KI Lives, the recent Twitch Rivals event hosted by Maximilian Dood, breathed new life into the Killer Instinct pro-scene, as many heads were turned towards the seemingly abandoned game. The Fighting Game Community once again proved that its passion is unrivaled. But there were times when Killer Instinct had nothing to prove: major events were hosted at Evo, Combo Breaker and KI World Cup. The main man behind the latter is Brandon Alexander. He’s known as a fierce competitor, an owner of one of the best arcades, and a champion for the FGC community.
My name is Elizbar Ramazashvili, and for this DashFight exclusive, I sat down with Brandon and talked about his experiences in hosting various major events, his views on the FGC as a whole, his personal life and hobbies, and many other things.
Killer Instinct: through ups and downs
Hello Brandon! You are known as the organizer of the Killer Instinct World Cup and the whole tour associated with it. How did you arrive at the decision to host it in the first place and what were some hardships that you encountered along the way to making the very first edition of it all come true?
Hi! So, KI Cup came about because I was very inspired by the Capcom Cup. Street Fighter has been a part of the FGC for as long as we can remember. And when they started doing the Capcom Cup, I noticed that more people were entering tournaments and going to events. So KI being kind of the struggling game already, being just on Xbox One the numbers for tournaments weren't that great. And I was like, "Man, we got to give people more of an incentive to go out to events." And so I kept looking for ideas and I started looking at Capcom Cup and I was like, "Man, you know what, we can probably do this for Killer Instinct. Maybe we can even get Microsoft behind it." And it turns out like that it worked out. When we decided to do that, we announced, "Hey, we're going to do this KI world cup." People were excited about it. People lost their minds over it. We didn't think it was going to be that big of a deal. But I think based on the numbers that we got, turnouts for tournaments went up 16% right after we started sanctioning events. So yeah, it was really just because people weren't showing up. You know, we had a bunch of the fan base online, but they just weren't really encouraged to come out. And now they had more incentive than just making the top three at a tournament: you could make the top sixteen and get points for something that matters to you. As far as the hardships that we encountered, it was obviously the funding at first, because David Ruben and I were like, "Hey, let's just throw up like $10,000, maybe $20,000 for a pop bonus and we'll go from there." But we didn't have a budget for anything else. We had a budget for the venue and, obviously, setups, but other than that, we didn't have a budget. So getting just the tournaments to sanction them was a problem. A lot of TOs look for a support for production, and rightfully so, because you need funding to make events happen. They asked, "Why should we treat Killer Instinct better?" We didn't really have anything besides like, "Hey, look, we're just going to sanction your event and just give you points. All you gotta do is just put up a little logo and just promote the event and that should get people signing up to your events." A lot of people saw that KI was struggling though. So what was the cool thing? The community kind of came together like, "Yeah, no, we'll support your event. We'll take the sanctioning." Everybody started wanting to get on board with it, and it just naturally just grew into something that people were excited for. Working with TOs like Rick, Jebailey, and many others, they supported us from day one and helped blow up the brand to where other people wanted to be a part of it. Like, "Oh, man, the numbers are actually doubling, we're getting a bunch more KI entries at other events." That kind of really just blew the whole tour up. Yeah, there were hardships at first, but eventually, it got to the point where people started getting on board with it, and then Microsoft saw that and they wanted to get involved, so they put together that community fund and it just blew up. We had some hardships for sure, but it naturally just kind of fell together in a good way. It was really awesome,
Top-8 of the KI World Cup 2017
Last year you announced that the next Killer Instinct World Cup would be held in December of 2021. Are the plans to do it in ten months based on the assumption that COVID will go away, or are you still taking this pandemic into consideration?
So with the tour this year we're actually just sticking to online-only all the way. The reason being, because it's safer right now, obviously, but it's also easier to do. While we're building up and getting KI back to where it was back in 2016 and 2017, we've also been taking these precautions based on COVID. But also it's something that's kind of almost like a destiny, it's a much more affordable way to throw events. So yeah, we're sticking to online this entire year. And then next year, we obviously plan on doing offline stuff if COVID has been demolished. But these next ten months it's all just going to be online.
Even the final stop, the World Cup itself, will also be online?
