Over those 12 years I’ve worked on countless cool projects with hundreds of incredibly talented people. None of them are more noteworthy than Ken, the legend, Silva.
Ken, or Kenski, King of the North, the Sage Beyond the Walls is one of those behind the scenes guys who you’ve probably never heard of. I first worked with Ken at the North American Star League. He joined the team to help us throw some amazing events in Toronto. Ken quickly endeared himself to the team with his love of StarCraft and his commitment to getting shit done. He can stretch a dollar, inspire a team, and pull favors like none other.
To exemplify this, I’m going to share my favorite story of Ken, the Legend, Silva. Ken and I stayed close after NASL. He would help me with projects at Red Bull, he’d become a close confidante during my stint with New York Excelsior, and to this day he’s one of the first calls I make when I have a difficult decision to make and I need perspective.
Our story takes place at Genesis 4 in San Jose California. Genesis is, in my opinion, the Super Smash Bros tournament. It’s where the Mango Armada rivalry would reach its climax, and it’s a stage every Smash competitor dreams of standing on. If you win Genesis, there is no question. On that day, you are the best Smasher in the world.
Genesis 4 was ambitious. It was the biggest Smash event ever, at a time when Smash was at the peak of it’s post-doc renaissance. Thousands of players would descend on San Jose for a week of friendlies, money matches, insane competition, and one of the most hype grand finals in the history of Smash.
The setup for Genesis is the backdrop for Ken, the legend’s story.
Smash is completely unique in that it’s the only game in the world that we can argue is a top tier esports while having absolutely zero developer support. That means that every Smash event that happens is funded by the community or by the organizers, and there is no financial upside to be found if tickets don’t sell and fans don’t show up.
And running any esports event is expensive. I’ve said for years that the minimum cost to execute a passable event is $150k. Plenty of people do it for less, all the big dogs spend much more, but if you’re planning your first big esports event, I advise that you plan for it to cost you at least $150k.
$150k does not go far. Renting a convention hall is going to cost tens of thousands of dollars per day. Hiring staff, booking rooms, flying people, feeding them, acquiring tech, tvs, game systems, streaming equipment, cameras, rigging, lights, staging, LED screens and projectors… These things add up extremely quickly.
And when you’re a grass roots organizer, you’re doing everything in your power to keep costs down so that MAYBE when it’s all said and done, you’ll walk away with a few thousand dollars in your pocket. No one is getting rich running esports events, least of all Smashers.
The bane of every event organizer is union labor requirements. This is not a slight against unions. It’s extremely important that labor can organize and be paid it’s fair due for the work that gets done. But fair due on union call sheets is often a lot more than grass roots organizers typically pay their staff to lug CRTs and plug in Gamecubes. A fair day rate for someone in the Smash community is usually $150-$250. Most union positions in most venues are going to start at $500 per day.
At the San Jose Convention Center, the only people allowed to touch equipment - unloading trucks, plugging in Gamecubes, setting up lights and screens - these are all required to be union workers.
And if you’ve ever set up for a big event at a union venue, you’ve probably experienced the day 1 conversation with the union boss - “Hey, you guys have way more stuff here than we were planning, we’re going to need another 10-20 guys.”
And this is exactly the conversation that the Genesis organizers had on the first day of setup for Genesis 4. 10-20 more guys. $5k-$10k more dollars per day. For 4-5 days of work. This event was going to cost a hell of a lot more money than the team had budgeted for.
I was at Genesis because Red Bull was a sponsor. Ken was there to help me manage our work. This mostly meant setting up VIP spaces and making sure there was plenty of Red Bull on hand for anyone that wanted one. It was certainly not Ken’s job to save Genesis.
Momentary aside. Ken, I apologize if the rest of this story gets you banned from ever doing work in San Jose again.
The team made it through day 1 of setup without calling any extra labor. Everything was behind schedule. The event organizers somehow convinced the union leaders not to call extra labor for the start of day 2. If things were still behind after mid-day, we’d bring in the extra help.
Day 2 call time rolls around. It’s 6 AM. 5 union hands are ready to get to work, and everyone knows it’s going to be a long day.
Enter Ken, the legend, Silva. He’s got 15 guys with him. I have no idea where he found them. They’re all dressed as teamsters. Show blacks. Steel toed boots. Ken walks up to the union boss.
“Hey I got a call that you needed more guys, so I brought my crew.”
“Oh, I thought we weren’t going to make that call until mid-day?”
“Yea, I dunno man. I just got the call and we’re here to work. Do I need to send these guys home?”
“No, no, there’s already more to do than we can handle. Let’s get to work.”
For the next 16 hours, 5 union guys only carried the boxes they were supposed to and only plugged in the cables they were assigned to.
And for the next 16 hours, Ken’s crew, posing as union guys, did everything else.
We finished setup ahead of schedule, and before anyone knew what had happened, Ken and his whole crew disappeared.
Genesis was amazing. Mango and Armada put on an incredible show in the finals. And the organizers never received a bill for an extra $50k in labor.
You’re the man, Kenski.