Previewing SoCal Regionals: '[We're] stepping outside the norm'

Top Japanese "Street Fighter V" player Yusuke "Momichi" Momochi of Evil Geniuses was the winner of Fighters Invitational, SXSW's Ultra Street Fighter IV tournament in 2015. Wendell Cruz/USA TODAY Sports

Alex Valle is a busy man this week. The CEO of Level|Up is preparing for the company's biggest event of the year and a landmark in the fighting game tournament scene: SoCal (Southern California) Regionals on Oct. 14-16. He sat with me to discuss the preparation of the event, the growth and the potential surprises yet to come.

This year's iteration is at the Esports Arena in Santa Ana, California for the first time. In addition to the arena space, the street outside of the arena will be closed off for more tournament setups and a block party.

"We're trying new things and stepping outside the norm," Valle said. "It could be amazing or a failure, but we wanted to step out of the label 'just another major' by adding new things and attractions."

Not only will the tournament provide plenty of entertainment for spectators and players alike, it will also be a high-stakes competitive battleground. SoCal Regionals' Street Fighter V tournament will be one of the last Capcom Pro Tour Premier Events and should be a slugfest as last-minute hopefuls aim to punch their ticket into the tour finals in December. In addition, it will also be one of the last qualifiers for the North American King of the Iron Fist Tournament for Tekken 7 and a qualifier spot for the Killer Instinct World Cup. The incentives will be plenty for those that need their spots and practice before the big-time finales begin.

With eight different games, the issue with space was the main challenge for SoCal Regionals. In the past, the tournament was played in ballrooms or convention centers in rural areas with plenty of room. The Esports Arena will not have the luxury of all that space, but there might be upsides to the situation.

"It's challenging to work on a smaller venue," Valle said. "We scaled back based on the space, but there are also not a lot of players playing a lot of games. Last year, the venue was frustrating because there was too much space, but a tighter venue will allow players to have more interaction with one another."

I asked Valle what his favorite games to watch this weekend are and he listed Street Fighter V, Mortal Kombat XL, King of Fighters 14 and Tekken 7. He cited the ridiculous amount of talent competing for each game in addition to the prizes. Valle had struggled with deciding the tournament's lineup because there were so many games to include, but added that games needed good support and growth to confirm a spot.

"This will be the hardest Street Fighter tournament in SoCal Regionals' history -- there will be over 20 international players," Valle said. "It will be fun to watch the local regulars, [who are part of] one of the strongest regions in the country, step up to the international talent."

Valle believes that Southern California is not only one of the top destination for Street Fighter talent, but was the strongest region for King of Fighters players. He said that any of their players could travel anywhere and take a top-three spot in a tournament. As for the growth for both Mortal Kombat and Tekken, there was nothing short of pride for the tournament organizer when either game was mentioned.

"I'm excited to see the interest in Tekken; it's tripled out previous numbers. I'm not sure why that is, maybe it's the return to 1v1 because Tekken Tag did not pick up for the new guys," Valle said. "I'm glad Warner Bros. and NetherRealms ran it back with the support. It will be the first time that all the top killers will be coming. It's going to be a bloodbath for that title."

SoCal Regionals is on the cusp of innovation, but the competition and the prestige remain as high as ever. It will be more than just a Street-Fighter-plus-other-games tournament and the players will prove that this weekend.