Another fifth Sunday, another Special Edition. However, this one will be unique. My situation has changed and, as such, so has my outlook. Simply put, I am... unhappy.
In case anyone missed it, the Dynamek One & Only was able to rock the mic in Vegas at Evo 2017. Serious milestone, to say the least. If you were able to read my last piece, you already know how I feel about what was revealed that Sunday. Unfortunately, something spoiled a wee bit of the excitement for me. Since I'm not interested in pulling my punches today, I'll be blunt: the parallel between KOF XIV's perception & the perpetually lukewarm attitude towards SF5/obvious conflict regarding MVCI has officially pissed me off.
You see, for the last year, I've been supporting the KOF community every way I know how. I believe that you can lift up one title/series/company without tearing down another. As such, despite my varying levels of disapproval for some aspects of the other games that currently fuel Our Shared Passion, I had no problem whatsoever participating. (In one such case, even though I'm not a fan of the game, I was commended for my enthusiasm on the mic for SF5.) One rule I hold myself to while commentating is that you cannot hate the game you're watching. During the very early days after KOF XIV's release, I saw a broadcast of the game that was physically painful to endure because whoever it was they had on the mic audibly hated the game. Were they wrong to dislike it? Absolutely not, that's their right to discern their feelings towards it. They WERE wrong, though, in allowing that disdain to have any type of effect on their commentary. Doing so shatters the immersion that goes into watching/appreciating a stream.
Now, I'm not daft. I know good & damn well that pointing out the faults of others is hypocrisy without acknowledging my own. In this unique case, I'm talking about the faults of my game of choice. King of Fighters XIV did very little to persuade me in terms of presentation when it was first announced. Unlike some members of the FGC, I happen to know my history when it comes to games & franchises. I knew that SNK had been on the receiving end of a lot of rough years when it came to development. As much fun as this game & their two previous installments were, they were three entirely different experiences. XI was that last (new) hurrah for the traditional 2D sprite style that made the company famous, while XII/XIII were broken down & remodeled sprite by sprite from the floor up to be something new. No joke, I was actually depressed after coming to terms with how amazing XIII was in terms of overall presentation.
And then... six long years of silence.
We heard virtually nothing from SNK for the better part of a decade. Why? Because they needed time to get their act together. Once the ground beneath their feet had been secured, they went back to work to reimagine their flagship series for a new generation of both players & consoles. Unfortunately, this was their great folly. SNK put their all into releasing a video game in the Era of eSports. Without the deep pockets & media exposure of their peers, KOF XIV was only ever going to reach a limited handful of players within the community. I feel the need to make an important distinction here: The previous statement is only referring to the North American community. For anyone paying attention, KOF is to the international FGC what soccer/fútbol is to the rest of the world. Here in the States, though, that is most assuredly not the case. If you don't have at least six or seven figures and a TV deal behind your franchise, you just ain't worth a damn.
That did not stop them from trying, though. You see, not unlike Yager Development did with Spec Ops: the Line, SNK opted instead to work within their immediate means while everyone else has been reaching to the stars to support their respective games. This translated into lending a measure of support behind the more grassroots events. Since they were in no position to just lob money at each & every event on the calendar, they opted to show support with free merchandise and promotion of the lower profile events. Their efforts were focused on making the game playable/enjoyable rather than making it (seem) nigh omnipresent. They took their time to address concerns within the game by listening to the community. In doing so, we got comprehensive balance patches, an ever-so-slight graphical boost & new music all for free. In terms of what needed to be purchased: alternate costumes & fan favorite DLC characters. Given the current climate of the FGC's perception, that last part is important. Despite all this, KOF XIV is still just a video game in the Era of eSports.
Will there ever be a time when SNK & its flagship franchise are mentioned in the same breath as Street Fighter V, Injustice 2 & Tekken 7 (a.k.a. the current Big Three)? Who knows? Could you call the game 'dead'? That's entirely subjective, if I'm being honest. However, if one were so inclined to label it as such, then the blame falls squarely on the players & community. I know that might sound harsh... maybe even offensive to some people... but the inconvenience of that statement does not diminish its veracity. As someone who operates on the "other side of the screen", there's an expression that you become very familiar with while working in the FGC:
This can reference anything -- family emergency, previous commitment, freak accident, unforeseen circumstance, etc. -- that could legitimately prevent you from attending an event. It happens to all of us at one point or another, so I don't fault anyone who falls victim to this. I will, however, fault those who know of an opportunity to compete/make the community's presence known at an event & choose to look the proverbial other way. I will fault those who allow either the allure or absence of (possible) monetary gain to become an excuse to turn their back on something they allegedly love. I will fault those who equate scheduling/stage placement as legitimacy or relevance. All of these people are the reason why the idea of SNK simply doing what they originally set out to do -- make a video game -- has somehow become no longer enough to maintain the FGC's attention.
So if Evo 2017's legendary Top 8 for KOF XIV -- a showcase that was equal to the opening bell on a ravenous day in the stock market -- proves to be our grand sendoff, I can take comfort in the undeniable fact that it was an epic tournament from beginning to end. Because of this knowledge, I want everyone whose eyes happen to come across this write-up to remember something important. Whether it's next month, next year or next console generation and you find yourself bemoaning an unimpressive roster... rolling your eyes at momentarily lackluster graphics... condemning the nickel & dime hostage situation that DLC always has the potential to become... wondering why only a select few ever get all the glory... or simply complaining that no one is listening to you, revisit KOF XIV (in any capacity) and remember that SNK once gave you a video game in the Era of eSports.
Until next time... keep fighting the good fight, my friends.