Think running a video game tournament is easy? Think again; you better have the right space to run your event, you better know the right people to promote your event, you better be familiar with the general rules and regulations of each video game, be able to provide food and drinks, and answer plenty of questions on the fly, sometimes at the last minute. Will there be casuals? What console system will be used? How many set ups will be needed? How will you keep up with the bracket and tournament results? You are constantly operating on the edge, at the frontier of a growing pasttime that is getting very serious very quick. Small tournaments are beginning to speckle the nation, increasing the level of coordination required by tournament organizers to keep from getting in each other’s way. I am constantly fielding questions and promoting my bar just to keep my relatively small tournaments of 20-40 people running efficiently.
So imagine my subtle reverence while talking to Larry Dixon, a.k.a. Shin Blanka, a.k.a THE HEAD OF FINAL ROUND. For anyone who doesn’t know, Final Round is THE Southeastern tournament. Thousands of people from around the world come to compete and watch some of the most intense fighting matches imaginable, from multiple titles that include Street Fighter 4 Arcade Edition, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Mortal Kombat 9, and Tekken Tag Tournament 2. A lot of money is on the line (read THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS), and a lot of cred is gained and lost throughout the course of it’s 3-day weekend run.
I was lucky enough to interview him for this special edition of ‘Inside the Goonzie Studio’. We’ll work on the name…
Q: How did you originally get into video games?
A: My Uncle owned an arcade when I was very young and he would give me quarters to play PACMAN or DIGDUG. Yes, I’m so old that those games were new in the arcade. It grew from there, from Atari, Nintendo, and arcade games… I’ve always had a soft spot for videogames.
Q: What inspired the name ‘Shin Blanka’?
A: The word ‘shin’ in japanese means ‘true’ and I was the best Blanka player in the Southeast region when I was growing up so ShinBlanka or ‘True Blanka’ I thought was a fitting name for me.
Q: When did you first decide to become a tournament organizer?
A: Around ’95 when I used to be a competitive player I would run local tournaments in the arcades because the people that worked at the arcades were really bad at running them. Before ’96 I would just enter tournaments and win most of them in the Metro Atlanta Area, but I wanted to start running a tournament so the best players in the city would know when to come to the aracde and compete against each other. People were starting not to attend the arcade as much or they would pop up on random times during the week. You have to remember we didn’t have great console versions of the games back in the day like the new generation have today. The arcade is where I cut my teeth as a tournament player and tournament organizer. I wasn’t on the national tournament scene level, but I was pretty good in my day.
Q: What is Final Round? Can you tell us about its history?
A: FINAL ROUND is FINAL ROUND. It’s a tournament that was started with gathering the best players in the city of Atlanta to see who was the best at Fighting Games. I used to play and my crew (E.M.S., “Elders of Mad Skills”) were the best crew in the state so we wanted to prove we were the best against everyone in the city. From those humble beginnings it has grown from a house tournament into the 2nd largest event in the FGC (Fighting Game Community). It’s a tournament [that started] for the players of the Southeast region that has grown into an international event with players coming from around the world to compete at FR. I’m grateful and humbled on how the event and our scene has grown over the years.
Q: Where do you see the future of fighting game tournaments headed? What would you like to see?
A: Who knows? I do this for the enjoyment I receive every year when someone says they had an awesome time at FR. I’m not a player anymore so I get more enjoyment out of watching the new school players compete and to make sure people had a good time while attending FR. I think the FGC has only scratched the surface on it’s global effect on the competitive gaming scene. IMO it’s the most entertaining game to watch and to pick up casually, but provides the depth needed to play at high levels. The future is bright for the FGC imo.
Q: Do you play any fighting games?
A: Not competitively anymore, but I still play SF casually. I’m pretty decent at SFA2 (Street Fighter Alpha 2) and older SF than that. I’ve pretty much been retired from competing in events for 3-4 years. If I do enter it’s just to play against humans in an offline setting. I haven’t really entered anything at FR for the past few years as it’s too much I have to worry about during FINAL ROUND and the last thing I want to be worried about is playing a match.
Q: Being a tournament organizer isn’t always easy. What is it like planning for Final Round?
A: It was easier when it was smaller. Now that FR has grown it takes a lot of planning. My advice to anyone that wants to do this is to start small and grow your local scene. Everyone wants to start off as a major and they are willing to throw crazy money at their event just to get that MAJOR stamp, but I feel you must start from the beginning and then grow your event the correct way. That’s how FINAL ROUND grew, so that’s my advice.
Q: What is your favorite beer?
A: I don’t have one. I hardly drink anymore.
Q: What is your favorite movie based on a video game?
A: Street Fighter “The Anime”. The original anime for SF2 was a great movie back in the day. If you haven’t seen it, then go out and buy it people! It’s well worth the watch in my opinion.
You can follow Larry Dixon on twitter at @ShinBlanka, and visit his website: www.finalround.org
Final Round is March 29th, 30th, and 31st. It is not to be missed.