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What It Takes To Run A Fighting Game Tournament

Rick Thiher. Original photo credit: Chris Bahn

In this month’s issue of Game Informer we dove into the world of eSports, detailing how players, teams, and sponsors work with each other to ensure people who excel at games like Street Fighter, Halo, and more can make a living off their skills. Here at, we’re also looking at some of the periphery aspects of eSports vital to understanding the world of competitive gaming.

Without people like Rick Thiher, eSports tournaments would be chaos. Major events require hundreds of man-hours, months of planning, and the ability to manage dozens of moving parts deftly. Thiher runs Combo Breaker, one of the largest tournaments for fighting games throughout the year, and as attendees and players tell it, it’s a well oiled machine.

Thiher had a drive to compete as a player when he discovered fighting games with Street Fighter IV in 2009, but was often more excited about running tournaments than about playing in them. “I impact more people that way, which is fulfilling to me,” Thiher says. He helped put together Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament 9 as assistant director, then eventually ran its successor, Combo Breaker. We spoke to Thiher to get a sense of what it’s like to plan, build, and run a tournament, how to deal with players, and the long-term prospects of organizers like him.

Running On Tournament Time
In some way or another, Combo Breaker, which takes place in May of this year, is always on Thiher’s mind. “Since starting Combo Breaker in 2014 for the 2015 event, I can’t think of the last day that I didn’t reach out to somebody or do something for Combo Breaker,” he says. 

The event is an enormous beast to wrangle. On top of running tournaments for nearly 20 games, the three-day fighting game convention features a 24-7 arcade, artists doing commissions, merch to buy, and exhibition matches, making it one of the better events for non-competitors to get into. Thiher also spends big when it comes to making the event stand out aesthetically. “I try to do elaborate staging,” he says. He also must create stream layouts and Twitter graphics, provide internet at the venue, and make sure the air conditioning’s up to par. None of this is cheap. These activities and amenities must be laid out, scheduled, and taken care of before the event can happen. 

Combo Breaker is unique among fighting game tournaments in at least one way: it heavily prioritizes scheduling. When I ask Thiher about why so many tournaments run behind, he points to a few factors. For one, many of the people working the events are either volunteers or underpaid for their work. Thiher admits even Combo Breaker’s judges receive only “a little bit of cash and a t-shirt.” Some events don’t pay their judges at all. “That leads to people who aren’t necessarily always quick to run a bracket as it’s designed to run,” Thiher says. Without judges to properly direct them to their next match, players can get lost about where and when to play next.

Running multiple tournaments also adds another wrinkle, as players hop among brackets to find their next match in multiple games, which may be lined up for the same timeframe. Some games run longer than others, too; Super Smash Bros. tournaments, for example, run far longer than those for The King of Fighters, which run longer than Tekken, and so on. This means judges have keep all these variables in mind when directing players. 

These issues are related, and the answer to most of them is to find judges “who are willing to disqualify people, which no one wants to do,” Thiher says. If a player’s not where they’re been told to be at the appointed time, judges need to be stringent about giving people the boot (and telling them where to be in the first place).

Tournaments also must account for not only the players’ time, but the equipment’s time as well. At any given tournament, there may only be a certain number of consoles and screens, which means making sure you have enough setups to accommodate the number of competitors and that those setups are left empty as rarely as possible. This also means knowing when to close off registration for an event, even if it means foregoing possible revenue for the sake of a better tournament.

Dealing With Players
The biggest feature of any tournament, of course, are the players. A tournament is only as prestigious as the competition and community that attends it, and if several strong players attend your event, it’s likely more people will attend or watch online. 

Getting them to come out isn’t always as simple as an invite. High-profile players, even sponsored ones, will ask for different kinds of accommodations at events. Some want their airfare or hotel paid, which most of the time isn’t worth it for Thiher. Already strapped for cash when it comes to tournament logistics, he won’t pay for players to come out. He’s more than happy to co-promote with them, but he cannot pay them outright. “In regards to them just being a player, they’re no different than anyone else showing up,” Thiher says. “They’re just better at pushing the right buttons at the right time.”

Others instead asked for preferential treatment when it comes to the tournament itself. Many fighting game tournaments are seeded, which means strong players are moved away from each other to avoid scenarios where, say, four of the best players are all in the same eight-person bracket at the start of the tournament. Though skill is a factor in seeding, it’s often done without player input, relying instead on nationally-trusted seeding staff. However, some players will ask to be moved. “[They’ll say] ‘I don’t want to play that guy, seed me away [from him],’” Thiher says. 

