Growing (Up and Out)

It looks like a bomb went off in my house.

SoCal Regionals ended Sunday night, and while there were some landmark moments—Kokonoe and Firebrand both taking their first major, for example—I won’t remember those as well as the times spent outside the venue. For three days my house was a crossroads for players; old friends mixing with new ones, stories about the Midwest intermingling with tales of California. There were good games, complaints, a sizable amount of empty beer containers and too many dirty towels.

A month and a half ago, Patrick Miller wrote about growing older in the fighting game scene and what that meant for him as player and as a person. He talked about aging out of active competition, and how our roles in the community can change as we pick up new experiences. For me, it’s much the same: although I can still devote more time to playing than Miller can, it’s easy for me to see the difference in how much I play now versus the time I spent playing a decade ago. My time is simply spent elsewhere: whether it be writing about the scene (like this), talking about games with the Super Desperation Radio cast or even simply attending to my personal life there just aren’t enough hours in the day anymore.

What Miller didn’t really touch on, however, is how the social aspect of gaming changes the longer we have been playing. Players in the FGC often like to comment about how major tournaments are a reunion of sorts, bringing people back together after an arbitrary amount of time has elapsed. When you’ve been playing games for more than a decade, that effect is magnified. And when you stop being able to attend every major tournament, the effect kicks into high gear.

Only being able to attend less than five majors each year makes every moment at those tournaments a possible “class reunion.” Whether it’s running into old Guilty Gear players who I haven’t seen in years or just talking to people I normally only communicate with through Twitter, each moment seems important. There are always too many people you want to see, games you want to play, beers you want to drink. You can never do it all, but for those three to four days there’s almost never a dull moment.

While some people will walk away from SoCal Regionals talking about the great competition, just as many will walk away with stories that happened outside the games. Maybe they were like me, watching Justin vs Khaos on a cell phone from the Anthill Pub upstairs while trading stories and talking about how “you don’t bet against Justin Wong.” Perhaps they caught up to an old friend they hadn’t seen in years and grabbed In-N-Out across the street. Or maybe they made some new friends bonding over a game they all liked.

That’s what makes days like today so depressing. The return to “real” life, complete with responsibilities like a work schedule or even just cleaning up the house, is always a letdown. There’s always someone who you wanted to talk to more, or someone you didn’t get to see. And you know that it’s going to be several months before you have that opportunity again, if not a year or more. That’s the real reunion aspect kicking in: while you know there’s another one coming up, you’re not sure just who is going to be able to show up even when you can.

As I survey the damage done to my house, I notice more the people who aren’t in it anymore. Yeah, there are dirty countertops and blankets are strewn everywhere, but those are minor annoyances. And while we’re always ready for a little peace and quiet, or time to heal from the newest FGC cold or flu outbreak, soon enough we’ll be wishing for this weekend back.

Because there’s never enough time.

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On eSports and the Future

Well, it looks like we lost another one today. While Champ’s departure from compLexity, and what I assume is the end of its fighting game division, is not the end of the world, it does continue to mark the shift of eSports teams away from the fighting game scene. Whereas once teams like vVv and CheckSix were making inroads into the larger fighting game community, now only Evil Geniuses remains to bridge the gap between the eSports community and fighting games. That isn’t to say everything is doom and gloom, mind you, as both Mad Catz and Brokentier continue to support fighters from within the scene, and tournaments seem to have more sponsors than ever before. It’s an odd shift at first glance, admittedly, but it makes the most sense: tournaments (and streams) have an easily verifiable way of measuring exposure because of the viewer count. Furthermore, and especially in the case of regional tournaments, it can make a lot of sense for a business to pay a one-time fee to try to gain more local attention, rather than to continue to support a team or player who may travel outside the range of its influence.

What all this—and ever-advancing stream technology—means is that our production quality is getting better even as our web of influence may be getting smaller. While start-ups like ESGN will continue to try and push fighting games into the mainstream gaming world, it’s hard for me to believe that Coca-Cola will ever be sponsoring fighters like they are League of Legends. And that’s O-K. While some may decry these developments as the beginning of a new “dark age” of fighting games, it can be more like our Renaissance: a time of new thinking that moves us forward. Believe me, a decade ago we would have loved to have the constant string of releases we do now, with more on the horizon. Guilty Gear Xrd, Persona 4 Arena 2, Mortal Kombat 10, Smash Bros. 4, a new Tekken and Ultra Street Fighter 4 are all on the way, giving just about every fighting fan something for which to look forward.  With that fact in mind, I don’t think anyone can argue that fighting games are going to disappear from the public eye again.

