Is North Carolina the Future of Melee? An Exclusive Interview With Super FamiCon's TOs


After a largely successful inaugural year, Super Famicon is back! This year's tournament will be in downtown Greensboro, NC November 17-19. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with its organizers Joe Scott, professional event organizer and owner of the coffee shop Geeksboro, and Dylan “MrBeenReady” McGrath, a seasoned Smash tournament organizer and host of the podcast Super Wavecast, to discuss the event and what it means to be a good TO. There’s still time to register, by the way, but the deadline is November 14th at 11:59 PM EST!

EmeLee: How did you get involved with the Smash community?

Joe: Well, I guess the way I got involved was I played the very first Smash Bros. game when it came out. I bought it the day it was released because I didn’t know what the hell it was gonna be. I played that game a lot. Oddly enough, I did not play a lot of Smash Bros. Melee. I had a GameCube but then quickly realized I was playing too many video games and not doing enough school work, so I sold my GameCube then finished college. When I finished, I opened up my business. On the very first day, I thought it’d be cool to host a Smash Bros. event because I still remembered the game, and I know a lot of people like it. I was amazed by the response. I’ve never seen anyone really respond to a game the way people have responded to Smash Bros.

It wasn’t always an easy relationship, but one of the things I realized is the most important is collaborating with people who can give you really good insights and kind of help you avoid making a fool out of yourself. That’s how I got involved with Dylan, and I’d say from there things have only gotten exponentially greater. He really helps me out a lot. Just from the event planning side, I really love the excitement of the Smash events.

: For me, it started when I was a little kid. I had 64, and I played a lot of that. When it came time to buy a GameCube, for some reason I just didn’t play Melee. I was in high school, and there was a video game club. I used to play football, but I had an injury that took me out, and I needed something to do, a new video game to play. A lot of kids in my video game club were playing Melee, and I was like, “Why are you guys playing this game that’s like, eight years old?” And they said, “Well, it’s one of the best games ever made,” so I was like, let me try this. I had always liked fighting games, so I started playing Melee in 2008, then Brawl came out. I got in the competitive scene playing Brawl in South Carolina. After about two years of playing Brawl, I switched to exclusively playing Melee.

I think my first tournament I ran in 2011 maybe? 2010? I ran my first tournament at my grandma’s house. I think I invited six people, and I thought cool, let’s just do a round robin tournament, it’ll be all chill. I posted a thread on Smashboards, and it was public. I think like 42 people showed up at my grandma’s house, so we had to make that work. That was my first foray into running tournaments.

Joe: What did your grandmother say?

Dylan: She was excited about it, honestly. She’s always been super supportive. I remember when I ran my first tournaments in Charlotte after that, I was like, okay, can’t do this at grandma’s house, so I got a legit venue. I didn’t know how to do that back then, so that was a process. I had a bunch of out-of-state friends from being in the scene, and a lot of them came, but they needed somewhere to stay. My grandma was like, “Well they can just stay here.” I told her, “Grandma, that’s fourteen or fifteen people.” She said we’d figure it out. So she went to Costco and bought a bunch of cereal and pop tarts. There was this breakfast buffet. People were sleeping on the floor, in front of the fireplace. One guy slept under a table in the dining room. It was crazy.

By this point, I was three or four years deep into the community. I knew that clearly I was supposed to be running events, so I just kept going and ran event after event. Eventually, I met Joe, and Joe believed in me and saw what I was doing, struggling to get by. We partnered up and things just started happening.

EmeLee: Your grandmother sounds like an angel! That’s precious, oh my gosh.

Dylan: She’s still the best. She watches live streams of me doing commentary.

Joe: Oh, that’s awesome.

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Dylan and John “SleepyK” Lee commentating at a Recursion Function Series event

EmeLee: How would you describe your local scene?

Joe: I think North Carolina is just passionate. I didn’t really know how passionate they were until I went to tournaments in other states. I’d go to those to tournaments and be like, “Why aren’t people yelling? Why aren’t people jumping out of their seats and stomping their feet and pumping their fists in the air?” North Carolina is very punk rock. Anything you wanna add, Dylan?

