On August 22nd 2020 I had the opportunity to help out with AnimEVO (Anime EVO). Last year had you told me that I’d be helping out with the largest Fantasy Strike tournament to date, or that I’d be volunteering for a tournament that commonly runs alongside EVO I wouldn’t have believed you. I still can’t believe it happened. So how did I get here?

First off, let’s start with EVO. For those of you who are not familiar, the Evolution Championship Series, commonly referred to as EVO, is an annual fighting game tournament that was founded back in 1996. It takes place during the summer months and is a stage for players from around the globe to compete in competitive tournaments for popular fighting games. It is one of the oldest e-sport events and is partial responsible for popularizing the concept of video games as serious competition in the mainstream.

With only nine title games being selected each year for the main stage some folks don’t get to play their favourites. So what do you do if your game isn’t being featured on the main stage? You start a side tournament! With EVO being so large it has become common place for side tournaments to be held through the event. These tournaments aren’t officially part of EVO, but do allow communities to come together and compete similarly to the title games. The spectacle might not be present, but the spirit of competition surely is. This is where AnimEVO fits in.

AnimEVO is the name of one of the side tournaments that takes place at EVO. It’s a banner that has been used, predominantly, for featuring games with an anime-esque art-style. With COVID-19 lockdown happening this year, AnimEVO, similar to EVO, was forced to move online which was a bit of a blessing for the international community. You could now participate online in your favourite game’s tournament from the comfort of your home.

So where do I fit into all this?

Fantasy Strike participated in AnimEVO this year. Originally the thought was that a handful of players would participate much like the anniversary and seasonal tournaments. As such four volunteers joined forces to organize the event for the community. Unfortunately for them, Fantasy Strike went free-to-play before AnimEVO, which led to a huge spike in participation leading up to the event. With over two hundred entrants the load was more than four could reasonably handle.

Two days before the event I was asked last minute to co-commentate the secondary stream. All of the usual commentators were already involved or were playing in AnimEVO. Generally it is preferred to let those playing focus on their matches instead of having them jump back and forth between playing and commentary. As someone who wasn’t playing but also had a year’s worth of play experience, I fit the ultra specific Venn diagram of people who could commentate in an emergency situation. So when safety_man approached me I accepted the offer, despite doubting my ability to perform.

Coming out the other end I’m glad I took the opportunity. However, I have a word of advice: don’t let your first time commentating be for a tournament this large. It was enjoyable, but holy shit is it nerve wracking to do commentary when you have exactly zero experience doing so and you have between thirty and fifty people watching you for four hours straight. Do not jump directly into the deep end. Start small.

All things considered I think I did a passable job. My inexperience showed, but everyone within the community who was watching was kind about it. I received multiple thank yous for my involvement and I can’t articulate exactly how grateful I am for that. I’m also grateful for the support from my partner in crime, Duckie, as I would have completely fallen on my face had I been left to my own devices for the whole event.

Getting back to my original point, my past self would be so hard pressed to believe this all transpired because a year ago I barely understood the language of fighting games. Fighting games have always fascinated me, but until Fantasy Strike I never understood how to play them. Playing against another human and understanding all of the factors that go into that is complex. By simplifying certain aspects, like combo execution, Fantasy Strike has allowed me to get to a point where I could learn and understand the language of fighting games enough to do a passable job at commentating.

Also, it’d be remiss of me to not acknowledge how the community has helped me reach this point. Were it not for numerous folks helping me out over the past year I don’t think I’d have come as far as I have. And that really encapsulates why I continue to play Fantasy Strike: the community. There are so many amazing individuals who want to help others grow and improve leading to a stronger community.

The community’s drive to build-up, rather than tear-down, even extended to my commentary. No one told me I did a terrible job afterward. Rather, I received words of encouragement and gratitude for helping out last minute. I have a lot of improvements to make if I ever commentate again, and the positive push I received will help provide a springboard to make those improvements happen.

I guess the short version of what I’m trying to say is: find a fighting game where you enjoy the community as much as you enjoy playing the game. It’ll add an extra dimension to your time with the game and you might just find yourself in the same shoes I was a few weeks ago. You’ll never know what opportunities are available to you in life until you widen your social circle and take on new experiences.

Thank you again to safety_man, Leontes, Mr MKL, and ThyPirateKing for giving me the opportunity to assist with AnimEVO. It was one of the most enjoyable volunteer experiences I’ve ever been involved with. I’m looking forward to next year.