Community Chatter: Alecat of Oceanink Squids

Hello friends! We’re kicking off our Community Chatter series, where we speak to members of growing esports communities to figure out what they love about their esport and to learn more about the passionate gamers out there that go unreported in mainstream game journalism. Find the first of many articles to come below!

Ginny was lucky enough to chat to Alecat of Oceanink Squids, an Oceanic-based group of Splatoon players cutting their teeth on international and inter-community tournaments. With the launch of Splatoon 2 this year, interest in the title has been reignited, and there’s a keen interest from the game’s community for both competitive and casual opportunities. Groups like Oceanink Squids are making the most of the revitalisation of the franchise, most notably with their recent organisation of an international tournament involving Japanese teams that was pulled off with aplomb.

Alecat walked her through what Oceanink Squids does, what she thinks the future of Splatoon as an esport looks like, and perhaps most importantly – whether she’s Team Pearl or Team Marina. 

First of all, tell us a little bit about what you do at Oceanink Squids! 

I’m the head Tournament Organiser for Oceanink Squids. Our organisation is pretty flat so between our admin team we all pitch in to help where we have the skills, time and knowledge. Our various duties include art/graphic design work, occasional social media posts, communicating and coordinating with other community TOs, running tournament streams, and of course, running the tournaments! As well as running online events, we’ve also run LAN events in Adelaide and Sydney, and we’re keen to pass on our knowledge to Splatoon fans in other states so that they can run their own in-person meetups.

What prompted you to get involved with Oceanink Squids? Was it just a love of the game?

Love of Splatoon is a big part of it! I’ve run tournaments for other games in the past, and have worked with some of our local gaming events. I wanted to see if a game I loved so much would interest people as a competitive experience, and started planning a Splatoon LAN as part of the video gaming event schedule at Adelaide’s AVCon in 2016.

Leading up to the LAN, I did a lot of research on the competitive community and the quirks of the game, and noticed that a lot of players in Australia and New Zealand were frustrated that none of the online events run by people overseas were at good times for us! This gave me the idea of starting a tournament series that catered to Australian players. 

After playing in some tournaments with friends I ended up on a competitive squad, a number of whom were from Australia and New Zealand; it’s thanks to our single Kiwi player that we ended up with the more inclusive Oceanink moniker rather than something Australia-only. After spinning my wheels with tournament ideas for a while, it was my squad that gave me the motivation and extra help to finally make it a reality. Our first event was scheduled for a Saturday morning, which would also allow US players to participate on their Friday evening. We attracted around 30 teams from across the world, proving that the timeslot was viable.

Our primary goal in starting the Oceanink Offensive series was to give players from Australia and New Zealand the opportunity to play competitive Splatoon without having to wake up at ridiculous hours. It took a while for it to catch on, but eventually a number of American tournament organisers started running events in that time slot too.

What does organising an OceanInk event usually look like? Could you quickly walk us through the process from getting the idea for the event to making it happen?

Our online events usually run pretty smoothly, with the community banding together to enter and compete against each other; we’ve run some tournaments with as little as a week’s notice, but for larger events we usually work with a month’s lead time. Online events need very little in the way of infrastructure, just a framework for the organisers to talk to the players and the players to talk with each other, which is usually Discord. My background is in-person events so sometimes it can be a bit scary trusting people to play their matches unsupervised, but we have a solid group of regulars which has made that part much easier. Where possible, we try to run streams with commentary from some of our expert players – this has been a big learning experience from Splatoon 1, where we re-broadcast matches from the perspective of one of the players, to Splatoon 2 where we’re learning to use the spectator mode.

We’ve also run in-person meet ups in Adelaide and Sydney, and we’re helping out with an event in Melbourne on the 10th of September; these events are a lot of fun because they allow us to play the game with a wider variety of people than we get in the online competitions. Plenty of folks who might be intimidated by a faceless online competition have shown up to our LAN events to hang out and share their love of the game with each other! Getting to play the game without the headaches of Australian internet is a nice bonus, too!

