Community Effort Orlando has grown to become one of the biggest fighting game tournaments in the world, putting it just below the Evolution Championship Series in terms of both size and importance. The event’s 13 different fighting games were exciting to watch, but in a few cases, the excitement got to be a bit much. One Mortal Kombat 11 match ended with a heated confrontation between the players; a Smash match resulted in the winning player picking up his chair and slamming it onto the stage multiple times; and, elsewhere, two players exchanged punches. CEO’s tournament staffers have not yet responded to Kotaku’s request for comment about these incidents or weighed in on whether CEO intends to make any changes to its safety guidelines for players and attendees.
Post-match celebrations are a hallmark of fighting game competition. Known colloquially as “pop-offs,” these bursts of energy can be fueled by several different emotions. Joy, frustration, and anger have all been known to provide excellent pop-offs, but the best are the ones that are borne of real life rivalry and conflict, as long as they don’t get too heated in the process. One such pop-off at CEO 2019’s Mortal Kombat 11 tournament definitely looked heated.
Leif Boisvert, who has played under the names “Buffalo” and “Daddy” in tournaments, is an up-and-comer in the NetherRealm Studios community. He first made a name for himself in 2016 with the release of Mortal Kombat X, and has since gone on to find success in Injustice 2 and Mortal Kombat 11. At just 16 years old, Boisvert has a bright future ahead of him, and he added another accomplishment to his resume at CEO 2019 when he defeated Brad “Scar” Vaughn, one of the best Mortal Kombat players in the world.
While beating Vaughn was an achievement in and of itself, Boisvert likely found it satisfying for more reasons than just that. Last month, the young player faced Jarrad “Ninjakilla” Gooden during an official online Mortal Kombat 11 tournament and, after sending Gooden to losers, Boisvert found himself on the receiving end of what could be construed as criticism from Vaughn. In a post that simply read “Ft2 boyz,” Vaughn appeared to be insinuating that Gooden wouldn’t have lost had the format been expanded to first-to-three (which remains an ongoing discussion in the NetherRealm community). Boisvert didn’t take too kindly to that comment, responding, “Are you really gonna discredit me?” When CEO 2019 rolled around, Boisvert had an opportunity to defend himself in the best way possible: fighting his detractor in the Mortal Kombat 11 bracket.
The match was close, but Boisvert managed to defeat Vaughn on Saturday. Boisvert immediately stood up and got in his opponent’s face. It’s unclear what was said, but Boisvert looked heated. Vaughn, for his part, simply stared up at the much taller player, taking a moment to flip him the bird before the pair got separated by staff members. All in all, the encounter lasted around 20 seconds, but its impact reverberated throughout the fighting game community. The stream clip circulated on social media, and a series of incredible shots of the staredown taken by CEO photographer Stephanie “Vexanie” Lindgren was quickly compared to the iconic artwork of Ryu and Akuma staring each other down from Street Fighter Alpha 2.
Opinions on the encounter were mixed. A fair majority of the reception was positive, with many fans happy to see such an exciting, emotional moment connected to a Mortal Kombat 11 match, but some had a less-than-rosy outlook on the situation and worried that the pop-off could have escalated to violence. Vaughn laughed off the idea of taking a swing at Boisvert “over a video game,” but would a different person have reacted the same way to having a much larger person screaming in their face, even if that person is only 16 years old?
While the pair were eventually separated by CEO staff, the confrontation was definitely allowed to go on for a very long time. The tournament’s official policy states that it expects all attendees to “behave in an adult manner” and “control yourself and treat others with respect.” It’s not entirely clear how these guidelines apply to pop-offs—and CEO staff has not responded to requests for comment—but it might be time for the community to examine this vitally important aspect of competition before things get ugly, like it very nearly did after a different match during the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournament.
Eric “ESAM” Lew has been a high-level Super Smash Bros. player since getting his start with Melee in 2007. Since then, he’s been a constant fixture of competition, and with the release of Ultimate late last year, he’s continued to dominate the tournament scene with his Pikachu. Lew ended up tying for ninth place at CEO 2019, but much earlier in the bracket, his reaction to winning an important match against a character he’s struggled against in the past garnered attention for its intensity.
Peach has been a thorn in Lew’s side for months, so after beating Antony “MuteAce” Hoo, who is one of the best Peach mains in the United States, Lew was obviously emotional. That emotion manifested itself in a very physical pop-off that involved Lew grabbing his chair and repeatedly slamming it down onto the stage, apparently injuring his hand in the process. At one point, the chair appeared to buckle under the onslaught, and at another, one of its legs appeared to hit a staff member observing the match on stage. A clipboard appears to have blocked the chair from doing much damage to the judge, but it was clear that things could have been much worse had that small piece of wood not been in between the seated judge and the chair that Lew was slamming down.
Unfortunately, the lack of chill at CEO 2019 wasn’t confined to pop-offs. Canadian competitor Kelsy “SuperGirlKels” Medeiros claimed there was “no security” when she observed a fist fight take place in the venue. In her post, Medeiros also claimed that “a lot of people in the venue are drunk and high,” which could have led to the altercation. The players involved, Michael “RiotLettuce” Heilman and James “Osiris197” Grolig, eventually came forward with their versions of events, with the latter admitting that he had in fact been drinking at the time. While Kotaku hasn’t been able to independently verify everything that happened, their statements provide some picture of the altercation.
In a Twitlonger statement, Grolig admitted that he had been drinking, and that at one point he had knocked a jug of water out of another attendee’s hands in a misguided attempt at humor. Grolig says he realized his mistake and apologized to the attendee and that the two “dapped each other and moved on from it.” That anonymous attendee got in touch about the water jug incident with Heilman, a personal friend. That then led to a confrontation between Grolig and Heilman in one of the event’s bathrooms. (Heilman also posted his own Twitlonger account of the situation.)
Both Grolig and Heilman agree that, after a bit of posturing during which onlookers tried to break them up, Grolig threw the first punch, which sparked Heilman to retaliate with punches of his own. The players were supposedly then separated by staff member Nicholas “Chez” Gary. When Grolig returned to the area to try and resume the fight—purportedly calling Heilman a “bitch ass nigga” in the process—he was then escorted from the venue by staff and barred from returning. Again, CEO did not return a request for comment, but both players have told Kotaku that they will not be pressing charges against the other.
Competition is an emotional pursuit. Win or lose, the feelings that well up within players often need an outlet, and oftentimes, folks aren’t thinking straight enough to make the best decisions. By most accounts, attendees had an excellent time at CEO 2019, apart from some hostile interactions with the locals, and the three isolated incidents described in this article certainly don’t mean the entire event was a violent free-for-all. There was even a marriage proposal! Pop-offs are an important part of fighting game competition that I never want to see hampered or eliminated altogether, but damn, sometimes folks need to just chill out, y’know?
Regardless of whether CEO implements any type of added security or internal rule change, Grolig for his part wrote in his statement, “I’m not drinking at any tournaments I go to from here forward. Or at the very least will restrict it to only in my room, or have some kind of cut off… This type of shit happening sucks so yeah, I’ll do my part to not have it repeat.”
Ian Walker loves fighting games and loves writing about them even more. You can find him on Twitter at @iantothemax.