Interview with the creator of the first game about BJJ: ‘E-sport market will be bigger than traditional sports’

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Luiz Eduardo Adler and Pedro Thiago Mourão. Photo: Glauber_photo.  

Very soon, even in a quarantined reality like now, in which people must be kept at home, you will be able to practice Jiu-Jitsu and even compete against great rivals from all over the planet. The Smash Mountain Studio team is finishing developing a sensational and pioneering game, aimed at the world of soft art. This is the BeJJ.

“Users will be able to create and customize their avatar. Progress from white belt to red belt. Assemble teams with friends. And, of course, participate in big online championships ”, says Luiz Eduardo Adler, founder and CEO of Smash Mountain Studio.

When we released the promotional photos of the game on GRACIEMAG’s Instagram (@graciemagoficial), the post generated more than 150 comments, all euphoric and praising Adler’s initiative, some even in a tone of thanks.

“I was very happy with the reception from the public. We gained over a thousand followers on the day of that post. To the most anxious, I can already reveal that the game exploits the maxim that says ‘BJJ is human chess’. So we started with card game mechanics, aiming at strategy and tactics instead of motor and reflex skills in pushing buttons and making combinations ”, says Adler. The CEO guarantees that the game will be available for download in the second half of 2020.

Check out this and much other information about BEJJ in the following interview!

GRACIEMAG: How did the game project start?

LUIZ EDUARDO ADLER: I am the founding partner of Smash Mountain Studio and passionate about Jiu-Jitsu. The company develops innovative experiences in immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and video games. It has a B2B side, providing services for companies or individuals, such as VR training, minigames for events or art outsourcing (3D modeling, animations, etc.), but it also has a B2C side with the development of its products. When I created the company in late 2016, I noticed that there was no soft art game. As a practitioner, I decided to combine the useful with the pleasant and embrace the challenge. In addition to the market opportunity, it would be possible to invest and work with a passion, while at the same time meeting demand, somewhat hidden, from the community passionate about Jiu-Jitsu and videogames.

BeJJ Game preview. 

Was implementing this idea a difficult process?

In the beginning, it was not possible to give a lot of gas to the project, as we needed to run after services to move the company’s cash flow and at the same time generate a portfolio to prospect for new services. The objective was to guarantee the sustainability of the company regardless of the products we would create. However, the game’s concept was designed in parallel. We made the prototype with paper and a pen! Some basic rules, paper and scissors style, and tests at home with friends, which are worth mentioning: Luiz Octavio Caneppa and Ruan Oliveira. After these first tests, the Excel spreadsheet went into action. Many hours, days, and months were spent on this spreadsheet, and the GDD (Game Design Document) documentation. The whole basic concept of the game was created and we needed to test again to choose the path to be followed. This time we made some printed charts diagrammed in PowerPoint. With the help of the spreadsheet, we played the cards, loaded the data into it, and saw the results of the shift. We went to Professor Muzio de Angelis’s dojo – who also guided us on the complex rules of Jiu-Jitsu – to do more tests with the staff. We filmed the reactions of the players and made a lot of notes. More and more we were sure to move forward with the project.

International referee, Muzio De Angelis put his voice in the game.

In 2018 the game advanced a lot in technical terms, right?

Yes, in early 2018 we made a prototype in an Android application. With a very crude interface, we were able to test the game even more and evaluate the technological and game design challenges that we would face. Between breaks and resumes to the project, due to some services that we should provide to guarantee cash, we decided to invest even more in BEJJ, in July 2018, to start the development of a Beta version. That was when we also filmed the references for the positions that we would use in the game. We went to the Minos gym in Botafogo with authorization from Marcos Ayala to film them with 3 cameras simultaneously – two filmings laterally and one over the top. So we would have several angles so that 3D animators could make their animations in all details. For this, we again count on the help of Ruan, Santiago Deragon (takedowns), and more recently Enzo Batista. They are very complex animations to be done by hand, so we needed someone who, besides being an excellent animator, should also understand grappling well. Thus, our first animator to start these services could not have been a better choice than Marcos Piolla, who, despite not being in Jiu-Jitsu, understands a lot about standing and ground fighting (karate, judo, wrestling). He was also responsible for finding other great animators to help us in the saga (Sid and Christiano) … this was one of the most complicated and time-consuming parts of the project due to the complexity! In June 2019, with an interface and onboarding (initial player experience) still precarious, but more functional than the previous version (Alpha), we did a test for 1 month with a total of 2,500 people and evaluated the metrics of user retention. We were satisfied with the result. With a version still without 3D animations of the positions and with the rules and mechanics still not well understood by the players, the BEJJ had numerical results above the average. We collected a lot of feedback from those who tested and on top of them, we restructured the entire game to finally get the version we have today, after a lot of work. In May 2020 we intend to have the Open Beta version for Android and then a Beta version for iOS, still without a certain date.