Yeah. Unless we have a venue that we could possibly use, but we just want to make sure that COVID is dealt with properly because here in the States it hasn't been taken care of that well. We just got to be safe because we care about our community, we don't want them coming here and getting sick. I can't live with that.
What does the structure and planning of an event during the COVID look like?
I haven't necessarily done them personally, but I've been overseeing. It's a lot easier than offline. It's less stress, fewer people to man it and then you obviously got one key part, which is the production. It's the best for right now that we can get with keeping everyone safe. It's not too crazy, it's actually pretty simple. You just need a good core of about eight people to run it, if you want a big event, for brackets and production and all that other stuff, commentary included. It's a unique experience, but I think with KI this could be like the norm. What I mean by that is, a lot of developers do want their game being played online. Microsoft cared about that big time with making the net code great for KI, and on top of that, they're all about Xbox Live and Xbox Game Pass. So the more people they have playing online, the better it is for their game numbers-wise.
Do you have any concrete plans for the next year, or for whenever COVID goes away?
It's based on COVID. If COVID does disappear, we do plan on having a full offline tour. We also want to bring back KI Con, which we haven't talked about yet. KI Con is what took place in 2017, and it was just a big chaotic convention that we threw. We definitely want to do that again, have KI World Cup there. But that's only if it's safe, you know, we gotta know. So yeah, it's unfortunate. But like I said, right now we're really just focused on the online aspect and we'll go from there.
Image source: Robert Paul
So, 2016 was probably the best year for the killer instinct pro-scene with major events like Killer Instinct World Cup, Combo Breaker, and Evo all happening. But after that, the scene slowly dwindled. What happened, what went wrong with the scene and the game?
In March 2017, after we had the KI Cup that year Dave and I, we needed a break because we were the ones funding most of the tour and pretty much working nonstop all the time. We needed to take time for our families. So we actually took a step back and said, "Hey, we're going to take a break from this KI Cup stuff and see where things go." And after that, it just seemed like people kind of decided to take a break too. Killer Instinct, we were grinding that game for years at that point. So I think people just needed a break. Microsoft was pretty much like, "All right, these are the last three characters, this is the last bit of content we're throwing out for the game." When you hear something like that you think, "All right, I can rest, take it easy. Brandon's not doing a tour right now." There were still offline events like Combo Breaker, so KI was still very successful, but at certain events. Combo Breaker is another event that's huge like KI Cup for Killer Instinct. It's right in KI's backyard, so to speak, the game was developed in Chicago. But other than that, KI did struggle to be one of the main games at other events after that, and there were no plans for another tour. I did say that I am going to do another one, but I just needed a break because it was overwhelming. With no content coming out and no KI Cup, a lot of people just weren't having it on the bill the next time around when we announced that we weren't doing another one the next year. So not everybody had KI at the events. It just was in that little phase, but now everyone's talking about KI again.
That leads me into the next question. There are very visible efforts from people like you and Maximilian Dood to sustain the community and to revitalize the KI competitions. Can you talk about what is happening in the backstage, behind the scenes? What is brewing in the community?
There are a lot of people who are just trying to get out there and not only just do content creation, they're also trying to do their own events. You have DevilMayCare, one of my good friends. He basically runs 3v3 tournaments. It's a community event hosted by him, Frank and Keith. They are KI competitors, and now event organizers, which is great. They basically just get good team leaders, people like Bass, Nicky and others. They make teams and they go head to head and it's one of the hypest events we've ever seen. And then you got people doing other online events, like Insurrection which is hosted by Nicky, who is another pro player. There's a lot of content creation, a lot of events just popping up. Then obviously me and Max, we're really into Killer Instinct and we know that Microsoft has a really great IP, but they're very good at overlooking things and leaving things to just sit for a little bit. We've got a new console out and it's a new generation of stuff. We want KI to be a part of that. And the cool thing is, because Killer Instinct is backwards compatible, we still do have KI on these next-gen consoles. KI is that good of a game. It's going on eight years now and still thriving with crazy online, and the events, they're just getting bigger and bigger since we started doing the KI tour again. But as far as what goes completely behind the scenes, like I said, I'm just trying to create more events, more content. I have maybe four more events to announce that we're throwing together alongside KI Cup that'll obviously benefit KI. And Max, I know that he's always got stuff brewing. That's pretty much it, it's just a bunch of community stuff, the community's doing all this. And them doing the Twitch Rivals event, it was magical. It showed that people still love and enjoy watching Killer Instinct. They may not even play the game, they just love watching the game. Because the game is very hype, it's very exciting to watch.
