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News  2, Jul 2014

The accidents that put Mad Catz on the fighting game map

Community and Sponsorship Manager Mark ‘Markman23′ Julio explains how its stint in Japan put the company where it is today

Image credit: Soltography

The recent South East Asia Majors 2014 fighting game tournament in Singapore on June 20 to 22 represented the best in the culture of fighting games: Asia Pacific representatives (with a dash of the US and the Middle East players) converging together to exchange genre knowledge and secrets, and then proceeding to fight against one another in a huge tournament to determine the sole victor.

That’s the kind of event Mad Catz, a peripheral-making company, is more than willing to help out and champion. Not just from an Asian standpoint, but on a worldwide scale.

The company is established as the de facto place to get the best tournament-level joysticks and joypads — PC and consoles — for fighting in competitive eSports titles like the recently out Ultra Street Fighter IV and mainstays like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Tekken Tag Tournament 2.

It’s also one of the prominent faces that continuously support the fighting game scene. While considered niche when compared to the gargantuan following of eSports games like DOTA 2, it is nonetheless passionate and renowned for moments like a Singaporean winning the worldwide Street Fighter IV tournament in mid-2013.

And it was all because of two accidental instances. Both happened in 2010 when the company winged it to promote its arcade sticks in a random Tekken 6 event, and when the company was down in Japan to figure out how to penetrate the market with its Western-crafted stock.

But first, a quick overview of the man who is synonymous with the current Mad Catz brand.

From zero to hero

A bustling scene at South East Asia Majors 2014. Image credit: Edmund Yeong

Mark ‘Markman23′ Julio got his start with the company at 2007 after a few years of balancing studies in journalism, the odd call centre and auto job, and being a single father. It was a time Mad Catz was known for pushing out third-rate cheap controllers that weren’t really well-received. This was the kind of reputation it had when first-party peripherals were too expensive for buyers.  “I used to be embarrassed to work with the company in the past,” Julio said. “The brand used to have a stigma.”

It was only around 2008 that Mad Catz had the opportunity to make arcade sticks for Capcom for the first version of Street Fighter IV. Julio’s huge passion for arcade sticks and fighting games was noticed by Mad Catz Product Manager Chris Carroll. As a result, Julio was considered for helping the project.”(Carroll and a few others) asked me to put a report on everything from the parts, to the construction, to what people wanted in an arcade stick. It was a 20-page paper with all the knowledge. A few weeks later, they put me on the team. I was like ‘whoah, this is crazy’.”

The fighting game community did not see Mad Catz pull out a figurative sucker punch. It made outstanding impressions when the arcade sticks were out in 2009 due to its quality build and Japanese-style joysticks and buttons. “People started noticing that we had changed our ways,” Julio said. “We were focussed on making quality products; that paved the way for how we approach our future. Five years later, we’re still making cool stuff and doing things we usually don’t do.”

Twist of fate

The top players in Asia sharing tips and tricks to better their Street Fighter game. Image credit: Edmund Yeong

So what really happened back in early 2010 that got it to expand their horizons beyond making arcade sticks?

Mad Catz’s huge support to the fighting game scene came as an accident. Julio said that it started from him attending a fighting game tournament in early 2010 on his own, running a joystick promo at a Tekken 6 event. This was back when livestreaming wasn’t as big. “We ran a promo with a coupon code that comes with a special discount, and we ran it online. Surprisingly, it did very well for us as it was the first time we had directly marketed ourselves alongside an event. Mad Catz was like ‘Hey, let’s do this more often. We should send you to events.’ I said ‘But I go to these events anyway; you mean I don’t have to pay to go to the events?’”

It was clear as day that working with the fighting game community correlated with the sales and business of Mad Catz joysticks. “We noticed our web sales going up the more time we participated in these events. I was on a plane two to three times a month heading to these events (around the world) as a result.” This changed the landscape of peripherals promotion, at least in the fighting game scene.

Another accidental meeting led to Mad Catz being represented by top-level tournament players in the eSports ring. “At first, we never thought about sponsoring players and they endorsing us like that,” said Julio, “because the fighting game stuff sold itself. If people wanted an arcade stick, they got an arcade stick. But at the time, we also needed to find a way to penetrate the Japanese market.”

