by Andrew Skelton (Outfoxed)
Few companies can boast they have a world champion as their community manager. Team NINJA, however, can. Emmanuel Rodriguez, better known as “MASTER”, went from just a player, to world champion, to his current role of community manager. At the recent KOEI Tecmo showcase, I had a chance to sit down and talk with him about his experiences both with the Dead or Alive series, and his larger role in developing the community for the iconic fighting game.
AS: You’ve obviously had a long history with the Dead or Alive series. What is it about the series that’s made you stick to it for so long?
M: What stood out to me originally was how good it looked. I played it back on the Sega Dreamcast, so it was one of the first titles that I saw that was really incredible visually. I actually thought it was a movie, to be honest with you, and then I played it and was like, “Oh wow! The game plays like that!” It was playing at a smooth 60 frames per second.
AS: The Dreamcast was an underappreciated system for that.
M: Yeah, it was! But I was visually just amazed by how well it played and that was just a demo! So once the game came out, I bought it and ended up playing Hayabusa.
AS: So what was it like going from player to eventual world champion and now becoming community manager for Team NINJA?
M: What was it that got me there?
AS: You know, how did you get there? What was it like for you, personally?
M: The journey, right. So it’s funny you ask that. I think the initial part for me was the game was so good. The game itself was very fun to me, the environment, all that stuff always kept me hooked. Every time I saw a new iteration, I was like, “That’s a cool stage, I want to try it out, and see what it’s all about.”
Eventually I became really good with my group of friends, essentially. And with my group of friends I was like, “You know, I’m really good. I’m really that good.” So when DOA2 Ultimate came out, for the XBox at the time, I wanted to play online, you know? I finally got on there and I got to test — that was kind of the thing, “To test your might against the world now.” So I was beating a lot of people and people would invite me, “Why don’t you partake in this online event? Why don’t you compete in this offline event?” And I would go to these events, and little by little I’d start showing that I was really good at the game. That was a really interesting journey for me because I always would ask, “How good am I?”
So I’d keep going to these events because I wanted to play different people.
AS: You’ve always got to test yourself.
M: Yeah! Yeah! You always hear that conversation, like, “Nah, there’s probably someone better than me.” So that was my journey, where’s that other person that’s better than me? I’m looking for him, you know what I mean? So obviously throughout the journey and going through tournaments and going to these big televised events or streamed events or whatever, I end up winning the world championship. So that was kind of cool.
I think the most important thing for me as a strong player or an influencer of the community was that I always held the community really tight to me. I know some players are top players and that’s what they focus on and that’s great! But to me, it wasn’t just about being the top, it was about bringing everybody with you, as well. I was very focused on the community; I liked the community. I loved the community, and they always shared a lot of love back.
AS: What do you think the biggest challenge has been for you taking on the role of community manager?
M: Well, the biggest challenge is to remember that I’m not competing anymore. That’s one of the biggest challenges! Along with that challenge comes the thought that since I’m not competing anymore, I need to do things a little different and also make adjustments as far as how can I engage the community more. Obviously as I told you about previously, I’d hold them close to me and I would always try and do things to help the community by doing videos or tutorials, or whatever. Now I have to figure out more things to do because I’m more involved.
That’s part of what I want to do and I think it’s a good time in my life because I’ve done everything I could. I’ve proven everything I’ve needed to prove already. So let’s make it so we can create opportunities like that — like I had, even though they were really rare. How do we make more of those opportunities for our players? So that’s one of my challenges right now is how can I create more opportunities for other people that want to better themselves, but also to keep the fun parts of the game. We want it so it’s fun and you can enjoy the environment and the graphics of the game and all that stuff.
Initially, I was a fan, just like anybody else. I was attracted to the game and how it looked, and obviously it looks stunning! So I want to keep promoting that, as well. It’s not about just being a competitor, but also a fan at the same time. So I’m always constantly focused on both.
AS: Of the changes that DOA6 has made, what can fans expect new, and what’s there that should be familiar for them?
