Forging a Community: 4 Lessons from the Crunchyroll 2014 Midyear Best Girl Contest Thread

As some of you may or may not know, I have been running an ongoing Best Girl tournament for the first half of 2014 over on the Crunchyroll forums. The contest ended about two weeks ago, with Stephanie “Steph” Dola from No Game No Life defeating Noragami‘s Hiyori Iki (I voted for Hiyori) by a single vote.

Now, while the final winner of the contest was a bit of a disappointment for me (can you hear the hype train coming ’round the mountain?), there were a lot of cool things I saw and learned during my time acting as the admin of the contest. I was fortunate to have two other Crunchyroll users, sonic720 and LoomyTheBrew (who made most of the graphics for the tournament), assist me with the massive task of running a tournament that recorded almost 1400 votes through all rounds across over 2500 pages, nearly 40,000 thread replies and never left the front page of the forums until just yesterday. I have no stats to back up this theory, but I’m fairy sure the thread was also the fastest growing thread in Crunchyroll forum history, at least in the time that I have been active on the forums there. And it’s ongoing.

Crunchyroll Best Girl Tournament 2014

The Final Four

What follows are a certain number of lessons I learned from running such a massive community hub for almost two months straight. And, while I’ve framed them as lessons, they really are perhaps more appropriately described as reflections on the experience. I will admit I hold a certain amount of personal pride for the thread, with all its various achievements and noteworthy moments. When I first conceived of the idea in the wake of Crunchyroll user chrome_mist‘s hugely popular 2013 Battle thread for 2013 anime, I never expected that it would essentially be the start of a forum phenomenon that has, in turn, inspired a new contest for the Best Guy so far in 2014.

Lesson One: You Will Always Be Hated

I, of course, say this with a certain amount of humor, because the overall response to the thread and my admin team’s management of it was hugely positive. But the fact remains that, as an admin of a tournament—i.e. one of the three people making decisions on how the contest would be run—I was set up to take a lot of heat when people didn’t like the decisions we made. As the thread creator and the poster of most of the vote kickoffs, I was placed even more into the spotlight.

Crunchyroll Best Girl Contest

Now, although (as I said) the majority of the responses to the thread were positive and although I greatly enjoyed running the tournament, I cannot deny that I harbored a certain amount of annoyance for those who continually questioned my/our decisions, whether that be our initial list of entries into the tournament (flack from day 1) or our voting rules for specific rounds or for our attempts to curb attempts by a few users to game the system to what we felt was the detriment of the entire tournament. I’ll admit, a lot of our choices were built on a certain kind of utilitarian perspective—we wanted to make the thread as accessible to as many people as possible. Whether or not we were actually successful is another story entirely, but the point is that being a leader (even a perceived leader) automatically places you in a position in which you and your decisions are up for criticism at every turn.

The title of this lesson is “You Will Always Be Hated,” and while that’s not really truly true, it sometimes felt like we were running a tournament for a bunch of people who didn’t actually like the tournament. That, though, is at least a little bit an feeling informed by my bias as the person who took a lot of the heat in the early days of the thread. I think what it boiled down to in the end was simply that I was seen as a leader and so people felt that I was the one to whom they could air their grievances. Which is, of course, exactly what I should have been expecting all along.

Crunchyroll Best Girl Contest

Full tournament bracket.

Lesson Two: Derailers Gotta Derail…

…and sometimes they bond over it.

The first inklings I got that the thread was on the path to evolving into something more than a simple contest came from an intriguing cycle that formed early in the thread’s existence. During the day, voting and discussion ruled the thread as people debated for, campaigned for, and slandered the girls participating in the tournament. However, at night, a select group of users would come into the thread while most of us were asleep and turned the thread into a general chatroom of sorts. This resulted in them taking the “Night Crew” moniker upon themselves, as well as in the trend of users spending much of their time in catching up on the previous night’s discussions.

Crunchyroll Best Girl Contest

Inevitably, the general chat trend expanded its derailing ways into the day hours, as the thread became more of a general chat room with voting persisting as the engaging side-activity for which most of the users had initially come to the thread. jtav001‘s post “The Day Crew and Night Crew Battle,” which was both a vote and a story, is a humorous account that serves as a interesting representation of the dynamic between those two groups, which were (of course) friendly to each other due to crossover, as the lines between Night Crew derailers and Day Crew voter-discussers became increasingly blurred. (Note: This is also one of the early posts that featured yours truly as a god-like figure in the stories, a trend that was perfected by having the characters in the story murder me in different ways).

The upshot of all this is simply to say that the community grew closer in a very organic way, expanding from a few initial users to eventually include the entire thread.

Lesson Three: Myths Bring People Together

Crunchyroll Best Girl Contest

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Best Girl thread (as it came to be colloquially known among those who frequented it) facilitated the formation of a both a community and a culture. And like most cultures, the culture of the thread was informed by a number of unique occurrences and stories and phenomenon (what you might elsewhere call history, myths, and trends). Now, while I could detail the history, myths, and fads of the thread, it’s easier for me to simply point you to Crunchyroll user hayate_sensei_853‘s chronicles of what have been dubbed the Best Girl thread’s “achievements.”