Image source: Robert Paul
It looks like SonicFox is now seriously interested in Killer Instinct. How important would it be to have such a household name in the FGC, if they really gave the game a chance, to presumably be on board with the efforts to revitalize the scene?
I think it's actually really, really cool that SonicFox is playing the game. If they take it seriously and continue to move forward with it that'd be even better. I think KI has always been one of the coolest games of the past generation when it comes to fightings. It's got its music, it's got its unique cast, it's got amazing graphics, hardware, all that stuff. And I think that the game has some depth that attracts other lab monsters, and SonicFox, they're lab rats. They love spending time in the lab. I've watched SonicFox's stream for like nine hours one time, and they were just in the lab the entire time, figuring stuff out. So someone like them could bring a lot to the game outside of just being a household name in the FGC. I'm pretty sure they will find so much tech in Killer Instinct that we have yet to find, because the game is still very unexplored. I think if they streamed it, that would be good, too. I think they've been learning from Nicky. Obviously, they'll probably be learning from each one of the top dogs in KI like Bass and all of them. But yeah, I think it's a big deal, I think it's good. I think more people should play KI, give it an honest chance, spend some time with it. The game's not changing anytime soon, so you have all the time. And the greatest thing about Killer Instinct is that you can be the newest of players and you can be a nobody, and we will sit down and we will teach you this game and make sure you understand it and you find a character that you love and enjoy.
NickyFGC playing vs. SonicFox
Nowadays we see more and more companies, game developers, and organizers getting into the FGC. And while it's awesome in its own right, it also can be quite frightening for the FGC itself. "What If they mess it up and do some stuff that can be damaging?" What would be the main piece of advice you could give to someone who wants to enter FGC and host tournaments?
I think when it comes to FGC tournaments, yeah there are a lot of esports out there, but the fighting game community is very different. So to me, if you're really thinking about investing in the FGC, the main thing, I would say, is live in it. I think experiencing FGC yourself as an investor or whatever or whoever we're talking about here, you should actually go in and see the FGC for yourselves, because it is beautiful at its core. And I think people need to see that if you're trying to do events, be honest with yourself, and be honest with others. And don't be afraid to reach out, go to events and see how they're run. Do the research, see why everyone is talking about Combo Breaker, why everyone is talking about CEO, why they are talking about all these die-hard events here. Why KI Cup was talked about the way it is. You just got to go in and you see it for yourself. It's a big learning and humbling experience. Make friends with everyone, just be cool. Be a good leader and take all the advice you can. There's a lot to know, and you got to be a part of the community to really understand the FGC and to run a really, really good, and healthy FGC event. What I mean by that is, you look at some really, really big events like Combo Breaker, CEO, and Evo, these guys were a big part of the community for a long time beforehand. So they know what the FGC is about. They know what the community expects and wants. And the events just keep getting better. They keep getting safer. People are taking more precautions, looking out for one another, that's what you need to do. Take the people that are gonna come to your events into consideration on all fronts.
Is it nostalgic to hear "ULTRA COMBO" on the sound system at LAN events? Does it bring back the old arcade days?
It kind of does and doesn't. When you hear "Ultra Combo" or "Combo Breaker" at an event like Combo Breaker, or KiT, or CEO, even KI Cup, when you hear it on the speakers, it's just something that you wouldn't expect back in the arcades in the nineties. You would never expect to see KI on such a massive stage on a huge screen, screaming "Ultra Comboooo", you just didn't expect that as a kid in the nineties. But as games started getting bigger and bigger events started happening, like StarCraft, Quake and all that stuff. Then you started hoping for it, "Man, I would love to see a KI event like that one day." And now we're doing it. So to me, it's like a 50/50 – it does give me that nostalgia for old times, but it also gives me like this new nostalgic feel, "Oh, this is KI just on another level."
