A Resilient FGC Event That Seeks to Give a Major Experience on a Local Scale

With Tampa Never Sleeps 9 running this weekend, we felt the time was perfect to share the spotlight with another Florida community event. Juicy Game Night has been running both local and online events in Central Florida since 2016, running the latest titles like Street Fighter 6, TEKKEN 8, and UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH II Sys:Celes, and fan favorites like Naruto Clash of Ninja 4 Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax, and Rivals of Aether. While the venue has changed over the years, even going online during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and bouncing back into offline events, the dedication and devotion behind the event have grown stronger as their community has grown and flourished. We spoke with Juicy Game Night President Alex “Duelist” Pesante about the event’s philanthropic origins, its journey in finding a venue, and how it has grown to support its community throughout Florida.

“Juicy Game Night is a local scene where everything you expect at a competitive major event is resized to a smaller scale for the local Orlando, Florida, community,” said Alex “Duelist” Pesante. “If you live in Florida and you want to practice, you want to go try the newest game and to train up for the biggest majors out there, Juicy has you covered.”

The inspiration for what became Juicy Game Night came from a charity event Duelist put together while he was in college. Duelist wasn’t personally familiar with the fighting game community at the time, but he felt it was an opportunity to bring local people together for a good cause. Thanks to the event’s success, a spark ignited, and Duelist was determined to keep the fire going.

“I hosted a charity fighting game tournament for Super Smash Bros. Melee and Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3,” said Duelist. “A lot of people came out, and we raised over a thousand dollars for Meals of Hope, which was a local charity in my college. I said, ‘This is fun, doing these events. I want to keep doing it.’”

Duelist now had an idea. Next, he needed a place for players to gather regularly to establish the event. While it took some time and creative thinking, Duelist eventually found the perfect home for Juicy Game Night. While it wouldn’t last forever, this location gave the event its name and a foundation to grow beyond its walls.

“After I graduated, I looked for card shops to host the event. A hookah lounge called Juicy Hookah Lounge was able to accept me, and we did a lot of events. My first fgc game was Mortal Kombat, so we did Mortal Kombat and Smash Bros.. It kept growing and growing to the point where, unfortunately, the store closed down. I took the name and continued to host it at other locations.”

As Juicy Game Night expanded, Duelist became more familiar with the fighting game community around him. Thanks to his early business partner, Arris “King Kai” Whittaker, Duelist was introduced to the countless players and games they dedicated themselves to. All they needed was a place to gather and compete.

Juicy Game Night has grown from having ten players regularly to 50-70 competitors in each event. Versus Gaming, a local game shop in the Oviedo Mall, is their latest venue. It offers players a consistent space to compete and grow as a community while they train for major events nationwide. Every Wednesday, Juicy Game Night hosts 5-6 titles, and each month, they hold a separate series featuring 9-15 games.

From the number of games, setups, and staff, it is only possible through the support the community has shown over the years. Juicy Game Night is more than just a place to compete. Many attendees have found lifelong friendships. Some have even started families with those they met at Juicy Game Night.

“We definitely get a variety of people,” said Duelist. “You get people who are, you know, thinking they're the best, and then they get whooped, but you also get like very dedicated friends. A lot of people tell me about a Juicy Game Night where they wouldn't have met their best friends or people they could trust without the local scene. Another recent story was this couple that met at my local like three years ago, and now they're married and about to have a kid.”

The team at Juicy Game Night is always seeking new ways to improve what they can offer to their community. They do this by attending other events, seeing what works, and ideating how to implement it to Juicy Game Night while staying true to their roots. Tong Lee, founder of Tampa Never Sleeps, is also co-owner of Juicy Game Night. They’ve built a network of dedicated event organizers through their combined experiences who are open to sharing their strategies and successes.

“We want to see the best way to run an event. These major events are getting thousands of people. We want to see how we can bring that strategy over, even if it brings me two more entrants. I want to do it.”

Over the years, Duelist has become more involved with Tampa Never Sleeps and offline major events. While he must divide his attention between outside focuses and Juicy Game Night, he has faith in his team running at home. Thanks to them, the community at large can benefit from everyone’s talents.

“The biggest thing is always, and a lot of people say it, but support the locals because it's a labor of love,” said Duelist. “My focus has been helping majors because I want those to keep doing better and better. The same with Tampa Never Sleeps. I'm going to give it my 110%. It makes me sad I sometimes miss my locals, but the team I set up has been keeping the pride and mission going where I don't have to worry about it anymore. I can still make decisions, and the tournaments will run very well. I want to reward my team because they're doing it for the labor of love. I want them to get paid well.”

Duelist is thankful for the FGC and the opportunities he has received because of it. What started as a way to give back to those in need has continued to maintain that spirit. Duelist isn’t slowing down any time soon. He still has a lot more he wants to give.

“I want to prove no matter who you are, you can make a difference in people's lives. I feel like the FGC lets you do that, especially since, growing up, I have a few disabilities myself. I have spina bifida and scoliosis, or basically, my back's not straight. Luckily enough, I was supposed to be in a wheelchair, but I’m not. So, I'm using all this energy and motivation to make changes I would want for other people.”

If you are in the central Florida region, check out the latest Juicy Game Night event. You can find information on the latest events and VODs of their previous ones through the various channels on their Linktree. Also, just once more, for good measure, support your locals.