Abbreviations: FGC, fighting game community; SSF4, Super Street Fighter IV; MvC3, Marvel vs. Capcom 3;
Originally I was going to make a discussion about my experiences and thoughts on why people don’t play fighting games more, which has been a source of discourse in the community. However in my reading, I came across this blog post here, which I thought was very well thought out and informative, so I will save my personal thoughts perhaps for another time or someone comes across this and is interested. Instead I thought it would be fun to share my personal journey through the fighting game and its community (FGC) and some thoughts about why I play the games.
My FGC journey
I. The stream monster
I had always been interested in both watching and playing competitive games. I started with watching copious amounts of Korean Starcraft: Brood War competitions as a middle schooler before moving onto playing League of Legends (sigh) after the Brood War scene started to die out. My fighting game journey started in 2010 with Super Street Fighter 4. I don’t remember the details, but I had stumbled across some YouTube tournament footage and was curious about the low quality but hilarious commentary filled with “oohs” and “ahhhhs” from the mics. Shockingly, this was a long time ago at this point when twitch.tv was still justin.tv(!!). Some more internet digging led me deeper into the fighting game hole, and before I knew it, I was hooked on watching Street Fighter IV (SSF4) and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (MvC3) on the daily. Some of my favorite spectator memories were watching Justin Wong pick Dan vs Air @ Marvel Madness 2012, BIONIC ARM @ Final Round 14, and Daigo vs Poongko @ EVO 2011 top 8 and old episodes of Excellent Adventures on CrossCounterTV.
At some point in 2011, I picked up SSF4 and MvC3 for PS3, and also managed to convince my clueless but loving mom to buy me a MadCatz arcade stick (because I thought I needed one to be good). I had some grossly unrealistic fantasies about being a fighting game god like the ones I would see on stream. After slowly learning to throw a fireball, I hopped online for a few weeks (on Wi-Fi to boot), got absolutely destroyed, and stopped playing the game. I think my win rate for 30 games was something like 3% at the time. Now here is a detail I’d like to emphasize–at the time, I was terrible at fighting games and I had a bad attitude. I had accumulated what I thought was a breadth of fighting game knowledge from watching videos, but I really had no idea what I was doing. I was fixated on winning and losing bruised my frail adolescent ego. This lead me to quickly stop playing. Now I probably shouldn’t be so harsh on my teenage self as it’s common to feel this way, but we are trying to be self-reflective here.
I dabbled in playing a few other fighting games for the rest of my high school career (King of Fighters XIII, Persona 4 Arena, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom) and improved a little bit more, but still the same issues of frustration at slow improvement and a fear of losing crippled me. I still greatly enjoyed spectating fighting games. I loved the amazing competition, the hype and hilarious commentary, and the fun, grassroots vibe of the scene. To this day I still have fond memories of those weekend evenings watching FGC tournaments (other highlights include Dark Phoenix cr.L mash Viscant vs. Flocker @ Season’s Beatings 2011, Marlin Pie’s Dr. Doom swag combos, Tokido’s Akuma pose at SoCal Regionals, and KOF13 EVO 2012 Grand Finals.).
In college, I continued to spectate fighting games without playing them. However, I took a step back from gaming as a whole due to school commitments. During my freshman year, I did go to a major tournament that was nearby with my friend. Unfortunately, the pictures and videos are lost in the recesses of one of my old phones. I was too shy to talk to new people or say hi to my FGC idols, but being physically in that crowd was another one of my fondest college memories. I can still vividly recall the crowd cheering for SnakeEyez every time he landed Gief’s command grab. I actually went to a school with a really active fighting game club on campus and actually my biggest college regret is not freeing up some of my other commitments to get more involved earlier with them as a player. I still get clowned on by friends and family to this day for such a silly but genuine regret. Towards the latter half of my college career my interest in fighting games petered out with the release of Street Fighter V and Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. I was a die-hard Capcom fighting game fan at the time and so turned off by how the next installments were so poorly handled by Capcom, as were many others.
When Dragon Ball FighterZ dropped for PC, I picked it up to learn with a friend. I bought some cheap parts to do my first mod for my dusty old arcade stick and put in about 30 hours in the game together to learn a few combos/fundamentals. It was a fun time playing together although I still felt like I had completely no idea what I was doing. I did get really excited when I landed one of my bread n’ butter (combos). Though I felt some of my teenage fighting game demons lingering, I had matured a lot over the years and was able to enjoy my time with the game. Although I wouldn’t know the reasons why I stopped until reflecting later (not a huge fan of playing 3v3 tag games, lack of people I knew to play with, unsure where to find learning resources, school commitments again). After I stopped playing Dragon Ball I started to lose interest in the fighting game scene. The next year, I packed my bags for professional school and picked up Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void when it went free-to-play. This would be my competitive game of choice for the next 2.5 years.
