Interview with Alex Jebailey, founder of Community Effort Orlando
Welcome back to our StreamMe Interview Series, readers!
With CEO 2017 coming up next weekend, I had the privilege of sitting down with the man who started it all to get some words from him. With over two-thousand players coming from almost all of the U.S.A. as well as twenty-nine other countries, he and the FGC are preparing to face an incredible weekend. This is also the last year CEO erupts at the Wyndham Resort before they relocate to Daytona’s Ocean Center next year.
Like every other story, CEO has had its humble beginnings. It started as a convention with a few hundred players at best flying in from a significantly smaller portion of the U.S.A., with no attention from the media and not as much streaming technology to work with. However, as the years went by, Jebailey and his team continued to build upon their brand and before they knew it, it evolved into an event that is recognized as the largest in the FGC, second only to EVO which is their annual championship. Player counts skyrocketed from a few hundred to the thousands, even including participants from outside of the U.S.A.
Given the recent uprising of FGC esports, people not originally from the FGC have started to take notice of CEO and, by extension, fighting games as a whole. Jebailey’s reputation has attracted interviewers from companies including the Orlando Business Journal, to whom he has disclosed his plans to relocate the event to Daytona Beach for CEO 2018 while keeping its sibling events stationed at the Wyndham.
To this day, CEO is also the only event known to include a wrestling ring inside its venue. As many of our players, including Jebailey himself, grew up with an admiration for WWE, what better way to celebrate the fighting game genre than to combine the best of both worlds?
But one has to wonder…as the man who founded CEO, what thoughts crossed Jebailey’s mind as the event gradually evolved into what it is today? Surely nobody could have foreseen such an evolution (pun not intended!) back in the day, not when technology had yet to advance to the level it’s reached as of recent years.
Read on for an interview with CEO’s Mr. Alex Jebailey and surely your questions will be answered. Also, to those who missed out on CEO’s previous two years, you’re about to be treated to some gems from the past…and we assure you that you won’t regret it. 😉
JagoBlake: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, sir! Would you care to introduce yourself to the StreamMe community, please?
Jebailey: Of course. My name is Alex Jebailey, I live in Orlando, Florida (born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada which not many expect to hear), and I’m a lifelong fighting game fanatic and long-time tournament organizer. While fighting games will forever be my favorite genre for all the incredible memories and opportunities it has provided me, I play all genres of video games. Oh, and my face shows up on that Twitch.TV thing when you type Jebaited.
JagoBlake: Every story has a beginning, as we all know. Perhaps you’d care to describe how CEO came to be?
Jebailey: It’s a very, very long story, haha, but it all came together through smaller events I was hosting because I also wanted to compete more. Through some great friendships they started to grow, but I never imagined I’d host a big annual tournament. I was helping promote an event run by someone that wasn’t entirely devoted to it and he had to back out and cancel it within three weeks of the event start date in 2010. I was able to get the community to help out and we found a fairgrounds venue, promoted and put the event together in 3 weeks…and the rest is history. CEO stands for Community Effort Orlando with the keyword forever being “community.”
JagoBlake: You’ve stated a while back that you have decided to focus on CEO as your career. What gave you the confidence to make such a decision?
Jebailey: With the way things have been going in the esports and FGC world, I felt it was time to take a chance and do something I pretty much spend 24/7 already thinking about, and so far it’s been going rather well. I was running CEO local events in my free time, and for the first few years of CEO it didn’t take up too much of my time between that and my day job working the family business of Theme Park Tickets for 13 years. About the third or fourth year in, I was starting to realize something was going to give and I’d have to either stop doing CEO altogether or take a chance and go all in so I could make it better. In between all of that, CEO gave me a dream opportunity to work with Iron Galaxy for a few years, where I learned the amount of hard work and passion that went into one of my favorite franchises growing up with Killer Instinct. They were supportive of CEO’s growth but at one point it was hard to focus on both so I knew I had to take a risk and become a full-time event organizer which now lead me to a job with DreamHack as their FGC and TO Director. So now I get to think about and plan events all year long. I really can’t thank the fans, attendees, partners and friends that have helped me along the way to get to where I am now. Without them, I’d probably just be working the family business playing video games with my free time. Hmm, maybe I made a mistake…
JagoBlake: CEO has undeniably grown into one of the FGC’s biggest events in the summer season, attracting thousands of players from all continents across the globe. What are your thoughts on this amazing level of growth for your event?
