If you’ve been dwelling within the FGC realm for as long as I have, you’ve probably noticed the competitive fighting game scene’s reluctance to grow in a way we’ve seen for League of Legends, D.O.T.A. 2, and Counter-Strike. There’s a simple reason behind this: The FGC has SOUL, and that SOUL is what makes the fighting game community so infectious and addicting to be a part of. It is the TRUE essence of extreme competition—what I always envisioned, not just eSports, but sports in general.
The attitude of the fighting game community isn’t trying to accept this, though. The term “eSports” is essentially a swear word in the FGC. I’ve witnessed most of the scene’s die-hard fans vehemently oppose the idea of eSports, claiming that it symbolizes the community selling out and relinquishing its SOUL. And you know what, I actually agree with that to a certain extent. The idea of unnecessary brand integrations and shady corporations wringing the outgoingness and fun from the FGC is an unsettling thought. Could you imagine if Infiltration was wearing McDonald’s patches on his shirts while competing? Gross AF!
But the best thing about the fighting game community is that most of us wouldn’t put up with that shit. The shameless, brutally honest SOUL that has anchored the fighting game community is everlasting, and no corporation is powerful enough to counteract that. The fighting game community going “eSports” at this year’s EVO Fighting Game Championship is more so in reference to the stakes of the competition, the scale of the event–from the games being played to the venues–and the increased appeal of competitive fighting game events. If everything plays out perfectly, this will be a groundbreaking year for eSports. I believe that EVO will bring fighting games to the forefront of that surge for several reasons.
It’s the 20th Anniversary of Pokémon
Gotta catch them… beatdowns? Okay, you may think that this makes no sense, so let me explain. The original Pokémon video game, as combative as it is, doesn’t exactly fall under the categorization of a fighting game. However, with the 20th anniversary of Pokémon going down this year, the prestigious franchise will be present at the EVO Fighting Game Championship more than ever before.
Between the Pokémon/Tekken hybrid Pokkèn Tournament making its first appearance at EVO, and Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Smash Bros. Wii U both getting tourney love, there will be plenty of Pokéballs flying amongst the excessive trash talk for which the event is known. Not to mention the folks who aren’t privy to fighting games—I’m pretty sure they’re at least familiar with Pokémon. The 20th anniversary will be responsible for Pokémon’s strong presence at EVO, which could serve as an access point for those who have yet to learn the technical aspects of competitive fighting.
Tekken 7: Fated Retribution makes its debut
3D fighters tend to get put on the back burner in the FGC these days. The hype around this style of fighter saw a steady decline during the Tekken 6 era, due to the community’s distaste for its comeback mechanics and balancing issues. I personally attribute the decline of 3D fighters to not being as accessible to spectate as their 2D counterparts. I’m not saying the 3D fighting scene has been non-existent, but as a Tekken fan myself, I certainly think as a spectator event, there’s much more room for improvement (there’s only two 3D fighters on the list of this years EVO competitions).
We don’t know everything to be expected out of Tekken 7: Fated Retribution quite yet, but the game looks promising. Most of the community’s best and brightest are gearing up to take competitive Tekken to the level it deserves. Though balancing issues may surface early on in the game’s first year on the market, we can at least expect the first tournament to be competitive, since most of the players seem passionate about being the best Tekken 7: FR player out of the gate. Let’s just hope Harada is a little more receptive to the community’s imminent technical concerns.
The visibility of eSports
Did you notice ESPN’s new editorial branch dedicated to eSports? You’re going to be seeing a lot more of these surfacing amongst traditional sports outlets in the coming months. Given that eSports have finally breached the barriers of mainstream appeal, the most renowned sports establishments are starting to integrate eSports coverage into their everyday offerings.
With the increased visibility of eSports, and fighting games being far more accessible than other game genres when it comes to spectating, this raises the stakes for this year’s EVO competition. The event’s top competitors are likely to conclude the tournament with the level of recognition a professional athlete should receive. Welcome to the future, ‘Merica.
A much needed venue switch
Fighting game fans have been cashing their tickets to Vegas for some time now, but this year’s EVO is upping the ante in terms of venues. Pool and quarter-final play will take place at the Las Vegas Convention Center, and “Top 8” competition—another term for “finals” in the fighting game community—will take place in the Mandalay Bay Event Center.
18,000 seats is just what the Doctor ordered–the EVO finals having been standing room only situations in previous years. When considering that Mandalay Bay has housed some of the highest level prize fights in Boxing and MMA history, the inclusion of the world’s premiere fighting game championship seems all the more pertinent. It won’t be long before the Vegas sports betting scene gets in on the fun, assuming it hasn’t already. I’ll just stick to SaltyBet for now.
The first Street Fighter V Evo Champion will be crowned
While the omission of Ultra Street Fighter IV from the list of EVO competitions is a viable topic of discussion, we can at least look forward to witnessing the new era of the famed fighting game series crown its first champion. Street Fighter V drops on February 16, and you can bet your ass that competitive players will be “grinding out technology” of all sorts leading up to the tournament in July. This is truly the dawn of a new age: the age of Street Fighter being a full-fledged eSport.
One of the more compelling aspects of a fighting game’s first year on the market is watching the professional players set the bar for high-level competition. The game’s quick-studies usually rise to the top of the pack, fortifying themselves as fixtures in the game’s professional scene. Competitors aren’t just battling for a Street Fighter V championship this year, but also to be immortalized as a household name alongside the game’s professional landscape. Funny thing is, that could be anyone at this point, including you—barring you decide to put the dedication into learning the game on a deep level. While not likely, players like Daigo Umehara could fail at competing in SFV, leaving the door open for someone new to reign supreme. That’s a stimulating realization and one that makes this year’s EVO Championship feel like a much grander stage. I’m just ready to see what Zangief tricks Snake Eyez will pull out of his arsenal.
As I said before, the fighting game community has one thing going for it that no eSport has—a soulful foundation that no corporation will ever countermand. “Pop offs” are always going to happen, whether it be on a choppy Twitch stream or television. Competition is always going to be fierce because the talent pool is expanding rapidly. Money matches will still go down behind closed doors, because any person who’s confident enough to play in front of hundreds of thousands of people is probably confident enough to bet a couple hundred bucks on his/her skills.
The prospect of fighting games becoming eSports isn’t so bad when you take these things into account. I’m not sure how the scene will grow if we don’t allow the folks who work endlessly to improve the quality of FGC events by working with investors and expanding their offerings. I know many folks feel eSports are the reincarnate of a red flag for competitive fighting, but I think it’s time for us fighting game fans to let fighting games take a step onto a bigger stage. Don’t worry, the culture won’t be tarnished by this because we, the fighting game fans, have got that covered, son. Relax.
Image Credit: Video Game Writers