If you attend fighting game events or are even somewhat dialed-in to the fighting game communities, then you’ll more often than not see big events held for the major titles, like Ultra Street Fighter IV, Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, Mortal Kombat X, and Killer Instinct. However, there’s been a long underserved group of gamers that play “anime” fighting games: 2-D fighters with anime-style characters and animation, to state broadly. The bigger titles in this subcategory, like Guilty Gear Xrd –SIGN–, and Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, have gotten main-stage spotlight in tournament play, but there’s a host of other games that for this, and other reasons (such as long waits between Japanese and US release dates and no official US releases), that soften the splash these could have made stateside or just among fighting game players in general. During the weekend of October 16th, I attended an event specifically held to rectify this injustice: CEOTaku.
Here is CEOtaku’s official recap. Keep an eye out for our own recap soon…
CEOTaku is the little sister (literally — The mascot is a kawaii-desu-ne anime girl complete with big eyes and peace-signs named Shio) to its flagship tournament, CEO — Community Effort Orlando, a major event held annually in Florida. I spoke with Alex Jebailey, the big man behind CEO and an anime fighting game player, who stated that CEOTaku is meant to bring together the anime fighting game community with a substantial event, with anime fighters on the mainstage instead of in back-of-the-room side tournaments. Games like Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax, Melty Blood, and even BlazBlue have large player bases, but often go unrepresented at major venues. For example, UNIEL has been the only other anime game featured on the main stage at major events that’s not Xrd or P4AU, likely because they had main-stage tourneys at EVO 2015. However, CEOTaku broke the mold by setting up events for only anime fighters, with the aforementioned titles, as well as Skull Girls, Guilty Gear Accent Core +R, Under Night in Birth EXE: Late, and UMvC3 on the mainstage, with other games such as Vampire Savior, Aquapazza, and Arcana Heart 3 in side tourneys. CEOTaku even featured competitive Catherine, which I honestly didn’t realize had a competitive scene. Then again, that sentiment might be the problem: people think that no one plays these games because of their lack of limelight. Rest assured though, the player populations are thriving, and are starved for a chance to showcase their skills in the same way that Ultra Street Fighter IV players do at several tournaments a year.
When I learned in June that CEOTaku was in the works, I was bit worried that it wouldn’t have the numbers to be a success. As the name “Community Effort Orlando” suggests, it and CEOTaku are supported in large part by the players. Hell, myself and others volunteered to assist with set-up. Hiccups and minor scheduling blips aside, CEOTaku was an incredible success. There were representatives from over 25 states and 6 countries, with over 300 total entrants overall. Guilty Gear Xrd alone had over 170 entrants. Watchers on Twitch exceeded 1700 viewers for the Melty Blood: Actress Again Top 8. The tournament hall was filled with famous heavy hitters and confident contenders alike, as well as droves of players who have not had their particular games of interest featured in tournament-level play. I spent a lot of time in hotel rooms with players from Montana, Ohio, New Jersey, Mexico, and Japan. Although it’s common for tournaments to fly out players that would create buzz, everyone who came to CEOTaku did so through their own means. The importance of an event like this was underscored by the sheer overall player enthusiasm and satisfaction. If you check out the CEOTaku hashtag on Twitter, there’s nothing but good things being said, and the organizers have been met with overwhelming support with the tournament, so much so that Jebailey has already announced CEOTaku 2016. Twitter aside, you could feel the hype in the air, from the moment the doors opened to deep into the night. The vociferous audiences, the celebrations and disappointments, the unending casual and money matches, all of it was electric. And the salt, it flowed in abundance. Towards the end of Sunday night’s tournaments, the crowd was asked to come together for panoramic photos, and I got a sense of the sheer numbers and enthusiasm. I imagine such support on photograph could also sway sponsors. One aspect of CEOTaku that I enjoyed was the transparent and affable hosting. During the initial whirlwind of logistics and set up, Alex Jebailey allowed me to interview him, even though he couldn’t have been busier. He acted as both administrator and emcee, getting players to laugh both with and at him. The tournament moderators and judges were effective in keeping things tight and organized, but were approachable. Some of the Florida players were also able to commentate on stream during the big matches. It wasn’t stuffy or self-important. And everyone knew each other, which was probably the most astounding fact for me.
In the end, there was a question I asked frequently during that weekend: “Do you think this event has the potential to grow?” The answer was always a passionate “Yes!” Florida is home to over 60 anime conventions, but these conventions don’t really have worthwhile tournaments. Florida was definitely overdue for another major event to call its own, and the fact that it attracted such a wide spectrum of players highlighted the necessity of an event like this. There’s even CEO Monthly events in the works. Even though I can barely play Guilty Gear and was sort of an outsider in this community, I understood immediately that CEOTaku was a big step forward. Anime fighting games are often treated like the “red-headed stepchildren” of the fighting game universe, and it’s plain to see that an event that put anime fighters on a pedestal was necessary.