Jebailey: I see Facebook memories pop up all the time from the early CEO days and it truly is, when I really sit down to think about it, unbelievable that it would go from a 300-person event in 2010 with only 4 states represented, to the second largest FGC event in the world with 47 states and 30 countries being represented by passionate fighting game fans. I think about the drive to just compete as a player first, TO second and how much fun that was, to get recognized by every major company I loved as a kids playing their games, supporting the event directly. I have no intentions of stopping anytime soon either. CEO 2017 will be the last time, after seven years in the current venue, it’ll be inside of a hotel ballroom space. It’s terrifying and exciting at the same time that I’ll have to start “fresh” with a new location but I look forward to the challenge. Working with DreamHack at a bigger scale event has helped me tremendously already when it comes to delegating, pre-planning and working with partners. All focus is on making CEO2017 the best experience in the Wyndham Orlando Resort, and then it’s off to Daytona Beach. Be sure to tune in Sunday for the date and information reveal of the new location.
JagoBlake: Would you like to comment on what inspired you to evolve your brand beyond that of a yearly major? By which I mean to say, what inspired the idea to create CEO’s sibling events, such as CEO Dreamland and CEOtaku?
Jebailey: You could say I wanted to fill up my time with more challenges, events and ideas. CEOtaku was my first shot at trying something that hasn’t really been done before on a major scale for the Anime FGC community. Lots of events, including CEO, would have the anime community come out and support, but I wanted to give them a chance to shine and have an event dedicated to all things air dashers. There definitely isn’t a shortage of anime fighters to play. The first year was one of the most fun and rewarding events I had ever done. We tried funny ideas like the Jebailey body pillows to a fully decked out anime fan’s bedroom for commentary and just had fun with it all. Now we’re coming up on the third year and a big chunk of the community plans to come out in droves. I’m excited to see this year’s growth over the last two years. XRD Revelator 2 has become super popular and brought in a few traditional FGC players into the mix.
JagoBlake: I’ve been paying attention to your Twitter and I took notice of how insanely fast registrations climbed up during the final weekend of registration. Must have been quite the weekend!
Jebailey: Without fail, 60% of people wait until the last moment to register, which is fine, they’re paying more money to do so, but it can really affect the planning process. For CEO 2018, I’m going to try and figure out new ways to provide an incentive for early registration, but there’s this thing called life. A lot of people may not be able to know if they have the means or time off to attend an entire weekend’s event so it’s understandable.
JagoBlake: From my understanding, Kenny Omega has been confirmed to return to CEO this year. Do we plan to repeat history from last year with another SFV exhibition between him and Xavier Woods, or are we throwing in a twist?
Jebailey: That was great and something I was very proud to have organized and been a part of. Let’s just say we want to kick things up a notch this year and just tune in to see what happens.
JagoBlake: As one of the community’s most active organizers, have you any advice to offer anyone planning to start their own brand of gaming events?
Jebailey: Start small, work your way up with community support. It’s not easy financially to come rushing into the fray with a plethora of events already out there. Be yourself, have fun with it, take chances and always be willing to engage your community for feedback, no matter how harsh it may be. Just remember it can be a thankless job at times as you have to deal with everything that comes with it directly or indirectly, so never forget to have fun.
JagoBlake: As I’m certain you’ve noticed from my articles here, we at StreamMe have taken notice of your decision to relocate CEO’s flagship major from the Wyndham to the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach next year. I’ve seen images of the location and frankly, it looks amazing. Though we’d like to know, what attracted you to the Ocean Center as your venue of choice?
