Photo Credit: GoonPNW

You can stand on your two feet. You can do what others thought you couldn't do.”

Imagine loving a game so much that you become a tournament organizer to grow its presence in major tournaments, building its visibility until it grows large enough to be an event all on its own. That’s what it was like for Ben “Shinobi!” Robinson, one of the leading tournament organizers for French-Bread titles like MELTY BLOOD, UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH, and Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax, as he built up the reputation for MELTY BLOOD titles in the late 2000s and early 2010s. We spoke to Shinobi! about his experience building up the MELTY BLOOD community, founding the French-Bread dedicated Climax of Night tournament series in 2018, and his dream of communities of smaller titles feeling encouraged enough from his success to create events of their own.

Ben “Shinobi!” Robinson is one of the leading tournament organizers for French-Bread titles like MELTY BLOOD, UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH, and Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax. He is also the Event Director and Head Tournament Organizer for Climax of Night, an offline event focused specifically on supporting the community of these titles. There have been five Climax of Night events since they began in 2018, and Shinobi! believes there’s room for many more events like Climax of Night that can support other titles with smaller but dedicated player bases.

Before diving into Climax of Night, it is best to understand Shinobi'!s journey that led him to its creation. In 2007, Shinobi! attended his first major fighting game tournament. It was Final Round 10 in Atlanta, Georgia. There were 15 players registered to compete in MELTY BLOOD, but no one there had the experience to run the event. Come 2008, for Final Round 11, the player base more than doubled to 32, and Shinobi! ensured this opportunity did not pass him by.

“So I talked to Larry “Shin Blanka” Dixon, who runs Final Round, and I asked him, ‘Hey, I want to run a MELTY BLOOD tournament. What do I need to do?'” said Shinobi!. “He said I'll give you a table, and if you have everything, I’ve got space for you. I was like, okay, cool. So that was where my TO origin started. It was just me wanting to run a tournament for a game I liked because nobody else could where we were at the time.”

Becoming a tournament organizer brings great responsibility, especially for a community striving to establish itself. Various factors must be accounted for to maintain and grow a player base. While running a bracket is essential, it is only one piece of the puzzle. Events need to run smoothly, communication must be clear, and above everything, players need to have fun.

Two years after Shinobi! began running MELTY BLOOD tournaments, an opportunity for the most significant representation of the game presented itself. Evo 2010 held a poll for players to choose one of the featured titles for the competition. Melty Blood Actress Again was among many titles players could vote for, and by the time polls closed, it had earned its spot among Super Street Fighter IV, TEKKEN 6, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars, Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, and Marvel vs. Capcom 2.

“We had the biggest gathering of MELTY BLOOD players in one place at that time, which was unheard of. It was maybe 140-150 people, which was a pretty big deal for a game without a release in America.”

Melty Blood Actress Again Current Code was released on PC in late December of 2011, making the series more accessible than ever before. Shinobi! was determined to make the most of the excitement generated around MELTY BLOOD at Evo 2010. Final Round 15 in 2012 was the perfect opportunity to get the fire burning higher.

“Almost everyone at EVO in 2010 returned to Final Round to play in the first Current Code major. I think it had close to one hundred players. Afterward, me and a few other folks were like, ‘Maybe we could get together somewhere every year and do something like this for MELTY BLOOD. And it's like, ‘Oh yeah, cool. That would be dope’. I'm sitting on that and realizing it's easier said than done. But in 2018, there was an opportunity for me and a few others I've worked with for about eight years. There was an opportunity for all three of us to do something for MELTY BLOOD and another game that was getting a lot of steam called UNDER NIGHT.”

UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH is another fighting game series developed by French-Bread. It was a perfect addition to what would eventually become Climax of Night. After years of planning, the time to announce Climax at Night was finally at hand. How would the community react to an event focused on anime games in Atlanta, Georgia? Shinobi! discovered the resounding support was more substantial than he could have imagined.

“In 2018, I announced Climax at COMBO BREAKER, and I did not know what the reaction would be because it was a new crowd, mainly for the UNDER NIGHT players,” said Shinobi!. “I just told them, ‘Hey, I have an idea for a tournament for you. Can you please come down to Atlanta and try it out? Let's see what the first year can do. After our first year, getting the community together and getting a name out for the tournament was a huge success. It was extremely liberating to run an event that people would come out for, for just one or two games, and enjoy themselves with the community that plays those games.”

Now that Shinobi! has proven that an event for a select batch of titles can be successful, he hopes to see others follow his example. He believes there are countless other passionate players who love other games just as much as he loves French-Bread titles. They just need to know it is possible and let others in their community know they are there to step up and make it happen.

“I think going forward, there will be a demand for tournaments like Climax, for games that are not even in the same realm,” said Shinobi!. “Maybe you'll have a Soul Calibur sort of deal. Maybe you'll have one for Marvel. Those events are dope, and I wish there were more.”

Thanks to the passion and dedication of players and tournament organizers like Shinobi!, the French-Bread games community has grown stronger than ever before. MELTY BLOOD: TYPE LUMINA, the latest game in the series, was featured as a main title in Evo 2022 and 2023. Nearly one thousand players gathered for the two events. UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH II Sys:Celes is joining the roster for Evo 2024’s main lineup.

Even as these titles have grown in popularity, Shinobi!'s mission has remained the same. He wants other players to know how thrilling these games are and that there’s a community excited for them to join in. From 15 players without a TO to over 554 competitors in a record-breaking tournament, anything is possible if you support one another. 

“It has become less about necessity and more about exposure now,” said Shinobi!. “I’m just letting people know that there are people that play these games, and we can be sustainable enough to do something without having to rely on bigger events. You can stand on your two feet. You can do what others thought you couldn't do. It's just letting people know that the game is here, that people are enjoying it, and that it's a cool community. You should probably kick it. The numbers come afterward. I'm just having a good time.”

If you want to support Shinobi! and Climax of Night, follow their official Twitter account and join the community.

UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH II Sys:Celes is a featured game at Evo Japan and Evo 2024. While registration for Evo Japan is closed, you can watch the event online when it returns on April 27-29, 2024. There’s still time to enjoy the competition, convention, and community at this year’s event in Las Vegas. Register for Evo today and join us July 19-21, 2024.