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Italy’s Ghirlanda talks Tekken, tournaments and communities

Joshua Bianchi knows a thing or two about Tekken, being a TO and local scenes!

Italy’s Ghirlanda talks Tekken, tournaments and communities

When it comes to Europe, the Italians are definitely one of the strongest Tekken nations. There are so many good players that it is really hard to say who is among the best in the area.
Welcome to the 2nd part of a series of interviews with European Tekken players! Today we are talking with Joshua “Ghirlanda” Bianchi, one of the most famous Katarina players, who also placed top 32 at Evo Japan earlier this year. Apart from playing, Ghirlanda organizes tournaments in Italy.

Hi Ghirlanda, I am very happy to have you here! How are you doing? What’s your current goal when it comes to Tekken?

Thank you Jakub, I’m honored to be interviewed by you and tekkengamer.com! I’m doing well, thank you, mainly being a family man and focusing on creating a better Tekken environment for my country and to improve the Italian esport scene in general. I got many goals at the moment, and that includes doing very good in Tekken World Tour of course, and making this fantastic game very popular in my country.

Last year you were very close to qualifying to the Tekken World Tour final tournament. Unfortunately, you were unable to participate in the Paris tournament and were eventually outrun by only a couple of points. How did it affect your mentality?

It hurted me. Just for 5 points, I could not join the San Francisco Final. It made me feel kinda robbed, because I also skipped another tournament, the Milan Games Week one, the city I come from, because I was working in that same Expo! It really made me sad, so this year I am more than just motivated to do well. I quit the job I was doing, and now, working for my new company, I got guaranteed access to all the European TWT events. Without excuses anymore, there is just one thing I have to do: reach the finals!

Let’s talk about character choice. I believe that the beginning of Tekken 7 was quite rough for you because neither Jaycee/Julia, nor Ganryu are in. Tell us how it was and why did you choose Katarina.

Well, when I started play Tekken, I was a Roger Jr. main (Tekken 6 times). I switched to Ganryu and Jaycee in TTT2, and I felt very good with them, especially on the later phase of the game. Since I saw no news about any reveals of any of my character, I started studying Katarina videos on YouTube in 2015, when Tekken 7 was still a Vanilla Edition. I thought nobody at the time was talking about the character, with everybody focusing on Claudio and his hopkick, Shaheen damage or Lucky Chloe appearance. Since I like to use not so much popular character (as Ganryu and Roger) and put them in shine, I just picked her and felt very comfortable with her since the first use. I will not deny it, Katarina is a very simple and basic character to play. So I did not suffer much from the change, specially since Ganryu was way more complicated to use.

Even though Tekken 7 came out almost a year ago, for some people K4t4rin4 is still a mystery. Would you mind sharing some tips on how to both use and play against her?

Sure! First of all, I think Katarina is one of the deadliest character in the game when it comes to Tournament Format (FT2), because she has a scary combo damage and she is able to whiff punish properly from very far away.

However, the higher the level of competition, the weaker Katarina becomes. This comes from the fact that most of Katarina’s lows are very bad, making her offensive stage a huge pain. While top tier characters like Devil Jin or Dragunov have some scary lows (DJ having hellsweep, d/b+22 and d+3, all of these usable at high level with a nice risk-reward ratio; Dragunov with d+2, which cover almost every defensive counter option, since it cannot be sidestepped or backdashed in most cases), the only lows Katarina can rely on are d+4 and d+3. At wall, d/b+3 is a very scary option too, but, although it is hard, it is seeable on reaction, especially since the input lag removal patch last Fall. Before it d/b+3 and d/f+3+4 were a lot stronger to use!

Because of this, an average Katarina in my opinion is a very nice gatekeeper if you want to know if your defense (especially your reaction) is good: what to an average player might seem to be very good offensive tools (huge lows like d/f+3+4, d/b+4, and the wall mix up between d/b+3 and d/f+2,2_d/f+2,4), for a solid player are the major weak points of the character, because are seeable on reaction and can be all punished very heavily. At high level, I’d say Katarina is most like a defensive character, counting a lot on her amazing hopkick (and the huge combo damage coming from it, 67 with no wall and 85+ if a wall is near) for whiff punishing stuff and on her amazing counter moves, such as d+2 and d/f+4, to break the opponent’s offensive phase.

