Micro, not Macro: An Overview of Competitive Fighting Games

Written by SeaGnome
Jul 27 2011, 1:04 PM EDT


Micro, not Macro: An Overview of Competitive Fighting Games

One of my personal goals for WellPlayed is to have it function not just as a site for StarCraft II, but like our motto says, a hub for eSports in general. SC2 is obviously fantastic, but there are so many other eSports and communities that it feels criminal to not at least acknowledge them, especially because I’ve been just as entertained by tournaments from these other games.

As a disclaimer, I’m going to approach this as if you were completely new to the fighting game community, which many of you probably are. I only got truly interested in the fighting game scene about a year ago. If I say things that are inaccurate, I truly apologize. My scope on the scene isn’t nearly as broad as that of a true competitor or longtime fan; it is just a small portion of the current scene. Most of what I’m writing here is based solely off of my experience as a spectator.

There is a long, detailed history of the fighting game community that dates back to the arcade days of the US and Japan, but the most important parts of this story can be told by focusing on a handful of players and tournaments and by examining where where we are today. If reading this article helps you become interested in the fighting game scene, I hope you’ll tune into the next Wednesday Night Fights or watch some of EVO along with MLG Anaheim.

Now, when I say “fighting game community” I should be more specific. It’s a bit of a misnomer, because there are several smaller communities for niche games like Super Smash Brothers and BlazBlue. I mostly mean Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom (and Capcom’s other “vs.” games), although Mortal Kombat has gained a strong audience as well. These games have collectively grown together and have many overlapping players and personalities distinct from offshoots like the Arcana Hearts community. To my knowledge, this is the only real eSports community that does this, and it’s similar to how Brood War and the SC2 beta were both being posted and discussed on sites like r/Starcraft and Team Liquid for a period of time, when neither game was obviously dominant.

Daigo holding his trophy at EVO 2010 Daigo “The Beast” Umehara is a legend in all of eSports. Comparable with SlayerS_Boxer and Fata1ity, Daigo is a fighting game master and long-time champion. Considered by many to be one of the best (if not the best) fighting game players in the world, Daigo has proven time and time again that his skill is world class, truly representing the impressive dominance that Japan has held over Street Fighter, practically since it was released. The Japanese press sometimes refers to Daigo as the “2D Arcade Fighting Game God.”

The closest SC2 personality I would compare Daigo to is Nada, except with a better track record. Imagine if Nada had never dropped from his prime – his most dominant era in Brood War – but instead switched to SC2 when it was released. Both players are nearly impossible to defeat in a long series of games.

Justin Wong with the 2009 National Championship trophy Justin Wong is one of Daigo’s greatest rivals. A thoroughly skilled player that has been called the best in the United States, Justin Wong is one of very few players who can claim to have skills comparable to Daigo. A fearsome opponent in all three current major fighting games (Mortal Kombat 9, Super Street Fighter 4: Arcade Edition, and Marvel vs Capcom 3), Justin Wong has proven himself a powerful, nigh unstoppable force in the fighting game scene.

Justin Wong is quite comparable to his EG teammate IdrA, although without the BM. Both are very strong in their home region of the US, are slightly overshadowed overseas, and are always solid contenders to win any tournament they enter. There’s a consistent feeling of dread whenever a player learns they’re facing these players next, and it has certainly been earned.

UltraDavid (left) and James Chen (right) getting ready to commentate James Chen and UltraDavid are the fantastic commentators that cover many of the premier US fighting game events. I first heard this duo commentate one of the Wednesday Night Fights soon after Marvel vs Capcom 3 came out and was astounded. Listening first to Tastosis and later to League of Legends commentators made me assume that other eSports didn’t have star commentators the way SC2 did, but these two instantly changed my mind. Both of them play at a very high level and have been part of the community for a number of years. You might remember the name UltraDavid because of his article on the new streaming law, while James Chen has been playing and commentating for more than 20 years.

The obvious comparison to these two is Tastosis, and it’s a pretty good one. Both are pairs of old school commentators who know each other pretty well, although James Chen and Ultradavid aren’t as tightly knit together as Tastosis often seems to be. Like Tasteless, James Chen has a voice that makes me inexplicably love the game. They also both like to use the word “bodied.”

