Syndicate 2016 TO interview

Syndicate 2016 is a collaboration between the TOs for Avalon (Melee/Smash 4) and GGWP (Smash 4), the two biggest consistent tournament series the Netherlands currently has to offer. The event can be considered a major milestone for the Dutch community: while the country has the oldest Smash scene in Europe and no shortage of locals and (inter)national events, a two-day major of this scale has not happened before. The TOs managed to secure the Jaarbeurs, the country’s biggest event center, for a combined Smash 4 and Melee major. Recent announcements include sponsorshop deals with Smashboards and Joylent, in addition to various confirmed top player updates that include Armada, Mr-R, Professor Pro, Android, Zgetto, Greward, Fuzzyness, Jeapie, S1 and many others. The event currently has more than 300 confirmed players in total.

Joeri sat down with two of the organisers behind the event, Marc Hagen and Greg Landbrug, to learn more about the TOing history of the country, the preparations going into Syndicate and the state of TOing in Europe.

Marc and Greg

Marc Hagen (left): “I entered my first Melee tournament in 2002 and stuck with the scene ever since, though I’ve taken several long breaks. Throughout the years I’ve also played other Smash games competitively, primarily Brawl and Smash 4. As a way to improve the scene and myself I gradually got into TO’ing, which went from being a co-host for SmashNL events to a series of Melee locals to Avalon to Syndicate. I am also an admin and occasional writer for SmashBoards, where I’ve been a leader for the SBR and spearheaded various projects, most notably the tier lists. Finally, I am heavily involved with this website.”

Greg Landburg (right): “I started playing Smash competitively with the release of Brawl. My first tournament was in 2008. I always enjoyed competing. In the Brawl days I was considered a top 3 player in The Netherlands and for Smash 4 now I’m considered a top 10 player. Besides competing I also enjoy TO’ing. I hosted a couple of Brawl tournaments with Dennis (iStudying) in the Brawl era and with the release of Smash 4 we founded “GGWP” together. Now we host Smash 4 tournaments approximately every 2 months.”

For starters, can you talk a bit about the history and current state of your local scene from a TOing perspective?
Marc: “The first Dutch tournament series ran from late 2002 to 2005, with MrSilver as the main TO. Several people took up the gauntlet since, such as Dave with his X-TC series, Exalador with his ZEST series and SmashNL, which consisted of Utto, Exalador and myself, for various Melee and Brawl events.
In an effort to reinvigorate the Melee scene, Remen and I ran a series of 8 Melee locals in 2012. We felt, in part due to the worldwide revival of Melee, that there was more to it and started the Avalon series in the second half of 2013. Though Brawl continued its decline, Melee was pulling bigger and bigger numbers and the success of Smash 4 even lead us to alternating games rather than hosting them together. These days we cap most of our events (128 players in singles), though Melee seems to be falling back a bit.”

Ice vs Amsah at Avalon M-II
A crowd gathers for Ice vs Amsah at Avalon M-II

Greg: “I joined the Smash scene back in 2008. Tournaments were rare back in the days. There weren’t any steady TOs for tournaments and I think that hurt the scene a bit. Dennis and I hosted a few tournaments together, but due to logistic reasons we couldn’t keep it up. The active Brawl scene might’ve been around 40 to 50 people through 2009-2013 and was slowly declining. With Avalon tournament series being introduced, we saw the Smash scene grow again and with the release of Smash 4, the Brawl scene pretty much died off and made room for the Smash 4 scene. These days, every Avalon tournament caps out attendance and every GGWP tournaments gets between 80 to 100 entrants.”

What would you consider the biggest change regarding TOing in your scene the past years?
Marc: “There are more events that include Smash in some way, both grassroots and (semi-)professional. This is positive in that it exposes more people to Smash and provides players with more opportunities to compete. An occasional downside is that newer hosting parties don’t always know what they’re doing, which either results in a lackluster event or core scene members having to do damage control.”

Greg: “Online registrations and up front payments save us a lot of time on the event day. Because of this, we don’t need to worry as much on seeding and doing all the offline registrations. Players are able to see their bracket in advance and, if something is off, they can be corrected before the tournament starts.”

Syndicate 2016

Can you tell us a bit about how you obtained the Syndicate venue?
Marc: “The Jaarbeurs is a very obvious location for this country, considering how many festivals and events are held there. So far it seemed way above budget, but through a combination of the expected turnout having gone up and negotiating we came to a satisfactory agreement. We already started our search early in the year and closed things out in April.”

The Jaarbeurs in Utrecht
An entire floor of approx. 5400 m2 of the Beatrix building will house Syndicate

What are your goals with Syndicate?
Marc: “In the short term we want to provide our scene with a multi-day national for both active Smash games, something we have been lacking over the past years. It is also an opportunity to see how big our scene can actually be, considering we’ve been capping a lot of our regular events. If it works out well, we’d be up for it being a recurring event that could potentially expand in several directions.”

