In two words, I have summed up the extent of the talking points about why I or any other average tournament goer should attend the Video X Games tournament on the island of St. Maarten in the Caribbean. Well, that’s being a little disingenuous, but that phrase became an iconic part of the FGC for the 4-6 month period that the tournament was being promoted, more so than any other part of the marketing. Aside from “da beech,” it also had people we were supposed to like promoting it too! Ryan “Gootecks” Gutierrez, Mike Ross, Justin Wong, Peter “Combofiend” Rosas, Chris Gonzalez, Ryan “Fillipino Champ” Ramirez, Maximilian “Maximilian_Dood” Christiansen, even celebrities outside of the FGC like known cosplayer and model Jessica Nigri and rapper Soulja Boy. And if all that wasn’t enough, there was eighty five-thousand dollars in total up for grabs. By God, if you didn’t attend VxG, you were missing out on an event that was going to be the greatest thing to grace the FGC since perler bead art!
…Until it happened, of course.
Y’know, it? Big organization comes out of nowhere, promises a bunch of money, then splits before ever handing out more than 1/3 of said money? Yeah, that.
Welcome to another edition of “Money for Nothing,” where we look at tournaments in the FGC that promised big and then failed to actually deliver, in more ways than one. Today’s featured tournament is the VxG event from 2013, which may actually be more infamous for the buildup than the actual controversies. But we’ll get to that.
Before I go on, I want to say that I will be saying some not very nice things about the island of Sint Maarten and how it does its business, but in no way does that mean that I don’t have immense sympathy for their current situation. The island was hit very hard by Hurricane Irma this year, and the recovery process has been slow and difficult, as it has been for many of the Caribbean islands in the aftermath of this past hurricane season. My heart is definitely with those who are trying to rebuild. With that said, let’s start our deep dive.
The first time I ever heard of VxG was a bizarre one off video that surfaced around July of 2012. The big story was that Carl “PerfectLegend” White, not a week or two from winning his second Evo title in a row for Mortal Kombat, did not win what was essentially a local tournament for the Caribbean islands. His better? A Dominican player named Daris Daniel. Of course, those in the NRS scene know who this is: Daniel would eventually come to be known as DR Gross and earn his first Evo finalist medal and finish 4th in the Injustice 2 Pro Series Finals this past year. Back then, however, it was just an odd Cinderella story that briefly became the talk of the TYM forums.
As far as I understand it, VxG was an organization that ran tournaments sponsored by the St. Maarten Tourism Authority as means of promoting video game competition as well as tourism to the small island. For years it had been primarily a local thing with little ways of advertisement, but in 2012 a decision was made to try and shoot for an international presence to the 2013 edition of the tournament so they could reach a bigger audience and hopefully draw in even more guests to their peaceful island city. To do this, they entered into what I’m sure was sold to them as a lucrative partnership with the “Home of the Greatest Gamers,” the NYC based E-sports team Empire Arcadia and its owner, Isaiah Triforce Johnson. No, “Triforce” was not supposed to be in quotes: Mr. Johnson legally made “Triforce” a part of his first name, so he can be called just Triforce.
Yeah, that’s a fucking Powerglove, last seen on Lucas in The Wizard.
His “team,” Empire Arcadia, at one point boasted members such as Justin Wong, Ari “Fl0e” Weintraub, Kenneth “K-Brad” Bradley, Ricki Ortiz, Arturo “Sabin” Sanchez, Michael “Yipes” Mendoza, and Super Smash Bros. legends Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman and Adam “Armada” Lindgren. When the FGC bubble began to blow up in 2009, these players started to leave him one by one, seeking actual representation. But why leave the “Home of the Greatest Gamers?” Surely it didn’t have to do with the constant reliance on the players to maintain their shitty housing for no money and even worse treatment, right? Or perhaps the fact that his reputation in the FGC is so bad he’s one of the very few on the list of disreputable figures according to SRK.com, one of the main hubs of competitive Street Fighter? Nah, I’m sure it’s all those greedy players just not giving back to the guy that made them. Gotta be, definitely.
