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.
If you’re looking for an honest voice in the Fighting Game Community, look no farther than Dominic “Ham Jams” Brown (@HamHarder). “I think that people need to show some confidence,” he tells me during our conversation. “The reality of it is, I suck and [I still] talk to everyone.” His sentiments may surprise outsiders. After all, the public face of the FGC is basically twofold. First, of course, is the high-level gameplay. A close second, however, is the raw emotional outbursts that accompany victories and defeats. Consider Evo Moment #37. Known worldwide as a display of gaming prowess, Evo Moment #37 is also a spontaneous outpouring of emotion. Forget knowing anything about that particular match or fighting games in general – you don’t even have to watch the clip in order to understand it. Just close your eyes and listen to the crowd. That’ll tell you everything you need to know. And Evo Moment #37 is just the start. In the FGC, victory celebrations regularly appear on highlight reels. In just the past few years, high-stakes moments have left players in tears and in prayer, jumping for joy and falling out of their chairs. How, then, could shyness be a problem? The answer is complicated, but one thing is simple: just by being who he is, Brown fills a tremendously important role in the FGC.
Loud and Proud
Spend enough time in the FGC and you’ll quickly become familiar with the usual suspects at tournaments. There are tournament organizers, bracket runners, streamers, commentators, coaches, and more. Once you get through the door, the community’s resources are yours. But Brown? He does PR. It’s his job to make sure that you get through those doors in the first place. As a resident of Chicago, Brown has the blessing and the curse of belonging to one of the best-developed local FGCs on the planet. Many local tournaments are short on staff and volunteers. If anything, Chicago has the opposite problem: the hard part is finding a way to stand out as a contributor. For Brown, the answer turned out to be simple. “I talk to a lot of people at tournaments and am very social,” he says with a laugh, “so I was assigned the job.” Sometimes that means attending “other tournaments [to] hand out cards and spread the good word.” Sometimes it means encouraging cross-pollination within his local. Most importantly of all, it means approaching casual gamers and introducing them the FGC. “We are in a Gameworks,” Brown explains, “so people walk by when we rent the room out and I’ll try to rope ‘em in.” None of this is rocket science, but it’s not easy, either. People “don’t want to be put into a position to be talked down on,” Brown says. And he’s right: rejection can be painful. That’s why the FGC was formed around the exact opposite experience. Whenever one player approaches another and enters a match, they’re implicitly offering their acceptance. What makes Brown special is that he has the optimism to face rejection instead of waiting for acceptance to come his way.
A Happy Firefighter
His optimism has a simple and obvious source: love. “I love the Chicago FGC,” he says. “It’s like a family. Everyone has goals but they all help each other.” Like many other Chicagoans, Brown believes that his local scene deserves to join the pantheon of great US fighting game cities. “We want our Wednesday Night Fights, too,” is how he puts it, referring to the long-running tournament series that originated in southern California. To make that happen, Brown does more than just evangelize. He also handles event feedback, both in informal ways during events and in formalized ways afterwards. “At the venue as [an event is] happening, everyone has good things to say. But when you start [chatting] with people they start to tell you things.” Again, there’s nothing complicated or elaborate in this. There’s just the fear of hearing negative feedback – or, in Brown’s case, the absence of that fear. Brown also “comb[s] through the chat for complaints” – that is, “if the chat isn’t just being chat.” He sets up online feedback forms and presents the results during meetings with other tournament staff. He desyncs controllers. “It’s a lot of putting out fires before they start” and it’s often thankless work. But for Brown, that’s okay. “I like making sure people are happy.”
Loyalty and Growth
If you’re ever in the Chicago area, stop by FGC Meetups at the Ignite Gaming Lounge or Super Saturdays at the Schaumburg Gameworks. You’ll likely find Brown in one of two places: either working the room or handing out lessons in Soulcalibur VI with his Astaroth. “I don’t have a secondary,” he says. “I’m a staunch supporter of character loyalty.” His devotion to the Chicago FGC is no less intense. Everything he does, he says, is “so that we can establish a network for Chicago to grow.” When asked why Chicago deserves more shine, Brown is effusive. “We have a strong player roster across so many games! And consistent locals with high-production streams. Callisto literally works for [the production company] 10/0. It’s hard to put into words the hard work and dedication of the Chicago FGC.” What’s not hard is understanding why Brown brings something special and vital to the FGC. Fielding criticism is hard and social interactions can be fraught. Yet, as any fighting game player knows, seeking growth and confronting imperfections are the only paths forward. Brown may be doing yeoman’s work, but he’s no less of a hero for it.
Eli Horowitz (@BODIEDnovel) is a writer and introvert who lives in Pittsburgh. He wishes to thank all of the people in the FGC who practice extroversion so that he doesn’t have to. Photo credit: @spininfinite