Dylan: Yeah, absolutely. North Carolina has the best Smash scene in the country. I’ve been all over the place, and I’ve hung out with all of them. Almost every major Melee scene in the world, I’ve at least been to a weekly or a biweekly or something, and there’s just nothing like it. I’ve always said if moved out of NC, it’d be because I quit Melee, and if I quit Melee, it’d be because I left NC. I think those two things, to me, are mutually exclusive. I could have started playing Melee when I was in South Carolina, but the scene was just so… not what it is here. When I got here and saw what the Melee scene was like, I thought, “Okay, I need to get deeper into this game because the scene is amazing.” When I first started, there were only about seventeen of us, and it was still like, wow, these are some of the coolest and most passionate dudes in the world. It’s only gotten better since then.

EmeLee: What inspired you both to tackle the challenges of being a TO, with both large and small tournaments?

Joe: I come at this from the perspective of an event programmer. I host a lot of different events, but what I’ve always liked about Smash events, specifically NC Smash events, is just being able to create these moments that would not exist had we not started to do what we did. We hosted this Arcadian a month back, and the final showdown was between two kids. One was fourteen. One was fifteen. It was just amazing. We hosted this event, I worked all day long, it was my birthday, and I did not make a single dollar that day, but I was just like… man. This would not have happened if we didn’t do this. To me, it was compensation enough, and it was amazing to see these two kids kind of just dominate and make the characters do things I’d never seen them do before. One kid was a Luigi, and it was just phenomenal. I’d never seen a Luigi move that way.

Dylan: That was an awesome tournament, for sure. For me, I never really approached TOing from a perspective of something that I really necessarily was super passionate about or wanted to do. Obviously, you have to want to do it to make the work happen, to have good events, but I didn’t feel like it was my calling in the community for a while. I’ve always really wanted to do commentary, and I still am pursuing that. It was around the time I think I did the first BMR, Bad Moon Rising. When I first came to Raleigh, it was definitely the best place in NC that you could live as far as Melee goes, but it wasn’t the Melee scene. It wasn’t the “capital.” I started hosting tournaments with my friend, Lucas, and we kind of invented Raleigh Melee essentially, and it just grew from there. There’s a really good quote I like from a movie called Waking Life that’s something like, “You might not have met yourself yet, but the benefit to meeting others in the meantime is that one of them might introduce you to yourself.” That’s kind of how I felt around the time I did the first BMR.

I came at TOing from a place of necessity. If NC is gonna be a good scene, it needs this. If Raleigh is gonna have a good scene, it needs this. Eventually, it became if the East Coast is gonna have good representation, if we’re gonna have good tournaments, there’s not going to be anybody else to run them but me. Nobody’s gonna do this but me, so I have to go do it. The reward you get from running a tournament, especially when it’s something that you aren’t really excited to do… that’s the thing about working out or training really hard. Sometimes you have to do things you really don’t wanna do, but when you finish, you get that sigh of relief when it’s all over. Every time [a tournament] is over and all the chairs are all put up and the tables are all folded up, I look at Lucas or Joe or whoever, and I just say, “Well, we did it again.” Somehow it’s over again, and we did it.

Sometimes there are hiccups, things you can’t control, but what makes a good TO able to rise to that challenge is looking like he wants to be there and really selling the event, just being in the moment. Most importantly, doing the things he doesn’t wanna do while making everybody think that’s exactly the best possible thing for him to be doing at that time. Rising to meet one challenge is the reason I rise to meet the next one. The feeling I get when I’m done with one is what makes it worth it. Like Joe was saying, when it’s over and you see the product of what you’ve created… especially when you go back weeks later and you see the vods and highlight reels. When we did Bad Moon Rising 2, it was great to have Kevin come and for him, PPMD, to participate and just be part of the spectacle and legacy of the tournament. But sometimes there are things you can’t control. We couldn’t control that [PPMD] and LoZR would have a good game. We couldn’t control that they’d even have a decent run in the tournament, but not only did they have an amazing run, they had probably the best doubles set of all time versus Hungrybox and Crunch. There were highlight reels made of it.