As usual, this fucking clown shenanigan’d his way into the good graces of this Caribbean based company and sold them a bill of goods. This led to Triforce having a sort of resurgence in the NRS side of the FGC, signing players like Bill “Tom Brady” Menoutis and Giuseppe “REO” Grosso to the Empire so they could do amazing things like get goofy trading cards and the letters “EMP” in front of their name. What else they got, I’m not sure, but it should have been 3-5 years in a psych ward. Triforce could also be seen in NRS hotel room streams being his usual self and somehow becoming a regular member of the “On Blast Show,” which was death to the minds of many worldwide.
Aside from a large majority of his EMP players now donning the “VxG” tag at tournaments, Triforce began to be joined in a lot of his “OBS” show appearances by a gentleman by the name of Rolando Brison, known as “Ya Boi Rolando,” since I don’t think he ever didn’t introduce himself as such. Brison was a marketing consultant who served on the VxG “board” (of directors? I have no clue), and according to him (most of the time), this was his show. He had heard the complaints of the masses about the modern FGC, and was willing to put on a show that would put them all to shame, and that event was VxG.
Now, and hopefully with the context I’ve provided you can understand why, I was skeptical of this whole thing from day one. By 2013, more than a few fraudulent tournaments had been in the public light, and this was showing all the telltale signs. First, there was the “sponsorships.” Like the crappy ReveLAtions tournament hosts Tournament Legacy, VxG had players that rocked the tag in front of their names and were promotional machines for the tournament itself. Typically, when players just talk about a tournament nonstop and tweet about it, that’s a pretty good indication that someone is pulling the strings so no bad press can get out. And if Triforce was involved? Defcon 5. Strike number 1.
Another problem was following the money. You’ll see nowadays that whenever a huge pot is promised, you can usually expect a big name behind it like Netherrealm or Capcom or Namco. VxG’s sponsors were a bunch of Carribean based companies that no one had heard of, and a little bit of support from Capcom Fighters and MadCatz, neither of whom actually contributed to the pot that we know of. There was also a big misconception that the government of St. Maarten was behind the event, so there was no way payouts could be skipped. This was never the case, as it was just a meaningless “sponsorship” that ultimately was just moral support. At no point would the actual government of St. Maarten be liable for any missed payments. With that much jack on the line and no sign of how it could possibly be assembled (Remember, eighty five grand in total, before the actual pot from players), people started asking questions. Strike number 2.
The last, and probably biggest, problem for many people wanting to attend was the timing. This event was approximately two weeks after Evo, which is already the biggest tournament of the year. While VxG couldn’t possible match the prestige of Evo, there is some sense in it being enticing for a casual player who doesn’t expect to do that well at Evo but also isn’t one for the Vegas nightlife. As such, VxG was largely promoted as a “Vacation Tournament,” where gamers could not only enjoy games with big prizes but also the beaches and nightclubs of a Caribbean island when they were done. But two weeks after Evo!? Most people budget the whole year just to get to Evo, and to expect many to do that again right after? It was a little much. Strike number 3. But hey, how could you not be enticed by this commercial!?
Now, despite the event’s personal strikeout with me, I was no curmudgeon. If this event could fulfill its promises, why not go? Especially since at the time, that kind of prize money certainly wasn’t going to come from most of the grassroots events. I just couldn’t shake the idea that Triforce involvement was going to be no good for all involved, since he couldn’t book a fart at Taco Bell, let alone the biggest tournament “OF ALL TIME” (his shouted words over Skype, not mine).
Another worrying thing was how defensive Triforce would get over questioning. Many hours of footage from the “OBS” show on YouTube features him just ranting and raving at someone who dares question the integrity of the event, which would lead to him calling the FGC “ass,” and lamenting that there were too many “haters” at the head of it that wouldn’t let someone like him, with all of his genius ideas, succeed. And this Rolando guy is just sitting there not disagreeing or agreeing with it, which lead VxG to get this reputation of being the “anti” any mainstream FGC thing; Triforce was even encouraging community members to skip Evo and attend Da Beech, where they actually “cared” about the players.
