Photo Credit: bluerosetori

A Lifelong Passion for Competitive Formats Established the Foundation of Tournament Organization

Margot “CurlyW” Wasserman has devoted over a decade to the FGC, meticulously crafting brackets and schedules for events like Evo, COMBO BREAKER, CEO, and numerous others around the world. Her dedication has laid the groundwork for efficient bracketing in fighting game events worldwide. Her enthusiasm for competitive formats has been pivotal in shaping the development of the widely used tournament organization sites Challonge and, expanding her influence beyond fighting games. Evo had the privilege of speaking with CurlyW, exploring the origins of her passion for bracketing and her vision of leaving a lasting impact on tournament organizers to support players in the future.

“A lot of what I do is figuring out the scheduling,” said CurlyW. “Not just the overall general tournament scheduling of when pools happen, but also how many round 2s, and up to when Top 8s are, and how it fits in with a stream. I’m also figuring out the scheduling for every individual player in the competition. I'm the person who also gives every player their pool assignments while following the standard processes of proper skill seeding, avoiding geographical conflicts, avoiding schedule conflicts of anyone needing to be in two pools at the same time if that's avoidable, as well as also printing the brackets on paperback.”

CurlyW's fascination with organized competitions dates back to her early years. Whether it was a traditional sports event like the NCAA’s March Madness and tennis majors or emerging competitions like Battlebots and esports, CurlyW found joy in spectating and following the narratives of skilled competitors. This passion would later shape her career.

“I’ve always enjoyed competitions and game shows,” said CurlyW. “As a kid, I always liked going to arcades. I played fighting games a bit, but I also liked to watch if there were ever really skilled people playing. My favorite was and still is Virtua Fighter 1. No matter how many times I tried as a kid, I could never get past Pai in arcade mode.”

Before getting involved with organized competitions as an adult, CurlyW would create her own as a child. She would run CPU tournaments in Super Smash Bros, creating brackets and finding interest in which character would make it on top. CurlyW would even create tournaments for her colored pencils on paper, showing her interest and fascination with bracketed formats. While CurlyW would shift her focus on her studies, earning a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics, she’d eventually discover a whole new world within the FGC.

“I kind of fell out of video games for a long time,” said CurlyW. “After I went to grad school in Chicago, I saw an article about all the cool results from Evo 2010. I had no idea about Evo at all. It had highlights of every game from Tatsunoko vs Capcom. I had no idea that existed. I didn't even know that there was a Street Fighter IV. Eventually, I found a couple of websites that covered the community a bit and learned of actual events that happened at Season's Beatings and SoCal Regionals. I ended up watching all of those on Ustream. I found the SRK forums and  learned you could find people or events near you, and from there, I found the Chicago fighting game community.”

The first local CurlyW attended was at GameWorks in Schaumburg, Illinois. Players competed in Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition on traditional arcade cabinets before it became available on home consoles. There, she met tournament organizer Eric Scott, who was also competing. CurlyW saw an opportunity to make things easier for Scott so he could focus on playing while CurlyW took over running the bracket.

“I hopped on the computer with one of the old tournament-making programs, but I didn't even officially ask him,” said CurlyW. “I just started calling matches. Then he was like, yeah, fine, that sounds good. And that was kind of the start of it?”

Now, CurlyW entered the world of bracket running in the FGC. From there, she would go on to volunteer at the Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament(UFGT) in Chicago, Illinois. She would hone her skills by learning essential scheduling techniques alongside the tournament organizer, Keits.

“I was a volunteer that first year, and I ended up helping out more with it later,” said CurlyW. “One of the things that people talk about UFGT, especially with Keits, was making sure that players have predictive scheduling. You want to have smaller pools, which wasn't always the case for every tournament, even back then.”

Margot’s current Google Sheets process is a successor to the Microsoft Access Database tool Keits commissioned for UFGT. The original Database tool, programmed by WI player Sawa, made importing players directly from registration receipts into pools organized by time block more efficient. Advancements inspired by Sawa’s tool are still found in Margot’s event work today, including at Evo!

CurlyW managing the distribution of paper brackets at The Big House 5 (2015) - Photo Credit: @Tisch

Before the advent of major tournament organization platforms like and Challonge, brackets were painstakingly created by hand. CurlyW recalls the last UFGT event held in 2014, which had 847 competitors. The task of appropriately scheduling each player was a monumental one. However, with her innovative approach, CurlyW began to create schedules in Google Sheets, leveraging color coding, various tabs, and other features to enhance efficiency. This unique method not only streamlined the process but also set a new standard in the FGC. Still, creating tournament schedules took its share of challenges.

It was very easy to get lost in the sauce,” said CurlyW. It was hard to step back and look at the bigger picture. There was certainly less care when it came to skill seeding. There were times we didn't know as much about other players, especially if they weren't well-known. They could have been skilled from other regions. We just assumed they were really good because they were from New York or California.”

CurlyW needed to find a way to make things more manageable for herself and the tournament organizers as events continued to increase in popularity, size, and influence. One-of-a-kind automation would become the key. CurlyW would go on to create a foundational codebase to be used to power tournaments for years to come. While making the code to assist with known elements like scheduling conflicts with other pools and the geographic origin of players, skill seeding was still a manual process. Even with automation, building brackets is a detailed and time-consuming process.

CurlyW at COMBO BREAKER 2023 Day 2 - Photo Credit @0drift

There have been several examples of where the entire tournament schedule is decided so a player like SonicFox or Chris G won't have to play in two Top 8s at the same time if it's avoidable,” said CurlyW.  “Often, the tradeoff is they have to play in three semi-finals simultaneously. Generally, the hardest problem is if someone forgot to sign up and needed to be added, and would be a Top 16 seed. I try my best to avoid it, but it still sometimes happens.”

CurlyW would use online tournament organization platforms like Challonge and (formerly as she built out her automation. While she didn’t work for either platform directly, she offered her insights and perspectives from organizing massive successful events to help improve their tools for players to utilize worldwide. Supporting these platforms and the players and event organizers who used them was just one way of giving back to the community from which she had gained so much.

“The community has definitely gotten me through a lot of times, and I’ve made amazing friends in it,” said CurlyW. “I want as many people as possible to see the community the way I see it and how much it shines and how beautiful, how amazing it is, how it comes together in these amazing moments, like at Evo 2023 with the Street Fighter 6 Top 6. That was incredible. The TEKKEN 7 Top 8 at COMBO BREAKER 2019. Any of those moments. Anytime at COMBO BREAKER or other events where it hasn't started or has already ended, everyone's just in the hotel with setups, finding whatever outlet they can.”

While she has focused on fewer events in recent years, CurlyW is still a dedicated member of the fighting game community. She is grateful for the opportunities she has taken and the friendships she has made. Most recently, CurlyW shared her codebase for her event-organizing tools, giving everyone access to resources that significantly impacted Evo, COMBO BREAKER, CEO, and beyond. By sharing her code, she hopes to leave a lasting legacy that will support the future of the FGC.

“It's nice that people are interested,” said CurlyW. “It's something I've only needed to run for myself and never tested sharing it, so that's a learning experience for me. So many improvements need to be made to make it usable by other people. Still, it's cool to see that everyone's excited about it because I know many people want that.”

We are thankful for Margot “CurlyW” Wasserman and her contributions to the FGC. Without her help, the record-breaking Evo 2023 and its 9,182 unique competitors could not have had the experience they had. We look forward to the future of Evo 2024 and the excitement this year’s competition will bring.

This feature has been updated to include additional information regarding the UFGT Database tool created by Sawa and commissioned by Keits.