Top players at the event posing with earnings. Photo Courtesy of Brooks Kaufman
(ARTICLE ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON OCTOBER 21, 2021)
After an extended hiatus due to the pandemic, Lancaster fighting game tournament series “Raise The Bar” returned Saturday, October 16th. Now located at Lancaster’s own Owl Central Games and Hobbies, local fighting game enthusiasts gathered to compete in featured games “Super Smash Brothers Melee” and “Guilty Gear Strive.”
“This weekend we had our first Raise The Bar back in person since the pandemic started,” Jessie Herb, Millersville alumni and tournament organizer, said. “When the vaccine was made available and other organizers were learning how to operate safely, I was convinced we could safely start tournaments back up if we required vaccinations and masks.”
Herb has been running fighting game events in Lancaster since 2019, with Raise The Bar beginning at local pub, Tellus360. Yet, due to scheduling conflicts, the series moved to Spring House Brewing Co. in late 2019. The series remained at Spring House until the pandemic led to mass shutdowns, along with the suspension of in-person tournaments.
“When COVID hit, it forced us to stop hosting tournaments for well over a year,” Herb says. “Because of that and a change of management, we lost our relationship with the venue we used to host at.”
Similar to schools during the earlier stages of the pandemic, tournaments went all online to avoid endangering players. This included Raise The Bar, as Herb ran weekly online tournaments for “Super Smash Brothers Melee” throughout 2020 and 2021.
In summer 2021, in-person tournaments began to return, such as the Melee invitational “Smash Summit 11” held in Los Angeles, Ca.. While Beyond the Summit, the esports organization behind “Smash Summit 11,” are profitable enough to own facilities, local tournament leaders are having trouble finding venues post-shutdowns.
“When I was looking for a venue, many of the good options were ruled out due to the venue owner fearing they would look a certain way if they allowed us to run tournaments that required masks and vaccinations,” Herb said. “The second problem is the opposite end of things: there are also venues that, understandably, don’t want to take the risk of allowing a group they don’t know to run events and risk an outbreak at their business.”
Owl Central welcomed Herb and the Lancaster fighting game community, allowing for mandating COVID-19 vaccines or a negative COVID-19 test to enter. Herb also was relieved that workers at Owl Central were fellow members of the community.
“This Saturday’s tournament went really well, especially considering that it was our first time in the new venue,” Herb says. “It was awesome seeing new faces, old faces, and meeting some people who I only knew online because they started participating in events over the pandemic. We had 14 total entrants, so we had solid brackets for both games. I can’t wait for that number to grow as the word gets out that we’re back.”
Of the new faces was Jesse “cyfer003” Wall, a Lancaster native who hosts the “Bottom of Smash Mountain” podcast discussing all things Melee.
“Aside from myself being newer to tournaments, we had 2 other players that are new as well,” Wall says. “Hopefully we keep seeing newer players come through. We’re always happy to see new players come through regardless of skill level.”
The Melee bracket was won by Millersville alumni Alex Duong, who has been a regular for Raise The Bar since its inception.
“The tournament went really smoothly and was well managed,” Duong says. “I plan to go as often as I can. It’s always been a great local tournament, and a solid reason to come back to Lancaster each weekend.”