Is the fighting game community worth saving? A weekend warrior weighs in.

, | Features

There has been a lot of controversy regarding the community that plays fighting games recently regarding misogyny, with two high-profile incidents in the past week: a sexual harassment incident shown on webstream via a reality show used to promote Street Fighter X Tekken called Cross Assault, and another incident that led to a top player getting sanctioned and sponsorship pulled from a series of tournies out in NorCal. I’ve seen a wide variety of reactions to the scandals, everything from folks attempting to whitewash this away as inherent to the scene, to folks saying the whole community needs to be destroyed. I figured I’d write this to show why folks still care, as I recently got a chance to hit my first modern major tournament after many years of playing these games, which have been a big part of my life.

After the jump, my attempt to become famous ends up mad salty for my efforts

The behavior of certain folks is inexcusable, and should be marginalized. It’s wrong, and it discourages people from playing. The reaction of silence towards Miranda aka Super_Yan on stream during the Cross Assault finals was telling. I have concerns whether the community will blame her, and she was clearly the victim in all of this. We don’t need to drive people away from the community. What makes the community awesome has nothing to do with trash talk, misogyny, or anything negative. And I got to see the best of things a few weekends ago. That said, some folks have called for Aris to be exiled from the community. As odious as his behavior was, it’s clear he was operating from an outdated code. He deserves every bit of criticism he is getting, and I personally would not want to be around him, and I can easily see keeping him far away from the mic at future events. But he should not be thrown out solely for this incident. If he repeated this behavior, then it would be warranted, but he at least deserves one last chance.

My own background in fighting games is a little unusual. Most folks, especially of my generation, grew up putting their quarters in Street Fighter 2 machines. I grew up an SNK fan. The first character that appealed to me was this white ninja with a dog named Galford. It was awesome that a dog could bite your opponent into shreds. My two favorite series are King of Fighters and Virtua Fighter, for their deep analytical gameplay compared to other fighters. My interest in the genre was waning until last year, because both series looked to be dead, and other fighting games just didn’t have the same appeal. SNK put out the disappointing King of Fighters XII, and Virtua Fighter was in limbo outside of Japanese arcades due to poor sales. However, in 2010, SNK put out King of Fighters XIII, which was extremely well received, even in the United States (both of my favorite series have more exposure and popularity overseas compared to the US) and Sega last month promoted their latest Virtua Fighter as a downloadable title. Excited by these releases, I wanted to sign up and play those games. Both were offered at Final Round, which is a six hour drive for me. Therefore, I decided to take the leap, spend the money, take the week off work, and do it.

I arrive Thursday night, and see a couple of friends, who I have met over the years. We commiserate over how things have developed. One of them helps out every year organizing the tournament. Unfortunately, they are behind schedule, so I don’t get any time with him. But there will be plenty of time tomorrow. I end up going to my room, and meeting up with a random crew from Texas who are also there for the tournament. Unlike me, they prefer the more mainstream games such as Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom, but we get along fine, talking about our various games. And most important, there is a common respect. I even play a few shot matches in Street Fighter 4. I have no experience with the game, so I end up a bit smashed rather quickly. Still, it’s a fun experience, and I meet folks I would never interact with otherwise, as we come from different socio-economic backgrounds.

Friday hits, and I see the Virtua Fighter setups. My eyes light up. They announce a Tekken Tag 2 quick tournament around the same time, and seeing the lines around the machine currently, I figure I wouldn’t get a chance to look at this game until it comes out next year. So I put my name in, even though I know I will quickly lose two matches. Which I do. Still, the game looks impressive, and I’ll probably buy it when it comes out in November. I go back to the Virtua Fighter machine, and enjoy the game, though I’m depressed about my lack of skills. This is made worse by the fact that many of the long-time Virtua Fighter fans on the East Coast make huge efforts to be out for the game, and they’re much better than me. I do recognize someone I follow on Twitter by his arcade stick, so I talk to him some. I notice he also entered the King of Fighters tournament. After some time at the Virtua Fighter machine, I go to meet up with my friends. We play some obscure games for a couple of hours, as well as some King of Fighters practice for tomorrow. Then we get some food. The late night is more Virtua Fighter, then I go to bed early due to a combination of fatigue and knowing tomorrow will be a busy day.

Another factor in my decision to come was knowing that some top Mexican players would be in attendance. King of Fighters is a very international game, and the explosion of fighting game tournaments, along with the sponsorship money, is a big reason why we have international competition on a larger scale now. For many fighters, Japan is considered the top country. The US is considered tops in Marvel vs. Capcom, though the Japanese score a huge upset this weekend. For King of Fighters, the argument is between Mexicans, Peruvians, and Chinese for the top spot. One of my longtime Twitter friends from the community is Mexican, and he constantly sends me trash talk about how Mexicans are superior, and how we will never be able to win. I know we’re heavy underdogs, but I also knew we’re good.

Saturday morning. The day of reckoning is here. It’s time to see how good I actually am. I head to my friends to let them know that one of them is in my pool, and it looks like a difficult pool. I play a few warmup matches which is futile because delays and difficulties in coordination between games makes a delay inevitable. This is worse because I didn’t eat breakfast. By my first match, I get hungry. In addition, I find out it’s going to be streamed against a very strong opponent, so I get nervous. I do somewhat respectably, playing semi-solidly, but I make execution errors at critical junctions. When I later catch the commentary on the match, the commentators pick up that I was nervous and dropping things left and right. I was hanging in there with solid positioning, but it wasn’t enough. They didn’t catch on how my opponent was reading me. I could tell from re-watching my own match how he was baiting out certain movements. But I was so amped up that I couldn’t focus and adjust.