(Wolfkrone (right) wielding his Fight Stick alternative) Wolfkrone is a recent up-and-comer to the scene, but he is an extremely unique competitor, one that may represent the beginning of a new era of fighting game players. Much less experienced than every other person I’ve mentioned so far, Wolfkrone’s primary tournament and competitive experience comes from either online matches or the Training Room, not live tournaments. Even more interesting is his ability to play at such a high level (Wolfkrone’s been cited as one of the strongest players coming to this year’s EVO) on a controller instead of a fight stick, a feat unheard of in Japan and continually thought of us less optimal in the US. alt text If Wolfkrone does as well as people are expecting him to, the online scene could bloom, especially with the release of SSF4:AE on PC.

It’s hard to find an SC2 personality to compare to Wolfkrone, but there are elements spread across the spectrum of StarCraft players. Like Sheth, he uses an unorthodox setup to play the game. Like Machine, most of his tournament results, while strong, aren’t indicative of the practice regimen he goes through. And like many of the Korean players, he spends an enormous amount of time practicing in secret, away from prying eyes.

Those are some of the biggest names right now in the fighting game community. There are dozens, if not hundreds of more people that deserve recognition. Unfortunately, I’m not as familiar with the scene as I’d like, and listing all of them would surely become tedious. The one event that I wanted to highlight is the Evolution Championship Series (EVO), which easily rivals the likes of any MLG we’ve had so far (and even some of the most popular WCGs). EVO’s roots date back to 1995, but the name EVO came into play in 2002 and has stuck ever since. EVO’s record-breaking attendance in terms of both players and spectators has been phenomenal since it set up shop in Las Vegas, and EVO 2011 is looking to continue the trend.

One of the legendary events in the history of eSports took place at EVO in 2004. Back against a wall by Justin Wong, Daigo takes full advantage of Street Fighter III’s parry system to shock the audience and pull victory from the jaws of defeat. Even if you’ve never paid attention to the fighting game community, there is a very solid chance that you’ve seen this video.

That incredible set of moves, – and don’t forget the fantastic crowd around them – is argument enough for the fighting game community. Although such brilliant, epic moves don’t happen annually, you can be sure to see some top-class play at every EVO. Everyone I’ve asked has said that EVO is an unparalleled experience, an event that you absolutely must go to if you’re a fan of fighting games. Unfortunately, this year’s EVO is the same weekend as MLG Anaheim. Although I’ll be at Anaheim, I’m going to try my hardest to find a connection good enough to watch some matches at EVO 2011.

Of course, everything I’ve mentioned so far (except Wolfkrone!) has had quite a bit of history in the fighting game community. Daigo, Justin Wong, James Chen and Ultra David have been involved for more than a decade. EVO started officially nearly a decade ago, and had its origins in the mid-90s. So why are fighting games growing so quickly in popularity? There’s a few reasons for this, but my top pick is the advent of web streaming.

As SC2 fans, we’re lucky that many of our best players and personalities (as well as your average player) will be able to easily stream gameplay or commentary. At any given moment, there’s a decent chance that some of the best 0.5% of SC2 players will be streaming at the same time, not to mention that other 99.5%. The help is more available these days. and the technology is already established. Someone streaming from a camera or computer is much more readily accepted over a PS3 or 360, especially when you factor in costs.

However, there are a few great heroes who have stepped up to the plate and done most of the streaming for nearly every great fighting game event. Team Spooky, Offcast, LevelUp and now FinestKO have worked incredibly hard for to improve their community. By broadcasting great tournaments such as the weekly Wednesday Night Fights, Revelation LA, CEO, and much more on their streams, they’ve allowed tournament organizers to sit back and do their jobs instead of having to deal with unfamiliar technology.

What’s even better is that there’s a good chance that streaming will improve. While the aforementioned streamers have done a truly great service for their eSports, there’s still a barrier for nearly everyone else. With Super Street Fighter 4: Arcade Edition’s recent release on PC, it’s now much easier for everyone with a decent PC to stream their gameplay. In fact, Wednesday Night Fights regular Marn streams both SSF4:AE and League of Legends moderately often.

For this reason, Gootecks, a high caliber player and community icon, is trying to make the PC version of SSF4:AE standard between the 3 current versions (PS3/360/PC). If more players are forced to play on decent PCs, there’s a greater chance that more fighting game streams will pop up. More streamers means more viewers, and new eyes benefit the community as a whole.

The fighting game community is an old establishment somewhat similar to Brood War in its heyday. However, with evolving technology and world-renowned tournaments like EVO, it’s growing at an even greater pace. To find out more about everything I mentioned, you can check out Shoryuken.com, the most popular and active forum for the fighting game community.