Everything that comes out in the weeks after is just another feeling like of beating the game when you’re a kid, that feeling that I was talking about. We did it! You feel that over and over again because you’re seeing these people who didn’t go to the event who are just like, “What a crazy event to watch!’ Or, “I wish I could have been at [that event].” And then randomly in the sea of comments, you see that person that’s like, “I can’t believe what it was like to watch this live.” That’s a snack for a TO. It makes me wanna go back in and do it again.

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Players gathering to listen to an announcement at the first installment of the Bad Moon Rising tournament series

EmeLee: It’s obviously a lot of work planning these events, especially one as big as Super FamiCon. How much time would you estimate you’ve invested in planning it this year?

Joe: We’ve been planning for an entire year. Maybe I even bother too much by doing this, but I just plan things way in advance. I’m already planning next year’s event.

Dylan: Joe’s like Megamind when it comes to stuff like this—logistics and dates and venues and stuff. One of the things I always struggle with as a TO is finding venues. When it comes to being a Smash TO and you don’t have connections or established networking skills, you kinda just fall ***-backwards into a venue. Like, here’s this card shop that’s struggling to make money, and they need a little bit of extra tax-free income, so how can I schmooze my way in and try to host a biweekly there where I’ll make a couple bucks? Most importantly, they’ll make venue fees, and they’ll want us to be there, etc. etc. Joe knows exactly who to call to find a venue or whatever. I remember when we were planning BMR 2, I remember telling him, “Bro, we’re in a food desert. There are no restaurants in a two-mile radius.” He said he’d have it figured out. Four hours later, he messaged me and was like, “I’ve got three food trucks, and I’m trying to confirm the last two right now.” So Joe is a monster when it comes to everything outside of the game.

As far as what I’ve invested in planning this tournament, I can tell you exactly how much: 24 years and 365 days because on November 18th, it’ll be my 25th birthday. It’ll be the culmination of every day before that. That’s always how I’ve approached tournaments. That’s mainly just how I approach my life. Every big moment in your life is just composed of all the smaller ones, and you just gotta have faith in the process. When it comes to the day-of, all of the planning and stuff we did, all the group chats we were in… it all led to this. All the work’s done. You’ve just gotta run the event.

EmeLee: How would you compare this year’s planning process to last year’s?

Dylan: Joe had never really run a tournament the size of FamiCon last year, so finding a really good venue was a challenge, but it was a challenge we met. My philosophy on everything I’ve done in Smash is to get the best people for what they do and put them in their spot. Our philosophy when it comes to building FamiCon is just like, well, who’s the best Melee TO here? That would probably be me, so I’m gonna go ahead and do that. Who’s the best Smash 4 TO? Let’s go find that guy and get him involved. Who’s the best Melee streamer we can get on the East Coast? Let’s go find those guys and talk to them and make it happen. Who’s the best guy we can talk to for networking nationally? Alright, let’s go talk to that guy. We’re just really big believers in these people. Especially in North Carolina, they go really underappreciated for their efforts and talents. This is just a big way for us to showcase the talent. The improvement that we’ve seen from last year’s FamiCon to this year’s has been crazy as far as people we work with and the community’s response. Planning for this year was way easier because of the trouble we faced last year.

: Yeah, last year we really had to prove ourselves. When you reach out to people and say, “Hey, come to our event!” They’re like, “Well is this your first one?” If you say yeah, they’re probably gonna say no, but we stuck it out. The people who did come out had a great time, and the word from there spread. Now it’s at the point where we actually had to turn some people down. I won’t name names, but there was some top talent who reached out, and we just had to pass. The most important thing to me is to build relationships, and if I’ve already promised one person that they’re going to be a commentator for top 8… If one of the best commentators of all time approached us, I can’t just drop whoever I’ve already committed myself to.

Dylan: In the first year, we had the legacy of BMR. It was one of the biggest grassroots tournaments of all time and was at the beginning of the esports era. Then you have FamiCon that comes along, and we’re trying to offer more than just a tournament. We’re trying to offer an experience, like a full holiday really. A showcase of not only our community, but people within it who may have other talents. There are a lot of people from the Melee community who are gonna be vendors this year and those who are gonna work the cosplay side of things. It’s just about interconnecting these people who have similar interests and making sure you have the right people in place. Everything else is just gonna work out. If you face struggles, it’s only gonna make the event next year better.

