I never got into MOBAs. While League of Legends and Dota were blowing up the competitive gaming scene, I settled for watching the more accessible fighting game tournaments. I didn’t know the inputs, the match-ups, any strategies or even what the characters could do, but two characters with health bars is much more approachable as a new viewer than the chaos of a MOBA. But, I was young and ready to enjoy this “competitive gaming” I kept hearing about. Enter, Evo.
Evo, short for Evolution, is the world’s premier fighting game tournament, and fighting games have always held a certain appeal to me. Even without knowing anything about a particular game, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype. Comebacks and dominations are obvious and easy to follow. The characters are front and center and if you don’t know or care about the real life players just pick whichever character looks cool and root for them. And at Evo, Street Fighter is the main event. SF4 was the grand finale for years, but in 2014 SFV was announced. And if I was going to get into Street Fighter, I knew SFV was my best chance. By the time I was looking to get into SF4, it had over 30 characters. Trying to learn the fundamentals and the large varied cast at the same time was too intimidating. But, a new game with 16 characters? I could approach that. After trying some of the online beta and watching tutorials and guides, I decided to go all in on SFV.
Living off of student loans is a paradox. You’re simultaneously poor while not wanting for anything. So spending $200 on a new fightstick to ensure you can’t blame your DualShock 4 for any losses seems like a worthwhile investment. Street Fighter V released during my junior year of college, and after a couple of betas and countless viewings of beginner’s guides, I (thought I) was ready. I’d never devoted this much time to a game outside of the game. I had looked up guides for collectible and Pokemon match-ups, but I’d never watched hours of matches and spent hours training in a game. I wanted to start playing Karin, since her style appealed to me the most out of the launch line-up, but went with Ryu to learn the fundamentals. Eventually, I felt I had a good grasp of what SFV was about, and proceeded to try ranked online matches.
And I got, and continue to get, thrashed.
It’s tough going into a fighting game for the first time. Your muscle memory isn’t well-developed, you’re learning as you go, and like riding a bike, it’ll hurt but hopefully, you don’t make that mistake again. But you will. The people you’re playing against know so much more than you that it can feel unfair. It’s like fighting a Dark Souls boss, but the boss changes move every match. And even if the moves are the same, it might use moves in different circumstances. Fighting game matches are far more personal than most other online games. When you lose, your character is lying unconscious on the ground while the word LOSE is superimposed over them. There are times I’ve gone to bed genuinely upset with my performance. I cannot count the number of times I’ve made a stupid choice or not accounted for a character’s moveset. But it’s all a part of the process. You play, you lose, you analyze what went wrong, and you correct yourself.
So Why Bother?
Most video games are designed in favor of the player. Even brutal games like the Soulsbourne titles are made to be beaten. As such, it is difficult to feel accomplished in beating most games. But competitive games are designed so that each competitor has access to the exact same toolset. In a well designed competitive game, the only barrier to your success should be yourself. I’ve fought hundreds of matches on SFV and beating an opponent that’s using a strategy that used to confound you is a rush, unlike anything I’ve experienced in games. That’s how fighting games measure growth. You don’t unlock a bunch of skills or fill exp bars to level up, you learn the game and its mechanics. And in a field where “skill” can be reduced to how many guns you’ve unlocked or how many settlements you’ve liberated, a game that just says “no, play better if you want to win” is an ice cold blast of refreshment.
The Journey Continues
I could write pages and pages about how complex SFV or any fighting game is. How the emphasis on spacing and knowing your range is critical. How different all of the characters are and how Zangief has problems getting in on Guile. I make it a point to always have SFV tournaments live streaming when possible. I’ve poured hours into SFV, but I’m still stuck in the super bronze rank. But that just makes me want to push further. I can see where I need improvement and I know what I need to do, I’m just not good enough to do it, yet. So I’ll keep grinding it out in the salt mines like the scrub I am, but I plan on enjoying the heck out of it.
I look forward to playing much more SFV. I really need to work on my anti-airs and build up my muscle memory and reflexes. And I should improve my counter-hit confirms and projectile evasion. And I’ll stick with Juri till the day I die, give her a meaningful buff already, Capcom. One of my most anticipated releases for 2018 is the Street Fighter Anniversary Collection, since a new generation of scrubs will be able to play Third Strike online. If you’re at all curious about fighting games, I highly recommend SFV. Street Fighter V is far from perfect, but it’s a competent and, for my money, fun, fighting game. If you’re at all interested in trying SFV, the Arcade Edition is only $40 and contains 12 DLC characters. Street Fighter V isn’t perfect, and it isn’t even the best Street Fighter game. But it was the fighting game that finally got me into the scene. And that’s how I’ll remember it.