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'Historically, CEO only gets 500 attendees to signup the first week' - Alex Jebailey speaks on massive FGC response to his offline event

As well as the impact of COVID-19 on tournaments going forward and what their plans are for CEO 2021 and beyond

Posted by Dakota 'DarkHorse' Hills • June 9, 2021 at 4:14 p.m. PDT • Comments: 7

We finally appear to be heading to the light at the end of the tunnel to bring big, in-person events back to the fighting game community, and everyone seems to be ready and hungry to jump back in.

Following the massive wave of support that saw CEO 2021 sell out in one night, we had the chance to speak with organizer Alex Jebailey about the response from the FGC, how it made him feel, how tournaments are going to be different in the post-COVID world, possible capacity expansions, and more topics.

Jebailey reveals that the 2,500 registration cap (plus 500 more for spectators) reached in mere hours eclipsed what they normally see for CEO by four or five times in the first week of other years.

As for how things are going to be handled differently this year, the longtime TO says that every attendee will be receiving a special welcome bag that'll include sanitizer and custom masks, and there will be much more of a focus on cleaning and managing the crowd.

One side effect of the pandemic is the scarcity of next generation consoles with the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, which he states will probably prevent them (and likely other organizers) from making the jump to new systems until they're much more widely available for everyone.

You can find our full interview with the face of CEO below.

DarkHorse: What does it mean for you to get CEO up and running again and what do you think it'll mean for the FGC after over a year without offline majors?

Jebailey: Answering this question a few days after registration went live is a lot easier than beforehand not knowing what to expect. To see a response of everything filling up near instantly just shows how hungry the community is for offline experiences again.

Reading tweets of how excited people are to see each other again is what makes me the happiest. The sad part is not being able to accommodate the demand for this year but I think CEO 2021, among many other events popping up this year as things continue to get better is a strong sign of how big next year will be for the FGC.

DarkHorse: How quickly did you reach the 2,500 registration cap?

Jebailey: In less than 2 hours we hit over 2,000 signups. Guilty Gear -Strive- hit the 512 player cap in less than 15 minutes. Unfortunately after caps were hit it probably scared off a lot of players from registering. Even Spectators hit the 500 person cap within an hour.

Historically, CEO usually only gets like 400-500 attendees to signup within the first week, then 80% attendees signup near the deadline. Hopefully this is a taste of things to come for future events. Knowing our near final numbers so far out makes everything so much easier to plan for, for both event staff and players when they see schedules posted much earlier like we are planning for December.

DarkHorse: How did that make you feel? Did you have any idea it was going to see that large of a reaction?

Jebailey: I've been hosting fighting game tournaments across 4 decades now since the late 90's. Never in my life did I expect a post Pandemic bounce back to have an impact that'll give hope to players and organizers everywhere.

DarkHorse: What is needed for expanding the cap of attendees?

Jebailey: We started smaller than our max capacity to gauge interest and see the response. Now I wonder if we didn't have a cap at all what numbers might have ended up with across the board. Previously, our biggest bracket was at CEO 2019 with 1164 players for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate when we had a much larger venue with the Daytona Beach Ocean Center, so we kinda planned for our previous numbers when CEO was last at the Wyndham in 2017.

I prefer to play it safe than have a number that would be hard to control. My biggest concern was hosting less games than CEO normally would feature but after the response, It was the right call. Side events are really special at events and we want to try and feature what we can. Now with proper scheduling, laying out everything for comfort we should be able to raise caps a little bit per game. We'll just need the community to come together so we can get through brackets smoothly.

We'll be prepared the best we can for a first and foremost, smooth bracket across all games then let everyone enjoy themselves whether they make it out of pools or go 0-2 while close though. I've received countless emails of players wanting to get on a waiting list or they had no clue things would sell out in a single night. I do expect a lot of players or attendees to drop naturally with our refund policy being one of the best until mid November. We'll do our best to get as many players that are able to compete as we can so stay locked to @ceogaming on Twitter for cap updates in the future.

DarkHorse: What made December feel like the right time to hold CEO again?

Jebailey: Comes down to contract and hotel availability. Few months ago when I had to make the decision with CEOtaku for September, the hotel mentioned early December was available with double the space. I felt much more comfortable hosting in December to continue to let Vaccinations take their course in the community.

Now everything is opening back up faster than anyone expected, seeing the demand I almost could have done CEOtaku and a CEO December event but I want a slower welcome back to CEO then sky is the limit in 2022.

DarkHorse: Are you planning anything extra special for the event?

Jebailey: First and foremost, the best tournament experience possible. If you make that a great experience for attendees, the rest will follow. I hope to bring fun exhibitions like Rumbles that CEO are known for, Jebaileyland 24 hour arcade returns. CEO 2019 really was special with our FyterFest event put together by All Elite Wrestling.

Hopefully we'll be able to work together again because it brought together two worlds in such an organic way I'm proud of. I'd love to see some announcements for 2022 possibilities in the FGC so we'll see if developers are ready to jump back into supporting the community.

DarkHorse: Is anything going to be permanently different moving forward for fighting game tournaments?

Jebailey: We really perfected the tournament formula, I think overall everyone will be more prepared hygiene wise, wearing masks for the last year helped eliminate flu strands and everyone has become more conscious of cleanliness and health. I think sanitizing stations and optional masks will be a bigger thing Post Covid.

DarkHorse: Are there new issues that TO's have to address in a world now kissed by COVID?

Jebailey: Just being more prepared than ever not just from the cleanliness side of events, but spacing, crowd control and having a much more connected community that looks out for each other. If CEO 2021 is any indication, people don't want to miss out on events or being around their friends in case something like Covid-19 happens again to keep us at home. Every event should have a strict code of conduct for their events that everyone is aware of. I spent a few weeks updating our Policies page here.

People also have to keep in mind, these are voluntary events. Seeing the demand for this year shows everyone is ready to get back out there, so continue to stay safe, get vaccinated if you are able to protect yourselves and each other.

On the logistical side, I believe we won't be switching over to next gen consoles like PlayStation 5 until they're truly readily available or, crosses fingers, a PS5 Slim system comes out over the next two years. Really happy to know until a truly next gen only game comes out, everyone's PS4 sticks work moving forward.

DarkHorse: What kinds of safety precautions are you guys looking at implementing?

Jebailey: We're going to be giving every single registered attendee a welcome bag with Custom Hand Sanitizer spray, CEO mask and working with the hotel to keep everything as clean as possible throughout the weekend. If you have attended CEO in the past we go above and beyond with security throughout the weekend and have a very vigilant staff. I think players just want to get back to pushing buttons and everyone is gonna be happy to see each other.

As a TO, anything and everything can go wrong at any time so just being more prepared than ever as we get comfortable being around people again. Fortunately a lot of big events have already happened or are popping up that will help everyone feel normal again. Vaccinations being so readily available have been a game changer within the US. I do feel for international countries and I think that will take a bit longer but it's up to borders and travel that makes it easier for TOs.

CEO 2021 is set to take place December 3–5 in Orlando, Florida with 10 mainstage titles being part of the big competition.

If you'd like to take part in a Jebailey-hosted tournament, there will be DreamHack Community Clash events next month for Guilty Gear Strive on July 24 with a $2,500 prize pool and Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown on Jul. 27 with a $1,000 pool.

They'll be part of DreamHack Beyond, an all-digital event that'll allow attendees to walk around a virtual show floor, visit themed areas / booths, complete quests and take part in competitions, which Jebailey says he put a lot of love and Easter eggs into the FGC section.

Image source: CEO Gaming.

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