Community Spotlight - Game Realms Reignites the Local Scene in Southern California
We continue our Community Spotlights with a growing force in the SoCal FGC. Game Realms is a video game store in Burbank, California, and features regular bi-monthly tournaments with 80-100+ attendees for popular releases like Street Fighter 6, Mortal Kombat 1, Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising, and THE KING OF FIGHTERS XV, and community favorites like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Guilty Gear Xrd REV 2, and Skullgirls 2nd Encore. We spoke to Game Realms’ event manager, Jeff “JD” Dion, about Game Realms, how it started hosting events, what it's doing now to meet the community’s needs, and where it plans to go.
JD first found Game Realms as a student through one of their Street Fighter V competitions. The store had recently opened and found that fostering fighting game fans would be an excellent way to promote it. Game Realms quickly became a second home for many patrons and competitors alike.
Like many areas across the United States, COVID-19 took its toll on Southern California’s competitive scene. Some events rebounded into online spaces, but COVID-19 left a gap for physical competitions. While it is difficult when a community loses its foundation, the circumstances create new opportunities for other events to grow. After the Esports Arena closed down, JD realized how much it impacted him.
“That was such a big part of my life in terms of looking forward to something every week, you know, seeing my friends and just getting to be a part of something where it was special,” said JD. “When that was gone, it felt like literally a part of SoCal left. So we wanted to figure out a way where we could bring the magic back.“
Before joining Game Realms, JD worked with FGC leader Alex Valle and level|up. After working with Valle and the crew, he implemented the lessons he learned into his work at Game Realms. With the Game Realms volunteers handling brackets, streaming setups, commentary, and communications, they have built their local competition from a dozen or so people to over 100 registrants regularly.
Between playing and organizing events, JD is also a commentator. Jeremy “Vicious” Lopez is one of JD’s most significant inspirations for picking up the mic. Vicious’ blended style of entertainment and information gave JD the foundation for his voice.
“He would do it in a way where he would constructively criticize me for my play, but he would critique in a way where you can learn. That really stood out to me,” said JD. “I’ve never heard anyone do something like that.”
While Game Realms had been holding competitions before JD joined the team, using PlayStation 4 consoles for most of their setups, the community preferences were changing. High-powered PCs became more commonplace for competitive players due to their customizability and performance. It was no small order to meet the players’ needs, but it was well worth the investment for JD.
“I felt like Game Realms was at a crossroads where we needed to take advantage of all the work we had done so far and do something special to generate some growth. I don't think anyone does anything great without taking a risk, so I sat down with the most important person in my life, my Mom, and asked for some help. It took some time and a bit of convincing, but because she's the best and she loves me, she said yes. Together, we took out a loan for some PC(s), expanded our space, and upgraded our equipment. Now, I'm so proud to say we can give the FGC the experience that no one else in SoCal can currently provide.” said JD.
Starting with Skullgirls, then growing with Street Fighter V, the rest is history. With the launch of Street Fighter 6, JD and the Game Realms crew knew they needed to expand. Their humble but equipped game store exceeded occupancy, taking full advantage of their outdoor space for additional setups, seating, and spectating. Still, they needed to expand.
Starting with their Halloween event on October 27, 2023, Game Realms made a sizable upgrade. Their neighbor, Mihran K. Studios, a dance hall with massive space, offered their support for Game Realms attendees. Now, players can fully utilize the storefront for their shopping needs while having more than enough room for setups for the latest releases without having to give up fan favorites and having an outdoor space for food and socializing in the courtyard.
“I know there's always room for improvement,” said JD. “Every time I would do something, I would make sure to improve every aspect of it, whether it came to streaming, to having the brackets run well, you know, providing the right TOs to kind of make the whole thing work, and just making the place feel a little bit more homey. We even serve food now.”
JD and the Game Realms team dedicate themselves to creating a safe space where players want to be. Players can even stay after hours to continue to compete, socialize, and be a part of their community. It is easy for players to leave whenever they finish their matches, but Game Realms’ goal is to facilitate friendships on-site or in their community Discord. Competitors travel from as far as Cathedral City and San Diego, and the Game Realms team wants to make the experience worthwhile.
JD isn't relying solely on tournaments to get the word out about Game Realms. A chance meeting at San Diego Comic-Con led to a partnership with actor and devoted fighting game fan Francis Capra (A Bronx Tale, Veronica Mars). The two have been brainstorming and working on future content they can't wait to reveal in 2024. Game Realms hosted a "Head to Head Showdown" for Street Fighter 6, where Kyle Herbert, the voice of Ryu, battled it out live on a stream alongside other cast members, with commentary from the duo.
"Putting something together like this was absolutely incredible! And it was fun for all the fans to see," said JD.
This event opened doors for more events like the River City Girls 2 Anniversary stream with Kira Buckland and Kayli Mills last month. Customers are also likely to cross paths with all sorts of talent on Game Realm's floors, including Chris Hackney, the voice of Dimitri from Fire Emblem: Three Houses, or Faye Mata, the voice of A.K.I., who made an appearance at the monthly SF6 tournament. For the launch of Street Fighter 6 last year, numerous voice actors attended a signing event to promote the game and the store. Whether you are a competitor or a fan of games in general, Game Realms wants to offer something exciting for you.
As he looks towards the future, JD hopes to see Game Realms grow to become a SoCal major event. This is their ultimate goal. They believe anything is possible as long as they focus on what's most important: their community.
"With the passion and work ethic I witnessed during my time with him, I think that may become a reality, one we all would truly love to see," said Francis Capra.
This is only the beginning for Game Realms. With major releases coming in the future with TEKKEN 8 and UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH II Sys:Celes, there will no doubt be more players and events joining in the excitement. If you are in Southern California, check out Game Realms on social media and consider making it your in-person FGC experience.