I recently participated in a nicely organized SSF4 tournament at Reality’s Edge in North Jersey, and found to my surprise that a large number of the participants were virgins tournament virgins. Would Reality’s Edge prove itself a gentle first foray for the uninitiated? Or would major orifices be ruptured in ways previously unimagined? If only these neophytes had my knowledge prior to their first time.
While their experiences were horrifying, I hope this short guide can save others from their terrible, terrible fate.
Surviving Your First Street Fighter Tournament
You’ve memorized your deadliest combos. You’ve practiced your links, p-links, and z-links. You’ve downed at least half a bucket of KFC and used slightly less antiperspirant than is typically recommended. You’re ready for your first Street Fighter tournament.
The only question that remains is, will you survive?
Before you even show up to the tournament, it’s incredibly important that you are in the correct mindset. Traveling to a competitive tournament is a lot like sliding into a parallel dimension. You want to bring everything you could possibly need because you won’t know exactly how hostile the conditions are before you arrive. Is there anything to eat? Do the natives speak your language? Is the atmosphere breathable?
In all likelihood, the answer to all of these questions is “No.”
For this reason, there are several essential items you should pack with you before you venture into the great unknown:
- Snacks: Mountain Dew, Pringles, Mountain Dew Code Red
- A t-shirt that discourages the mouth-breathers from attempting to interact with you
- A SARS-compliant breathing mask
- Pepper spray and/or painted nails
- Loaded dice, a chess piece, or a small metal top (trust me)
- A printed Excel spreadsheet detailing the frame data of every Street Fighter character. This isn’t for your reference as much as it’s for correcting anyone within earshot should they mistakenly say that EX Thunderbolt is +3 on block. Out loud, no less.
- Two (2) of the most expensive currently-available available-in-Japan arcade sticks (more on this later)
- Your fight moneyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy
Your Grand Debut
Before you walk into the combattant’s venue, you should know that competitive gaming isn’t like the outside world. It’s a universe unto itself that corrupts all that walks within. Sure, in your daily life, you interact with other humans in a fairly convincing song and dance. But with Street Fighter, it’s every man for himself. Most of the guys on the inside are in for life, and if you’re not willing to curbstomp each and every one of them, you’re dogmeat.
Then, there’s the actual gaming.
Carry your previously outlined items in a large backpack or, preferably, a duffel bag. The more room you take up, the more uncomfortable your competition, and gaining a psychological edge is by definition a Top Tier Tactic. When you arrive, don’t greet anyone. Walk directly to the registration counter and put a $100 bill down. This will convey that, whether you can read or not, you are a high roller. Decline any change offered to you by the clerk, and tip him $10. This sign of strength and confidence should buy your safety for the first 3 hours.
Find a place to sit, and use the gear you packed to take up at least 4 chairs. You’ve now established your psychological, fiscal, and volumetric dominance before walking 20 feet through the door. If that’s not an advantage, I don’t know what is.
You Are Your Fight Stick
Although it should be completely obvious, showing up to a competitive fighting tournament with any controller that cost less than $150 or 40 man-hours of customization is like asking to be raped and/or beaten within an inch of your life. I saw it happen to three kids who brought stock Xbox 360 control pads to a tourney in Princeton. It took 45 minutes for the staff to scrape the blood off the ceiling. They still don’t know where that one dude’s left eye went.
You might be thinking that you use a Fightpad or something, and that you’re pretty good. Sure. I don’t blame you; I didn’t understand either. But it’s not about skill.
Being good is the gamble. Showing the goods is the fucking ante.
You could get away with a C-tier stick (but please, no lower than C, maybe C+) if you spend at least 14 hours modding it. This involves replacing the arcade stick, register gate, buttons, wires, and panels (i.e. the parts you paid for) with custom Sanwa parts.
In case you didn’t know, Sanwa is Japanese for serious fucking business, so anything less will not be tolerated. And if you think the pros won’t notice, you clearly haven’t been paying attention to the 3 millisecond sound delay between a Sanwa button depression and a stock Samitsu button depression. Idiot.
As I mentioned before, you should always bring two arcade sticks to a tournament. You might be asking yourself, “Self, why would WiNG advise me to bring two arcade sticks? Is it in case one malfunctions?”
No, of course not, moron. After all, everyone knows that Sanwa parts never break, malfunction, or safely decompose in a landfill. While one of your arcade sticks is your primary controller, your other arcade stick is your dummy stick.
Mythical Playstation Pros and the Dummy Stick
The reality is that the Super Street Fighter 4 community is torn in two over the greatest paradox in philosophical history. While on one hand, nobody would be caught dead playing the Xbox 360 version of a Japanese game, this mandate is counteracted by the fact that nobody owns, plays, or has ever seen a Playstation 3. These two indisputable facts lend themselves to a giant problem when it comes to tournament play: controller compatibility.
While you could create your own arcade stick from Tupperware or wood and include two separate output wires for each system, realistically speaking nobody wastes that much time since you could use it to practice your p-links. As such, many players show up to tournaments with absolutely no means with which to participate in the event.
You might think such a player would be immediately denied entrance or personally violated. While that has happened on occasion (see: EVO 2006), these players are often extremely talented eccentrics who play Street Fighter exclusively on Playstation 3. They have personal connections with Sony of Japan, and all play online against their 30-or-so peers on the platform.
Because their reputation usually precedes them, they will casually (but not optionally) request to borrow your arcade stick at some point. That’s right: no matter how many players are at the event, the ratio of “Playstation Pros who want to borrow your arcade stick” to “You” is always 1:1 (this is known as the Mooch constant).
This is where the Dummy Stick comes in. The Dummy Stick is an expensive fight stick that appears to be equal to or greater than your own in every way. It is extremely desirable with custom art and at least 98% Sanwa parts. The difference? You’ve rigged it ahead of time to fail catastrophically.
Mind you, the stick has to work, at least initially. After all, serious competitive gamers perform 2-12 minutes of button checks before playing a tournament bracket. But with some solid soldering and little knowledge of improvised explosive devices, you can create an aesthetically flawless controller that will completely cease functioning at the touch of a button.
Whether or not the controller actually explodes and kills your incredibly dexterous Playstation parasite is your call. You’ll have to weigh the risks and benefits. On one hand, a lethal explosion could remove one or more of your competitors from the tournament, increasing your odds of winning. On the other hand, if the body count is too high, the tournament may be canceled (see: EVO 2006).
Likewise, a short circuit might cost your “friend” one round, but continuous button failure may force him to switch controllers, nullifying your efforts. Consider the situation and choose wisely.
While there may not appear to be any incentive to influencing the outcome of a match in which you aren’t participating, always remember that Playstation Pros are associated in some way with Japan, and may even be Japanese. Even if your mooch is Caucasian or African American, you cannot set aside the remote possibility that Daigo Umehara himself has split his consciousness between multiple tournaments and taken another form (see: EVO 2006, Ranbats Finals 2006, EVO 2038).* That said, eliminating any Playstation player from the tournament (either lethally or otherwise) will positively affect your odds of ultimate victory.
Read Part 2, featuring gameplay strategy and post-match etiquette.
*Daigo Umehara won all three finals before releasing his alternate forms from their mortal coils.