Last week, from February 20th – 26th 2019, Yikarur and I were in Detroit, USA, to attend Frostbite 2019!
The event was beyond amazing and i’ll try to reflect on my experiences in this write-up.
Planning the Trip (last Minute)
Since i started competing in Smash I’ve wanted to attend an international Smash major. Sadly I wasn’t able to do this in Smash 4’s lifetime, because of my studies and my obligations as an event organizer for 1-2 tournaments every month.
After finally submitting my bachelor thesis in Mid January I felt super relieved and destined to travel, like I did before going to college. So I started looking for upcoming US-Events i could visit. I made a list of 6 Events to choose from and promised to myself to attend at least one of them this year.
Genesis had already closed its registration. EVO didn’t seem like the best experience for Smash Players. Flights for SSC and CEO were a little expensive. So I chose to #ComeToFrostbite!
By then it was already February and Light’s compendium almost complete. I’ve asked some other Germans if they wanted to accompany us and manged to convince Yikarur, one of my best friends, to fly with us. A problem was, he did not own a passport suitable for travels to the US. Not even 10 days remaining, he rushed to the citizen office to apply for an express “Reisepass”, which promised to be delivered within 4-5 business days. He got it on Friday morning and we filed the ESTA applications while setting up for our own Smash Bros. Tournament, Calyptus Cup Inkstrike, which was scheduled to take place the week before Frostbite. (oh yeah, almost forgot it happened. We had over 180 attendees, making it the second largest Ultimate event in Europe to date and also hitting C-Tier on the PGstats TTS).
Booking the hotel, flights and registering for the event were easy tasks after looking out and comparing them for weeks.
This trip was not my first time in the US. I’ve been there in 2012, at the age of 15, when we did a 3 week long family round-trip following this route: New York – Washington DC – Niagara Falls – Chicago – Mount Rushmore – Yellowstone NP – Salt Lake City – Arches NP – Grand Canyon – Las Vegas – Sequoia NP – Los Angeles – San Diego.
So i was somehow experienced with the American culture and how to survive in this country.
Travel and Day of Arrival
Yikarur and I flew from Düsseldorf, while Light took a flight from Frankfurt. We could have taken the same flight, but we figured it wasn’t worth the additional 2h car ride and parking costs.
Also while Light booked his flight with the low-cost carrier WOWair, our flights were operated by Delta/AirFrance/KLM, which gave us larger and more comfortable seats, free drinks and food, a free piece of luggage and on-board entertainment. The Flight was super relaxed and we’ve even got the full row, 4 seats, for our self. 📷
I’ve watched Ant-Man and the Wasp and Avengers: Infinity War, which i both haven’t seen before. Also got some hours worth of sleep.
Moral of the story: For long distances, fly with real Airlines and try to avoid low-cost carriers like WOWair. The additional 30-60€ are worth it for sure.
Gaining entry to the US was way easier than I have thought. I remembered it being much harder on my last visit, though my English was way worse at the age of 15 and our trip was more ambitious, which could have drawn attention from the border officers back then.
We met up with Light after waiting 3h at the Detroit Airport and took an Uber to Downtown. There we were headed to get some food. But almost everything was already closed at 7pm. (ok…)
We ended up in a Dominos which presented us with our first culture shock. First of all there were no prices on the menu, instead they list calorie disclosures for every single item. When we asked for prices, they were extraordinarily high, at least for our standards (Small pizza 10$, Medium 12$, Large 16$, X-Large 19$). Luckily, we found some coupons on the counter, which gave us two medium sized pizzas and a sandwich for 5.99$ each.
We thought we were used to “american style” pizza, cause we’ve been to Dominos multiple times in Europe before… but no. These pizzas were something else. I mean, it wasn’t bad in my opinion, but we’ve never seen so much grease on a single plate. 📷
After that we went to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, where Frostbite was set to take place. We met up with Jaaahsh, the Volunteer Coordinator and Vayseth, the Event Organizer of the Event.
They allowed us to go see the empty venue. Entering it for the first time we all thought it seemed a bit small to fit over 1000 people. It was around a third of what we had for Respawn 6 / Syndicate. 📷 But I have heard that US-Venues are tighter packed than what we’re used to in Europe and the staff probably has a lot of experience, so i did not worry about that too much.
