SolidxPanda Interviews ARFGN’s SmokeMaxX!

A.R.K IV is right around the corner and I’m sure many of you have been wondering who is behind all of this tournament noise everyone has been talking about. Today I got a chance to sit down with one of the founders of the A.R.K (Arkansas Regional Knockouts) tournament series, Max Nguyen. Also known as SmokeMaxX on the SRK forums. I asked him a few questions about Arkansas’ biggest fighting game event and how all of this got started. There’s a lot to be read here, so sit back, grab a chair and prepare to get to know the hardest working man in the Arkansas fighting game community!

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– Coming up on the fourth tournament for the A.R.K series you’ve got to be pretty hype. How do you feel about how far you’ve come along as a tournament organizer?

I think being a tournament organizer is probably the most difficult position in the video gaming ecosystem. It’s essentially a thankless job where you’re overworked, underpaid (if you’re paid at all!), and responsible for not only a tournament, but also the perception of your community to the rest of the world. Being a tournament organizer is often very frustrating, but I can honestly say without a doubt that I absolutely love it.

Have I made mistakes? You bet. The very first tournament we ran, we had a combination of laggy monitors and 10” CRTs. Conditions weren’t ideal, but all I could do was learn from my mistakes and change them for the next tournament. And I want to believe that I’ve been doing a good job of that.

– Obviously your tournaments have grown tremendously over the past couple of years. Do you feel like A.R.K is one of the biggest tournaments the South/Southwest has?

That’s tough. Around Arkansas there are great tournaments in each and every state. OKGamers throws amazing tournaments in Oklahoma that draw hundreds of people; Kyoji24 is really building his scene in Mississippi; DreamTR holds MWC in Tennessee; and then you have the Texas Majors such as Absolute Battle, UCC, as well as any event that UFO Fubarduck hosts. That being said, in our region of the country we don’t really have a Final Round or CEO or Season’s Beatings. Although I don’t know if our tournament will ever get to that level, you can bet that that’s our main goal. With an expected two hundred fighting game players attending, I think we are making great progress.

– What made you decide to start A.R.K and pursue the path of a tournament organizer in a state where gaming communities were very scarce and spread out at the time?

 It’s funny. The gaming community (as a whole) is STILL unorganized and spread out. You have a pocket of Halo gamers here, a group of Call of Duty gamers there. I think the Arkansas fighting game community is the only organized e-gaming group in the state (well, of any significant size).

However, what really inspired me to become a tournament organizer was another event in Arkansas called Little Rock Game Con. The gaming convention was the first big tournament I’ve ever been to and the first one in Arkansas that was committed to getting players from around the state to compete. Needless to say, I met a lot of great players there that shared my passion. More importantly, the convention managed to get three members of Empire Arcadia to come down. I remember talking to one of the players they managed to get, Sanford Kelly, and asking him how we could improve as a state. He told me straight up- “you have to build your community.” We ended up talking for like thirty minutes about what he meant and I really took that stuff to heart.

After our talk, Mike Weng (ARK XI) and I started really getting to know the Street Fighter players there and after the convention we really hit things off on the SRK Arkansas thread. We started organizing local meet-ups and talking strategy. There came a point where people started getting disgruntled that no one was holding tournaments in Arkansas, so Mike and I decided to change that. After the first one was a success, we knew we couldn’t stop there. I’m very thankful for Little Rock Game Con and especially EMP Sanford Kelly for encouraging us to build our local scene up. Out of all the things you hear about Sanford, I don’t think people compliment him enough about how much he cares about the community and the games he plays.

– The A.R.K. tournaments have been well known for tailoring to the players. You guys provide food, drinks and an incredible experience for a small entry fee (usually only 10 dollars). What drives you to do this knowing that you won’t be profiting as much as other tournaments do?

First and foremost, although Mike and I are technically the “co-founders” of the Arkansas Regional Knockouts tournament series, these tournaments are run by the community, for the community. We want to make sure we provide an experience that absolutely everybody should enjoy. We also want to encourage community growth, not stifle it by trying to put a few extra dollars into our pockets.

Also, when I talk about “the community” I think I should clarify by stating that it’s not just about Street Fighter players, or Arkansas gamers, or whatever other specific category you can put there. It’s about EVERYONE. Not only has Arkansas gaming gotten big in recent months, but communities that we have touched have begun to organize and grow at amazing paces. Of note, the Tulsa fighting game crew has gone from a handful of random people to an organized group that travels to tournaments 3, 4, or 5 hours away. They are improving really fast and building relationships with other local communities. There’s also a group in Monroe, Louisiana that is being organized by a friend of mine (Triox). Within a few weeks, he went from zero people to play with within a two hour radius, to 10-15 people on average for his weekly meet-ups. I’m really proud of these two groups for making something special out of essentially nothing, and I’d like to think that we played a part in all of that.

