One of the major aspects of the Fighting Game Community that differentiates itself from other competitive gaming communities (e.g., the pro Starcraft scene*) is the fact that the FGC is always playing several different games at any time.
Right now in the larger Fighting Game Community, we have Street Fighter IV AE 2012, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, King of Fighters XIII, Street Fighter X Tekken, Mortal Kombat 9, Soul Calibur V, and Skullgirls, all games that have come out within the last two years and all of which receive a lot of playtime from people in the community.
And even within the next couple of months, we have Persona 4 Arena coming out and the widely-anticipated Tekken Tag Tournament 2. There is no shortage of fighting games in the community – conversely, there’s a severe overage. No person can play all of these games often enough to be competitive at them, and it’s usually hard enough for one person to be highly competitive at the specific game they choose to master.
For this reason, games come and go with players. Personally, I’ve played SFIV AE 2012, UMVC3, KOFXIII, and SFxT pretty extensively but only consider myself an avid player of Street Fighter IV AE. As I stated earlier, I barely have time to play one game, let alone several. Quitting games usually happens as a result of being overburdened with games to play and sticking with the one you’re most comfortable with.
Choose your weapon
So how do you know which one you’re most comfortable with? That comes with playing them first, and obviously that means buying them – being a member of the FGC usually comes with a handy price tag as a result. Staying up to date with every game just isn’t possible for some, including myself, so you usually stick to games that you know better.
For me, it’s simple: Capcom games. They seem to have the perfect mix of loud visuals, fun, easy gameplay, and endearing characters and style. King of Fighters is in a similar vein to the “Big 3” of SFIV, MVC3, and SFXT, so I picked that up too.
Meanwhile, Soul Calibur and the like are 3D games, and are hence completely different from what I’m used to. Them being different and enigmatic to my 2D sensibilities probably merits them being played, but as I said, choosing which games to pick up and play is usually a question of money. If I can’t afford Soul Calibur V, I might as well rely on my friends in my local scene to buy it and bring it to gatherings so I can play as well. Obviously I’d make an effort to pay it forward and buy a game later on in the year, but that’s usually the way it goes.
With that said, just because you pick up a game doesn’t mean you’re always going to be playing that game. Until recently, I had pretty much dropped UMVC3, for two reasons – the first was because I made it a priority to focus on Street Fighter IV, and secondly because I was anxious about the explosive, never-say-die nature of high level UMVC3. It’s bad enough to win an entire round in Street Fighter IV and suffer a humiliating comeback, but the greater metagame of UMVC3 is pretty much designed to allow that to happen, and often. It’s pretty much impossible to defend against a number of Level 3 X-factor mixups in UMVC3, so to rely on that in a tournament setting was a source for anxiety. It wasn’t something I was prepared to deal with, so I dropped the game.
It was only recently that I decided to pick UMVC3 back up as a result of the level of play I witnessed at Evo. Players like Infrit and Filipino Champ make the ridiculous X3 comebacks look like a thing of the past with their insane blocking. My rational is basically, if they can do it, so can I. And obviously, the greater mystery that allows these players to be so much better than me at these games is that not only do they understand the game better, but they have better mindgames and better strategies within the game.
Reasons to play a specific game
In a sense, you can blame my poor understanding of the game for me thinking it wasn’t worth picking up to play in a tournament setting. The evidence supports this claim – even though the game seems sporadic and at times luck-based, the best players are always consistent in tourneys. Make no mistake, UMVC3 is legit – just, in a way that makes it look the complete opposite.
So really, picking up a game demands effort, and this is something I’ve commented on in a previous article. The difference is, sometimes different games manage to wrest from you a lot of motivation, and others seem to spurn it. What manages to stir you can be a matter of personal taste, or maybe a handful of good experiences – you bodying some friends and thinking “I can be good at this game,” or just watching a stream or Evo like I did and thinking, “Yeah, I was wrong about this stuff.”
But quitting games because of a lack of understanding isn’t the only reason to drop them. Some games are just hard to play with others. A great flaw of the games used in the Fighting Game Community is that playing offline is undoubtedly a better gaming experience than playing online. Despite the efforts of developers in each of the latest games, online just isn’t the same, and when you learn to play online, you’re probably going to end up playing a different game by the time you do manage to play someone offline.
A friend of mine actually explained this to me as being one of the negative aspects of Mortal Kombat 9. Because the online is poor, people play the game differently and it transitions into the offline scene. Although I’ve never seriously played Mortal Kombat and dropped it simply because I didn’t like it, this wouldn’t sit right with me. Coming from a scene of low player density is basically the reason behind why I initially dropped King of Fighters XIII. I knew that no matter how much I played with friends locally, the online would be insufficient and that I would never have the opportunity to learn a variety of matchups that I would encounter at Evo.
Casual, or competitive?
But do you really have to be competitive to choose which games you want to play? Of course not. I play Super Smash Bros Brawl all the time with friends just to screw around – that’s pretty much what the game is made for. There’s plenty of games out there that can satisfy both your competitive and casual fighting game palate, and choosing which is usually a simple matter.
Is there a scene sufficient to support your interest in a competitive game? Can you afford it, after having bought other games? Do you find a casual game fun? Do you feel comfortable pursuing a competitive game in a tournament setting? These are all questions that dictate which fighting games you are going to choose to play or leave behind.
Of course, the inevitable concern – what about a subsequent iteration? The FGC has had no trouble transitioning through three iterations of Street Fighter IV and despite some initial skepticism surrounding the Ultimate addition to the Marvel 3 series, the game turned out to be just as good as the original.
This shouldn’t deter folks from playing older iterations of games, but really, you’re playing a game that isn’t necessarily meant to be played that way. Continued iterations of games usually tailor the game to the best interest of the playing community, and this also means you’re excluding yourself from potential new characters and gameplay modes.
With that said, however, just as the Starcraft community moved from Starcraft to Brood War to Wings of Liberty and now onwards to Heart of the Swarm, as each “main game” experiences a new iteration the players move from the old game to the new one. Street Fighter 5 would be no exception but whether we can expect it to materialize has yet to be seen.
Moving from a game like Street Fighter back to regular games could just be because playing Street Fighter was a fleeting experience similar to playing the game of the month that comes out throughout every year. But to members of the FGC, picking up a game entails a serious commitment, so quitting them is deliberate. Like with any game, it’s better to stick to where you’re most comfortable and if you’re trying out new games this inevitably means you’ll find one that doesn’t suit your tastes. Let the games do the talking, and listen.
* An argument could be made that they are actually playing two different games, Starcraft II and Brood War, but it remains that Starcraft II is the focus of attention and the centrepiece of the scene.