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Two $30,000 prize pools helped sell Smash community on GT-X

Super Smash Bros. Melee pros Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma, right, and Adam "Armada" Lindgren are on the list of top players going to Game Tyrant Expo, or GT-X. The event, in its first year, has a prize pool of $30,000 for both Melee and Smash 4. Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

A winter storm blanketed Salt Lake City. Game Tyrant, a LAN center in North Salt Lake, Utah, was hosting a Super Smash Bros. tournament with a $500 prize pool on the line. It was a modest prize pot, and with the severe weather, co-founders Josh Patel and Justin Truong expected a small turnout.

To their surprise, 137 players showed up, some lugging giant old-school CRT televisions, all trying not to slip on the ice. It was an inspirational moment for the pair. Patel and Truong had always wanted to throw a larger esports event; they had just found the game that could make it happen.

Game Tyrant Expo, or GT-X, is a new Super Smash Bros. tournament series that will have its first event this weekend at the Vivint Smart Home Arena, home of the Utah Jazz. It will feature the largest prize pool of any open Smash Bros. tournament in history, with $30,000 prize pools on the line for both Melee and Smash 4. It attracted a ton of attention from the largely grassroots and tight-knit Smash Bros. community, and many top players signed up to attend.

With registration now over, there are 352 entrants for Melee singles, 325 for Smash 4, and less than 100 for games like Rivals of Aether, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, and Street Fighter V. Some of the top attendees at GT-X include Alliance's Adam "Armada" Lindgren, Team SoloMid's Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios, Team Liquid's Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma and Echo Fox's Leonardo "MkLeo" Perez, among others.

"When we first announced in February, no one knew who we were; no one cared who we were," Truong said. After flying out to Genesis 4 in San Jose, California, he surveyed the event and was impressed by the Smash scene's passion. He felt he could throw a similar tournament in Utah.

That's when Patel and Truong, along with the rest of their team, started planning. Patel has an eye for the grandiose. He commissioned a three-story dragon (the world's biggest, according to him) for FantasyCon in 2014. He wanted the same pomp-and-circumstance with GT-X.

"If we're going to have the biggest, nicest venue that's ever been used for the game," Patel said, "it made sense that we go over the top with the prize pool."

Patel knows GT-X will most definitely run at a loss its first year. Even FantasyCon, which had 58,000 people in attendance, lost money. But Patel has made a name for himself in the consulting industry and has been a successful entrepreneur. He has the ability to take the brunt of the loss from this event.

Even so, Truong said GT-X would cost the company $500,000.

"We definitely shot really high," Truong said. "Our goal, I think, we wanted to hit at least 2,000 [participants]."

While registration numbers did not meet Truong's and Patel's expectations, Smash fans have found other ways to support the tournament.

"When we first announced in February, no one knew who we were; no one cared who we were."

Justin Truong, GT-X organizer

"I don't plan on attending, but i bought a ticket to help push the numbers towards entrance," said Saul "Beta" Franklin, a Smasher from the Saskatoon, in Saskatchewan, Canada. He started a Reddit thread that prompted a heated debate on if Smashers should sign up just to support the tournament, even if they had no intention of going.

But Beta feels that a tournament such as GT-X gives the Smash scene much-needed exposure, which will only help the community grow. Nudging Smash's profile closer to DotA-or League of Legends-type prize pools gives players new and old added incentive to attend tournaments.

"That would help people get into Smash," Beta said. "It would help the argument for Smashers towards Nintendo to help notice the community and release content for the game."

Players overseas have taken notice of GT-X, too.

"I felt the need to support it," said Asterion Esports' Amsah "Amsah" Augustuszoon, the best player from the Netherlands. "The more people show up to new tournaments like this, the more likely they'll host more and possibly even bigger events in the future. They also inspire other potential tournament organizers from other games and walks of life to consider Smash for their future events."

For Amsah, it also helps that so many top players are in attendance, and that it's only a week removed from The Big House 7 in Detroit, meaning he can attend two tournaments with one trip to the U.S. The timing of GT-X has caused some concern, as many players will feel compelled to attend the more storied Big House 7 the following weekend.

"I honestly went because everyone entered and I wanted to practice against the strongest," Misfits pro Ryan "The Moon" Coker-Welch said. "Even though this is GT-X's first year, I wanted to support the event because they took the chance to invest into the Smash community and can see the potential we have."

That's not to say everyone is excited about GT-X. Many in the community are wary of its intentions or ability to pay out, which has been expressed thoroughly on threads on the Smash Bros. subreddit.

"The owners of the event admitted outright to knowing nothing about the competitive Smash scene," said Jason "Papapaint" Durso, a Smash video producer from Williamsburg, Virginia who is skeptical about GT-X.

Calvin "GimR" Lofton, co-founder of streaming company VGBootCamp, has been hired by GT-X to stream the event. GimR has been a longstanding figurehead in the Smash community, and released a video making his case on why Smashers should support GT-X.

He claimed that because this was an outside company investing so heavily in the Smash scene, it was critical for the scene to support the tournament. That if the community doesn't show up for Year One, then it's unlikely GT-X become an annual event.

Whether that happens or not remains to be seen. Patel and Truong do hope that Salt Lake City will become another esports hub. They've worked closely on GT-X with Josh Barney, director of esports and technology for the Utah Jazz, who is currently working on NBA 2K League. Game Tyrant is putting a lot of hope in GT-X to help cement themselves as premiere tournament organizers.

And for Truong, regardless of the money involved or the scrutiny that GT-X has endured on message boards, the resources poured into this event are worth it.

"If there's no risk," he said, "there's no reward either."