Some tips I’d like to give for Kat players are:

  • Use d/f+1, d+3 and d+4 a lot. Her d/f+1 is very special because the side it must be sidestepped depends on frame advantage, so unless you know every situation, it is very hard to sidestep it following a simple rule.
  • Learn to do CH 4 into f,f+4, and don’t count only on 4,4,4; if you can do this, your magic 4 will be respected even on whiff, because people are scared of the 4,4,4 and they will let you just throw out 4 without many risks to be punished if you whiff.
  • Absolutely maximize your damage combo! Learn how to proper do stomp into u/b+4 at wall, and use your rage drive at wall everytime you got the chance!
  • Learn proper spacing and be ready to hopkick every opponent heavy whiff!
  • Don’t play too much online if you expect to compete offline vs. tough opponents. I seriously think Katarina is way stronger online (on offensive phase) due to the fact that her offline seeable lows cannot be blocked online on reaction, but this can heavily limit your game once you go to a major tournament. It is incredible how important lag is and how much it can change the way you play the game! If you play defensively, it is way harder to proper whiff punish stuff online (and CH 4 f,f+4 timing is totally different too). Because of the nature of the character, I seriously believe it is way better, if possible, to avoid playing her in ranks, and focus to use her vs. your locals!

There are not that many sponsored players in Europe. How did you get in touch with your sponsor and what tips could you give to players looking forward to getting sponsored?

With the TWT announcement, some sponsors in Italy finally started to get interested in our game. I was recruited, thanks to Mariano “Boss” Lequile behind the scene hard work, by one of this small multigaming corp, together with Mitrust Storm, which I consider the best Nina of our continent, and Sersambo, one of the toughest and highest ranked Dragunov in the world. After my Barcelona Master Event performance, I was contacted by my current sponsor, Exeed, which is one of the best, if not the best esport team on the Italian territory at the moment, with top world players in both Starcraft 2 and Heartstone world; I signed with them when my previous contract expired, and right now I am the only fighting game player representing the company.

All I can say about getting sponsored can be summarized by these words: you do not have to be the best player to get a sponsor, you have to be a good person, an example for the community. What sponsor search most of all is visibility, so, be kind, be productive, active on social media, and someone will surely contact you.

Italy is considered one of the strongest countries in Europe (if not the strongest) when it comes to Tekken. How big is your community? Are there lots of smaller communities organizing local events?

Italian community is pretty big! I know it sounds strange, but I really think that at least for Tekken, Italy counts one of the best, if not the best, independent community organization in
the world. Starting from our Milan Community, called Tekken Milano, a lot of regional communities were created following this example. Thanks to Claudio “Klaww” Pezzella’s graphic skills, every community has their own logo, jersey, and is shown on the Italian Tekken League website. What we did is we made local communities a true brand a player is proud to be part of.

We also created a national championship, called Italian Tekken League (ITL), that counted 6 different tournaments across the country and a Final Event with the best 32 players of the League. More than 270 unique players joined our competition, coming from 5 different countries! When someone does something that works, the others will take it as example and do it too. So after the ITL, a lot of regional communities started their own ranking system. I fairly think at the moment, even without TWT events, Italy can count on at least 2 local events per month to attend. I know at least 5 regions that do that: Milan, Rome, Sardinia, Emilia (where they produce Parma ham :P) and Venice. But there might be more!

This sounds really impressive! I was on vacation in Italy last year and hoped I could visit Rome for your upcoming TWT event but I have to stay in Warsaw for that particular weekend. Anyway, talking about tournaments, you are also known for actually organizing them (as already mentioned in regards to Milan Games Week last year). I am pretty confident that many players do not know how hard it is to organize and run tournaments. Can you shed some light on this?

