Thank You – A Farewell Message From SweetJohnnyCage
Before you read what’s written below, please press “Play” on the YouTube video linked. It’s a track that I think goes quite well with what I’m about to say. Thank you.
For the past six years of my life, I have been part of something incredible. When Street Fighter IV was released in arcades in 2008, we all knew the scene was going to explode. I don’t think anyone realized just how big it was going to get, and how long it was going to continue to grow.
When we organized East Coast Throwdown in March of 2009 (it was literally thrown together within 8 weeks), we anticipated maybe 100 people to show up. My, how wrong we were. Not only did over 100 people enter Street Fighter IV alone (huge number at the time), but 167 of you showed up to the event, and you all brought your A game. Unfortunately, since we were event organizing scrubs, things got overwhelming quickly. Delays upon massive delays, not having nearly enough equipment, barely any staff (due to my own pride and feeling bad for asking people for help), and a slew of other problems, made ECT1 a really rocky event.
I was incredibly surprised when attendance more than DOUBLED for East Coast Throwdown 2. 344 people showed up to support the event and play their hearts out. We dubbed this event “The Runback”. People wanted revenge in Super SFIV for their losses in Vanilla, and we made sure to give them a stage to get it. Again, things were rocky, but still a lot better than the original ECT.
Then came East Coast Throwdown 3. This was the event that made me want to quit. Things just went so wrong, so fast. It was like the world was working against us. Power outages, buggy systems that refused to accept patches (not even Capcom knows why this was happening, to this day), bracket delays because of a huge turnout at emergency registration. It was the most stressed I’ve ever been in my life. I remember laying in bed in the hotel room, Nick walking in, him asking “What’s wrong?” with a concerned, but friendly face. I told him “I’m done man, I do not want to do this anymore.” His smile turned into a grim look, and the mood immediately shifted in the room. But we persevered with the help of our incredible staff and friends, and we had still run the biggest event of our lives.
After ECT3, I was basically just going through the motions of planning ECT4. I wasn’t putting much effort into it because I felt defeated. It wasn’t until I went to NEC that year in Philadelphia, and decided to go out to breakfast at 4am with my friends Carlos and Evon. We went to the Pennrose Diner, across from the original NEC hotel venue, now called Skyview Lodge. After hanging out and eating for over an hour, we decided to head back to our hotel. When I pulled into my parking spot, I looked over my car to see the sun coming up. It was a beautiful sight. The horizon was turning gold and orange. A new day was coming. That’s when it hit me. I remember thinking to myself, “THIS is why I come to tournaments. Not the games, not the competition, but these moments with great friends.” That’s when I got back on track with ECT and the FGC as a whole.
For East Coast Throwdown 4, we knew that if we were going to continue running these events, everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, had to be planned out in advance. I mustered every single logistical skill I had acquired over the past three years, and put them into overdrive. I knew exactly what systems had what games installed, which were patched, what had DLC on them, what monitors were going where, the square footage of a CHAIR, everything. This event had to go off without a hitch in order to be a success. We had anticipated a smaller turnout than ECT3 due to the issues at that event. When judgment day came on June 9, 2012, we were ready. I was ready. Joe was ready. Nick was ready. Ryan Mead was ready. Lex was ready. Sean was ready. Everyone was ready. I gave the rally speech before pools, telling our staff just how important it was for this event to be perfect, and a lot of it was riding on them. The world was watching us, and we couldn’t let it down. All of our hard work paid off. The event was run to near-perfection, aside from small fires here and there. The Ray Ray vs. Fanatiq match went down as one of the most (if not the most, in my opinion) prolific sets in Marvel 3 history, and solidified East Coast Throwdown as the home of grudge matches. If you had a score to settle, it was handled on our stage.
While packing up all of our equipment during the last few hours of the event, I remember bending over a monitor to unplug it from the back. It was that second that I was taken back in time, to 2007, in Ryan Mead’s backyard. This is where we started. We ran 3rd Strike and Guilty Gear tournaments and sessions in Ryan’s backyard during the summer months. I would load up my Jeep with huge CRT televisions I’d picked up on Craigslist, everyone got their PS2s and games ready, and we played until five in the morning. I could feel the humidity of that Long Island summer. I could feel the dust of the television set on my hands. I could feel the sweat dripping from my brow as I lifted an eighty pound wood-paneled television off the patio table. I saw us at Castle Golf, running a 40 man 3rd Strike tournament on Long Island. Getting dinner at Applebee’s afterwards, and the Long Island crew growing bigger each time.