EmeLee: I noticed there are a lot of games to sign up for this year. How do y’all determine which ones to include?

Joe: A big thing is I listen to people. I host a lot of really casual events here at my business, Geeksboro, and based on the reaction to those, we sort of move forward. Sometimes you can be surprised by things. Rivals of Aether is one I kept getting emails about, and finally I was like alright, let’s make that happen. It’s really just being willing to listen to people. It’s especially easy if someone is like, “I will TO this thing.”

Dylan: When people step up like that, it really shows you that obviously there’s something going on in this scene if you have people who want it so bad they’ll give up the opportunity to play it or fully enjoy themselves to run it or help us. With FamiCon, you’re getting a lot of games there that people like playing and wanna have a chance to play in a tournament-style setting, but have just never gotten the opportunity. There are games there that are definitely for fun, and there are games that are obviously super established competitively like Melee, Rivals of Aether, etc. It’s mainly just about giving representation to games as much as possible, like to as many people and communities as possible. I very much remember when Melee was that game. It wasn’t that long ago for me when Melee was kind of laughed at and not taken seriously. A 150-person tournament was really the biggest you could do.

Joe: You have to fight to survive.

Dylan: Yeah, exactly. So I have a lot of respect for games that are doing that and not getting a lot of support. I feel like, especially if there’s going to be somebody who wants to be a part of our team and help us with the event, we should definitely be able to hear them out and make sure their community has a voice with us.

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Dylan helping TO a local in Chapel Hill, NC

EmeLee: What are some of the biggest obstacles you think you’ve faced in your TOing career?

Joe: From my side, one of the biggest struggles that any TO will have to face is authenticity. They have to prove that they are willing to listen and provide an authentic experience to the communities. We’ve seen people think, “Oh, it’s gonna be easy to run a video game tournament. We’ll make lots of money! Just piles and piles of cash!” And they roll out with some weak, fake ****. It’s just bad sauce, you know? When I first started hosting events, I got laughed at. I got clowned and ridiculed. Rather than just stick my fingers in my ears and not listen, I was just like, well let’s check out the feedback. Even with FamiCon, there were some things people had issues with, and you just have to listen and find ways to improve. I think the biggest challenge is you’re gonna get your *** kicked, just like in the game. You’re gonna get smacked around from all kinds of different directions.

Dylan: For me, the biggest challenge with running an event is usually keeping people on a level playing field as far as your staff goes. People tend to get stressed and worried and shorter with people. People just kind of start to lose themselves, or for lack of a better term, their ****. Part of the challenge of being a really good TO, especially of an event this size having as much staff as you do, is having to keep track of people’s mental state and how they’re doing. I’m just like, “Hey, is there anything I can do to make this easier for you? Can I get you a water? Do you need anything while you’re running this pool?” Constantly checking in with people is a challenge, but is also probably the thing I enjoy doing the most when I’m running a tournament just because I know no one else is gonna be that glue. Everybody else is focused on their own duties. You gotta have the glue.

On the inverse, personally when it comes to running events in general—small, large, whatever—I’m a black belt. I’m a black belt at running Melee tournaments, but I’m a white belt in running a business, whereas Joe is a black belt in business and a white belt in running Melee tournaments. The partnership between us just makes sense. He’s definitely been super receptive to the feedback. He may not be super plugged in to the community in the sense of playing the actual game, but when it comes to following the culture of the community and knowing what people like and want, he’s very tuned in. He teaches me a lot of stuff about how to run a business, how to talk to people and get them on board and network, and I try to impart to him some nuances in the Melee community. One of the things you have to understand about running a Smash event or trying to get people to register for your event is that the Smash community, just like any other niche market, has very specific patterns of behavior. They like certain things, they don’t like certain things. They’re very easy to sway in one way or another in terms of losing or gaining favor with them. They can kinda be a fickle crowd, but if you’re familiar with the game, if you’re one of them, if you’re in the culture, then you can definitely avoid getting axed or having a bad falling out or drama with anybody. Joe has had his moments where he’s had people try to butt heads with him, but cooler heads always prevail. I try to conduct myself the same way.

