Like many things, when you reach a certain level of proficiency, there might be less to learn, but mastering what little remains is a much bigger task. In the case of the guys over at OzHadou, it means refining the art of using an arcade stick and learning to frame-count moves to work out when to attack your opponent. In addition to being home to some of Australia's top fighters, the group is responsible for organising national Australian fighting tournaments. However, their biggest achievement was putting together the Asia-Pacific subdivision of the coveted EVO fighting championship. Although the day was won by world champion Daigo, it's not a bad effort for a small group of Aussie gamers who do this on the side.
For this week's edition of GameSpot AU's Community Lounge, we spoke to Andrew Ziogas, who is one of OzHadou's administrators, about creating tournaments on a national scale, what challenges local professional gaming faces, as well as plenty of talk about Street Fighter.
GameSpot AU: Can you talk to us about the early days of OzHadou?
Andrew Ziogas: The website was started to help bring Australian players together with discussions and meet-ups. It then expanded to running tournaments early on. This started with Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Capcom vs. SNK 2--the newest Capcom fighting games in late 2001. Though the website was initially Sydney focused, the addition of Melbourne members led to the first-ever "national" tournament--OzHadou Nationals (OHN). Gatherings and tournaments were based primarily in arcades. At the time it was Playtime on George St in Sydney (which has since closed), which hosted the OHN tournament series.
GS AU: How big is OzHadou, and how far has the group come since the beginning?
AZ: Today the OH forums have over 2,500 members. Local tournaments feature anywhere from 10 to 50 players (depending on the time and location), with major tournaments drawing over 200 competitors and spectators. Initially OHN struggled to draw 50 competitors. Expanding to include popular franchises like Tekken and capitalising on the success of new titles like Super Street Fighter IV has greatly helped in expanding the size of the scene.
GS AU: What hurdles did you come across as you expanded?
AZ: The closure of Playtime was a massive blow, but ultimately it brought the community closer together as it had to rely on itself to stay alive. Additionally, a lack of new releases from Capcom (between 2001 and 2008) brought the scene to the brink of extinction. Expanding to include Tekken helped to keep things afloat during the worst of that period. Although intended as a national website, OH has been predominantly viewed as a "Sydney club." The nationals series has taken some time to establish itself as a place for all Australians to compete.
GS AU: What sorts of games do you focus on, and how often do you host events?
AZ: OH has always focused on Capcom's fighting games ahead of all others. Currently, Super Street Fighter IV is the most popular game amongst members, and the main focus for the tournament scene. Weekly tournaments are held at GGS in Sydney. Couch Warriors in Melbourne holds monthly console tournaments. LanSmash in Brisbane holds quarterly tournaments. All three cities have special events like OHN (Sydney), BAM (Melbourne), and others that are usually held on an annual basis, with players travelling from interstate to compete.
GS AU: Where do you get the money to host events from?
AZ: There's a lack of sponsors due to the "grass roots" nature of the scene. Funding comes predominantly from entry fees collected from participants. Additional support comes from community donations or sponsoring organisations (e.g. the UTS Union via EGG).
GS AU: Is it difficult getting funds together?
AZ: Businesses such as THQ, Good Games Sydney, and Madman have donated prizes for players, in addition to cash prizes raised via tournament entry fees. Typically, it has always been hard to get sponsors to support these events. Usually it takes someone inside the business that is pro-fighting games to give you the support you're looking for.
GS AU: What's the biggest event/achievement that OzHadou has pulled off recently, and can you describe it to us?
AZ: EVO APAC. There were qualifier tournaments held across the country, with the finals in Sydney. Over 100 people competed in the SSFIV tournament, including world-famous Daigo Umehara from Japan. The top two--Daigo and Johnny--won flights to Las Vegas to compete at EVO 2010, the largest fighting game tournament in the US. Daigo was the winner of SSFIV at EVO 2010. (link http://au.gamespot.com/news/6264412.html)
GS AU: Compared to overseas leagues, the competitive gaming scene in Australia struggles a bit in comparison. Why do you think that is?
AZ: The size of our population is a major limitation. The more competitors you have, the better the players will become, simply because they have to work harder to stay on top. Geography is also a problem. Our small population is spread very thin (compared with, say, Europe and Asia), and this makes it harder for players to meet and train regularly. While the Internet has increased our access to local comp, our Internet infrastructure is still not good enough to link all of the country together (without lag), nor does it allow us to compete online internationally (without lag). This greatly limits our access to the best players in the world (e.g. Japan).
[Tournament player] Gamerbee (Taiwan) has reached a world-class level despite having no real local tournament scene, simply because he has a good Net connection to Japan and plays their top players all the time. We also need a different mindset. People need to seek continuous improvement and actively try to beat their betters. Not many people have that "killer instinct" to actively improve until they beat the current champ, and without those people, no scene can ever hope to become world-class.