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Q&A: Juggleguy on producing The Big House and what to expect this year

The Big House has steadily risen to become one of the most important Super Smash Bros tournaments of the year. Slingshot’s Dylan “C.C.” Cooke had the chance to talk to the man behind it, Rob “Juggleguy” Harn to talk about his career outside Smash, what it takes to produce a major and what fans can expect from The Big House 6.

Dylan “C.C.” Cooke: What do you do outside of The Big House?

Rob “Juggleguy” Harn: I still have a hand in a lot of Michigan events outside of the Big House. I feel like I’m more of like a behind the scenes/hidden TO for other events while I let other event organizers do their thing. If they need to consult advice while they scale their events, they come to me since I’ve been there, done that. I still do behind the scenes work for Melee It On Me, taking care of some stuff. I try to organize the podcast; it’s been on hiatus but we try.

DC: How do you prepare for running events as large as The Big House?

RH: It’s about an eighth month planning cycle, but at the beginning it’s more of a ‘What date is going to work? What venue is going to work?” The few months after that is a lot of brainstorming until right around EVO time, which is when I start hiring a lot of the senior staff members. It’s usually not too bad: Simple phone call to previous staff members to confirm they’re coming and go over expectations and what’s new this year. August and September are the really busy months where I try to carry out some of the ideas that are new to that year, such as the compendium last year and we have some new stuff this year. That’s also when registration season is busiest, too, so I have to keep track of that working with the guys. Late September is almost a full time job planning the Big House. Which is tough because I have an actual full time job too.

DC: What is your full time job?

RH: I do IT at a healthcare company. Not esports related, but it gets me by and gets me decent work experience. I would say it’s a valuable part of my life still.

DC: How do you deal with finding and booking venues?

RH: I have some help finding venues. I don’t know what you would call it – a venue agent? Connections? Either way, once the venue is locked down it’s still a big risk financially. There’s some really big numbers laid out in front of me when I have to sign the contract. That’s part of the territory running a big major: thousands and thousands of dollars just flung everywhere in these contract pages.

DC: Do you pay the money up front?

RH: No, usually we have to place a deposit, followed by another deposit and then a final payment. It’s different between all the hotel venues.

DC: How do you convince these venues to let you run a video game tournament there?

RH: It’s really interesting for events like EVO, TBH, Genesis. So there’s a hotel that could feasibly host the event square footage wise. There’s like a list of these hotels that could fit the tournament. It could be a really short list, two or three hotels. From there, there’s a request for proposal you have to submit to the hotel. And the hotel is judging you as much as you are judging the hotel. They are looking at you like, “OK, how big of an organization are you? Are you going to present a risk? A liability to us? If your event isn’t big enough are you going to be able to pay?” They have an expected value of revenue they bring in per weekend. Most of these hotels with big ballrooms host weddings, concerts, other events. They want to know that this Smash tournament is worth their time and is up to par with their value. At the end of the day, hotels are businesses. They have to bring in an expected value and the sales manager knows that. So that’s kind of the hoops you have to jump through to prove to the hotel that this is something worth investing your time and effort in. You need credibility to convince them.

DC: The Big House is one of the largest and most prestigious events in Melee. What makes it so reputable compared to the likes of EVO?

RH: I think our location has a lot to do with it – and the leadership involved. When you think about traveling to Michigan for a national tournament, it’s not Vegas, it’s not Northern California. We don’t have the benefit of being in Vegas. From the get-go we had to focus on hosting quality and well-run tournaments that absolutely are super valuable in-person experiences. I think a lot of that might be lost in spectators saying, “Hey this looks just like another tournament.” But if you actually come to the event, it’s totally different. It’s one of the events that I think did the best job of balancing stakeholders in person and spectators. I think that’s something a lot more TOs can learn about because I see a lot of people who just weigh something like the stream way bigger. It’s all about the stream, stream, stream, but at the end of the day the attendees are the ones paying the bills and coming to your tournament. Without them, you can’t do anything. I think The Big House does that the best out of any of the Smash majors. I tell people from Michigan that are considering going to EVO. You have to understand that EVO is not prioritizing the player experience as much as it is the in person spectacle. As far as production value, you can’t beat EVO on Sunday. That was a spectacle. I took so many notes, it was amazing. But as a player, if I want to play 10 hours of friendlies on EVO weekend, that’s just not going to happen. They don’t have enough setups being a not Smash-focused tournament. You just have to know what you’re getting into. If you like Vegas and big spectacle production values, then EVO is great. But it’s not your normal Smash major.

DC: How do you deal with PR side of being a TO?

RH: Well at least for TBH, it’s nice because the entire staff is Smashers who are in touch with the community. It ends up being really easy to get a pulse from the community about what they want, what should be catered to the Smash scene. It’s a Smash tournament! Public relations are getting more and more important. I’ve joked about Reddit in the past saying to just brush it off, but you can’t really ignore it anymore. Before any rumors ever start, I try to get a blog post out even if it’s one paragraph. I made it a habit of posting to the MIOM website – just short blog posts saying hey registrations up. Bam. I think it’s just a good habit to get into as a TO, to put out some form of public statement on a solid stable platform. Not a Reddit post, not a Facebook post. Something like the MIOM website, that way people can’t start rumors. You’re addressing issues before any ever start.

DC: With all that being said, what should players be expecting from this year’s TBH?

RH: We have a few ideas floating around. I don’t want to promise too much before delivering on them. It’s still at a point in planning where I can’t really say much. You can expect more production value. We have growing attendance every year and I super appreciate the support. I think the last two years we have grown by 150 percent, which is insane for a tournament. Because of that we have more money to do things for the attendees and in person spectators. It’s pretty vague. I can’t really say that much more. We just had EVO on ESPN, a legit sports broadcast, so I’m trying to borrow from a lot of sports broadcast ideas that have been floating around. Normally you’d see that at a live sporting event, but for Smash you need the budget to do it and we have finally gotten to the point where we can pull that off.

DC: Thanks for speaking with me. Do you have anything for the fans or friends at home?

RH: TBH is going to be good this year. You guys should come! That’s about it!