Image credit: Ultra Arcade Facebook page
Experiences of a small community event organizer, an arcade owner, and a World Cup host
Before the Killer Instinct World Cup, you were hosting the Subway Fight Night events for the community. What are the biggest differences between hosting a major professional tour and an event for the local amateur community?
Man, it's work. The main difference is that there was like fifty times more work to run a tour than just a little Subway restaurant tournament. There are also fewer people, and small events are fun. All events are fun, but running the big ones takes a lot of patience and they can be stressful because of the number of things that can go wrong, from plumbing to lighting, electrical, all that stuff. At the smaller events, if something like that happens, you think, "Welp, it happens, all good, we'll just move forward." But when you're doing a major event, all eyes are on you. The funny thing is like, you wouldn't believe it, but I had over three hundred people in a Subway at one point. They were packed inside and outside, that's how big the tournament was. Three hundred people at a subway restaurant. And these restaurants, if you don't know, they're not that big. They're probably maybe 3,500 square feet tops. We had a fire marshal, we had cops that had to be there to make sure no one closed the doors and burned us alive. It was crazy. But when I did stuff like that, that encouraged me and got me hungry to do more. I just wanted to get more people out here. I wanted people to experience what I experienced. The fighting game community is beautiful. It's magic. It inspired me to keep going, and after Ultra Arcade we chose the KI cup, and it was the best decision we ever made.
Image credit: Subway Fight Night Facebook page
Setting up an arcade in San Antonio seems like a logical continuation of the same idea. However, arcades are seemingly way past their prime. How did you arrive at the decision to open Ultra Arcade, and what were some unexpected challenges that you had to overcome?
Well, we opened the arcade because we were building up off the subway things I was doing. I had like a weekly Subway Fight Night get-togethers, and I thought, "You know, maybe if we had like an actual place was our place, not a restaurant," because we would stay late at that Subway, and they would be so angry at us all the time, "Oh, these guys just need to leave with their games." Originally, we were going to throw a tour for Killer Instinct. But we decided, "Hey, let's just build a community first, let's build-up KI in San Antonio." So me and David Ruben, my business partner, came together and we put together the arcade in three months. We thought about it and we built the business in three months. It was a very fast experience. A lot of people just didn't believe me when I told them, "Hey, I'm having an arcade. I'm going to open it at the beginning of next year." December 10th is 2013 is when Dave and I came up with the name Ultra Arcade. We thought that name would be taken, that was actually the easiest thing. The hardest thing that we had to encounter with opening an arcade was straight up finding the location. Because arcades, you know, they don't really make that much money. A lot of people actually started arcades after we did, we had some really good marketing behind the arcade and I got a lot of support behind it. People really respected what we were doing. And people were like, "Oh cool, if they can do it, we can do it." But we were just doing that for the community. We did not do the arcade to make any money. Dave and I, we did other things like work on games. We do our own stuff outside of the arcade. Everything that we did that was Ultra Arcade and Killer Instinct World Cup-related was just for the community. We weren't trying to make any money. So, if you're going to have an arcade, you're going to need to make sure that it's pretty grand at launch. We kind of just put together something very small and simple for people. It was $5 "All you can play." From noon to 2:00 AM, you could play all the fighting games and all the arcades you wanted for $5. That was super cheap, that was the deal. So we were busy a lot. We actually didn't realize how insane people thought that deal was. Our overhead wasn't that expensive, so we thought, "Well, we're not going to be jerks about it and charge a bunch of money. We're just going to do it to where it sustains itself, and we can slowly improve on it." It was another passion project. That's what Ultra Arcade was.
Opening of the Ultra Arcade
The biggest hurdle was the location, we didn't have enough space to keep growing. We actually ended up taking up the whole entire shopping center we were in, and we still needed more space. The shopping center was not that big, it was like 7,000 square feet. If you think, "Wow, that sounds huge," no, it was not huge. It was very tiny. We ended up taking up a good 90% of that. And we still didn't have enough parking. We still didn't have enough space. When we'd have tournaments, we couldn't have regular people there because we didn't have room. It was rough. But a lot of people love Ultra. A lot of people still swear to us being one of the greatest arcades ever. Dave said, "We're not even good. We still have so much to grow from and then improve on." And that's what we're doing now. We took a step back and we did all the business plans. We're actually going to do something really big. But yeah, it was just a constant struggle of trial and error, but it was still one of the greatest times of my life. All the hardships, all the stuff that I went through, it didn't matter. It was all worth it. It changed my life.