We went back to Vayseths suite and played some friendlies before heading to our motel, which was a ~1 mile or 20 minutes walk.
Walking in Detroit, at night, in winter, with luggage, without knowing the area, was an experience by itself. To make matters worse Light forgot to bring a jacket and had to walk outside with just a hoodie by 25°F (-4° Celsius). He took the Frostbite part quite literal, but we made it there alive.
Day 0 and the Ursa Minor Pre-Event
We woke up at 8am and got ready for a relaxed day. Luckily, we were not affected negatively by jetlag. We had free breakfast at the motel, which was really not that great (but if it’s for free, we take those).
On our way to the venue we wandered around and explored the city. We stumbled into the GM Renaissance Center, which has the strangest usage concept and internal architecture I’ve ever seen in an building. 📷 We ate brunch at the Subway in the food-court. The funny story here is that Yikarur works in a Subway in Germany, so he got pretty excited to see all their menu options and taste some of the exclusive stuff.
Coming into the hotel lobby we ran into some other Smash players chilling in the lobby. We played some friendlies on improvised mobile Switch stands and hanged around. Shoutouts to Schrader and his Floridian crew. Some time later we got in invite to come to Fatality‘s room, who was staying in the secondary hotel. We went there with 10 people and flooded his room.
Light played some moneymatches vs Fatality and won most of them, while Yikarur was playing Saj. 📷
At 5pm we set off to the Pre-event “Ursa Minor 3“, which was a 25 minutes Uber ride away.
After arriving at the venue we checked in with AmiiboKing, the TO for this event and got some food at a nearby Burger King.
The event had about 30 setups for 190 entrants, quite a low setup ratio but I did get some friendlies before the tournament started. The venue was roughly the size of our monthly series, Calyptus Cup. Crowded but very bearable. 📷
The tournament was run in 2 waves with 8 pools each. They had 3 people advance out of each pool, which has me convinced. Beside that nothing special, just a regular, solid tournament.
Halfway through pools we noticed Vorst, who was wearing a German soccer outfit. Turns out he has some relatives in Germany and visits them from time to time. He also attended a german regional once. Was cool talking to him in a strange mixture of English and German. Later he had to play Yikarur on stream and kicked him into Losers.
The tournament schedule was lagging behind, but that was to be expected with this many attendees. When Light lost vs Zinoto and Rickles for 5th place, it was already 2am.
Doubles Day (Friday)
I was accepted to be a senior volunteer for Frostbite (yay!), so i had to be in the venue by 8am (oh..) to get volunteer instructions.
Managed to be there on time and met with some other volunteers. The instructions we got were pretty basic, how to run the paper pools, where to send stream matches, how to collect match data and so on. We also got a small Tour through the Venue. Everyone got a Staff-Shirt, which looks great!
Although there were no questions left open, looking back I feel like we should have gotten some more instructions on how to handle certain situations and to call for a superior, if any dispute occurred.
I wanted the Friday to be free of any duties to gather impressions first, so i scheduled all my volunteer shifts on Saturday and Sunday.
Each volunteer shift was 2h long and volunteers were expected to do 3-5 shifts in total. Depending on the number of completed shifts, we’d get rewards:
2 Shifts = 10$ food voucher, 3rd Shift = Top 8 VIP seating, 4th Shift = another 10$ voucher, 5th Shift = Frostbite beanie or snapback (worth 25$). I knew that i would go for 5 shifts for sure.
Friday was reserved for Doubles only. I was teaming with Ora, a local Lucas player.
We went 2:2 in tournament and had a lot of fun while playing. Also got some great combos leading into his full charged Up-Smash or my Tree.
Seeing the venue filled up with people, it looked way bigger then the day before. There were 40 smash setups (10 pools) and around 300 seats in the crowd. Furthermore all of Rivals, 3 streams and their productions, the TO-Desk and a meet and greet area. 📷
Beside the main room, there also were 3 side rooms, each the size of the Pre-Event. One room, on the same floor as the main room, was used for 6 additional Pools (24 setups). The other two rooms were on the Lobby-level. One was used for quick-bracket side-events, of which over 280 were played out over the weekend. The last room was used for Bring-your-own-console setups.
On the floor in front of the main room there were a lot of vendors and artist booths. These were great and added a lot to the event, special shoutouts to Gaming Generations, ControllerChaos and AkaiRiot.
