Sitting Centerstage: Saturation of Fighters

Fighting Game Community, 2017… It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Tensions & passions are running high in the ushered FGC era of E-Sports. Call it a schism, growing pains, sell outs vs. stubborn old fools or whatever you please… it’s not the smoothest of transitions. While all this is happening, the games keeps comin’ and the matches keep thrillin’.

Usually, I do an EVO wrap-up and this is one, but I’m going about a different perspective this time. I’ve grown accustomed to the magic that comes with the event. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t diminish a Daimon Climax or the Sunday reveals that blew the roof off the place. Come midday Sunday, during lunch I was asked what my highlights for the weekend were so far. Quick answer was Skullomania because... well, c’mon, do I really need an explanation? Given a little more thought, I realize my highlights are always the same every year. It’s the ‘where were you when-’ moments shared with my family & friends. Take EVO 2014 for example, my first major tournament attendance I was watching a friend of mine almost crack top 8 in Killer Instinct (shout outs to the real family man DreamCrusher). All the while enjoying everything with my father, so personally it was a father-son experience as much as it was my first major and oh, by the way, it was EVO 2014.

Secondly, I love seeing the FGC in its glory. All its facets and branches in motion are a well-oiled machine. I’ve called it before the ‘modern day arcades.’ Seeing so many games and every station occupied is a beautiful thing. As I looked over the official side tournament “AnimEVO” run their games, I repeated to myself what I’ve been hearing for the past few weeks, there’s a lot of fighting games… possibly too many.

“There’s a lot of freakin’ anime games” was more like it. Then it dawned on me that I wasn’t even counting the other games that I saw there in whatever capacity like Super Turbo, 3rd Strike, Project M, SFxT, Pokken, Skullgirls, MVC2, KI plus anything I missed. A few years back, side tournaments were retro fighters only, nowadays not so much. Throw in the other 3D fighters such as Soulcalibur, Dead or Alive & Virtua Fighter that expands the list further. I don’t even know if there’s competitive scene behind the last JoJo game, but for the sake of fairness, it is a fighting game. So are the forgotten, almost tragic Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale/Rising Thunder’s of the world. Some Divekick anyone? I’m sure you’re getting the picture I’m painting here.

Looking ahead for next year, to reinforce the running gag, ‘anime won 2018’ with more games. We were doing fine with our neat little lineup, then ArcSys comes in and gifts us two fighters we never knew we needed in DragonBall FighterZ & BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle. Of course Infinite is slated in about a month with whatever ripple effects it’ll have on the Marvel community, but flying under the radar is the Arika fighter & Dissidia NT. Even more so flying casually is that Icons game which, before you call it Smash Bros. functions, is the handiwork of the team that did Project M. No Nintendo charm, but it’s almost guaranteed the mechanics will be deep. Now as a fighting game enthusiast, you can never say there’s too many, however… for this community, it could be.

The saying goes ‘if you build it, they will come.’ Most definitely with the passion that drives this community, but how many and to what scale? Not everyone looking to organize a tournament, event or E-Sports league is privy to the ‘play to the room’ concept. The reality of this pickle is that stage placement doesn’t dictate legitimacy no matter what any rabid fanboy that’s blinded by the bright lights rants about. On the other hand, we’re at a point where events have to be picky with their games, so something’s going to get cut and something’s not going to get the main stage treatment. There’s an impending oversaturation in the FGC (if it already isn’t here). To reiterate, this’ll affect our tournaments and trickle down to the air time/even representation each game gets, then finally the attention spans of the players & spectators. Stepping back a little bit to see from the E-Sports scale, with the established business models, philosophies and approaches to providing content for games & making them… I’ve heard some theories of a second dark age on the horizon.

Quick crash course: an FGC Dark Age as in a drought of fighting games for a few years. Whatever we have now, we will sit on for a good while. That would lead to stagnation & we would revert back to where we were pre-SF4 from a new game standpoint. To elaborate though, first Dark Age was the timeframe of GGX2, Tekken 5, SoulCalibur etc. So it really was just Capcom MIA. It’s fair to say history is repeating itself. Although SF5 & soon to be MVCI are spearheading the E-Sports side of the genre (to no surprise), we all painfully know it’s lacking some substance. The apprehension comes from Capcom not getting out of its own way and others trying to follow suit getting lost in the shuffle, or complacent with their IPs & coast with steady DLC as opposed to making sequels or other IPs. I did give the notion some consideration but to be completely honest, that was before the BlazBlue crossover came…

I always joked that if we ever get an official MUGEN, that’d be the ultimate end for fighting games. Nothing would top it once the wild dream of comic book proportions gets enough balance for everyone to slap their logo on it. That idea is very extreme; instead the practical alternative, as ArcSys has proven both, is that there’s untapped potential for new franchises in the genre as well as unexplored territory in the form of crossovers. There’s still Tekken X Street Fighter, and everyone is still willing to throw their wallets at a Capcom vs. SNK 3. Maybe we need to come up with a better label for what we experienced in the 2000s and what the future can behold.

Any future with Skullomania in it is a bright one.

The big business aspects of the FGC is worrisome, but despite whatever corners are cut or support is given, business is always looking for the next big hit. Namco, SNK  and even Capcom (should they choose to get their act together) have so much left in the tank for IPs. NRS & ArcSys are definitely up to the challenge; the former being the proverbial cockroach defying the odds while the latter is getting it’s cool, new kid flow going with DBFZ. As easy as it is to call out Dark Age, we can just as easily say Golden Age.

If there’s a life lesson that’s been stressed for me in the past few months, it’s that you have to take the good with the bad. We’re feeling the growing pains of making the jump to the prime time while, at the same time, dealing with the ever present elitist attitude between the sub communities. The E-Sports stage has given more fuel to that fire or, in these numbskulls heads, ‘justification’ to prop up theirs and belittle others. With that said, every time I go to EVO or a big tournament with a laundry list of fighters, I’m reminded of why I love this… there’s literally something for everyone. Seriously, if you don’t have a fighting game that you like you just don’t like fighters. It’s not necessary to like every game equally, nor is it possible. Pick & choose what you like to watch or play and don’t impede others you might be indifferent towards or even dislike for whatever reason. Trust me; this will make the transition a lot smoother.

Remember, just by our genre’s nature, competition is healthy. This goes from the top to bottom and everyone would like a piece of the pie. So as long as that stays constant, we’ll receive content. That’ll ward off the dreaded drought… but for real though, where am I gonna get the time to play all these games???

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