How was Ultra Arcade set up and what did day-to-day operations look like?
We closed the arcade in 2017, right after the KI World Cup. We shut it down because I didn't want to do any of that. I was like, "I can't do this anymore. I have to focus on my family." Same with David, we both have families. But when the arcade was open, it was pretty cool. So we had the retro side of the arcade, where it was all coin-operated in the old penny arcade style. So you can actually go in there and get your fill of nostalgia. We had all the top games, we had every Mortal Kombat, we had every Killer Instinct. Basically, I had it all lined up: The House of the Dead, Time Crisis, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Tekken. We had all the fighting games, Marvel was one of the most popular ones, obviously, and so it was KI. We had that Robocop game, TNMT: Turtles in Time, I can keep going forever. We had over a thousand arcade machines, and we could only put in like maybe fifty, it was bad. On the other side though we had a bunch of Rec Room cabinets. That's a company that makes wooden shells for cabinets, you can put a PC in there, you can get mods, but we're big fans of Xbox because of the whole KI thing, so we had like ten Xbox Ones. We also had a PlayStation 4, we had Nintendo WiiUs. And then we had retro consoles as well that we supplied in those Rec Room cabs. And you could play all those games for $5, all you can play. So that's pretty much how it worked there. Basically, someone would come in, we'd give them a wristband and they could go play all the. We actually had some retro arcade games as well, like X-Men and Tekken 4, Area 51, KI 2. On the coin-operated side, obviously, you just went to the change machine and get your quarters. It was pretty simple. We stayed open from noon to 2:00 AM, served like bubble tea and snacks. On nights of the week, we had tournaments. That was really fun, kept the business going. It was pretty simple, Ultra was a turnkey business.
You're both a professional gamer and a tournament organizer. What are some things you experienced while being a competitor that you later brought back and implemented in your own tournaments as an organizer?
I'm very observant, so during my first time at a certain event I just basically learned what makes people happy and what makes people not happy. Obviously, things starting on time, the top player privilege thing. I'm very cutthroat when it comes to a lot of stuff. I didn't care who you were if you were late to the event – you're either getting put in losers, or you're not in the tournament anymore. I would go to events and just watch what they would do and how they would handle situations, and I thought, "Well, how would I handle that situation?" What I'd do in the same way they did it or what I'd handle differently and improve on that decision. Because a lot of stuff happens and it's really hard to control and fix right off the bat. But you know, if you see someone else handling the issue, you'd have a better idea when it happens to you. So I made sure to shadow every TO I could, like Rick or Jebailey. I'm friends with a lot of them, I shadowed them at their events and just learned the best way to do things. I think that the events that they ran are super successful for a reason. Also, being a competitor, I didn't like having to wait for people. When it's your go, you're prepared, you're on time, and you're waiting fifteen minutes for someone because they overslept, that's a "no." I can understand if it's an emergency, but if it's you oversleeping because of being out all night or a hangover, I'm not trying to wait for you. Things should be run on time, fast and smooth. When you hold things up, it makes traffic, it makes more work for you. That's one thing I can say I took. I took a lot of stuff. I treat others how I want to be treated. That's one of the biggest things I think that some TOs are great at and some let things get to their head, they are just too upset and triggered to handle anything like that.
Image Credit: ultra-combo.com
Brandon Alexander: a sumo wrestling musician who happens to love games
Let's get to some questions about yourself. How did your adventure of being a gamer begin? What were some of your first games?
