out on some of them. And then of course there’s DreamHack which is pretty much the closest thing we have to a super Major in Europe, that’s always good to have as it’s something to aspire too.

Howie: ”Tournament wise I would advice quality over quantity. If everybody wants a Major all the time we won’t have any Majors. Because it will divide people over all the events. So in the future I think we should try to get more involved and get countries to cooperate on identifying improvements for these tournaments. I would like to give a huge shout out to Ed from Team Heir, I have a lot of respect for him and we talk things over whenever we are wondering about something and he’s always there to give tips.

Erik: “If you raise the ocean all the boats in it also get raised. That’s a Norwegian saying loosely translated to English. If everyone works together we can do it.

Also quality over quantity is super important. It’s a problem currently present in other eSports. For example in Counter Strike there has been a huge problem with having all these Majors that are always the equivalent to the Champions League and are always ongoing. So why would you care about b or c tier events when you can always look at Barcelona playing against Real Madrid. It’s a big problem if we get saturated by huge events. You can’t build up hype for something that’s always there. This is probably a problem that’s more present in the United States but it’s a trap to be wary of over here as well though I don’t think we reached this point yet in Europe.

Howie: “I’d say rather the opposite, we are starting to cooperate more between countries so for us it’s very natural between Norway and Sweden and me and Lolex helping each other out. After I started in the community these scenes have grown even closer. Both in the attendance numbers at events but also the trust we have in each other to help out at these events.”

Howie and Lolex

Erik: “We’re in a good path I think and it looks really bright for the European Smash community now. We’re seeing European players get better and better and better.

It’s still early days though.”

Yeah that feels a bit weird to say considering the scene is older than 10 years but it’s an understandable remark. What would you say are the biggest challenges that we’re facing now?

Erik: “*jokes* Brexit
*everyone laughs*
While we’re together, Europe is still quite divided. Last year no one from the UK came to Eclipse. So we had to pester them a bit. But we’re seeing things like conflicting holiday dates that only apply in one country. You have so many variables when it comes to Europe, that makes it difficult to cooperate efficiently.”

Howie: ”What separates Europe from the USA is that they are more easily recognised as one unit. Also in terms of travelling options, it’s much easier to travel to another state then a different country. It can easily appear as a lot of effort to go through to travel to a foreign event.

Erik: “There’s also the language barrier though I don’t really mean language per se but culture differences and currencies, economy etc. Economy especially is on everyone’s lips when they think of Norway because it is expensive.”

Howie: “Yeah and each of the countries within Europe has a very distinct background though as the time progresses the lines between us become more blurred through social media for example. We know each other now and we know our cultural differences and these are never really a challenge as we respect each other.”

Is Pressfire interested in getting involved with other European events?

Erik: “Pressfire is in pretty weird financial spot right now because when we started Eclipse we were part of a much much larger media company called Aller Media which is a Danish company. We had pretty much unlimited amounts of money but right now we split off. It makes things much easier when organising things because we have less management layers to go through but it also makes is more difficult to branch out. Of course the goal is to do that, we want to get bigger, we want the Smash things that we do to get bigger but there are no plans as of now. But hopefully we can position ourselves together with Smash Norway to be a powerhouse in Europe. That’s a dream of course and the competition is stiff. Beast is a beast, there’s DreamHack and now Syndicate and Heir.”

Thanks for the interview, any closing remarks?

Erik: “It’s been an amazing year for us at Pressfire to experience the Smash scene. We came in as total newbies but Smash Norway got us on the right track. Everyone that works at Pressfire is now super into the Smash scene which is kinda crazy. We all play the game and have done so since the n64 era but now we think that the most interesting scene is the Smash scene. Because it has a narrative which is unrivaled in eSports and it has a community which is so driven on a much lower level than anything else we’ve seen. So it’s been an amazing journey and it was all worth it, we worked really hard to make Eclipse as good as we can and seeing people actually come here and have fun is amazing. So we would like to thank everyone that came here, everyone that supports us from home by watching the stream and I hope everyone had a good time and liked what we did.”

Photographs used were taken by myself, the Eclipse twitter, photograph of Liva by MrSnakeEater.

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