“We’d been to Japan a number of times and had talked to a number of players and companies. But it wasn’t until early 2010, right before the release of Super Street Fighter IV, when we were approached by a group representing Daigo Umehara to see if we could form a partnership. I just thought it was insane; I was like holy s*** we’re going to sponsor The Beast.” For comparison’s sake, Daigo Umehara is the Michael Schumacher of the professional fighting game circuit, notable for being one of the best players in Super Street Fighter II Turbo all the way to the latest version of Street Fighter IV.

For an example of why he’s respected and feared, see the video below for a fighting game equivalent of the World Cup 1986 “Hand of God” moment involving him and tournament player Justin Wong in a major Street Fighter III: Third Strike match.

Julio said that sponsoring Daigo was a two-way street relationship: Mad Catz would send him all around the world to compete, and he would give his input on fighting game arcade sticks so that the company could make improvements in the future. A year later after the partnership, Street Fighter IV Producer Yoshinori Ono approached Mad Catz and suggested that it should recruit more players. “I was approached by Ono-san,” said Julio, “and he told me that what we were doing was great. He added ‘If you want to be serious in improving your presence in Japan and the rest of Asia, you should consider sponsoring more players; ones that are more active in more tournaments.’ (Ono) was the one who suggested we recruit (top Street Fighter players) Kenryo ‘Mago’ Hayashi and Hajime ‘Tokido’ Tanaguchi.”

Thanks to these players endorsing the Mad Catz brand, now a Western company is selling Japanese-styled arcade sticks to people living in Japan. “That’s like selling samurais their own swords,” he quipped.

Combo breaker

Mad Catz’s recent venture is with its Xbox One arcade stick. Image credit: Mad Catz

Even while playing its part keeping the fighting game scene alive, Mad Catz is still first and foremost a brand that sells arcade sticks. Its recent product, the Mad Catz Tournament Edition, hit all the right notes in design and feel. In addition to the Japanese-style Sanwa parts that are sturdy and responsive, the bottom comes with a rubber adhesive to prevent it from slipping from someone’s lap. Its cable is detachable and the top part can be opened up to store extra parts and tools, making it ideal for carrying around.

The Tournament Edition sticks, according to Julio, were all inspired by the look and feel of the Japanese-made Taito Vewlix arcade cabinet, with the added option to customise the stick to his or her liking. Think of the Vewlix as the Ferrari of the arcade machine collecting world.

The one that Julio was fond of, however, was the Bandai Namco Fightstick S+ that was released alongside the console version of Tekken Tag Tournament 2. “The first Mad Catz Street Fighter IV arcade stick was the first one where (the Mad Catz) team felt proud that it created something crazy and good, but (the Bandai Namco stick) was closer to my heart. (The Tekken series) has been my favourite since I was a kid. Working directly with (Producer Katsuhiro) Harada and the team to perfect the stick was the moment when I felt the most proud of what we’ve done.”

A people effort
All of this wouldn’t be possible if not for the people Julio meet chipping in and contributing to brainstorm sessions and ideas to make the fighting game scene flourish worldwide. “I really have to accredit it to all the people we worked together with to make things better.” Among the people he mentioned include Mike Ross and Ryan ‘Gootecks’ Gutierrez, who are pioneers in the entertainment side of the fighting game community with their YouTube series ‘The Excellent Adventures with Mike Ross & Gootecks’.

He also mentioned Zhi Liang Chew and Koh ‘Yongde’ Yung Tek who help establish and build up the Asian fighting game scene, which all leads up to the South East Majors series of tournaments. “Those are the guys who are passionate about letting people know what we do,” said Julio. “From there, it just stems onwards; all these guys working together to make great things happen.”

“We take pride in being the number one brand to support fighting games.” Based on Julio’s conviction and passion correlating hand-to-hand with his job, that fire isn’t going to be extinguished anytime soon.

Image credit: Edmund Yeong

Jonathan Toyad

Jonathan Toyad

If you want an elaborate answer on who would win in a fight between Ultraman and Godzilla, Jonathan Toyad is your man. A six-year veteran in the game journalism industry, he did words and videos for outlets such as GameSpot, GameAxis, IGN and Stuff.TV. Fears coyotes and scorched earths.

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