We’ve had to learn some of Splatoon’s quirks along the way, but the basics of running a LAN are simple – you need eight consoles, ideally with docks and screens, and the network hardware to connect them up. This was much more complicated for the first game, which had no handheld mode and required an internet connection even for local play! Venues can be tricky, but we’ve had some success collaborating with other gaming interest groups, including Super Smash Bros. communities and PC LAN events. Nintendo have also been very helpful to us by providing prizes for our meet-ups!

Since we’re on the topic of tournaments, tell us a little bit more about the event that’s just been – the SSOpen. 

As I’ve touched on earlier, one of the huge barriers for competitive ANZ Splatoon players is the number of events that they can participate in. The Japanese community is only an hour behind Australian Eastern Standard time so it makes sense to try and join their events – but there’s the language barrier to overcome! We were very lucky to get into contact with the Splat Championship Series, who have previously coordinated events with other western tournament organisers. I sheepishly explained that the ANZ scene was not as experienced as the other regions of the world, but that we wanted opportunities to play with the best and improve. SCS were understanding, welcoming and excited to help our community grow, so the collaboration began.

It’s surprising how much can be achieved with Google Translate alone! The Japanese tournament organisers and I were able to hash out most of the basic details without the need for an interpreter, but once more nuanced details were needed I was very lucky to be able to call upon Japanese speakers within our community. It’s amazing to be involved with people overseas who love the same game as us, somehow we’ve transcended the language barrier. We even posted each other some letters and traded illustrations as a gesture of goodwill!

In addition to the language barrier, there’s also the customs surrounding how the game is played in different regions. We’ve been hesitant to enter Japanese events prior, as the latency beyond the shores of Japan can be enough for the Japanese players to resent the presence of foreigners. In fact, our first attempt to enter Aussie teams into Japanese tournaments gave birth to some legendary stories of latency, amplified in humour thanks to auto-translate. For SS Open, we simplified the usual rules to ensure minimal communication was required between teams – there were no substitute players and map selection was random, which simplified the matchmaking process.

Another quirk for this tournament was that we used Twitter for score reporting. Most of the community for Japanese Splatoon lives on Twitter, and as it’s standard for them to use Twitter to coordinate tournament matches and report scores we deferred to their preferred score reporting method.

We invited some of the top teams from Australia/New Zealand and Japan, and with open registrations on top of that with 60 teams! One of the most exciting parts was that there were some mixed teams that had players from both regions on their rosters!

What are some teams that are on the rise right now in the Oceanic region? As someone who’s Team NZ myself, how did you think our region did against Japan?

One team that I’m very excited about is Imperious. Imperious was active in the first Splatoon but has been on hiatus for some time. They’re back for Splatoon 2 with intentions of coordinating three separate regional teams for NA, EU and ANZ. Their new lineup for ANZ includes some formidable players indeed and I’m keen to see how they perform in future events.

We also invited the Blue Ringed Octolings and their rivals, Scarthace, to SSOpen. These are the teams that met in the finals of the 2017 AUNZ Splatoon Cup run by the Australian Esports League and Nintendo. Blue Ringed Octolings were the team that ultimately travelled to E3 to represent our region on the world stage, but it could very easily have been ScarthAce in their place; their finals matches were close and very intense.

As it turned out, Our local teams did not fare well in SSOpen – even the very best were beaten handily by their Japanese opponents. The community had been realistic about these results in advance of the tournament – the Japanese scene is well-honed in their Splatoon skills and they have an active tournament community too, so they get plenty of practice. Plus some very high-calibre Japanese teams were invited! Even though we didn’t get any victories, it was still a great opportunity for our players to go up against teams from another region. We’re looking forward to a sequel event that will hopefully be held in December.

Let’s turn our focus to the community. Specifically, the community in Oceanink Squids and how you think it stacks up against other communities out there. I’ve spent some time in the Discord and I’ve gotta say, it’s incredibly well modded and the atmosphere is really welcoming. What do you think Oceanink Squids does differently from other communities that keeps up this sort of positive attitude and engagement?

I think we’re just lucky to have a great group of people that set a good tone for discussions! In moderation, I usually prefer to apply a light touch, because mods can’t be around all the time and I don’t want people to behave only because a mod is present. We trust people to be sensible and so far that trust has been rewarded.

