Building ChiTek, feat. PuppySwarm
Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, the fighting game community has managed to restructure for a mostly online-only environment. Community figureheads have stepped up to provide the thrill of competition seemingly lost by the lack of offline tournaments and Tom “PuppySwarm” Drury has managed to shift the focus of Chicago Tekken during these uncertain times.
Founding the ChicagoTekken.com website in 2019, Drury has worked to grow Chicago Tekken not only as a recognizable brand within the FGC, but also as a platform to highlight the Midwest’s passion for Tekken. “The FGC has always been East Coast vs. West Coast and the Midwest has been relatively ignored, even when there is really strong talent here,” said Drury. “And so I felt pretty strongly that it’s a great community, we have plenty of strong players, so let’s start highlighting and giving people a platform to be recognized.”
Working with fellow Chicago tournament organizer BGCallisto, Drury began organizing merchandise sales for the Mishima Monthly tournament series to fund his Chicago Tekken project. Expanding to include designs from a variety of artists within the FGC, the passion behind building Chicago Tekken as a known entity is clear. Since then, dozens of unique designs have been made available as merchandise which can be found on the Chicago Tekken website.
Initially, part of Drury’s plans for Chicago Tekken involved vendor booths for selling merchandise at major fighting game events such as Frosty Faustings and Final Round, using the money to give back to the local scene. “This isn’t about me, this is about the community,” he stated. “What can I do to help people out? Do you want me to increase prize pools locally, do you want me to help send players places, what do you want to see? I’m always asking the community, what do you want from me?” Sponsoring local players Mazen and Swagmaster under the Chicago Tekken banner, Drury has worked to ensure community support from his platform since the beginning.
As the pandemic began to derail plans laid out for 2020, Chicago Tekken adapted to an all-online FGC environment as time went on. Starting with casual Marbles on Stream sessions on Twitch, Drury knew the community would need to find methods to stay connected while at home. “That was the time period where I was like, ‘let’s see what happens.’ By the time I wrapped that up, it was clear we weren’t getting out of it any time soon, and that’s when I said, ‘I’ve got to do something to replace locals.’” Understanding the challenge at hand, Drury launched the first ChiTek Online tournament on April 21, 2020.
“There’s no perfect solution, and it took some trial and error,” Drury stated. Figuring out a consistent, streamlined process for organizing and broadcasting the weekly online tournaments took time and effort, but has now become part of Drury’s weekly routine. Community growth over time has also helped with player engagement, as tournament regulars have developed a helpful environment for newcomers. “As we’ve grown over time, it really has become a self-sustained cycle where players are teaching each other how it works.”
ChiTek Online has seen a variety of players and skill levels in the brackets since its inception, giving people a welcomed substitute for offline locals in the meantime. As new balance patches and content updates have been released for Tekken 7, ChiTek became one of the best places to see new changes in action. “Leroy got nerfed pretty significantly compared to what he was, fortunately before ChiTek began, and so we started later into season 3, with the previous netcode which wasn’t that fantastic.” Season 4’s netcode upgrade helped to mitigate the issue to an extent for Chicago Tekken, which allowed for larger brackets featuring players across the United States instead of just the Midwest region. “It was a learning experience for everybody since online tournaments weren’t extremely common before COVID, especially for Tekken.”
The audience of ChiTek Online tournaments has seen not only big names competing like Joey Fury and Shadow 20z, but also lesser-known players striving to improve. “I’ve gotta shout out Jose Jose, he’s played in ChiTek for a very long time and his growth has been fantastic,” Drury mentioned. “While he’s not making top 8s, that’s the kind of player that I really want to see coming back and improving, and now we’re getting more new players and people in that pool. Someone’s always gotta go 0–2, but the people who were going 0–2 aren’t doing so anymore because they’ve grown.”
Within ChiTek’s pool of competitors, Drury noted how players like Kaizur and JoeCrush have made more of a name for themselves in the scene over the past year. “There’s plenty of folks to be on the lookout for but if you ask me, when offline comes back, Kaizur and JoeCrush… you’ll probably see some top 8 placings from them for sure,” he said. With ChiTek brackets taking a weekly Tuesday spot among other tournament series like Trace Complete’s Iron Fist Fridays and ten/o’s ICFC, players who kept grinding throughout the pandemic have had a chance to stay ahead of the competition for once offline tournaments resume.
Alongside the ChiTek Online brackets, Drury also briefly ran a series of Killer Instinct online tournaments as the “Chicago Punish” tournament series. “I tried to run it as a weekly, and I enjoyed it a ton; shout outs to B_Brock and Zero Syndicate for helping me do commentary on it.” Interest in Killer Instinct grew during the Spring and Summer of 2020 as members of the FGC, like Drury, experimented with new games and explored titles with exceptional rollback netcode. Running Chicago Punish on Mondays before ChiTek on Tuesdays, the brief lifespan of Chicago Punish allowed for Drury to expand his horizons as a tournament organizer.
As of April 2021, Chicago Tekken has reached one full year of online tournament brackets, aiming to grow the fighting game community and keep the same sense of unity that seemed lost once locals were shut down indefinitely. Anticipating Frosty Faustings XIV as the first major offline fighting game tournament since 2020, Drury believes we still have a fairly long way to go before large events are happening again. “I can’t talk about what’s going on, but I can promise you there is some really cool stuff coming within the North American fighting game community that people are going to be very excited about. We do just have to be patient; as much as we want to get out there as soon as possible, we want to get out there safely, and we want to get out there with everybody.”
In the meantime, Chicago Tekken will be continuing to provide a healthy competitive atmosphere for the Tekken scene, with commentary provided by Drury and various community members such as DogBomber, Sol Naciente and Chenzho.
“Our mission really is just to spread the good word of Tekken, and have a whole lot of fun doing it.” Ready to go the extra mile for his community, Drury’s ambitions with Chicago Tekken are nothing short of admirable.