Organizing tournaments is something that I really love. But at the same time, it is something very hard to do. There are so many things to be aware about. First of all, you need to have a team you can count on. It is impossible to organize a proper tournament all by yourself. Secondary, you need to be able to use proper tournaments platforms, with clear rules, being also sure the groups you prepare are well-rounded. Third, you need to have huge problem solving skills, because even the best organized event can always get in trouble because of an unpredictable accident (PS4 crash, people not desyncing pads, lights turning off, etc.). Think fast, think well, be prepared for everything: you need to not get nervous and be cold-blooded. And fourth, you need to set up a good streaming. This is not needed 100%, but I think it is fundamental if you want your tournament to grow in numbers for every edition you organize; anyway, it is kinda hard to do, it requires a very good connection, something my country still lacks in some areas, and a proper PC. Also, it is very hard to find decent commentators; a lot of people propose itself to commentate, because they think it will make them more popular, or they just want to enjoy shouting at a mic; but unfortunately most of them like just to shout and the commentary is full of bad mannered word, or instead of focusing on the good plays of the players, they tend to joke about the players itself when they commit an error. I honestly hate when I see stuff like this happening, because if you look for a sponsor to support your next events and the sponsor see in streaming such bad mannered commentators, the support will never come. That is why in events I organize now, I always choose to have a team of commentators of my choice, that I know I can count on.

Recently some TOs express their concerns regarding how they are viewed by the community when something goes wrong. Even though I have been supporting the Polish FGC for over the past decade, helping with many major events (including our last year’s tournament organizer World Tour tournament), I am not convinced that I should call myself a real TO because there are many things that I just ask other people to do, such as gathering proper equipment, contacting sponsors, etc. And still, many people who organize tournaments not only not make any money on them, but they actually lose some. I can only imagine how hard it is to do much more than I do, making me think highly of anyone who even attempts to do this kind of work. Do you think that tournament organizers are actually appreciated by the community?

This is a very hard question to answer for me. First of all, I cannot see the Tekken Community (and I wish to apply this on almost every FGC community) as a unique, global one. I got no idea who organize tournaments in Saudi Arabia, for example, or who are the players there and how they like to play. Same for China, Australia and almost every country in the world! So I can just answer based on my personal experience! There are a lot of local communities which enjoy the same game, but the way they enjoy it is totally different. For example, some communities love when someone organizes something in their city, without caring on who the TOs is; other communities hates it, because they think they have to be one to do the tournament in their city, and don’t like outsiders coming to do the event there. I honestly think this is dumb, because instead of trying to make your community bigger, you tend to isolate yourself; this can also lead to the outsiders to not return to your city to do the event, focusing their effort somewhere else.

A lot of times also people think you speculate on the tournaments, gaining money from them. While this might be true for Big events (such as American majors, or multi game events, but even there I honestly got no idea), this is totally false for, at least, the tournaments we organize in Italy. But even in case a TO can gain money from the event he organizes, what is the problem? What you do when you organize an event can be seen totally as a job, because the effort organizers put to find sponsors, planning the event, doing hotel conventions, finding the right location, mount and dismount all the stuff of the tournament (if a tournament ends on Sunday for you, for an organizer it won’t end until Monday at least, because all the games station must be dismantled!). I honestly wish someday Tournament Organizers can make a living from the gains on their events, so they can dedicate themselves full time to them, offering to the communities the best, top quality events around, making the whole esport ecosystem grow!

I absolutely agree! And when it comes to making the community grow, recently you have had some experience with teaching young people how to play Tekken. How did this happen?

Teaching kids stuff and life experiences (not just Tekken related!) it’s something I really like to do! Recently, I had the chance to teach some very young students what does it mean to play video games competitively and how to organise tournaments, thanks to the effort of my team, Exeed Esports. But this is not the first time I tried to do something that can make society a better place, while enjoying video games. Before, Tekken Milano worked on organising some events inside McDonald’s restaurants, donating all the money collected from tournament registrations to the Ronald McDonald Foundation. While I was in Indonesia (my wife is Indonesian, so I often go visit south East Asia), I also met with the people of the city I was staying, Samarinda, and I played some games with local people and I have to say they already play the game very good, so it was even easier to teach them cool Tekken stuff!

Former writer for SDTEKKEN, TekkenZaibatsu and 8WAYRUN. Plays Tekken and SoulCalibur but prefers to run tournaments. Works in QA and has been credited in multiple titles, including Ultra Street Fighter IV, Mortal Kombat XL (PC) and Injustice 2. Teaches math and English. Loves pandas, read sneakers and ice cream.

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