Greg: “We want to provide the scene with an international tournament in our own country for both games. A lot of people are not able to travel as much or as far as they like for Smash and Syndicate is a great answer for those people. Not only for our local scene, but for the European scene as a whole. Especially for Smash 4, we lack international tournaments in Europe and hope that Syndicate can become a new home for the scene.”

How does Syndicate differ from other European majors?
Marc: “Due to the size of the location and the parties we are in contact with, there is no real limit to the potential of the event. Our TOs are generally known for being disciplined and keeping their schedule, barring extreme circumstances. As an added bonus, the Dutch top players will be present in full force for both Smash games, something that is rarely seen anymore at other European majors. Finally, Smash 4 in particular hasn’t had many European majors yet and we have a very strong local scene for it, with Mr-R, iStudying, S1, Badr and many others. On that note, we expect the recently announced international crew battle for Smash 4 to be very hype.”

Greg: “Due the Netherlands being located advantageously in Europe, a lot of European players can get here pretty easily. As I noted before, there aren’t that many European majors catering to both games to begin with. I also agree that our local scene is a big draw.”

S1(front left) excels in singles and teams aside his team partner PikaForLife
S1(front left), beside his team partner PikaForLife, excels in both singles and teams

What efforts have been taken to provide housing for the event?
Marc: “We have secured deals with a nearby Stayokay hostel and, more recently, another one in Amsterdam. Housing has always been a challenge in the Netherlands, but we have the benefit that the country is fairly small and the venue is next to the central train station. So far, it seems to work itself out through a combination of hostels, housing with local Smashers and those that can support themselves.”

How do you intend to handle multiple games well?
Marc: “We strive to provide both games with enough set-ups and will avoid scheduling conflicts, meaning you will not have to play pools for both games at the same time. It gets trickier with the final brackets, but the top 8 for both games will not be at the same time. Finally, the overlap in players will likely not be that major, especially if you consider the amount of players who can actually make it far in both. In terms of PR and outside communication, we do not favour one game over the other.”

Talk a bit about the staffing, preparations and overall logistics for the event.
Marc: “Our core staff consists of the two main Avalon TOs, Remen and myself, and the two main GGWP TOs, Gregs and iStudying. We tend to be flexible in who does what and hold frequent meetings and Skype calls. We also have a master file of our tasks, the owner of each task and what the current status is. For logistics prior and during the event itself we will be reaching out to some of our close associates and volunteers.”

What do you consider the biggest challenges for the event and your roles as TO in it?
Marc: “There is no denying that we are in the midst of a summer packed to the brim with Smash events. Especially as a new brand, which Syndicate ultimately is, it’s tough to break into the international agenda. For me personally, I find that a TO in the modern age needs to develop various skillsets and find the right people to optimize their event. It really goes from planning to negotiating to logistics to promotion, while staying in touch with many parties and weighing their interests.”

Armada and Mr-R join the battle!
Example of the top player updates, for more see

How are you handling promotion, is there a schedule for this and what do you think other TOs could benefit from your approach?
Marc: “We started out by covering the basics with and Facebook and gradually expanded from there. At this point we have a website and a Twitter as well and the event has been posted to several forums. Locally we distribute flyers and tend to act swiftly if we see an opportunity. In that sense, there is no rigid schedule, though we try to have some sort of weekly update. Recent examples are the top player updates and the sponsor and hostel deals. I think our pragmatism is a big strength, though this would be harder to implement for TOs with less resources.”

What are the preparations being taken concerning the quality of streams at event?
Marc: “From early on it has been known to the venue staff that we intend to run two live streams. Preparations on our end are otherwise somewhat limited regarding this, because we simply went with the most experienced Smash streamers in Europe: Geeky Goon Squad and Salty Playground.”

Aside from the main events do you have other activities scheduled?
Marc: “We have yet to finalize our schedule, due to how major a factor attendance is. 5 vs 5 Crew battles for Smash 4 have recently been announced.”

Greg: “Depending on the attendance and how many set-ups we manage to obtain, we are also considering an amateur bracket.”

Which of the attending players are you particularly looking forward to see perform?
Marc: “It will be Mr-R’s first major European showing after EVO and it will be interesting to see how the rest of Europe stacks up to him now. On the Melee side of things I’m curious how Zgetto will perform with a home field advantage for once, as he lives in the very same city where the tournament will be held. As a Peach main and avid teams player, I will of course also be looking forward to Armada’s showing.”

Greg: “Mr-R for Smash 4. He has been away for a long time to compete in the US and I am wondering how he will do against our current top European players. I’m also curious to see what iStudying will bring to the table with the home field advantage.”

Thanks for the interview, do you have any last comments?
Marc: “I think the European scene is still on the way up, but we need to push past a critical point before the moment passes. The gap between the US and Europe has widened a lot in terms of playerbase, sponsorships, pot bonuses etc. and the EU scene doesn’t generate enough content in general, let alone in mainstream outlets. As long as people remain passionate though, we might still have our best years ahead of us.”

Syndicate 2016 is scheduled to go down from the 10th to 11th of September and can be followed live on Saltyplayground and GeekyGoonSquad. Information on the event is available on the Syndicate event page.

Photographs used were taken by DesiChan and myself.

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