~2014 Midyear Best Girl Contest Achievements~

This post (a massive project, due to the fact that getting to any pages that aren’t at the beginning or end of the thread is a huge pain on Crunchyroll’s forums), details a much wider range of activities that happened within the thread than I can hope to cover—and indeed, the size of the thread meant that I wasn’t even aware of some of the achievements listed.

I think the more relevant point here is that each achievement essentially is a condensed myth from the thread, a communally witnessed event that was then immortalized by the community as it persisted in users’ later conversations (or, perhaps, by their very inclusion in the achievements list). I don’t think you even need to follow all the links in the achievement post to see exactly what I mean. Initial sparks of ideas, rashes of imitation, trends, memes and a fascinatingly dense (and hilarious) user shipping map permeate this post, which truly functions as nothing less than a written history of the thread, one that includes both fact and fiction.

None of these observations are revolutionary discoveries by me; all of these have been previously noted as established traits of cultures of wider range and status and notability than the little group of people that formed around an internet contest for cartoon girls. It was, however, a pretty cool experience to get to see all these factors unfold and develop right before my very eyes. And while I personally didn’t initiate more than a tiny fraction of the elements that brought the community together, the fact that the silly idea I had back in March turned into a valuable communal experience for a number of people is one that bring me no little satisfaction.

Crunchyroll Best Girl Contest

Lesson Four: You Might Inspire Somebody

In the end, the Crunchyroll Midyear Best Girl Contest 2014 turned out to be an amazing outpouring of creative energy for those who stuck around in the thread through all the complaints, voting rounds, and extended derailments.

Honestly, I was consistently and constantly floored by the humor, creativity, passion, and seemingly unbridled amounts of free time the thread users demonstrated over and over, an outpouring that wasn’t even stilled by the ending of the actual tournament. As is evident in hayate’s Achievements post, the writing of stories and making of graphics persisted beyond the ending of the thread.

Crunchyroll Best Girl Contest

My personal favorite group (Enju, Nike, Hiyori, Ene).

I’m honestly not sure what conclusion can or ought to be drawn from here, other than that there is a lot of latent creativity out there in people that is just waiting for the right moment to shine through. And, I think the products themselves speak well enough for themselves. You can read a number of the stories from the links on the Achievements post, but I want to take a moment to highlight to creative additions to the thread that I found particularly impressive.

The first of these is ulric1‘s voting/campaign song for Black Bullet‘s Tina Sprout, “Owl By My Side (revision 1)”. That’s right. Someone took the effort to write an actual song for this silly little tournament of mine. I was pretty amazed. No matter what you thinking of the song (I think it’s pretty damn good, all things considered), it’s the creative inspiration that truly strikes me.

The second creative effort I wanted to note here is idiot911‘s tribute poster to the fallen girls of the tournament, which is a mosaic using the headshots of said former competitors in the tournament.

Crunchyroll Best Girl Tournament

The big point here is that I don’t claim credit (even in a passing form) for the work these two and many other put into their creative efforts campaigning and voting for their favorite girls in the tournament. Rather, I simply want to express that I truly am grateful for all those who were inspired by the tournament for sharing their creative works. It is no small thing to have inspired others, and it’s a feeling of which I will never be sick.

These two works are only the smallest fraction of the creative outpouring that went on in the thread, and I do somewhat regret that I was not able to read everything that every voter posted.

All in all, running the 2014 Midyear Best Girl Contest was a wonderful experience, one I’m glad I was able to have. It was a ton of work, and it’ll probably be a long while before I attempt another such event, but none of that is because the experience was a bad one.

5 thoughts on “Forging a Community: 4 Lessons from the Crunchyroll 2014 Midyear Best Girl Contest Thread

  1. Congrats for organising such an intense and HUGE tournament, man. I only ever skimmed the thread (I mean it was just that damn long) but I definitely picked up on how much fun everyone was having. And some of those fanfics were really something. (In both a good and a WTF kind of way, lol)

    Best of luck if you ever try out this sort of thing again!

    Like

    • Thanks! A lot of times when people say, “Oh, I didn’t expect it to get this big,” they’re lying—well, for me, I knew I was meeting something my target audience wanted, but I didn’t know I was meeting it as exactly as I did.

      This will never go on my resume, but you better believe there were some practical transferable skills that I got out of this whole deal. And thank goodness for that haha.

      Like

  2. Confession time: I don’t really understand the concept of Best Girl. When people talk about Best Girl, is it more to do with a character’s personality, or is it all about looks (and/or sex appeal)? Is saying ‘insertanimefemalehere is Best Girl’ different from saying ‘insertanimefemalehere is my favourite character’?

    Like

    • To my understanding, it is an amalgamation of all of the above and one person’s definition is probably not going to be the same as another’s. Looks, sex appeal, personality, general awesomeness (my personal favorite category) are all factors. For some people, best girls are favorite characters. For others, best girls are best girls and favorite female characters are favorite female characters.

      This is all basically to say that the concept of Best Girl is a fluid one and not solidly defined at all.

      But if your best girl is not Maka Albarn, you’re wrong. That much is certain.

      Like

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