Last weekend, March 18-20th, was the 19th iteration of the annual Final Round fighting game tournament. Final Round is one the largest tournaments held in the southeast United States, and this year it was the first leg in the Capcom Pro Tour series. I and another member of Bit Cultures team were in attendance, as well as some 2500 other participants and spectators, not to mention the small crew running the event. Singles, teams, and exhibition tournaments were held for more than 10 games. Personally, I competed in Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and Street Fighter V, which had over 1000 entrants ALONE. Top-level competitors from Japan, Korea, Venezuela, and China as well as many hometown heroes would throw their hat in the ring to come home with a piece of the $500,000 prize pool that was up for grabs in Street Fighter V. Of course, I was no different. I’ll get into details of the actual tournaments a bit later.
There was not a whole lot to do, if you didn’t mind plenty of waiting. Casual set-ups were available for all games, when tournament pools weren’t being operated on them. Also, there were about 20 arcade cabinets for those interested in older or more esoteric games, such as Capcom Vs. SNK, Soul Calibur 2, and even The Last Blade. One of the games I got to spend a lot of time on was Brawlhalla, a free-to-play Smash-style battle arena. My primary reason for attending Final Round was to play Tekken 7, for which I was able to get a bit of playtime. That said, the other enjoyable parts of that weekend had less to do with the event, and more so the fact I was in Atlanta, i.e. the FOOD. Myself and other Bit Cultures crew hit Gladys Knight’s and I legitimately had the most sublime eating experience of my life. I shed tears over peach cobbler. If you find yourself in Atlanta, do yourself a favor: Go to Gladys Knight’s.
All that aside, the tournament itself was largely disappointing (or a ‘blow-up’ in FGC terms). The Street Fighter V tournament, as previously stated, had held over 1000 contenders, and the organizers were woefully unprepared for the sheer numbers. With SFV being their largest tournament, the organizers didn’t start it until Saturday morning, and instead ran exhibitions and smaller tourneys Friday night. Moreover, the finalized bracket wasn’t published until 2AM, 6 hours before the tournament actually started. The bracket scheduling was also pretty difficult to find. For a time, they were only available on Facebook, and were not posted on the event’s website. Links from the site went back to Facebook, and indirectly at that. You had to dig through all the posts of players’ questions and complaints to find any of the brackets. Not to mention that the pools weren’t set in stone, and loads of people woke up to find they had been moved into a different bracket, resulting in many disqualifications. The pools for Street Fighter V were later posted Smash.gg, but no other tournament brackets or specific times were available, and then the tournament bracket was taken down mid-way through the day. Logistically, it was untenable, and I’m only getting started.
To accommodate the players in the Grand Ballroom, there were 16 stations being used to run 8 pools at a time, and each pool had 16 competitors, with a total of 64 pools. You do the math. At the same room, at the same time, tournaments for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Melee, Killer Instinct, and Mortal Kombat X were being held. It’s also worth mentioning that the Smash community was promised their own dedicated ballroom, because they always turn out in large numbers, only to find themselves sharing the space with the aforementioned games. In another room, tournaments for Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 and Tekken Tag Tournament 2 were being held at the same time. Players were sprinting between rooms so that they wouldn’t be disqualified simply due to the fact that they were competing down the hall, or in the very same room. None of this is taking into account the sheer number of spectators. Altogether, you had rooms that was constantly packed to the brim, and the confusion and discomfort were palpable. If anyone had called the fire marshal, the entire operation would be dead in the water. Players and spectators were packed like sardines, barely having spaced to move their arms, much less sit comfortably with their arcade sticks. Volunteers were forced to run the tourney pools when they had originally intended to compete, and some were running two or three pools at the same time. For that, some pools were at a standstill while the volunteers were competing. I saw one particular volunteer that was assisting with the Marvel tournament at 11AM, operating pools in the Street Fighter tournament 13 hours later.
Personally, my experience was par for the course. I was in Pool 64: the very last bracket, in the very last match of the evening. While it was supposed to start at 10:00pm, they were running over an hour and a half late. Around 11:30pm, I went to check in and make sure that Pool 64 hadn’t started. I left for 15 minutes, and returned to find that I had been disqualified twice, thus eliminating me from SFV without having actually competed. I’m just grateful that I was able to make it to my slot for Tekken Tag, or else my entire weekend would have been for naught.
On a somewhat high note, the anime fighting game competitors were met with great organization, having tournaments ran smoothly and even ahead of schedule. I spent most of my time watching the Guilty Gear Xrd tournament, which was brilliantly executed. Although the anime fighters were situated a long walk away from the main ballrooms, this seemed to work out in their favor (discounting the players who had to sprint to other tournaments). Seating was always available, and there was very little mayhem between matches.
Ultimately, the backlash from the community was pretty much instant, and the fires are still being put out across social media. Despite the largely negative experience, part of me is glad I went ,although the entire weekend ran me close to $1000. There will be a multitude of tournaments held this year, and with Community Effort Orlando next on my list, I’m hopeful that I’ll be met with better planning and less chaos. Final Round has a long legacy of praiseworthy events, and I’m sure the organizers will grow from the problems they ran into this year.