Jebailey: I was forced into a little bit of a pickle. I generally like to stay away from E3 week and other events earlier in June and scheduling at the hotel for future years was starting to change on top of simply needing a bigger venue to accommodate. Orlando’s convention center is extremely expensive. They fill that place weekly with huge corporate events that don’t have to bat an eye with budgets. CEO, even though is successful for it’s scale, still has to be run intelligently to grow and succeed. So I was up against a wall, sign a weekend I wasn’t comfortable with during the summer or search elsewhere. My Wyndham AV team actually suggested Tampa or Daytona. After a few weeks of searching and visiting locations, I simply fell in love with the Ocean Center and everything around it. I actually spent a lot of my childhood weekends at the Daytona Beach Pier arcades playing fighting games. So it’s kinda crazy 20-25 years later I’d host an event there. It’s going to be an amazing location, we (CEO and the FGC) are literally going to take over Daytona Beach. I have a lot planned for there and the real estate to do it.
JagoBlake: The event has gotten so big that it’s attracted the attention of those outside of the FGC, as your interview with the Orlando Business Journal indicates. Does this raise your confidence in the FGC’s ability to evolve in the future?
Jebailey: I’ve been invited to a lot of real sports meetings and events to discuss the growth of esports as they see it. Gamers definitely fit the same demographics as sports watchers so there’s a huge cross over between the two and they’re starting to see that. I think the biggest challenge is, there are so many great games to choose from, it’s really hard to create a full time consistent league for any one game as they always get updated and change.
JagoBlake: Of all the FGC events we know of, CEO is literally the only one with a boxing ring inside its venue. What first gave you the idea to throw in that attraction?
Jebailey: I grew up a huge wrestling fan. The first few years CEO had a ring, it was more so, how can I effectively create a stage that didn’t break the budget. As the event grew I was able to add more to the ring such as overhead rigging, lighting etc. It was a theme TheHadou (Combo Breaker’s TO and one of my best friends in the FGC) and I ran with and it stuck. I see tweets all the time of people hoping to make a top 8 and use a song for their entrance. It sets CEO apart in its own unique way. A lot of the FGC grew up with the Monday Night Wars days where that’s all we talked about at school. It was a natural fit. After CEO 2016 happened with two super popular wrestlers in Kenny Omega and Xavier Woods, the crossover had just begun in my eyes. I hope to bring an even bigger wrestling experience to CEO in the future!
JagoBlake: Another attraction you eventually introduced to your event is player introductions for each game’s Top 8 finals, during which competitors walk down an aisle before stepping onto the ring while their designated theme song rings through the ballroom. This has inspired what is, in my humble opinion, one of the best entrances to a Top 8 we’ve ever seen: in 2015, EG K-Brad emulated Stone Cold Steve Austin’s entrance as done in WWE, a gesture that has attracted the attention of Steve Austin himself. K-Brad even got a video shout-out. What were your thoughts when this happened?
Jebailey: All I could think about when he told me he was going to do it was, “He better not drop the cans, he better catch them or it could all go wrong.” As the entrance was happening I was right to the side of the ring about to run to the Smash room to hand out awards. As soon as he hit the stunner to our emcee Dayasha, I ran to the other side of the hotel venue and could still hear the crowd going nuts. It was great.
Hearing Stone Cold himself talk about it made me so proud of K-Brad for having fun with it and killing it. Ever since that point there’s been more and more instances of wrestling crossovers. I’ve personally met Bayley (who later tweeted out #JeBayley) Sasha Banks, the rest of the New Day and many more who knew exactly who I was thanks to the K-Brad moment, and later becoming friends with Xavier Woods. Even Mick Foley follows me on twitter. Secretly, if I was still young, I’d probably try to really become a wrestler but those days are past lol.
JagoBlake: Thoughts on the partnership with GEICOGaming? That had to have been quite the acquisition.
Jebailey: I have met some of their people before at other events like PAX and they are really passionate about gaming. Their marketing agency, RedPeg Marketing, has put on gaming events and experiences for major game releases so it is a partnership I am definitely excited about that can help the CEO experience. They bring a lot to the table and they are definitely all about quality in what they display to the gaming world. Their booth at CEO next weekend will have a big impact at a FGC event and so far they’ve been really a pleasure to work with and have even taught me a few things about marketing on a grander scale. GEICO Gaming also supports Panda Global and TSM so they’re no stranger to the community. Without question, their marketing game is one of the best and I can see them bringing some of their ideas into the FGC that will help us continue to grow. This will be a great partnership for CEO and I value all of my partnerships just as much as I value saving 15% or more on my car insurance by switching to GEICO.