For whatever reason, this VxG fever overtook the NRS community really hard, probably because of the “OBS” connection as well as our then Evo champions Phillip “KDZ” Atkinson and Carl “PerfectLegend” White, for Injustice: Gods Among Us and Mortal Kombat respectively, shilling so hard for it (Also EMP members, but I digress). Back in those days, the scene was pretty sycophantic towards its top players, and so the boards were filled with people shrieking about “DA BEECH” and “YA BOI ROLANDO.” The weirdest event of all was that apparently, there was going to be a planned “re-enactment” of a scene from the film version of Mortal Kombat, with the first 200 paid players getting to be the extras as the actor Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, who played the villain Shang Tsung, reprising his role and Bill “Tom Brady” Menoutis playing Sub Zero. This was promoted high and low as the even to see, and in a twisted sort of way I can see why.
I’ll admit, it felt a little lame for the NRS community as a whole to take such a slant for VxG when they were dodging questions left and right. There were plenty of people in the scene old enough to know of Triforce’s shenanigans, yet still continued on with the promotion. But, I thought to myself, people can change. Maybe Triforce finally got over his shady business dealings from years prior and really worked to make an event that could be a viable alternative to the usual grassroots FGC tournaments as well as provide a ton of cash not usually found in the tournaments back then.
So July comes, and it’s time for the event to start. The usual FGC “celebs” were all over Twitter talking about their excitement, and an updates thread was created on TYM for the purpose of following the stream. And what followed…well, it’s hard to encapsulate everything, so I’ll be using this as my basis for a bulleted list:
- Justin Wong waiting seemingly 12 hours to be picked up by the staff of VxG
- Neither Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa nor Mr. Menoutis were anywhere near St. Maarten that weekend, cancelling the much hyped MK movie re-enactment
- The stream schedule was apparently undecided until the day of the event. Here it is, hastily scribbled out on a napkin like a one night stand phone number:
- Mortal Kombat and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 had roughly 36 entrants, with Persona 4: Arena having even less
- Mortal Kombat was a 36 man tournament that took almost a whole day to complete due to delays and bracket shenanigans
- Several members of of the Illinois-based NRS scene attended the tournament and were accused of rigging the bracket because of a preliminary list of names plunked in a bracket by Andre “Bifuteki” Augustin and Triforce + KDZ until they were told to calm down
- The Mortal Kombat tournament had several people play more than twice, avoiding elimination due to disorganization
- Whether or not the amount of sets necessary to win for the Injustice: Gods Among Us tournament would be best of three or best of five was decided by committee of organizers and players just before the tournament started, with Phillip “KDZ” Atkinson arguing vehemently for best of three. When he lost in the same event, he could be heard muttering “Fuckin’ 2 outta 3…”
- The UMvC3 grand finals was an utter fraud, with Chris Gonzalez and Job “Flocker” Figueroa blatantly throwing the finals by picking almost random characters, most likely because the two players agreed to split the pot money regardless of the outcome (In hindsight, this sure bit them in the ass!)
- The stream for the event was pretty bad, given the haphazard attempt at drawing up a schedule seen above. The majority of the commentary seemed to be from Ryan “Gootecks” Gutierrez and Jessica Nigri, who knew little to nothing about the games being played, not that she could have been expected to.
- On the other hand, the parties seemed to be pretty fun. Not many of the celebrities promised showed up, but it’s a beautiful island with booze and beaches. How bad could that be?
So, despite a lot of bad on the tournament side, most were willing to chalk that up to inexperience on the part of the actual organizers (Although Rolando claimed he’d been running events for 13 years). Everything else, from the parties to the island itself, was like a paradise compared to the crowded ballrooms that the majority of tournaments at the time were held in.
As with most E-sports events with major prize pots, the people who had placed in the money could expect to receive a portion of the winnings at the event, with the rest coming at a later date. This was confirmed; Brison appeared to bring the winners together and dole out the cash himself for a lot of the games. Then came the waiting.
Turns out that wasn’t the hardest part.
