Photo Credit: Robert Paul - @TEMPUSROB

To say that Tong Lee is a pillar of the FGC is an understatement. Since running his first local in 2008, he has held numerous positions and earned various accolades. Tong is a product manager at DreamHack, an event organizer at CEO Gaming, a producer at LVL UP EXPO, Frosty Faustings, COMBO BREAKER, and Evo, alongside a recent Cannon Award winner. While doing all this, he manages the largest online fighting game series worldwide, an event he founded, Tampa Never Sleeps, aka TNS.

“It's made up of members from the community who love fighting games and running tournaments. We do the online tournament stuff, but we also go out and do broadcast production for almost every FGC major and any companies trying to get into FGC. Then we also run tournaments, organize events, provide a lot of tournament admin services to events across the country as well.”

On Mondays, TNS players compete in Guilty Gear -Strive-, Tuesdays are for THE KING OF FIGHTERS XV players,  Wednesdays bring Street Fighter 6 tournaments, Thursdays now host Mortal Kombat 1 competitions, and Fridays are just for Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Weekends have games, too, but they tend to be a bit more miscellaneous in nature, ranging from other Guilty Gear titles, DNF Duel, and more, and a slot recently dedicated to Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising on Sundays. UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH II Sys:Celes and TEKKEN 8 will also have featured tournaments upon their release later this month.

“It's like a local, but it's not, right? Like, bring hundreds of players together for fighting games every week, you know, like yeah, why not?" says Tong. "The whole community is involved.”

Since the start of online gaming, the tide has shifted towards primarily online competitions thanks to the convenience of ranked matches, casual play, and lobbies. While some major offline events have found ways to thrive, many smaller scenes have struggled to maintain their presence. Tong hopes to provide a place players worldwide can call home.

“If I don't do it, and there's no other online weekly for it, what happens? That scene just dies off? We can't let that happen,” says Tong. “So it's one of those things where we want to make sure games have a home. So if there's a scene for it at all, we want to make sure it is uplifted.”

Creating a space for players isn’t the only element that leads to success. It takes a lot of care and attention to keep players coming back. From the top down, TNS focuses on the players and the games they love.

“I feel like there's a reason we are the largest online weekly for every game that we host, and I feel like a lot of that is because we care a lot about the game that we're hosting. We care a lot about the player experience, and people see it.”

As much as we love the games we play, the core of the fighting game community is its people. To Tong, no other community is more open and willing to share experiences. This is true whether talking about our walks of life or how to improve on our fundamentals.

“I don't feel like there is a greater diversity of people than the fighting game community offers, and that, I love that,” said Tong. “Everything is so different about every single person in this community. And yet we're all close, you know what I mean? Everybody is making friends.”

While TNS might be the biggest online fighting game series on the planet, Tong has massive plans for its future. These goals stretch even further beyond online tournaments.

“In the long run of things, I want TNS to be a 24-hour fighting game channel. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, tournaments in North America, tournaments in Europe, tournaments in Asia, kind of like what ICFC does, by the way,” says Tong. “I want to do like news, and I want to have everything. I want people that enjoy fighting games to always have an avenue, always have a channel that can go see and enjoy it, you know, like I want it to be great.”

How will it get there? It’s simple. More people just need to play.

“I wish more people would just play and would just compete. You know, especially with these online tournaments,” says Tong. They're completely free to play. Just do it. Because, you know, you're out there. You're being a part of the community. You're having fun.”

At the end of our time with Tong, he had one final message to get across. The ultimate goal for TNS is to keep every player’s dream to compete in their favorite games alive.

“I want to provide an avenue for every game to thrive as long as there are people passionate about it the same way I was passionate about Marvel.”

Want to sign up for one of TNS’ online tournaments? Check out their website with all the info you’ll need to dive into one of their daily events! While you’re there, make some friends! You never know; you might run into them next Evo!