Do you think that Splatoon’s status as a relatively small community compared to other more mainstream esports ones contributes to less toxicity amongst those in the scene? If it’s not the community’s size, is there anything in your opinion that has helped?

One thing that’s helped from the very outset of the game is that it’s a Nintendo title. The Nintendo fanbase has always attracted a wide range of people from diverse backgrounds. Splatoon was a game that was designed to be bright, colourful and appealing; some might call it childish but the developers have also talked about how they hoped parents would secretly pick up and master the game when their kids were out of the house. In addition, Splatoon’s lack of voice chat may also have helped a wider range of players to find their footing with the game before seeking out further community involvement. The tides of battle can incite some strong emotions in players; it moves quickly and the slightest err in judgement can result in the game swinging massively – in an alternate universe where the game came with voice chat I think we’d have a very different atmosphere around the title.

For the Oceanink community, it’s not only the small size of the scene but also the physical proximity of our fellow players and the chances we have for meet-ups in real life. We’ve held LANs in Adelaide, Sydney and some players and fans were also able to meet up at the Nintendo sponsored event in Melbourne. Melbourne players are also anticipating their first LAN soon! The dynamic of a community changes a lot when the lines of real-life identity and online presence blur. Even before we started holding meet ups we felt a huge shift in the atmosphere of our Discord server just by giving people roles denoting which state/territory/country they were from – this started our evolution from a tournament series into a community hub.

If Splatoon grows as a competitive title, I’m sure we’ll struggle to balance the wants of players who play competitively against the players who want to play for fun and have a chance to grow their skills before being struck down by the elite. Keeping this in mind, I try not to prescribe a single way to play the game, nor do I want Oceanink to be the only community for ANZ Splatoon players.

Have you got any tips out there for people wanting to get involved in their local esports community?

I have to admit I’ve held many varied views about competitive gaming over the years, and one of those views was that I’d never fit into a competitive gaming scene. However Splatoon has proven otherwise. My best advice would be to just jump in!

Where do you see the Splatoon esports community heading in the future? We are in an age of milion dollar prize pools for esports tournaments and a growing awareness about the fact that there’s a highly competitive and enthusiastic market for this sort of stuff. Do you think that sort of exposure would be positive or negative for Splatoon?

Within our own scene, the stratified skill levels among our regular players is currently a bit demoralising, and teams are having second thoughts about turning up for tournaments where the result can be predicted. I don’t think that huge prize pools will automatically improve that situation. While we did see more players come out of the woodwork to vie for trips to E3 in AEL’s Nintendo-sponsored tournament, there’s work to be done to keep these players engaged. Oceanink events in the future are likely to change tack a bit; we’re keen to leverage the new game to encourage new teams to form and develop their skills. We’ve found that even the best ANZ squads have struggled against overseas teams so I guess international esports glory is off the cards for now!

From a broader perspective, we see a lot of potential in Splatoon. It’s an accessible title with a lot of depth. The inking mechanics are easily translated to a viewing audience: turf control is quite literally painted on the stage, so the ebb and flow of a match’s momentum can be read with a glance. There are exciting moments in all of the modes, and the speed of the game means that any play could potentially be a game-winner. It’s easy to see how people will get hooked on this game! There’s a particularly captive audience in Japan, and the Koshien tournament series already attracts hundreds of teams and hundreds of thousands of viewers.

However, I think that without the whole-hearted support from the publisher, a game’s opportunities to take off are stymied. Nintendo has recently said that their goal is to provide “Competition for everyone” – which is reflected in the more casual rulesets they use in their official tournaments. It seems that they won’t be running their own massive esports events (at least, not beyond the shores of Japan), but hopefully they’ll allow for community run events to grow and test the competitive depth of their games.

Last but not least, what’s your loadout in Splatoon 2 and are you Team Pearl or Team Marina?

Back when we were preparing our first LAN events we had to unlock data on many consoles, which meant I spent a lot of time with the default weapon, a Splattershot Jr., in my hands! It’s a beastly turfing weapon and now the fastest Ink Armour in the game, so I’m still fond of it in Splatoon 2.

Follow Oceanink Squids on Twitter: @oceaninksquids

Follow Ginny (our contributor) on Twitter: @ginnywoes

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