Interview: Mark Richards, ButtonSmash

September 9, 2012

It’s easy to feel neglected in Brisbane on the gaming front, with a sparse number of arcades, a lack of independent video game retailers and very few events making it over to our city. The first and second problems might be something that we can all keep wishful thinking up for, but on the events front, a significant challenger has appeared: ButtonSmash. ButtonSmash is a dedicated fighting game version of the famous LanSmash tournaments and is making its way to Brisbane on the 15th and 16th of September.

I caught up with Mark Richards, the organiser behind ButtonSmash to learn more about the event and the fighting game community in Australia.

Rocket Chainsaw: “Give us a little bit of background behind LanSmash. What made you decide to develop the community?”

Mark Richards: “LanSmash started off as one of those backyard LANs that were popular in the late nineties and early 2000s with the rise of networked games and steadily grew while other LANs came and went.  It’s been going strong for 11 years now and we still run four to five dedicated events a year, with turnout numbering anywhere between 150 to 250 people.  LanSmash recently has also been a significant partner in a lot of other gaming ventures. For example, we were majorly involved in the Blizzard Starcraft 2 World Championship Series Australian Nationals, during which we ran a stream and worked on the backend logistics ( ). As for the future, you may see us popping our heads up at this year’s EB Expo putting out spot fires in the home-grown gaming section as well as livestreaming most of the tournaments.

We’re still a Brisbane based operation through and through, but we have a certain level of commitment and insanity that makes us a reliable partner when running mid-scale events throughout Australia.”

RC: “What made you decide to expand into the fighting game genre, as seen with ButtonSmash?”

MR: “Previous to LanSmash, I started running the occasional arcade tournament back in 2003 through OzHadou. As for LanSmash, it has actually been running fighting game events in Brisbane since 2010. I was personally approached in 2009 about the fighting game community.  Frankly, it had been on tenderfoot from around 2002 through to 2008 as it was simply forgotten about as a gaming genre.  We still had our nationals every year in Sydney, but it was hard to get new people into a community to play when 90% of the tournament level games were over 10 years old and anything new that came through was pretty much a joke (eg. Capcom Fighting Jam).

However, 2008 brought Street Fighter IV into arcades and in 2009, the console release, which was pushed surprisingly hard in Australia by [publisher] THQ, complete with those ads on the side of buses.  People started playing fighting games casually again which brought about a revitalization of the tournament scene. After all it is just as easy to pick up and watch as it is to pick up and play, making it worthwhile as a spectator event as much as it is a game to play with buddies either competitively or socially.”

RC: “Why Brisbane? Is the fighting game community in Brisbane big? How does it shape up compared to other states?

MR: “Brisbane needed its own major.  Sydney reached the 10th year of its majors in February and there are a couple of Melbourne majors a year.  We have the resources and players up here to do one so why not?  The Brisbane community is reasonably sized, even if we can’t match Melbourne and Sydney because of population density. Facebook has made it easy to keep track of players and interested people. Our group Brisbane Fighters has around 150 members at the moment and we’ve seen at least two-thirds of them attend our tournaments over the past two years. In comparison, Melbourne has around 250 active participants.

It isn’t a case of one-upmanship in terms of running the biggest or best event.  The interstate rivalries are left in-game.  The rivalries come and go, usually in big ways that get sorted out at a major, and normally get quite heated.  It is a quite more mature community than people expect; after all, it’s born out of an arcade culture from the early nineties.  Mixing dichotomies between a traditional eSports event and a fighting game event is always interesting, much like how polo and ice hockey are similar in theory but different in practice.”

RC: “How do you feel the fighting game community has evolved in Australia and more specifically, Brisbane? Is there a significant difference between the states? Is there any particular rivalry between states?”

MR: “There have always been differences between the states.  QLD has always been known as the Marvel state while NSW and VIC battle for Street Fighter glory.  Of course this is ironic since we have many more Street Fighter players up here than Marvel players.

For example, at this year’s OzHadou Nationals X several thousand dollars exchanged hands between Melbourne and Sydney as people bet on their own states’ players in Marvel vs Capcom 3.  Brisbane couldn’t get a look in because the Southern states were scared and thought they were behind the eight-ball.  The irony is that during the actual tournament the Brisbane players choked pretty bad, so everyone, especially Melbourne believe they’ve caught up.  Perhaps Brisbane will now be able to partake in events such as these.”

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“It boils down to the fact that the Marvel players have been involved in the community for much longer so the Brisbane Street Fighter players are trying to catch up.  More people and more arcades equals more competition.  Online improvements with netcode help a bit.  But in fighting games, that tiny bit of lag makes a difference – more so than any other genre. Therefore, to be considered the best you have to play offline, so the number of arcades over the past ten years have definitely given the Southern states a stronger player base in general. Not to mention they’re cheaper and better maintained as well.”

RC: “Tell us a little more about the event – who we can expect to see, which games we can expect to see played.”

MR: “In terms of games, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 gets released literally a couple of days before ButtonSmash, so we will be having a tournament for that.  We will be running playable beta builds of Dead or Alive 5, a first for QLD.  We will expect at least 60 people for the Street Fighter Tournament and 30 to 40 people for Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3.  We will also have American copies of Persona 4 Arena and will be holding a tournament, as well as a tournament for The King of Fighters XIII.  Both Super Smash Bros. Melee and Brawl will be played over the weekend with respective tournaments.  Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown and Soul Calibur V may both make appearances if there is enough interest.

As for players, ToXY from Melbourne will be in attendance.  Since the departure of Humanbomb last year he is considered decisively the best overall Capcom fighting game player in the country.  Arnold, who I mention below, will also be here to defend his Marvel crown from a large number of hungry Brisbane (and VIC players.)  All up we are expecting around 20-30 serious players from interstate, even a couple from WA.”

RC: “And now, some things about you… your personal favourite fighting game?”

MR: “In terms of the current generation of games, it would have to be MvC3.  It’s still new, it has lots of explosions, it requires significant reactions as well as metagame knowledge in order to be good at it.  The fact that new technology and techniques are still being uncovered as we go makes it interesting as well as it floats back and forward from an offensive to defensive and rushdown to keepaway. It’s quite likely that it will soon be usurped by KoF XIII.  The game is really starting to get a following in QLD.

As for all time?  Most likely Breaker’s Revenge, a reasonably unknown Neo Geo title from the nineties.  Even these days it’s ridiculously playable, even for newcomers to the genre.”

RC: “Which is your most anticipated upcoming fighting game?”

MR: “My Little Pony: Fighting is Magic.

But seriously, Injustice: Gods Among Us.  NetherRealm did a lot right with the Mortal Kombat reboot, even though we never saw it over here.  The mistakes made were pretty obvious as well and they have acknowledged them.”

RC: “Pad or stick?”

MR: “I’ve nearly always preferred stick. Like most people my age, back in the SNES days the stick options were seriously limited so you had to adjust to both between actual arcade stick play and at home practice. But once the Dreamcast was available and you could purchase half decent sticks that was the go-to option.  There are still times these days where pad is the only option available (preview events, conventions, etc.) and I know I still revert to my ridiculously awkward and outdated button layout that no one else can even comprehend.

Over the past two to three years the debate about stick being better than pad for execution has pretty much subsided.  In Street Fighter, we have ShangTsung, a player in the top three in the country that uses a pad.  And similarly in UMVC3, Arnold is the current number one in the country and uses a pad.”

For more information about the event, check out the official ButtonSmash website and the Facebook page. A huge thanks to Mark who took the time to chat!