JagoBlake: Of all the games to be featured at CEO this year, which one do you predict will deliver the most amazing Top 8 finals?
Jebailey: Well I don’t want to be biased or anything because I love to watch every game if I’m able during the event. Usually CEO weekend becomes a really big blur to me and I have to rewatch everything through the Twitch archives. Last year I thought just about every game was really hype. Smash Wii-U had some awesome entrances. Street Fighter V had one of my favorite grand finals ever with the Tokido versus Infiltration Grand Finals. I had an amazing time watching all of Killer Instinct’s finals at Combo Breaker so hopefully CEO can replicate that kind of energy somehow. I’m looking forward to just about every game with so much at stake now with all the dev-supported Pro Tours.
JagoBlake: Do you feel the players attending your events have grown tremendously as competitors and as people since their time at CEO, whether they’ve attended since its beginning or were later additions to the family?
Jebailey: CEO has primarily had more competitors than spectators but there has been a little bit of a shift in it. I still think it’s hard to get new players to pick up a game after attending an event for the first time cause it might be daunting when there are so many to choose from. So it has to start from a local level. Hosting the Citrus Clash Red Bull Proving Grounds event every month has brought new fresh faces, especially in Top 8s, since it’s about training and bringing in new blood which has been an awesome experience for myself and the staff behind Citrus Clash.
I do love to read that CEO has been a lot of people’s first FGC experience and they keep coming back. Also having artists of all kinds, more vendors every year and general gaming casual sections such as the arcade area have been bringing in gaming fans which only help CEO grow.
JagoBlake: Now that Injustice 2, Tekken 7 and Guilty Gear XRD Rev 2 have hit the scene, the components for the FGC’s biggest summer season have fallen into place. Thus far, what are your opinions on each of these three titles? Speaking as a player and a spectator, of course.
Jebailey: As a player, I loved Injustice 1 using Batman, placed high at a few locals then just couldn’t keep up with the consistent patches and changes in my busy schedule but I love to watch that game. Injustice 2 is starting out slow but the meta will change rapidly. At Combo Breaker there were some really hype moments (a Bane versus Atrocitus matchup) that the crowd was into every single grab. I absolutely love Tekken, I can still do most of King’s chain grabs through muscle memory, I’ve played and owned every single one and 7 feels like back to the basics with some greatly implemented visual mechanics such as Rage Arts and slow-motion moments. XRD’s growth has been really awesome, the visuals are a sight to behold and the game is easier than most anime fighters to get into. If you haven’t played it yet, the training exercises and trials are one of the best in a fighting game.
I’d say we’re back in a solid golden age of fighting games. Every type of fighter is being featured at major tournaments this year and it’s exciting to see. If you’re having a hard time choosing what game you want to get into, simply choose the one you can beat your friends at more than others. You’ll live a fuller and more confident life that way.
JagoBlake: Thank you for your time! Any shout-outs you’d like to give?
Jebailey: There would be too many people to name. As always I am thankful every day for anyone I’ve met through fighting games. Every match, handshake, breakfast/lunch/dinner, social media interaction or a simple thank-you for what I do means the world to me. I owe CEOs and my personal success in the gaming industry to anyone I’ve interacted with in the FGC or out of it.
Our sincerest thanks go out to Mr. Jebailey for taking the time out of his schedule to speak with us! Please be sure you tune in to CEO 2017 next weekend! If you’d like to experience it in person, registration has closed and will not be available on-site, but you can still purchase spectator passes throughout the weekend. Below is an in-depth look at the event’s schedule.
The #CEO2017 Official Schedule and Venue Map has been released!
— CEO Gaming (@CEOGaming) June 9, 2017
Look for a StreamMe banner while you’re there, because we’ll be in attendance to host our Pop-Up Tour, where players can compete in side tournaments for their share of cash prizes!
What were your thoughts on the interview?! Let us know on Twitter! Don’t forget to follow CEO at these pages below, too.