Paper cards served as a draft for the game that is about to be released. 

What benefits does the game offer to the Jiu-Jitsu community?

Without a doubt, BEJJ adds a lot to all fighters. As much as you are not physically training the positions, the mental part is in full swing. Both during online fights and when building the avatars’ card arsenal. We can think of it this way: for a new student who has just entered Jiu-Jitsu, he will be able to use BEJJ as a study. Of course, he can study through videos on Youtube, Instagram, or purchased courses, extremely useful for sure. But, in the game he finds himself immersed in that environment. He is entertained, he competes, he makes friends and integrates teams. And this can be done anytime and anywhere, as long as there is an internet connection. And for experienced fighters, nothing better than relaxing breathing Jiu-Jitsu, activating your head mass, and even creating new ideas for when you are on the mat again to surprise your training colleagues. We have the idea of creating a Jiu-Jitsu e-league through BEJJ, following the world trend of E-sports that very soon will be a bigger market than traditional sports. BJJ could not be left out!

What are the main challenges you face/faced to implement the game?

The challenges were and are many! But we can focus on 3 main ones. First, the main challenge: Jiu-Jitsu, in addition to being a fight in two situations (standing and ground), has very complicated rules. Only then, it already requires a different treatment from normal fighting games, where there is an HP bar which decreases as the fighters receive blows (punches, kicks, etc.). We don’t have that in BJJ (at least the competitive one). So, how do you represent smooth art as faithfully as possible in a game? We think about exploring the side that BJJ is human chess. Therefore, we started with card game mechanics, aiming at strategy and tactics instead of motor and reflex skills in pressing buttons and making combinations. Who knows in the future we can make a mix of mechanics or even arrive at a model that is viable and fun in a second game, but for now, it will be just card gameplay. The second biggest challenge is the technician. BEJJ is being developed for mobile. Even if we want to take it to the PC and maybe to consoles in the future, we cannot generate very elaborate graphics, because many people with average cell phones and average internet would not be able to participate in the game. We had to choose a middle ground. And yet, Jiu-Jitsu has many positions that use the lapel and other parts of the gi, a huge challenge to be overcome to have more quality animations. We are still in this battle, not to mention other technical challenges that we will have to solve ahead of us.

Adler with Deragon e Ruan

And the third challenge?

The third and biggest challenge, which in a way is a support feature to the second, is the financial challenge. We did all the development of the Beta version with an extremely small team for this type of game (free-to-play mobile). Developing a game is extremely complex and costly. Several professional skills are required, as there is a mix of art and software development. Besides, numerous tests are necessary to have a good final product. That’s why the game is still in beta testing today. It is extremely important to listen to the community around the game, as they will consume it. We can’t just duck our heads and do things as we see fit without listening to the audience. Therefore, a long period of development due to the reduced staff is necessary, and this, even so, has a considerable cost. Today we have 50% of the game’s features ready. We want to reach 80% of them before launching a final version of BEJJ. Of these new features to be implemented, we want to focus on creating and managing teams, online championships, and special (playful) cards called Perks to increase tactics during fights. Then we’ll look at other possible features. For this we are looking for investment to streamline the final version as soon as possible, making a super complete and fun game available to everyone.

Smash Mountain Studio’s crew 

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