Once a month at GLHF (Good Luck Have Fun) Game Bar in downtown Jacksonville, gamers of all ages crowd the bar’s game console stations and half of its gaming computers for Villain Production’s Revival tournaments.

 

Brian Richey, Villain Production’s CEO, sits behind a table filled with computers and a sound system set up at one end of the bar, ready to live stream the winner’s bracket rounds of the tournament on Twitch. Ryan Bonifant, who handles public relations and manages Revival tournaments, darts around the bar with the tournament’s sign-up sheet making sure everyone who wants to compete is on the list.

Richey and Bonifant are the masterminds behind Revival, named to mark the comeback of the fighting video game scene in Jacksonville. They started the monthly tournaments around November 2016, and circulate among games like Street Fighter, Marvel VS Capcom, Tekken and many more.

Richey has been live streaming local fighting video game tournaments as part of a different group in the Jacksonville fighting game community when the local scene died down. Not ready to put away his streaming equipment just yet, he started Villain Productions and partnered with Bonifant to help drum up interest and players.

“When we were doing the other tournaments, they grew and then they died down,” said Richey. “This one has just stayed. It’s kept getting bigger and bigger, and bigger.”

Richey and Bonifant said they have seen attendance steadily increase since the second Revival tournament, going from attracting just a handful of players to an average of 50 players per tournament.

Revival even got the attention of Broken Alliance, a Jacksonville-based professional eSports team with a focus on fighting video games. Dwight and Jessica Anderson, husband and wife owner and chief operating officer of Broken Alliance, met Bonifant at regional eSports tournament CEO (Community Effort Orlando) in Orlando over the summer. He told the Andersons about Revival and they’ve been partners in the monthly tournaments since.

Through promoting Revival on Broken Alliance’s social media channels, and even adding to the tournament prize money, the Andersons broadened the reach of the monthly tournament. Jessica Anderson said the tournament has sponsored several serious competitive players, as well as attracted gamers from Georgia, Central Florida, Tallahassee, Gainesville and Tampa. She’s also even seen attendance jump to nearly 90 gamers competing at Revival in October.

“The fact that they get to come and there’s warm up time, there’s the streaming, there’s also time after where they can run casuals (matches) and interact with those players who are sponsored,” said Jessica Anderson. “So it’s just been a great sight to see the improvement.”

Some of the sponsored players that come out to Revival include some of Broken Alliance’s own team members. Levi O’Rear (known as Reflex on Broken Alliance’s Tekken team) and Julian Jones (known as Squall on Broken Alliance’s Street Fighter team) have been attending Revival tournaments and have seen the Jacksonville fighting game community blossom in just a few months.

Jones said since he’s attended Revival tournaments, the amount of people to compete in Street Fighter have grown. Originally from Ohio, the Andersons took him into their home after signing him to Broken Alliance. He’s lived in Jacksonville since late summer as a full-time competitive Street Fighter player.

Born and raised in Jacksonville, O’Rear has seen the Jacksonville fighting game community grow since he started traveling to regional eSports tournaments around Florida. He knows every competitive player in the Jacksonville fighting game community and sees Revival as a hub for local players to get consistent practice in competitions.

“The fighting game scene here is definitely growing, especially within Tekken,” said O’Rear. “At one of the last revivals, we had over 40 players for Tekken. And we still have out of town competition coming out all the way from Orlando, Gainesville, Tallahassee, just for the monthlies here.”

Both said they started their competitive careers from local tournaments like Revival. O’Rear started competing in Tekken at local arcades in Jacksonville, then got into regional tournaments through a friend who knew about the eSports scene for the game. He was invited to join Broken Alliance after placing as one of the eight top ranking players for Tekken at CEO in Orlando last year.

Jones played his way from local tournaments to regional tournaments around Ohio. He became a member for Broken Alliance, who decided to move him to Jacksonville after placing 17th out of 5,100 players in EVO (Evolution Championship Series), two years ago.

While eSports is becoming more lucrative, with prizes for international tournaments ranging into the millions and being broadcast on television stations like ESPN, both O’Rear and Levi said its the competition and camaraderie that keep them in the game.

“None of this is impossible,” said Jones. “If you put in the dedication to get where you want to be, there are a bunch of people here willing to help. Ultimately, it’s up to you.”