Unsung Heroes is our series about the many members of the Fighting Game Community who work behind the scenes to make our community a vibrant, positive, exciting place to be. If you would like to submit your own Unsung Heroes, contact us here or @toptiergg.
Although the Fighting Game Community is known for many things, nothing defines it better than its reputation for diversity. Widely known as the most ethnically diverse video gaming community, the FGC is also working hard to ensure that all fighting game fans are welcome, regardless of sex or gender, ability or disability, socioeconomic class, sexuality, neurotypicality, or religion.
But the FGC’s diversity isn’t limited to its demographics. If most other esports scenes operate like train tracks, keeping everything orderly and straightforward, the FGC is more like the sky. Big corporations do occasionally send technology roaring across it, but that’s only a small piece of the picture. Even as developers like Capcom, NetherRealm Studios, and Bandai-Namco launch their own pro tours, most of the community is a cloudscape, coming together naturally and shifting according to its own inherent nature.
David “D-Wall” Wallace is a part of that elegant, unpredictable display. “The community is more than just top players [and pro tours], he says. “It’s 0-2ers, Tournament Organizers, fans, etc.” He should know: as the head TO of Spring Scuffle and Fall Brawl, the largest fighting game tournament in the state of Montana, Wallace is always working to make sure that the FGC never loses its free, open, and untamed spirit.
Big Sky Country
Wallace’s time as a TO started in 2015, in his senior year of college. “With a state as big as Montana and fighting game netcode as terrible as it frequently is,” he says, “we wanted to get our spread-out community more opportunities to congregate than once a year. So I started advertising our first event in Bozeman with the goal of attracting people from across the state.”
Even those who live in the United States may not know how large Montana is. At 147,040 square miles, it’s larger than the entire nation of Japan. And with a relatively small population of only 1 million people, Montana’s FGC is spread thin. If you’re a fighting gamer in the Treasure State, you may have to drive four to six hours just to find a group of people who play your favorite title. Wallace’s event gave Montanans a chance to congregate – and they responded.
“We got 50-60 people out,” he recalls. Wallace was ecstatic. He was also not entirely prepared. “Insert suffering from success meme,” he jokes. “We hosted it at the university and they double-booked the room we were using, so at one point we had to migrate the event mid-brackets to a different room to keep it going…We pulled it off, though, and the excitement and connections generated at that event really set us up for the growth that came after.”
From those humble beginnings, Wallace and his partners, Blake and Sean, turned Fall Brawl into a regional classic. In 2019, the last time FGC events ran as usual, Fall Brawl even qualified to be a Dojo-level tournament on the Tekken World Tour. While Wallace’s colleagues have stepped back, he’s still pushing forward, and he’s doing it by turning Montana’s big sky into a big tent that has room enough for the entire community.
Taming The Esports Beast
As one of the FGC’s up-and-coming events, Fall Brawl has to be many things at once. For the Montana community, “it can be like a homecoming or reunion,” Wallace says. As a candidate for inclusion in various pro tours, it has to be professional. And as a grassroots event, it has to offer something authentic and real.
“One thing we were really conscious about is we never wanted to get ‘too esports,’” is how he phrases it. “We wanted to keep the feeling of sitting on your coach with your friends talking sh*t and having fun alive. So our events reflect that…We encourage crowd noise [and] we love when people get hype and jump around screaming.”
To keep the balance, Fall Brawl sets aside one room to be the so-called “Gorilla Zone,” where rowdier players can engage in all the goonery and mischief that their hearts desire without putting a damper on anyone else’s experience. This is the type of creative solution that could only have grown out of the FGC’s complexity and diversity. And by embracing his community in all of its complexity, Wallace gives the entire community a reason to attend. That’s why recent iterations of Fall Brawl had attendees from California, Arizona, Florida, Maryland, and Minnesota, not to mention a visit from the founder of the Marvel-vs.-Capcom-centered Airdash Club.
In Sickness And In Health
Of course, Wallace and his event had to take 2020 off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But with light now at the end of the tunnel, he’s looking forward to the day when he can reopen his doors. Together with Montana Melee, the event that he says birthed the Montana FGC, he plans to keep working to put his state on the FGC map.
For an event like Fall Brawl, there may never be a safe, easy path forward. Everything will have to be an experiment and a step into the unknown. But that’s also what makes the FGC special: from diversity comes the strength to think differently, to act from the heart, and to persevere, even through world-shaking events. It’s a lot to ask. But with a leader like Wallace at the controls, it’s no exaggeration to say that the sky’s the limit.