M: New obviously will be the Break Gauge. So the meter is the first thing you’ll notice, right off the bat, when you start playing. If you’ve never played it before, it’ll look like another life bar, but it’s not. With the Break Gauge, you’ll have the Break Hold option, and the Break Blow option. Those are the key themes that are new to the game and you’ll need a full Break Gauge to do a execute a Break Blow and you’ll need half of one to do a Break Hold, which is like an ultimate hold that stops everything. The other thing will be that you have the Fatal Rush, which is this quick combo that you can do that looks really cool, but it’s only possible when it lands. So even though some people might think, “Well, I’m just going to push that all the time!” it doesn’t function that way.
AS: a.k.a. If you don’t hit with it, it does nothing?
M: Exactly. And it leaves yourself vulnerable. At the same time, it’s really cool and it’s really fun so when it lands it’s visually really nice. You have options outside of that. If you don’t want to finish it, you don’t have to. It gives you a lot of creative power and that’s something that I really wanted to see in the game to play it myself, as a fan. I think that’s really, really cool because I have this creative freedom of how I want to do my combos — my signature combos. And everybody can have their own combos, because it gives you that creative freedom.
That’s what’s new, right off the bat. Of course, what’s traditional with DOA is the Triangle system. So, the triangle system is basically the foundation of the game. Strikes beat throws and throws beat holds and holds beat strikes. That still follows up today, so even if you don’t use any of the new mechanics, you’ll still understand that, “Yeah, I can still play the game like that, if I want to!” But you also have those extra elements to essentially enhance the gameplay.
AS: Okay, so obviously there’s been some challenges in the fighting game community in general. What do you think needs it needs to focus on the most, right now?
M: The thing to focus on in the fighting game community, and in this case, the Dead or Alive community is to remember that it’s fun. It’s a fun game. I’ve been in every part of the community and I think that helps me a lot to understand everybody, because I get it. I want to have fun with this game. I want to enjoy it. And, of course, there’s the part of me that’s like, “Yeah, I want to beat everybody up!” I think that’s what’s unique about a fighting game, though. It’s a fighting game, that’s what it’s meant for. It’s designed that way: one person fight’s another, so I can understand the competitiveness that automatically grows out of the game. At the same time, it’s interesting to see and to have it be fun. That’s the most important thing I want to focus on with the community — or that the community itself should focus on. Yeah, it’s fun.
If you want to take it up to the next level, that option is available. It’s not forced upon you, but it’s there. I think that’s what people want to feel more. It’s not like … I don’t know how to put it. It’s like it’s not something we always just want to — especially me for the community — show up in people’s faces like, “Oh yeah, you’ve got to have this!” Just have fun with the game, and if you do want to take it up, take it there!
AS: That’s something I’ve noticed about the DOA community. It’s always been about having fun, being helpful. Some franchises out there are like, “If you’re not the best right out of the box …”
M: Yeah, it can be a little intimidating. I don’t want that intimidation. They shouldn’t have to have that to have fun. Speaking of the community, the way they’re becoming more active and how things are constantly changing because the game’s not out yet, they constantly reserve judgments or whatever the case may be. I think it’s really cool that a lot of them are getting together more because they want to share information on the game. There are other people that I’ve seen stepping up to share information and talk about the game that I’ve never seen talk about it. So it’s really, really cool to see that. I want to see the community continue to grow that way. The more information that’s out there, the more you share it, the more viral it gets, obviously it’s better for the community.
AS: Which segues into the last question I have. Where do you want to see the community for DOA to go in the future? How would you like to develop that if you can?
M: I see. If I could, I would like it to be a thing where people teach others the latest and greatest of what they’ve found. It could be something in the story, something in training mode or online, something new that’s shared. I think we live in a world where we can do that easily now. Back then, the only way to find out is if you’re in the arcades. But we don’t live in that world anymore.
I think that not only Dead or Alive, but fighting games in general are like that, but for Dead or Alive — I want that game to be the game where everybody talks up all the latest and greatest things. Stuff about the costumes, about everything. “How did you do that?! Show me that!” I just want to have all that information available and if anybody has a question, it’s always out there. I’m actually trying to do stuff like that so it can be broken down easily by everybody. That’s kind of one of my own hidden goals! But it’s a very big goal!
I want it to be like that so people always feel welcomed in. Yeah, it’s a beautiful game, beautiful characters, beautiful environments, but it’s also really, really fun. I want that fun to translate to everybody.
Dead or Alive 6 is set to release in February 2019 for PS4, XB1, and PC.