Others still will ask to be “floated,” which is essentially a way of asking for a free win. “Let’s say 13 people showed up to play in a tournament,” Thiher explains. “Somebody’s going to have a bye in round one. Floating is when you don’t have to give a bye in round on, but you’re still moving someone further ahead in the bracket to increase their chances of being in [the] top eight.”

Not all players are looking for an out, however. “Daigo [Umehara], for instance, when he came to CEO [Community Effort Orlando, another marquee tournament], still played round one with everybody else,” Thiher says. He sees this aspect of the fighting game community – that any player, regardless of their stature, must prove themselves at every tournament – as a vital part of what makes the fighting game community special. “Our best player in America is probably still Justin Wong,” Thiher says. “Half the time he’s in the first pool of the day, and he’s the first guy in the room.”

On page 2, learn more about how the fighting game tournament scene may be able to grow in the long term. – The Feed

New Final Fantasy VII Remake, Kingdom Hearts 3 Screenshots Emerge

At this year's Monaco Anime Game International Conferences, Tetsuya Nomura showed off some screenshots for his two highly anticipated projects at Square Enix: The Final Fantasy VII Remake and Kingdom Hearts III.

The shots for the Final Fantasy VII Remake show Cloud taking cover behind a box as Shinra soldiers take fire at him. We can also see the command menu and health bards displayed during the action, further pushing the idea that combat may take place in the same mode as the overworld travel. We also see an Active Time Battle bar, which should appease old-school fans. A second screen shows a boss battle with what looks like a scorpion tank.

Nomura also showed an image of Kingdom Hearts III, showing series protagonist Sora fighting against a new incarnation of the Heartless on the movie Hercules' rendition of Olympus.

No release date was given for either title.

[Source: Kingdom Hearts on Twitter, Final Fantasy on Twitter, (2)]


Our Take
That VII remake looks better every time I see it. Maybe I'll finally play through that game now! – The Feed

Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood Trailer Reveals A Samurai Class

Though it was announced last October, Stormblood hasn't received much love in trailer form. We got word of the Red Mage class a couple of months ago, as well as the inclusion of swimming, the Ananta tribe, and a new raid.  Though the game's latest trailer doesn't show that, either, we do get at least one more detail about the game: You'll be able to play as a Samurai.

The trailer (below) is entirely CG, showing two characters fighting each other in a high-octane battle atop a stone hand in the first half, then showing the samurai class cutting through bullets and decimating an alley in the second. Players who choose to play a Samurai will begin the game at level 50.

Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood launches on June 20.

(Please visit the site to view this media) – The Feed

Watch Street Fighter’s Ryu Hop A Toyota C-HR Over M.Bison’s Psycho Crusher

Cars and retro-style games are… a perfect match, I guess? Last year Nintendo partnered with Mercedes-Benz to add the GLA to Super Mario Maker, and Toyota saw that and said, I'd imagine, "Nope. Check this out."

What we get is Ryu driving the new Toyota C-HR around the world, starting in Japan, then driving across the Atlantic Ocean(!?) to the United States, then back to India, and a few other locales. He does take a pit stop to beat M. Bison while inside the car, the optional features of which include, from what this realistic ad tells us, a laser cannon.

(Please visit the site to view this media)

Are you buying this car or what?


Our Take
That was sick as heck. Dang! – The Feed

GI Show – For Honor, MLB 17, Harmonix Interview

This week on Game Informer's podcast, our full review of Ubisoft's For Honor wasn't quite ready yet when we recorded so we have Ben Hanson, Dan Tack, and Brian Shea to share their early (and intrigued) impressions of playing the full game. Brian Shea also talks about what makes Sniper Elite 4 stand out as a shooter and how the next MLB game is hoping to ensnare a new audience with nostalgia. After some great community emails alongside Elise Favis, we speak to Harmonix's founder Alex Rigopolus about the highlights of developing games like Rock Band and what the future looks like for such a unique studio.

You can watch the video below, subscribe and listen to the audio on iTunes or Google Play, or listen to episode 335 on SoundCloud. Also, be sure to send your questions to for a chance to have them answered on the show and win a prize by becoming Email of the Week!

(Please visit the site to view this media)

To jump to a particular point in the discussion, check out the time stamps below…

2:55 – For Honor
26:02 – Sniper Elite 4
33:12 – MLB The Show 17
39:48 – Community emails
1:21:50 – Harmonix's Alex Rigopulos Interview – The Feed

NIS America Announces Culdcept Revolt For The West

During a recent press event, NIS America made a number of announcements, including Danganronpa V3's release date, its plans to bring Ys VIII to the West, and Disgaea 5 Complete's Switch release date. The company also announced a number of new games headed overseas, however.

