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What I Did On My Summer Vacation

I’ve written before about my fondness for playing the Street Fighter video games, and I had an experience worth noting a few weeks ago that made me think about what we try to do at ArcherPoint with the NAV community. 

I took a few days off to fly out to Las Vegas and take part in the Evo Championship Series tournaments.  For those of you who don’t play or follow the world of competitive video gaming, Evo is the largest fighting game tournament in the world, devoted to several days of people playing Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Marvel vs. Capcom, and several other games.  It’s an event that’s open to the public, so anyone who wants to show up and test themselves against the world’s best players can compete.  (In fact, I lost one of my matches in the Street Fighter tournament to someone who’d come all the way from France.) 

One of the games featured at this year’s Evo tournament was Super Smash Bros. Melee, and I want to talk about this game a little bit.  Melee is an old game; it was released in 2001 for the GameCube, and there’s actually a sequel that was released in 2008, but Melee has a bigger tournament following than its sequel.  (None of the Smash Bros. games were designed with competitive play in mind, but Melee has a set of options that allow it to be played in a tournament setting, while the other games in the series do not.) 

There were a lot of people playing in the Melee tournament.  It wound up being the 3rd largest tournament at Evo; there were several hundred entrants, all playing games on these old CRT televisions that the tournament organizers had scrounged up from somewhere.  Over 100,000 people watched the finals for the Melee tournament streamed over the internet.  So, it was a popular game; lots of people showed up to play it and watch it getting played.

The next thing I want mention about Melee is how it got to be an Evo game in the first place.  This year, the tournament organizers held a contest to see which of several games would be in the tournament.  People got to vote in the contest by donating money for breast cancer research, and the game that won the most money would be a part of the tournament.  The Melee community came together and donated over $94,000 for cancer research, making up almost ½ of the total donations. 

Finally, there was a big difference between the Melee community and the other games represented at Evo.  The makers of the other games had an official presence at Evo: Capcom had a presence talking about Street Fighter, including series producer Yoshinori Ono, and Warner Bros. Interactive sent Ed Boon to represent Mortal Kombat.  But the Melee community was on their own; no one from Nintendo showed up to appreciate their passion.  In fact, Nintendo’s lawyers tried to prevent the tournament organizers from streaming the Melee results over the internet.  (There’s probably a lot to say there about how a company needs to embrace their fervent users instead of trying to alienate them, but if you want to read about it, I’m sure you can find it elsewhere.)

So, what can we learn from all of this? 

The biggest lesson we can take is that community is all about people, and that community comes up from the people, not down from the mountain.  There are lots of things that big corporate players in the NAV space can do to help (or hurt) the community, but it ultimately comes down to the all of the individual people in the NAV ecosystem doing things that help (or hurt) the community.  A group of fanatically passionate individuals working together around a shared interest is the core of the community.  And when those individuals work together around their shared passion, amazing things can happen.  Like 100,000 viewers tuning in over the internet to watch people play a video game where Super Mario fights against Pokemon.  The individuals in the NAV community are ultimately the reason that NAV succeeds or fails.  When we work together to share our passion and experience, we can make amazing business software that improves companies and lives. 

Another lesson we can gain is that the passion of the individuals in the community is just as important as the skills in the community.  Anyone who wants to show up at Evo and compete can do so, regardless of how much they know.  And ¼ of the people who play in each tournament are eliminated in their first two games.  Even if you’re not going to win the tournament, though, you can still cheer for the people competing.  Even if you don’t know all the answers about how to do stuff in NAV, you can still answer the questions that you can, or create the solutions that you can.  And you can ask the community for help on other things.

And finally: If our community has enough passionate members, maybe we can get American Idol winners like Taylor Hicks to join us.  (Note: This may not actually be relevant to the point I’m making.)

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