DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- When Alex Jebailey started Community Effort Orlando in 2010, the lifelong wrestling fan did not expect that his event would one day be home to a professional wrestling show.
In fact, he didn't expect to run Community Effort Orlando at all. By chance, after another promised event fell through in 2010, Jebailey had three weeks to organize the original Community Effort Orlando -- which had around 350 players and spectators, one of Florida's largest fighting game events at the time.
Over the past eight years, Jebailey has taken a small event from a small fairground to now occupying a large portion of the 205,000 square-foot Ocean Center -- the fifth-largest convention center in the state, in Daytona Beach. Community Effort Orlando is now the second-largest fighting game event of the year.
In March, Jebailey and New Japan Pro Wrestling announced the two parties had come to an agreement to host "When Worlds Collide," a crossover event that would bring pro wrestling to the fighting game event's inaugural tournament in Daytona Beach on Friday -- livestreamed for free worldwide on Twitch.
In each of the past two years, current New Japan Pro Wrestling IWGP heavyweight champion Kenny Omega has made an appearance at CEO. In 2017, he faced off against the WWE's Xavier Woods -- but not in wrestling; rather, they faced off in a Street Fighter V and Tekken 7 showmatch.
This year's CEO x NJPW event was a result of Omega's commitment to gaming, and a friendship he has built with Jebailey since he first attended Community Effort Orlando at the Wyndham Orlando Resort on International Drive in downtown Orlando, Florida, in 2016. Omega, one of NJPW's top stars, has gained a trust, he said, with company executives that allows him to put together projects like these -- which are rather abnormal for an old-school wrestling promotion.
"When [Kenny and I] first met, we got along," Jebailey said. "I told him what my vision is for CEO and he said he'd like to be a part of it."
"Yes, instantly. Instantly felt like it was a possibility," Omega said when asked about whether he thought, in 2016, that wrestling and esports could overlap. "I knew that we would do it eventually. Just a matter of time. The warm response from me being present in the building, the reaction from when Xavier and I had a clash in Street Fighter V. At the time, we had a video game battle royale, and you could see how people reacted. I had felt that CEO, more than any other gaming tournament, would be a perfect place to have such an unique event."
CEO x NJPW wasn't without its hiccups on Friday. The event was delayed for about an hour, and each time staff walked in and out of the arena at the Ocean Center, a line of hundreds of fans -- who only attended for the wrestling portion of the event -- booed. Eventually, when tournament organizer Rick Thiher was heckled by a fan about being "special" and allowed in early, he turned and said, "If I can't go in there, then you won't be able to either." The crowd cheered.
The card itself featured Omega, Hiromu Takahashi, Kota Ibushi, Jushin Liger and a handful of other top NJPW names. But like he always does, or so he'd like to think, Jebailey -- known for the global emote "Jebaited" on Twitch -- stole the show. In the pre-show of the event, Michael Nakazawa opened the floor to competitors, and unexpectedly, Jebaily arrived.
After eight years of hosting wrestling-themed events, @CEOGaming founder @CEOJebailey wrestled at #CEOxNJPW "When Worlds Collide" in Daytona Beach, Florida. In the past week, Jebailey tore his Achilles heel - but still decided to wrestle against @MichaelNakazawa. pic.twitter.com/KbLY1Zx6Tg
- Jacob Wolf @ #CEO2018 (@JacobWolf) June 30, 2018
Over the past few days, Jebailey had legitimately tore his Achilles tendon while training for his professional wrestling debut. But the show had to go on -- even if that meant Jebailey using a motorized wheelchair to get to ring side and then his crutches as a weapon during the match. With Jebailey as a face and Nakazawa as a heel, Jebailey fulfilled his dream of being in the ring too.
"I always wanted to; I love seeing crowds happy and making people smile," Jebailey said. "Obviously growing in the [fighting game community], people would see me as a heel and pissing people off. I always wanted to in a way, but putting it together meant a little more. Being able to just live that for just one night, honestly, was an amazing feeling."
In the main event, Omega and Ibushi wrestled against Takahashi and Tetsuya Naito in a tag-team match, to much fanfare. Omega put together the majority of the card, including his own match, and overall, he said, he felt happy with how the card turned out.
In many ways, "When Worlds Collide" felt like Community Effort Orlando came of age. With around 2,000 tickets sold and tens of thousands of others in attendance at the esports portion of the event, Community Effort Orlando 2018 set a new bar for not only itself, but for other esports events -- which serve a community that clearly has some personal interest in professional wrestling as well.
"It was one of the highest-rated shows to be viewed shows on Twitch already," Jebailey said, after the event averaged around 15,000 concurrent live viewers -- more than most of the wrestling shows from Impact and House of Hardcore, which regularly stream on Twitch. "It trended in the U.S. I'm glad we came up with the 'When Worlds Collide' name, but the 'CEO x NJPW' [moniker] was such an honor to me. To have the second-largest wrestling company trust me, and Kenny to trust me. From a guy hosting fighting game events, now I just hosted a very successful live wrestling show for the first time ever in my life."