The booths were frequented much more then what I’m used to from other conventions. Of course their target group is right there, but there were some more factors which favored the artist alley. Vayseth gave us a private tour and provided a lot of insight into the planning of a Smash major. For example planning the flow of people and directing them through the artist alley the same direction every time they enter / leave the venue. This definitely worked out very well.
Getting free water in the venue was very cool too. Especially cause there were very few options to get cheap drinks near or in the venue.
The Security seems to have been the biggest point of criticism at the event. Personally, i thought it was totally fine. It was on one level with the security we got at big conventions and sport games in Germany, so I’ve never felt unsafe or had any other safety concerns at Frostbite.
Pools Day (Saturday)
I was in the first round of pools, starting at 10am. 📷 My first opponent didn’t show up and got DQed after approximately 30 minutes. Next i had to play Akashic, a strong Greninja main and the second seed in my pool. I got outplayed hard. Don’t want to John, but that was the first time holding my controller that day and i’ve also never played a Greninja in Ultimate yet, so i feel like i could have given a much better fight, that’s my fault tho.
My pool had 2 other Villager Players in it, Ant and Cheeky, so i got to watch some fresh Villager gameplay while waiting for my next set. I feel like this really powered me up and I was destined to not go 0:2.
My first losers set was vs Septilogy. He played Lucina game 1 and then switched to Mewtwo. I won both games with 2 stocks remaining. Went into those matchups with much confidence, even tho Villager loses both.
The next opponent was Del, a Palutena Main from Florida. I fear this matchup a lot and I’d even say it’s Villagers worst MU in the game. He played pretty good, but i somehow managed to outplay him and won this Set 2:1! Getting some friendlies vs Lights Palutena the days before definitely saved me here.
Right after i had to play Hawk, an Ike Main. (Sure, give me all my bad matchups.) I fought ok, but was outplayed this time.
Going 3:2 and placing 385th out of 1239 players! Not bad. Higher than projected and above my self-set goal!
Starting at 12pm i was scheduled to be a senior volunteer. My job was to oversee all 8 pool captains and constantly check with them. I visited all the pools and introduced myself to the captains.
Some players didn’t show up on time, so i had to communicate with the TO-Desk, mostly Ori, if they should be called out over the speakers or put into losers after a 20 minutes timer and a final call at the pool. After that there wasn’t much for me to do, to be honest. I patrolled the pools, helped with Pro Controller problems, reconnected some unplugged headsets, picked up data collection sheets and brought them to the TO-Desk. One pool captain transferred a player to the wrong losers side and I had to intervene, but besides that there were no other issues.
I personally still don’t like having paper brackets, especially the default smashgg brackets. They are confusing for inexperienced pool captains and a pain to transmit back into smashgg. 📷
I’d definitely consider making use of the smashgg online brackets, even for pools. Most captains should be fine with using their personal phone and the Wi-Fi was very solid at this Venue too. (You can still have paper brackets as a backup, if the internet dies)
While doing my rounds I’ve also encountered PikPocket and Panda Bair, two of the best Villager players out there and great people in general. We spend some time together, I really wished we could have played some Villager dittos tho. Next Time! 📷 📷
After doing 3 volunteer shifts, grabbing something to eat and playing some friendlies downstairs, the North America vs Japan Crew Battle was about to begin.
I sat down in the 4th or 5th row, center stage. (And had no idea what i was getting into.) As it turns out, center stage is where the side bets are taking place. The people there were crazy, betting on everything! 10$ on NA wins, 2$ on Tweek goes Wario, 1$ on Cosmos inputs a button first, 5$ on next player is Leo, 2$ on Samsora losing a stock first, and so on.
The Crew Battle itself was extremely hype and the people I’ve watched it with definitely added to that. 📷 Shoutouts to JoWii and Banjo.
If you’ve missed this Crew Battle, you have to watch the VoD.
The stage setup reminded me a lot of the one we had at Syndicate. 📷 Except the screens were way too large and also far away from center stage, what made it very hard to spectate from the front rows. At the same time the screens stretched from the floor to the roof, so you weren’t able to see the percents and stocks, when not sitting in front.
For the next Event, make them smaller or put them 2-3 meters (8 feet) backwards, if the rear projection allows for it. (Rear projection > regular projectors all day).