Six months pass, and there is absolutely no word on the funds that are owed. Rolando appeared on the “OBS” show once again, doling out empty promises and assurances that the money WAS coming, but there were some loose ends that needed to be tied up. George R.R. Martin didn’t promise that the dragons were coming as much as this guy talked about money coming. A full year later, when the significantly downsized VxG 2014 was about to take place, Rolando sent an e-mail out to a good portion of the people involved in promoting the previous years VxG. Of course, like most people who talk out the sides of their mouth, Rolando seemed to change his tune on a lot of things. Here’s some choice contradictions from a response on TYM he made a month after the event, and his e-mail six months later.
And on and on it goes. One big thing is that Triforce was thrown so far under the bus that some claim that there’s a permanent power glove stain on the wheels of buses in St. Maarten. I don’t necessarily disagree with this, as I’m sure Triforce was being Triforce and promised them the world, but I do think Rolando had a bit more to answer for when it came to the missing cash. 28 grand is nothing to sneeze at, and one could argue that the drastic reduction of scale for VxG 2014 and the lack of events after that one meant that this wasn’t just some simple screw-up.
It should come as no surprise to you, dear reader, that the money never came. VxG, as far as we can tell, has become a defunct organization, with their social media pages having been radio silent from even basic retweets and shared pages for over two years. As for Ya Boi? Rolando Brison was very recently appointed Director of Tourism for St. Maarten, despite this scandal as well as another where he was said to have embezzled over 5 grand for personal use from a former employer.
Brison’s rise within the ranks of the island’s government authority despite his significant bumbling of an event sponsored by said government is baffling, to say the least. Unfortunately, it seems to be par for the course for St. Maarten. In a report done by Transparency International, an organization dedicated to sniffing out corruption worldwide, St. Maarten is found to have an “unstable political environment,” one that relies a lot on “personal relations.” The report goes on to state that the St. Maarten legislature is “inadequate” when it comes to overseeing duplicitous actions from its other branches of government. Accountability and transparency aren’t something that happens often from the government, and since the island is so reliant on tourism for economic stability, it stands to reason that Rolando’s ability to draw in people for the island (VxG did have a significant growth from 2012 to 2013) certainly draws more attention than his misdeeds.
Lastly, I feel the need to provide an update on Triforce. VxG seemed to have been the last straw for Triforce in the US, as he seems to have been wandering like Ryu from Street Fighter for the past few years. Most notably, he was stuck in France for awhile with one of his top players, Kevin “Dieminion” Landon, to the point that he ruined all of his relationships there and caused a significant drain on the health and well-being of his young charge. There was also the time that he sent the the current Capcom Cup champion Du “NuckelDu” Dang, then just 16 years old, to a tournament in Virginia with no place to stay, no cash, and no cell phone. But all is not lost; apparently he’s up to his old tricks in Jamaica. At least now he’s official!
And that, as they say, is that. As usual, the lesson here should be for the FGC to not be so gullible and believe that a tournament coming out of nowhere offering huge prizes will pay up. It’s okay to ask questions and be skeptical; no one wants a tournament to fail, but I think everyone can agree that they’d rather attend a strong tournament that did the best that it could with regards to prizes and location instead of a place with a great location but a shitty tournament and even shittier payout attempt. Mostly, I hope Triforce is never seen again at a US FGC tournament, if just so that fucking power glove never sees the light of day again.
But hey, everyone makes mistakes, right? At least this was the final time that a tournament promised big payouts and didn’t pay out the full amount, right?
I’ll save that for another time however. This is easily the longest post I’ve ever written, and I really don’t feel like it needs to be longer. If you got to the end of this mini War and Peace, then I applaud you and thank you so much for taking the time to do so. I hope that people can not only laugh at these stories of FGC incompetence, but also learn to move past these mistakes and draw more on the positive aspects of these failures. Next time on Them’s Fighting Words!, I wanna have a big talk on “Integrity,” as it has become a hot button issue and one that the premiere competitive fighting game company seems intent on not honoring at all costs. Until then, seeya next time!