It was real. It was a flash of the past, one I’ll never forget. It reminded me of where we came from. Where we started. What we had gone through to get where we are. Our successes, our failures, everything. I had to put the monitor down in fear of dropping it. I went to the side of the stage, in the dark. I sat down and I just cried. I cried tears of joy, of passion, of pride. We had made it. We finally made it. We showed the world we knew what we were doing. I ran out of the hotel from one of the side exits so no one would see me. I pulled out my phone and watched our stream. I remember it clear as day. D*Nyce on the commentary screaming “KYOHEI! KYOHEI!” as Marlin Pie performed some unseen Dr. Doom tech during the finals. Tears were dripping on my phone’s screen. The chat was blowing up. 23,000 people were watching our tournament. Our hype. It was monumental to me that we were able to create this event for people to watch from their computer chairs across the globe. I was awestruck.
When I went back inside, I sat on the stage, redfaced from crying, and Nicholas Paldino of OneFrameLink came over to me, concerned, and asked “Is everything alright? What’s wrong?” I couldn’t even get the words out, I just started crying again. I told him that I couldn’t believe we had done it. We got it right. Finally. He patted me on the back, said some reassuring words (I honestly don’t remember what they were), and sat there with me. These are the moments that define us, that change our lives forever. I felt it in that ballroom in 2012. We made it.
When it came time for East Coast Throwdown 5, I told Joe that we couldn’t let ECT4 be a fluke. We had to get it right again. It was easier, for sure, but we still had to knock it out of the park, again. We did just that, with incredible ease. We had the systems in place. We had the Pink Shirt Army, we knew what we were doing. ECT5 went off without a hitch, and attendance grew.
2013 was also the year that Joe and I pitched Eric and Larry the idea for a fall tournament ran by the 4 of us, which we came to call The Fall Classic. With TFC2013, we wanted to show this community that when event organizers come together, great things happen. We were able to provide North Carolina with a brand new event they can call home, and an event the east coast could call their own. We created it for them, with the intention of bringing everyone out from across the country and around the world. To put it simply, it worked. We had sponsors that we never dreamed of. We had a playable build of Killer Instinct, a game whose system wasn’t even out yet. We voyaged into unknown territory and came out victorious. Attendance was higher than expected, everyone had a wonderful time, and the competition was fierce.
Throughout the past six years, I’ve found myself asking myself “What is it all for? Can I make a career out of this?” I kept coming to the conclusion that no, I couldn’t make this a career. I figured no company is going to hire someone just to organize a tournament for them. That’s silly. But, I grew tired of my day job. I wanted more for myself. So on a whim, I started poking around career pages of various companies in the video game industry. I found positions called “eSports Manager”, “Player Relations”, “Community Manager”, and others. Things I never once considered I would be able to do, or even existed. Things that, based on their descriptions, I was actually qualified to do. That’s when I decided to get my career in the industry started. I couldn’t wait anymore. I’m 25. It’s time to get a move on.
As time passed, I started getting interviews and callbacks from companies. I was constantly monitoring my inbox, awaiting a reply from a potential employer. And while nothing is set in stone just yet, I’m hopeful. Having gotten as far as I have in the interview process with some of these companies tells me something. It tells me I have what it takes. I have something that separates me from the masses of candidates. It’s something that I have to pursue. I’ve wanted to be in the industry since I was 5. I want to continue to help gaming communities, especially competitive ones. It’s something I was born to do.
Unfortunately, the industry doesn’t necessarily exist in New York. While I’d love to stay here and work and continue on with East Coast Throwdown and The Fall Classic, I’m afraid life is taking me west. This is my priority now. My career is my next project. Thank you for supporting East Coast Throwdown over the past 6 years, and thank you for continuing to support Joe and Nick after I leave. Thank you for believing in us and our capabilities. Thank you for believing in me, for talking with me, for saying “Thank you” at the end of a pool or at the end of the event. I can’t begin to tell you how much it means to me. Thank you to everyone I’ve ever worked with. Thanks to Seth Killian, Mark Julio, Richard Bantegui, Tom Lee, and everyone else for the guidance. Thank you to everyone who has ever shown up at East Coast Throwdown. Without you guys, ECT would not exist. It’s your event, we’ve just been running it.
With that, I am bowing out of East Coast Throwdown officially. It’s been an incredible ride. I’ll still be around, and I’ll be sure to be at ECT2015 to help out where I can. This isn’t goodbye, it’s just “See you later”. Look after each other 🙂
-John “SweetJohnnyCage” Gallagher