Maybe even angle the screens towards the center by 15-30°, to allow for a better viewing angle.
I also want to give a special shoutout to whoever had the idea to project the winners country flag on the programmable ceiling-tiles. Made for amazing Photos. 📷
Finals Day (Sunday)
On Sunday all of Top 48 was streamed by Unrivaled, MVG and GooshiGaming. Which meant there wasn’t much for me to do as a bracket volunteer.
I’ve got the task to watch the GooshiGaming stream and input all the stage & character data into smashgg.
While doing so I got some further insight on how US events handle their stream queue and player management. Each player gets collected 2-3 sets in advance by a stream-runner and has to check-in at a separate desk near the production. There, all of their info (tags, twitter, sponsors, characters) is collected and sent directly to the production via a Google Drive document. Players also get directions on which side to sit on and when to start their matches. They also have some setups up there, so players can get handwarmers before their sets.
Before the Top 8 we wanted to finally get some good fucking food, so we followed Ora’s food-guide and went to a burgerplace named Brome.
The menu 📷 was about the same price you would expect from a burger in Germany (8.50$ for the regular burger + 3$ to add fries & drinks). But most importantly: it was the best burger i’ve ever had. 📷 It was perfect. A full 10/10. I wish i knew of this place earlier, i would have eaten there exclusively all week.
Coming back to the venue, the Top 16 was progressing full force. For the Top 8 I earned us VIP-wristbands, which allowed us to take the best seats in the first row.
I also used my remaining food voucher to get us some snacks, so we were able to enjoy the Top 8 to the fullest. 📷
After the Top 8 was concluded, the time came for the official After-Party. At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to enter, but after hearing many top players and even the TOs talk about going, I decided to give it a try.
The afterparty was held in the 25th floor of the venue, so we got a fantastic view on Detroit at night. After talking to some top-players and collecting their missing autographs for my journal, we found the setups, where we were challenged for doubles matches by Ridlr. He played with Yikarur, while I teamed up with Lights Incineroar. We destroyed them.
Later on I played some singles matches with Ridlr, who was the stream-runner for the MVG stream and generally is a chill dude. We talked about the differences on how event-organizers handle their staff-teams in the EU vs the US. EU Events have set teams for each event and region, while the US majors build their teams from the ground up for each event, combining staff from many different organisations and regions. He also got me a drink, which costed around 10$, thanks sir!
After that I played with Axo, a Peach main from the Unrivaled Team. Those were great matches and we both learned a lot in this matchup.
While I wasn’t paying attention, Yika played a 50$ moneymatch vs MuteAce, which he lost to a reverse 3:0 after winning the first 2 games. (rip his money)
Also want to give shoutouts to Alphared, Coney, VikkyKitty, beezy and GPik for the cool talks, and to Xaltis, MuteAce and M2K for being very funny while drunk as hell.
The party was abruptly ended at 2am and we ended up in the hotel lobby.
Here we ran into Akashic, the Greninja player i’ve lost to in pools. He was really drunk, but he gave me some good advice on how to improve my gamestyle and more effectively make use of it in tournament play.
Last Day in the US
We checked out at 11am and met up with Jaaashs to get brunch.
We spoke about the professional Smash scene in the US and gathered a great amount of insight on tournament organization of all sizes – major, regional and local.
On the way to the airport we stopped at a mall to shop at Target. It wasn’t exactly how i remembered it, reminded me a lot of a “Real” in Germany, but still worth the stop.
I got some sweets for my boys back home. (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Pop-Tarts, Red Vines, Cadburry Cream Eggs and M&Ms)
Remember that I’ve told how I submitted my bachelor thesis in January at the very beginning of the write-up?
While waiting at the airport i got my grade for that: 1.7, which corresponds to a B+!
Graduating with a solid bachelor degree.
The flight back was nothing special. We landed in Düsseldorf on Tuesday morning. 📷
I slept for 16 hours straight after arriving at home.
My Experience in the US was nothing but amazing. I met so many great people and learned so much in and outside of Smash.
Big shoutouts to everyone I’ve interacted with on my trip and many thanks to Jaaashs, Vayseth and the whole Frostbite team for having us at this phenomenal event and for allowing me be a part of it!
I will give my best to come out to even more US-Events and definitely will be back for Frostbite 2020!
– David Tarakanoff / TaDavidID