Among the announcements was Culdcept Revolt, the first game in the Culdcept series to make its way West in nine years. The trailer (found below) shows off several similarities to the 2008 Xbox 360 game, though this time around, it'll be portable and on 3DS. The title will once again be developed by Omiya soft, and is currently slated for this Summer.

(Please visit the site to view this media) – The Feed

How To Easily Evolve Eevee Into Umbreon Or Espeon In Pokémon Go

When Pokémon Go first launch, crafty players quickly figured out that if they renamed their eevee Sparky, Rainer, or Pyro then the little 'mons would evolve into Jolteon, Vaporeon, and Flareon, respectively. A similar trick seems to work for the recently released set of generation two critters.

The Silph Road ‏recently reported that if you rename your eevee Tamao before you evolve it then it will evolve into an Umbreon. Likewise, if you name your eevee Sakura it will turn into Espeon. We were able to confirm that this trick works when we tested it ourselves. Hopefully you stockpiled a few extra eevees. Happy Pokémon hunting! – The Feed

Resogun Update Adds 4K, HDR Support

Housemarque's Resogun was brimming with particle effects and other eye candy when it released on PS4. Today, if you have a display that supports HDR or 4K resolutions, the game can look even better, thanks to a free update.

The update, which is available for the PS4 and PS4 Pro, adds some additional lighting and visual effects, and also addresses some lingering bugs.

Since its release, the PS4 launch title has had several free updates, adding new modes and features, such as a ship-creation tool.

[Source: Housemarque] – The Feed

Ranking Every Game In The Legend Of Zelda Series

The Legend of Zelda franchise is among the most revered in gaming. Year after year, generation after generation, Nintendo's crack team of developers release consistently great entries that are almost always Game of the Year contenders. With the latest entry in the series, Breath of the Wild, right around the corner, we're looking back at the core games to this point and ranking them.

Our Top 200 Games of All Time

In our December 2009 issue, we ranked the top 200 games of all time. As you can imagine, several entries from The Legend of Zelda series appeared throughout that list. That list had different criteria than this one, but you below you can see how Link's adventures stood up to the rest of the list on our list of the top 200 games of all time in 2009.

1. The Legend of Zelda
12. A Link to the Past
20. Ocarina of Time
61. Link's Awakening
63. Majora's Mask
90. Twilight Princess
94. The Wind Waker 

For the purpose of remaining focused on the core entries of The Legend of Zelda franchise, several spin-offs and obscure titles are omitted. Titles like Hyrule Warriors, Link's Crossbow Training, and the CD-i games are left off. Even with those missing, we still have nearly 20 games where Link battles the forces of evil to save Zelda, Hyrule, or whatever equivalent exists in that respective game.

Despite the large number of releases over the course of over three decades, the Zelda franchise has yet to strike out. Even the lowest ranked games on this list are worth playing. Because of this, the order of this list was highly contested from top to bottom. In 2009, we ranked the top 200 games of all time in our 200th issue (see sidebar). While that list was more about ranking games in terms of quality, importance to the industry, and cultural relevance, this list is just about the favorite games in the series according to the current Game Informer staff.

If you want to read more of our rankings of game series, check out our ranking of the Super Mario series and our ranking of the Assassin's Creed series.

18. Tri Force Heroes (3DS, 2014)
As a game that encouraged players to work together to solve fun puzzles and progress through a colorful world, Tri Force Heroes is a fine game. Unfortunately, when stacked against the rest of the core Zelda titles, Tri Force Heroes isn't up to snuff. The humor and puzzles serve as the highlight, but the forgettable action sequences and repetitive gameplay loop prevent it from standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the other games in Zelda's storied franchise.

17. Spirit Tracks (DS, 2009)
Spirit Tracks stands out as a different take on the series that delivered inconsistent results. Using touchscreen controls, players guide Link as he travels by train from location to location. The dungeons and combat are generally improvements over the previous Zelda game on DS, Phantom Hourglass, but by having Link ride the Spirit Tracks in the overworld, the game removes one of the best parts of the series: the exploration. When combined with an inconsistent quality of level design, this makes it one of the lesser entries in the series.

16. Four Swords (Game Boy Advance, 2002)
Taking several cues from A Link to the Past, Four Swords delivers strong gameplay, but the multiplayer focus made it difficult to play due to the hoops to jump through to connect four Game Boy Advance systems. In addition, the randomized dungeons sometimes led to poorly conceived designs. To make it even more of an uphill battle, Four Swords was packaged with the Game Boy Advance version of A Link to the Past, putting it in direct comparison with that beloved entry. Despite this, Four Swords is a strong entry point for the series, possessing surprising depth and fun multiplayer. For those who want to play it now, the Anniversary Edition added a single-player mode and additional content.

On the next page, we continue our countdown to the top Zelda game of all time. – The Feed