One of the first games I've ever played was in the arcades and it was Mortal Kombat. I'm a big fan of Mortal Kombat, I love it. Sub Zero is one of my favorite characters since day oneMy first experience was that. I grew up in the arcade. That's why they're very special. We try to capture that at every event, the arcade experience. One of my first memories is playing with my cousins Justin and Nathan. Justin played Scorpion. I remember him taking me to the arcade, pumping some coins into the machine, picking Scorpion and wrecking my cousin Nathan. Nathan picked Raiden, Justin picked Scorpion. Justin beats Nathan and it's bad, and I'm next. And I thought, "Dang, I'm gonna pick the blue one" because he was the polar opposite of Scorpion. And when I froze him, I felt the most power I've ever had as a child. I was like, "You can't move?! Oh my gosh, I get a free hit!" I walked up and I uppercutted him. It took off almost all his health, it was insane. That was one of my first experiences. And my other gaming experience was with my uncle Ron, who wrote books called "How Computers Work" in the United States. He showed me Doom. I had never played a game like that. I was probably too young to play that game, but it was an FPS version of Mortal Kombat. Things get ripped to pieces, gunned down, brutalized. Every family gathering during the holidays I would sneak up into his third-story office and play Doom all the time every time. Those are my two first real gaming experiences back in the early nineties. I got really into it after that. I even ended up playing games like Super Mario 3 and games like that. I ended up loving it. When I'd go to my grandma, she had an NES and so I played that, I played Legend of Zelda. So I got the experience of the consoles as well. But growing up in the arcades, that was my thing. And playing Mortal Kombat was my jam. Until Killer Instinct came out, then the game changed.
What is the origin of your nickname Quake Viking?
Look, I'm gonna be honest: I'm a huge Quake fan. Quake was one of my favorite games. Just like KI, it got me through some of the hardest times of my life, Quake 2. I originally actually went by Xbox Viking, but Xbox Viking was taken on so many different platforms. At that time Quake Champions had just come out. By the way, no one really even calls me Quake Viking. They usually call me just Brandon. But when you sign up for Quake Champions it asks you to make an in-game ID. And I thought, "Quake Viking sounds cool, I'll just try that." And it wasn't taken. Then I tried it on everything else. And it was not taken on any other social media platform. It's not even that hype of a reasoning why I go by it. I'm into sumo, so I usually do the shiko leg lifts, and when I slam my leg on the ground, it's just like a quake. So that, too. But other than that, I'm just a huge Quake fan.
Image credit: Brandon Alexander
You've played multiple fighting games over the years. What sets Killer Instinct apart from the rest for you?
KI's special because it's actually extremely balanced with how crazy its every character is. Every character in that game is insane. The worst characters in the game have won tournaments, and these were high-level tournaments, major KI events. The one thing I like about KI is the variety. You can go in and find a character that fits your play style, your personality, and you can just immediately start creating art with that character. Because you can play the character how you want. There are optimal ways to play them, of course. But at the same time, you can still mix things up to lock the opponent out. And another thing about KI is the way you're both playing the game. Even if you're in a combo, you're still not out of it. You can still break that combo. But if you lockout, then you are going to be taking more damage. So it is, obviously, a high-risk, high-reward style of game. But both players always have a chance to make a decision, to change the outcome of something. It's also a very emotional game. We all know this, you can't let your bad decisions get to you. You can't dwell on those bad decisions because they'll be like a snowball effect. It can get really bad for you really fast, but it can get good for you really fast if you make the right decision. I think being a very cool-headed person, taking your time and learning the game helps immensely. Yeah, KI is a different experience when it comes to fighting games. In season three they added some tools, and at first I didn't really know what to think about it. It is a little too much, I do think, for new people getting the game, but at the same time, at its core, it makes KI so deep. It makes it have so much depth. Everyone has an opportunity to do well with these characters because of how crazy the certain flip-outs that certain characters have. KI is a crazy game when you watch it at a high level. That's what makes it so hype because when you're watching it, you think, "I don't know how the hell this guy did that, but that looked insane!" Then you want to do it too. But then you realize real fast that you got to put time into this game. KI is a game that is very easy to pick up and play with your friends to have a good time, but playing it at a high level, it takes work. You have to be patient and you have to know that it's going to take you some time to get really good at this game. But when you do, it'll be one of the most satisfying things you've ever done. I've been fortunate enough to have the community behind me, to where I could actually place at top eights at majors in this game. And just that satisfaction of it, there's nothing like it. I mean, you do get that in other fighting games, but in KI it's just so much sweeter.