Overall, I’d consider myself in this 7 year phase primarily as a fighting game spectator who has dabbled in playing the games. Nothing wrong with that of course. I learned a lot about fighting game vernacular, culture, and a few things about strategy an general game theory. Playing the game competently still seemed like an insurmountable task to me, and I thought I had all but stepped away from the genre when I left for professional school…until……
II. W-w-what could this be?!
Having fast forwarded a few years into professional school, it is the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic and I left school to quarantine home for the first time, while also preparing vigorously for an extremely important national exam for school. The days were brutal: 12-hour days, 6 days a week of nonstop studying for weeks and weeks. It was grueling. I thought it’d be nice to have some more balance through games to keep me sane. I had tapered off of playing Starcraft II for various reasons, so I wasn’t sure what to play. I vaguely recalled that my old friend who I had played DBFZ with had also played Guilty Gear, so I hit him up and asked him to teach me. He kindly agreed and set me on one of the best gaming experiences of my life (if you’re reading this thanks a ton bro). He hopped online with one a couple nights a week after studying and showed me the ropes of Guilty Gear Xrd (Xrd). It became sort of an evening ritual for me to help me get through studying. From 8AM-9PM I would study, and then from 9PM-10:30PM I would play Xrd.
Although I felt like I had a trove of head knowledge from my years of spectating fighting games, actually consistently playing one was wildly different from what I expected. In the beginning there were so many systems that I was overwhelmed by. I picked Faust, honestly because he looked the funniest. I didn’t know he was a strong character, or even that he was a beginner friendly character, but these both helped kick-start the learning process nicely too. My friend had years of experience under his belt, so he served as kind of a mentor for me. The game was deep and complex and it probably took me a month just to learn the basics. He would take time to spectate me and give pointers, and answer any questions I had about the game. I also learned not to mind losing so much and to enjoy myself the best I could. That was my goal anyway. If I was miserable all day from studying, I should at least have this 1.5 hours to myself to have some fun right? It wasn’t worth it to me if I wasn’t having fun, and I think that mentality completely shifted me away from being scared to play. Now I was excited to learn new things and try them in game. Even if I lost, it was a victory if I could do something I practiced in training mode in a real online match. I learned to use techniques from school to facilitate my learning of the game. I also learned to step out of my comfort zone and ask questions to strangers who I played against or on Discord. So much so that “hey any tips” became a meme between me and my friend. Luckily everyone was so kind and patient with guiding me through the learning process. I still am learning, but I am endlessly grateful for those 1.5 hours each night in one of the most difficult times in my life/career. Thanks to everyone who has helped me learn the game throughout the way, especially that first friend.
The exam ended and I returned to school for another challenging year. I still kept playing Xrd, but I noticed a serious issue with learning online. Xrd was a game with a terrible netcode. As I got better at the game, I became more sensitive to changes in latency or lag when playing online. It was an awful experience now trying to play with my friend who was no longer closeby because of school. It felt like swimming underwater. The game was also in the late stages of its life cycle and even though the community was friendly, they were still quite small. It was difficult to match with people of the same skill as well. I continued to play and grow from the foundation that I had built, but I did start to notice these issues.
Later that fall something no one expected had happened. Arc System Works had announced a rollback netcode patch for the previous Guilty Gear game, Guilty Gear Accent Core +R. The game’s community was extremely tiny before this, but blew up because of the announcement. This changed everything for me. Rollback netcode is a type of technology that basically reduces latency in fighting games and better emulates experience playing offline in online matches. Luckily the games were similar to each other in fundamentals and my legacy skills carried over. I had to learn some new things, but there was also a whole group of quarantined folk who were starting out too. I could play coast-to-coast with my friends and the community became extremely active online overnight. In another difficult year of school. This was the game that got me through. I looked forward to joining weekly tournaments and playing online felt amazing. It was the perfect timing for me. The rollback update was a labor of love and team continued to update the game with various features that made the experience even better. I played throughout the year and while the community started to get smaller as other people shifted to other games, I found myself wanting to keep coming back. One of my favorite moments was finally winning 2nd in a tournament after weeks of trying. And with my first cash prize to boot 8).
These days, I’ve been trying a lot of new fighting games. Melty Blood, Guilty Gear: Strive, and King of Fighters XV have all caught my attention. I still come back to +R, which now has become one of my favorite games of all time. I’d consider myself in the late beginner-intermediate stage right now. Regardless, I believe the foundation I built has taught me how to enjoy the games. I think my experience can be valuable for new players who are interested but intimidated by the thought of playing fighting games. I feel I have some thorough experience on some of the roadblocks people experience when both starting out playing and as a beginner to intermediate player. Playing fighting games has been a unique growing experience somewhat similar to playing one-on-one sports. In some ways where the gratification is not always immediate and commitment is required to develop physical skills/knowledge for the game. In that sense it has been rewarding to see improvement in a non-linear progression. It’s something that I can put back from time to time but I still keep calling me back. My friends have been making fun of me for “retiring” from fighting games recently with other games, but I know I’ll be back in due time. Thanks for reading!