In early January, Echo Fox shocked the fighting game community by signing just about every high-profile free agent in Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, on top of Leonardo "MKLeo" Lopez-Perez an up-and-coming Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U player. But they also signed another key player in the FGC to their team, former Evil Geniuses fighting game manager Antonio Javier to manage Echo Fox's fighting game players. And even though he's heading up the hottest team in the FGC, he's still looking over his shoulder.
"It's funny to me when I see tweets and posts about how there's a lot of expectations about this team moving forward considering how stacked it is," Javier told theScore esports.
"But for me, I've never been someone to feel like anything is in the bag. Nothing is in the bag for us. I've talked to a majority of the players already, and that was something I wanted to make very clear for them. Nothing is automatic, anything could happen, anyone can come and dethrone you. In fact, we now have a target on our backs because this is such a big deal, and the roster is so stacked, a lot of other players are going to want to step up their game."
And even though Echo Fox's fighting game players have already won a handful of tournaments in 2017, Javier is still nervous. Echo Fox has the most stacked lineup of players in FGC history, but he knows nothing is being handed to his players — that's just the FGC way.
"From my perspective, even as someone that managed that Evil Geniuses team, I was always nervous for my guys," Javier said. "And I never felt like in any given match, if it was in pools or grand finals, if I'm watching I'm always on the verge of a heart attack. This isn't to say I don't trust my players or I don't think they're skilled or anything of that sort, like it's not that at all. It's that being in a prestigious team like Evil Geniuses and now Echo Fox, you always have a target on your back."
Javier says that he's had conversations with Justin Wong, who he managed on EG and now has now reunited with on Echo Fox, about how confused Wong is when people pop off after beating him. Apparently, even the biggest name in the North American FGC doesn't quite understand why people are so excited when they beat him. Javier likes guiding Justin through that kind of interaction, which is part of the other reason he's always nervous. He just wants to make sure he's always taking care of them and guiding them the best he can.
Before he was a freelancer for EG and eventually their fighting game manager, Javier was studying to teach high school English. He liked fighting games, to be sure, but he got something out of teaching that he couldn't find anywhere else.
"When you decide to yourself that you want to teach, it's a decision that isn't really driven by money, it's a decision that's driven by passion and love," Javier said. "There was a certain type of satisfaction I got from teaching that I couldn't get anywhere else. It's a very unique type of feeling, But in managing players, I got the same sort of satisfaction in mentoring the players, in kind of guiding them along the way, which is why I can say that this is truly a dream job for me."
Of course, he also says it feeds into his competitive drive. Javier says he's been attending tournaments since Battle By the Bay in 1996 and being able to be part of the competition again, even through his players, gives him that same satisfaction. But Javier comes from a Capcom fighters background, Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom primarily. Now, Echo Fox has two Smash players (one primarily for Melee and another in Smash 4) as well as two Mortal Kombat players, scenes he didn't really interact with while he was on EG.
Javier was a part of the team that signed Kevin "PPMD" Nanney to EG back in 2014, but Melee was a different space then. Javier says that when he signed PPMD, he was "just Kevin" to him. He knew he was one of the "five gods" of Melee, but Smash's scene was new enough to him that he hadn't explored that yet. Now, he's getting that again with the high-level Smash 4 and MKX players Echo Fox has signed. But for Javier, learning is another part of the gig, he doesn't feel satisfied unless he's learning.
"In thinking about managing players that I hadn't managed before in SonicFox, in MKLeo and with Scar, it's exciting, because I'd be looking into communities that I haven't really delved into yet," Javier said.
Of course, he also has to do the big job of introducing Echo Fox to the FGC in a more serious way. The organization signed Street Fighter player Julio Fuentes and Melee player Jason "Mew2King" Zimmerman in 2016, but the seven players the organization signed earlier this month represents something different. Javier calls it a disruption, but it's more of a statement. Echo Fox wants to win.
Javier says that Echo Fox CEO Jace Hall approached him with the team's plans in December, while Javier was working for Twitch, and gave him everything he asked for in his contract. Javier wanted to ensure he could take care of his family, including his newborn baby, and spent a week thinking about the offer before accepting. Javier feels like the fact that he was approached at all says a lot about Echo Fox's plans, but actually hiring him is something else entirely.
"I believe that longevity is one of the things they're really looking at," Javier said. "In picking up one solid player it's kind of a way to dip your feet in the pool. But Echo Fox wanted to dive right in and show the community that they are very serious about investing in it, and at the same time — and this is with no bias whatsoever — from the outside looking in, my signing along with the team shows a lot of commitment."
At the end of the day, Javier is a guy with deep roots in the community. The years he spent as EG's fighting game manager have made him a recognized name in the FGC, even on some of the less-than-savory subreddits that form part of the backbone of a diverse community. He wants his players to win, because it brings the hype, but he also hopes that his brand actually does mean something to people. He wants to prove that the "lucrative contracts" Echo Fox has offered their players doesn't mean the organization doesn't understand the more grassroots scene.
"I'm just another dude. As far as what I want to accomplish for myself, I want to know that people trust me," Javier said. "When people see my name there's integrity behind that name. That's all I want for myself. I guess you could say, the money or whatever, all of that is just a happy side effect. I want to be able to be in a position where I can help people and I feel a lot of that within this career."
Daniel Rosen is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.