There is a huge difference between a tournament setting and playing online at home, or even in arcades. In a tournament setting, you often have to wait for hours before playing, or between matches, whereas in other situations you are largely playing when you want, when you feel most comfortable. It’s different when you can hear the other person’s stick. Though when things are loud, that’s impossible. It’s something I can sometimes do at a local tournament, but wouldn’t even try to do when things are as loud as they are in the ballroom this weekend. Also, you are constantly facing competent competition. Online, you often play weaker players, with a smattering of stronger opponents. When you step up to face competition, you are facing folks who have also churned through many of those weaker players. Often, between two players of equivalent skill, it comes down to your ability to keep focus during pressure situations, and how you handle the rigors of a hard weekend.

One of my friends manages to place in the top 32 for Street Fighter this weekend. He works tirelessly for the local community, but he lost hard Sunday in his first match, performing below expectations. His reasoning? “I drank too much and partied too hard Saturday night”. At least he didn’t oversleep. The person who ended up winning that tournament, Wolfkrone, gets disqualified from his winner’s bracket match due to oversleeping. Also, as top female player BurnYourBra recently noted on Twitter, “people don’t follow rule #4”, as posted on this sign.

The stench at final round is pretty bad this weekend. This is one area where major fighting game tournaments rival anime cons.

Over the weekend, I do notice several top players in the community have celebrity status. I make a conscious decision to not try and distract them over the weekend. I try not to be a fanboy. I make one exception for Markman, who I have met on the forums several times, as I know he’s not competing. It seems like he genuinely wishes to meet everyone in the community. I also accidentally talk to Juicebox without fully knowing who he is. He ends up being the commentator for my match. Juicebox is a nice guy, and he has real interest in helping folks improve their game, plus I love his character choices and personality. He’s rapidly becoming one of my favorite players.

I’m really down on myself after this performance, but it’s a double-elimination tournament, so I have to not let it affect me. I manage to win my next two matches, then I draw my friend who I played earlier in the fourth round. I manage to clutch things out, and then draw my next opponent. I win the first match, then he adjusts, he pulls the second match out, I adjust to his adjustments, but end up just short in the deciding match. I’m out, at a 3-2 record. I feel like I did respectably, but I could have done better. It’s the sort of performance that keeps you coming back for more of the same. You want to show the world that getting bodied (losing decisively) isn’t what you really are in terms of your true ability. I often wonder if this is how sports players feel. That said, I think the closest comparison to fighting game tournies would be the World Series of Poker. Both events are completely open. If you want to compete, all you have to do is sign up and you get a chance to compete against legends. I’ve done it before, at a local level, with predictable results. Except for one time, when I managed to upset a former champion player. It’s that one time that makes you believe that anything is possible.

But that wasn’t going to happen today. Today is just reality. At least I pick up a nice parting gift for competing; Atlus gives out a soundtrack for King of Fighters XIII as a bonus. Afterwards, I hit the Virtua Fighter machine again and keep losing, but I start to do better once I get some advice and remember some old habits. I enter the free Virtua Fighter tourney that night, but quickly lose again. My one regret about this weekend is not getting more time on the Virtua Fighter console betas. I am impressed with how Sega, the company that makes Virtua Fighter, has been much more responsive to the fans for Final Showdown, their upcoming game. I’m really rooting for their success.

Saturday night is spent meeting another old online friend I have never met in person before. It’s clear we came from different backgrounds, and we would probably never interact outside of this community. But we get along fine because of our shared love of the games. He’s local to the area, so he hits Final Round every year. But he’s thinking about leaving the community. He doesn’t like the latest King of Fighters all that much, and he doesn’t like the changes in the community. I support the changes, but I can see why some of the older crowd might not. They’re going to require a different and maybe more corporate mentality. It’s not going to be just the old boys club anymore. We pretty much agree to disagree. I head back, and wait to watch the Finals tomorrow. I find out two of my friends, and another local player, have qualified for Sunday, in some cases beating name opponents to get there. Three more locals fell one match short. In terms of the local players, I finish middle of the pack.

Sunday comes. I enter and play a little more Virtua Fighter, and the arcade version of Street Fighter EX, which I felt is an underrated entry in that series. One of my friends actually manages to get thrown out of the tournament for oversleeping. He did all that work to make top 16, all for nothing. My other friend ends up in 7th place after a strong showing. I’m proud of his performance. The crowd for King of Fighters is strong, intense, and cheering the performances left and right. A high level of skill is on display, skill appreciated by a crowd who puts in the effort to learn the game. The heavily favored Mexicans still manage to win, but I feel we come out with some respect. I suspect it’s the same feeling fans of a smaller school that loses by 2 to a highly seeded team in the 1st round of the NCAA tourney feel when they just come up short but give the favorites a scare. Other events were happening, the finals of other games, but I’ve really just come for the King of Fighters, and I don’t have the time off work to spare, so I leave early. When I come to Final Round, I’m thinking about how this is going to be the end of my time playing. When I leave, my thoughts are immediately on next year.

Jeff Jarlett has been playing fighting games and dropping combos since the days of Street Fighter Alpha 2. He studies the weather for a living in Greensboro, North Carolina.