Image credit: Brandon Alexander
You're a rikishi, a sumo wrestler. How did that even happen? Was sumo a sport you were following, or did you encounter it recently? Do you enter any tournaments in the States? Tell us about the future yokozuna Brandon.
Yeah, I am a rikishi, a sumo wrestler. I found out about sumo back in 2013. I had gone to Japan for a certain event. There I ended up running into the former yokozuna Chiyonofuji. I basically saw this guy in passing, he was actually with a younger wrestler, Tochinoshin. I didn't really know much about him, but I looked him up because I didn't know that there were other cultures that took place in sumo (Tochinoshin was born in the former Soviet Union in the town of Mtskheta, modern day Georgia. – editor's note). So I started following him, I also looked up Chiyonofuji and this guy was awesome. Unfortunately, he passed away shortly after. I was pretty inspired by them, because after I had started doing the research on them, I understood, "Oh, so this is why these people were treated like they were gods." And people were indeed treating them like gods, that's what made them stand out to me. I got into Sumo that way, but I didn't stay into it that long. I just it was actually kind of hype. Then I got back into a couple of years later after seeing an exhibition match when I was in Japan last time. I only saw just like one match, and as soon as I left the one match that I got the watch, some dude basically asked me, "I'll pay you to do sumo." I thought I was too old to do it. But after that, I started looking at sumo more and more, actually thinking that maybe I should try it. Because if you look at me and KI Cup 2016, I was 368 pounds. Now I'm 225. So I actually slimmed up and gained muscle. But yeah, sumo was a very interesting thing. I've always wanted to try it, even if I wasn't a die-hard, huge fan beforehand. Actually, my first Street Fighter character that I ever played was E. Honda. I thought he looked badass. Ganryu is also a character I have always thought was cool in the Tekken franchise.
Image credit: Brandon Alexander
Sumo was just something I found and I started doing research on it, but once becoming a part of it, I became a part of the actual stable. During the pandemic, right before it got really bad, I started learning from a teacher that was like the fifth foreigner ever to be approved to teach sumo outside of Japan. After my first day at sumo, it was like magic. It was actually really fun. And I got wrecked. I probably beat one person, but I got really wrecked, and I'm like a big dude with the martial arts experience. So I kind of understand how to throw down. But when it came to coming off the starting position called shikiri into explosive start tachi-ai, basically everyone would go low, lower than me, and push me up super fast. It's different from the other martial arts that I used to do. Then I started learning more about the culture and I started getting really, really into it. I actually live like a rikishi. I would cook for everyone, work out for four to six hours a day, things like that. And that type of lifestyle changed my mindset so much. I'm a completely different person than I was right before I started sumo. My head's at a great level, I'm in the best fit shape I've been in ten years. I used to have a lot of different health issues because I was just so out of shape, and those things are all gone. I'm thirty-two years old and have no pains or aches, no headaches, no nothing. Eating healthy and just doing the sumo workouts, that changed my life.
I have entered some tournaments already, well, the tournament that we could, because we had the pandemic. At my very first tournament, I was nervous, but I did alright.. And then at my second tournament, I got third place. It's been a unique experience. Being able to walk home with metals after training really hard is really rewarding. But I don't really do it for that. I do it more to be strong and healthy, and to clear my head of like a lot of stuff. It's my getaway. It keeps me going all the time, and the tournaments are just a cherry on top. The crazy thing is that we're wrestling with some of the best rikishi in America, one of whom is Justin Kizzart, a two-time jujitsu champion, and a national sumo champion. Obviously, that's going to help me improve faster than the average person, and my dedication and passion for it also helps. Sumo is easy to pick up. It's got a good barrier to entry, the workouts are chill. You don't even really need weights if you don't need them or if you don't have them. You can just use your body weight.
You're obviously a very, very passionate person about pretty much anything that you do. But sometimes you need to take a rest, take a step back and recharge your batteries. What do you spend your free time on?