EmeLee: What are some parts of the planning and organizing process that you think players and spectators might not expect?

: The biggest thing is the money. I’d be the number one TO in the world if I could afford to lose $30,000 on an event. We always hear about the budgets of these events and how much they fail by. It’s just like, man, if I could start with what some of you guys fail by, I would have one of the best events in the nation. BMR 2, arguably one of the best events of 2017, I’m pretty sure was done with less than $3,000 total. I don’t know if I’m just the most cost-efficient or the dollar store TO or whatever you wanna call me, but I’m fairly certain most people don’t realize how much money goes into a larger event and how much of their money is being wasted by some other tournaments organizations.

Another big thing that people don’t think about is shopping for a venue. When you’re shopping for a venue, you might be shopping a year and a half out. One, what’s the market gonna be like next year? Two, is anyone gonna randomly schedule a big event a week before mine, which costs me a ton of media hype, or is someone gonna randomly back out on me? Next thing you know, I’m in the hole for this crazy expensive venue. When it comes to why we pick a certain venue, I feel like a lot of people are unaware of that.

But just the sheer amount of money in terms of running a tournament, people either think you spent way too much, or they think you spent way too little and you’re cheap. It’s all about finding that good balance where you don’t lose a ton of money and everyone goes home happy.

Joe: Yeah, I think the biggest thing that a lot of people don’t realize is a huge cost is the venue. Venues are so expensive. Sometimes people are a little shocked about venue fees, but man, we’re just trying to pay for that space.

Dylan: Something people don’t expect too is that, when you pay for a venue, they’re like “Cool, now that you’ve got the venue, do you need anything else?” We’re like, “Yeah, we just wanted to test your internet,” and they’ll be like, “Well, that’ll be $6,000,” for no reason. There are all these venues that are pretty good, but they’re gonna charge you extra for things you definitely need to run a Smash tournament: priority internet, ports, staging, stuff like that. Even if you go online and look at how much it is to rent a place for a weekend, you don’t really know until you’re in the business of Smash tournaments how much it’s really gonna cost.

Joe: Yeah, they hit you with a lot of add-ons.

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Dylan commentating with Wynton “Prog” Smith at Bad Moon Rising 2, photo courtesy of Recursion Gaming

EmeLee: What would be your advice for any aspiring TOs?

Joe: My advice is to listen and be ready to lose because it’s through losing that you learn to be better.

Dylan: Yeah, my biggest advice, especially if they’re aspiring to start a scene locally or start a series, would be to find a venue that needs you as much as you need them and work with them. Most importantly, work with your local scene and really try to cultivate it. Just start a group chat for the scene, and when the chat gets too big and too annoying, start a Facebook group. That’s how NC Melee started. The NC Melee Facebook group now has like 2,300 members [2,724 to be precise], so it’s a crazy amount of people in there posting daily, and it all started because [PPMD] was like, “Smashboards is getting a little too crazy, so let’s just make a Facebook group for all the run-off.” Now, it’s the main thing used to organize tournaments.

So definitely try to not only run tournaments, but try to create tools that will grow your community. Plant seeds, because you never know when you’re gonna be hosting a tournament and some kid’s gonna show up and go 0-2, and he’s gonna show up the next week and go 0-2 and then again the next week go 0-2. Then he’s gonna realize, “Wait a minute, maybe my calling is not to be a player. Maybe I should try to run a tournament of my own in my town.” Then you know you’ve created a scene somewhere else with your influence without even really being involved. The legacy spreads, and a little amount of work goes a long way in the Smash community because people are willing to work with you.

EmeLee: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Dylan: We’re gearing up for Bad Moon Rising 3, which is our next event in the summer. We’re gonna try to do two major tournaments in NC a year from now until I or Joe get tired of it or run out of money.

Joe: With FamiCon, the stated goal is to run a tournament that has a real convention and a convention that also has a real tournament because usually a lot of these events have one thing or the other. They’ll have a sort of a convention or a tournament that’s more of an afterthought, but we want both parts to be equally strong.
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EmaLeigh "$$$$" O'Neal