It has been said that we’re a competitive species – from human antiquity we have fought unremittingly over resources, life and love. As we’ve evolved (or perhaps devolved) we’ve become more disposed to maiming and sodomising one another over Xbox Live and PSN, than clubbing each other over the head in person. Most of us are still bloodthirsty savages in essence, with a yearning to win, win, win, and given that there’s this bothersome concept known as ‘the law’, settling for beating people at fighting games fills that primeval gap for me.
I love fighting games, and I especially love playing them with friends. I adore fighting games over every other genre, chiefly because of their one on one nature. There’s no outside interferences; no anomalies. They are a skirmish of quick-wit and skill between only two individuals, in an arena where you can truly shine as an individual player. There is no-one else to throw a grenade into the works; only your own knowledge and dogged determination will have you persevere – I have always enjoyed this purity; this holistic mindset
The fighting game community has made a ground-shaking impact since the release of Street Fighter 4 and the revitalisation of the genre in 2009, and there has come a point where pitting against friends and folk online just doesn’t cut it for many. With this in mind, more people than ever are gathering at large well-organised proving grounds and playing these videogames for a greater glory (and money.) Like a sport you could say.
Tournaments have become a lucrative business. One notable above them all is Evolution Championship Series, currently staged in Las Vegas U.S.A. on a yearly cycle. The strongest (not physically) warriors from all over the world converge here to assume ultimate supremacy. Over 2,400 competitors were in attendance last year, and the video streams of which amassed a record-breaking two million unique hits. I was one of them. Staying up past midnight to watch the best of the best go at it, was the equivalent of watching the World Cup or prime-time Boxing. It’s just inherently geekier than those examples, but no less electric.
Having entered two fairly large tournaments now and finishing in the top 16 of each (just thought that had to be mentioned,) I have to say that these events are a lot of fun to take part in. Besting a player on the internet is a fairly meaningless, shallow victory in the grand scheme of things; playing these strangers in person, sharing knowledge and jokes, and firmly shaking hands when it’s over like gentlemen and squires, makes me feel that getting good at fighting games isn’t a dehumanising experience after all. It makes me feel alive, dammit!
Ahem, I understand many probable preconceptions about these gatherings: “I’m rubbish! I won’t stand a chance!” “I hate losing, waaahhh!” “Forever alone lol.” No, I say. If you enjoy playing videogames simply for the joy they can bring and have the willingness to learn and get better, going to these places is a great way to get more out of playing lovely videogames and make friends as you go (ugh.)
It’s a surreal experience for the first time – large sweltering televisions stand blaring in a cacophony of clicking Sanwa buttons, excitable music and fists pummelling bones, with people of all sorts huddled around them in a focused trance. Everyone is chatting freely but tensely, exchanging tips and silently working out the patterns and give-aways of the people wielding the pads and arcade sticks.
In my experience there isn’t an elitist attitude one might expect. Bringing a control pad over a beefy fightstick isn’t widely frowned upon, and some of the best players swear by them. If you’re not a confident player yet, the best advice I can bestow is that you need to be able to take a loss on the chin. As long as you’re not mashing buttons like an idiot and play your game with your brain switched firmly on, people will likely respect you.
Unlike say, the StarCraft 2 community, there are larger than life characters of all backgrounds and personalities that attend these events. A man bellows “GET HYPE!” as he takes a round with his Oni in Street Fighter 4; I play a fantastic Akuma player who has the appearance of Big Smoke from GTA San Andreas; the crowd exclaim with a ‘whoooaaa!!’ as a player pulls off a mind-blowing comeback. They’re generally far less stuffy than the eSports of FPSs and RTSs, and it’s difficult for fighting game tournaments not to conjure up an infectious and exciting atmosphere.
This is a completely different kettle of fish to playing online. Input lag that you would suffer online is completely minimal here; when a player is mashing out an attack you can hear and perceive what he/she is doing and react accordingly. Players are generally far more respectful of each other than the anonymous mischief makers over the internet, and you get the impression that this is how games are meant to be played, despite the proliferation of matchmaking and party chat and the relative downfall of the split-screen multiplayer and living room altercations regarding chicken found in bins in Streets of Rage.
Naturally, there are some games more popular than others competition-wise, which varies depending on location. Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition and Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 are the most widely played competitively, but the Tekken series also has a staunch following and King of Fighters XIII is making a lot of headway. If the game is fairly new you can most likely find people to compete with – there’s even a scene for Smash Bros. Brawl.
If you fancy taking part in this boisterous and flourishing scene and live in the U.K. I highly recommend that you check out neoempire.com, where you will find a buzz of upcoming tournaments for every region. Take a look at the forum and look for the tournament where your play could make its debut on a bigger, more captivating stage.
- Jason Borlase