– How many states besides Arkansas do you think are going to show up to A.R.K? Do you have any special guest confirmed? Last year you had Justin Wong come out and he’s one of the biggest names in fighting games. Do you have any big names coming out this year?

We were very fortunate to have EG. Justin Wong show up to A.R.K. III. He’s a phenomenal player and truly a nice guy. It was a nice mutual relationship. We get some exposure and training against one of the best that the U.S. has to offer and he wins all of our money. I’m not sure who got the better end of that deal haha.

Tournament after tournament, our event has grown larger and larger. A.R.K. III had representation from ten states. This year, we expect more. We’ve already received confirmation from ourselves (Arkansas), Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and California with interest from Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. This time, we’ve also been blessed enough to obtain Marn. EG. Justin Wong may attend as well. We have other names that are quite big in the region that have committed to coming, but people will have to tune into the stream to see who those players are!

A little off-topic, but I feel like I need to address one issue being in a state where competitive gaming is a rarity: we often hear complaints about bringing high level players like EG Justin Wong to our tournaments and letting them play. It’s frustrating because we usually hear about it in second-hand fashion so we can’t respond. Well here’s my response: that’s what we call a ‘scrub mentality.’ There is zero reason to not want the best players at your tournament. If they win, it’s because they deserved it. Don’t want them to win? Knock them out of the tournament. If you believe in yourself as a player, you won’t make up excuses about why you can’t beat certain players. And if you truly don’t care to put the time into learning the game you’re competing in, you weren’t going to win anyway so it doesn’t matter that a player like EG Justin Wong came down.

– You’ve been a competitive player in the Arkansas fighting game scene for quite awhile now. Who got you into fighting games and why did you decide to pursue this genre of game instead of others?

I hate to give Mike too much credit, but he completely pulled me into the fighting game scene. Growing up, I didn’t have very good players to play against in my local scene, so obviously I thought I was hot stuff because I could mash the kick buttons in Tekken or do a ten hit combo in Killer Instinct. Unfortunately, Mike turned my world upside down by kicking my butt pretty easily. Even more unfortunately, Mike was my roommate for two years. Ever since that initial whoopin’ though, my competitive spirit (and the Arkansas Fighting Game Network!) has kept me playing as much as I can so that I can learn and get better.

As for “why fighting games?” well… it wasn’t always that way. I have always been a huge FPS fan, starting with Descent II and transitioning to Quake II. I eventually switched to console (begrudgingly at first) and became a competitive Call of Duty player, but playing shooters competitively now requires a dedicated team and great internet connections which weren’t things available to me a few years ago. I also love Starcraft, but my APM is approximately 15 and I prefer money maps to “real maps” so needless to say, I haven’t been picked to be in the GSL.

– Outside of the A.R.K tournament series, how has the fighting game community in Arkansas grown? How far along have the players come as far as skill? Do you feel Arkansas is capable of competing with the rest of the country?

The metamorphosis of the fighting game community in Arkansas has been amazing. People stumble upon our Facebook group or attend one of our tournaments and say “wow, I didn’t know this existed!” What they don’t know is that two years ago, there was no Arkansas fighting game community. Two years ago, we had literally 4-5 people in one SRK thread that would attempt to keep the thread alive by posting once every few weeks. It took a dedicated effort between Mike, Panda, me, and several other folks to really kick off the start of the new Arkansas Fighting Game Network. In two years, we’ve gone from 4-5 people to over 140 people in our Facebook group and one of the most active SRK threads in our region.

Skill-wise we have grown quite a bit as well. We’re not California or New York yet, but I think we’re slowly getting there. We have benefited greatly from building our scene. Most of us refuse to play online because we don’t have to. Can Arkansas compete with the rest of the country? I think the answer is “maybe.” We have strong players in Brawl, Melee, Mortal Kombat, and BlazBlue. Can they compete at a national level? I don’t think so yet. However, our Marvel community is fairly strong and I have faith that when they each brush up on their weaknesses, they’ll be able to play with the big boys. As of now, though, all of our hopes lie with The Chosen One, Mike Weng. He has shown that he definitely can compete with top players in Street Fighter, beating EMP Yipes (multiple times), EMP Sanford (team tournament), Buktooth, and several other high level players in tournament.

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A.R.K. IV is looking to be the biggest of the series thus far. The tournament kicks off on September 17th and 18th in Jacksonville, Arkansas. I can’t wait to experience what’s in store and be a part of one of the biggest tournaments the South has to offer.

 For those of you that can’t make it to the tournament, Interrupted Gaming will be streaming the SSF4: AE/MVC3 tournaments both Saturday and Sunday. RawkusX leads the Interupted Gaming team and puts on a very professional broadcast.

 Please visit www.arfgn.com for more information on A.R.K IV and getting involved with the Arkansas Fighting Game Network.

 Thanks for reading!

 – ARK SolidxPanda

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