This is actually the hardest question, as I don't have that much free time. The one thing that I really enjoy is spending time with my son. Going to the parks, even watching movies.,I'd watch the craziest stuff on Netflix with him. He just loves it, he's five years old now. Then obviously hanging out with my friends, my family, all these wonderful people that have been in my life. I would say it's those two things: just spending time with family and my son, and all my close friends. For a hobby-type thing, it would probably be music, sumo, and streaming, but in a way, it's still kind of like work. Except for sumo, it doesn't feel like work to me, it's self-improvement. I just feel so much stronger after I work out, it's awesome. But ultimately, it's just spending time with my family and friends. I always tell anybody, especially if you're on the rise on something being successful, to always cherish the people that are in your corner and treat them how you want to be treated. Love the ones that are actually there for you throughout all of this stuff, while you're through your ups and downs. Those are the people you want to be around. And those people are what changed my life.
Image credit: Brandon Alexander
You have played the bass for a symphonic power metal band Heliosaga since 2015. Were you always a metalhead? How did you find yourself in a band? Did you learn the bass with this goal in mind, or did you do it just for yourself, and then the chance presented itself? Tell us about Brandon the Musician and Heliosaga.
When I got into music the band that inspired me big time wasn't even a symphonic or power metal band. It was Metallica. I love that band flight. I had their DVDs, I had their Blu-rays, I had their VHS tapes, I had their cassette tapes. I had everything from Metallica. And originally I wanted to play rhythm guitar, because James Hetfield was just my dude. How he played like rhythm guitar was the coolest stuff I've ever seen. But I ended up falling in love with Cliff Burton. So he was the bass player that made the bass guitar sound like a guitar. He'd go crazy on that thing. Making the bass unique, it's not every day that you hear a bass player doing this, and everyone plays guitar. At least the people that I knew, everyone played guitar. So I was like, "Eh, you know, maybe I'll just pick up base." And then I started watching Jason Newsted, their second bass player who ended up replacing Cliff after he passed. He played pick, but he still made it look cool. That was just another thing. I got the whole of The Black Album, and the bass is to me what makes that album very, very great. I learned how to play all those songs and I got really, really into it. So originally I was a guitar player, but Metallica kind of turned me into a bass player. And since there were fewer bass players, it was easier for me to find gigs. I don't even remember when, but I remember starting an emo screamo band with my friends. I didn't really care about that music, but I played it because I didn't know anybody that wanted to play the music I wanted to play.
Heliosaga – To Heal All Wounds Music Video
It wasn't until a few years later when I found out about a guy who was looking for a bass player for an Iron Maiden tribute band. I told them, "I know like two Iron Maiden songs, so I can just go play those and see how I do." I went in and impressed them, and they had me. They said, "Hey, we have twenty-one songs that we're going to play at this show. Do you think you can learn them in like two weeks?" I learned all twenty-one of those in a day. I came out the next day and played them with them. They're were like, "Holy sh*t, this guy." I was very passionate about music for a long time. Then I started a project called Bad Obsession with my friend Mauricio, who's a very talented San Antonio musician. We actually had some good music but band stuff happened and we ended up parting ways. I couldn't really commit to that because the other musicians in the band weren't. Me and Mauricio were pretty committed, but everyone else had issues with time, so I kind of lost interest and we walked away from the project. And then, two years later, I saw Damien Villarreal from Heliosaga. He had posted a video of the song "To Heal All Wounds". I remember watching that video and saying, "Man, I could play bass for this band." And then they responded, "Really? Cause we're looking for a bass player right now." And the rest was history. We basically got together. We met at Chili's. We connected and it was like a love at first sight. And now I'm in Heliosaga and we're working on the new album. They're a great group of people. We're still gonna be very symphonic, but a little heavier this time around, but it's gonna be really, really cool. I can't wait to just get one of our singles out, because one of the singles we're working on is catchy, but it's still symphonic power metal at its core. It's really, really good.
Can't wait to hear it! Any last parting words to your fans, fans of Killer Instinct, or fans or the fighting game community in general?
All I can really say is, play KI. If there are changes you want, you gotta be the change that you want to see. Be the best example that you can be and take all your vitamins. Everyone who's been supporting Ultra Arcade, KI, and the KI World Cup, thank you guys so much for that. We really, really appreciate it and we continue to do this for you, for the community. And I can't wait for you guys to see what we have in store for everyone, because it's going to be a great time when Ultra Arcade's back.
Brandon’s social media:
Also, check out Heliosaga on Spotify
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