With that being said, there’s still a lot of nation building fighting gamers can do within the scene. Several years ago I rallied against eSports because I saw it as a censorship of who we really are as a scene, but today I understand that rejection was me reveling in a scene where responsibility for our words and actions was largely avoided. As people we’re all allowed to say and do what we want within the laws of this country, but those actions often come with equal and opposite reactions. Dropping slurs on Twitter probably won’t get players very far with potential sponsors, and tournament organizers who don’t live up to their promises probably won’t be getting a lot of attendees next time. That just makes sense in terms of business, even if people refuse to see the larger, more important human side of the issue. And while I still think eSports is a silly name, their methods of handling events as a business first in no way hurts us as a scene. In fact, I think it can help the scene because if a longtime TO or streamer makes enough as a business, that money can go back into the scene in terms of production, exposure or even prize pots.

There’s a well-known saying that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I think somewhere between 2008 and 2014 we lost sight of that fact. We wanted all the glitz and glamour of the big city, but hadn’t built the roads, the bridges or the drainage systems to support one. We can do that now. Yes, we’re not all going to be fighting-game millionaires in the next few years, that much is a sad truth. But as people who love fighters bring money from their 9-to-5s into the scene and those who are already working within the scene reinvest into the player base, we can all move forward. Heck, Evolution has been doing that very thing for a decade and they seem to be doing just fine. It may be slow, but we can get there. We just have to work together.

Canada Cup’s Capital Offense

WHAT THE SHIT?

As I watched Canada Cup Sunday night, AD it became harder to feel the intensity AD and hype of the team tournament finals because AD every time a match came down to AD the clutch, I found myself facing down another AD. It was AD one of two problems that kept an otherwise AD amazing tournament from being AD a great viewing experience.

Although there has already been a lot of complainingon Twitter, in the chat and among many people I talk to in the fighting community—about the cost of the premium stream, that is not one of my complaints about Canada Cup’s stream. Like it or not, people running streams have the right to offer options like a premium stream and charge whatever they want for said stream. My problem stems with the overall quality of the stream, as well as the placement of ads during the last day of competition.

So let’s start with the quality of the stream, because simply put it was terrible. It was choppy, laggy and several times crashed during both days of the competition. Each time the stream went down viewers were assured that it was being worked on to avoid future problems, but no sort of permanent fix was ever apparently reached. This is an especially huge slap in the face to people who shelled out money for the premium stream because they were promised a high-quality experience for that money. I was even informed that premium subscribers were told to turn down the definition of the stream if it was choppy for them, when they were paying to have the quality they wanted. At that point, Canada Cup’s stream had definitively failed as a business: it did not provide the services it promised to consumers. There are no ifs, ands or buts.

Meanwhile, the quality of the free stream was terrible even by middle-of-nowhere weekly tournament standards. While many of the lag and freezing problems seemed to be worked out by the end of Saturday, they returned with a vengeance Sunday night. During the team tournament I felt as though I was watching a stop-motion film or slide show given how much it had devolved. Some may argue it is my connection but I’m on Fios and have watched many Level|Up and TeamSpooky streams without any such problems. Again, the onus falls on the streamers to step it up.

And the ads. Oh the ads may have been the best part of Sunday night. On Saturday, ads were timed between matches, and I didn’t mind having them because they did nothing to interfere with my enjoyment of the tournament. I even mentioned that maybe people who paid for the premium stream should feel ripped off because all they were getting to see was commentators sit there and talk for an extra 20 seconds. I guess someone in Canada heard me because suddenly on Sunday ads were cutting into the middle of matches and often obscuring the ends, leaving me and every other free-stream viewer unaware of the victor until we saw the rematch screen.

Is this what we really want to move onto as a community? While I agree that it certainly is a great way to force people into buying your premium stream, it’s also a great way to convince me to never support your bullshit business practices. And I am someone who fully supports paid viewing as a way to reward streaming groups for all their hard work and help recoup the money they put into their equipment. Even if it is not the direct fault of the streaming group because of delay issues between what they see and what viewers see, it’s just another issue that should have been dealt with from the start. Never have I seen such problems from Spooky or anyone else who runs ads.

And that’s really it. While Canada Cup was a fantastic tournament with one of the best team tournaments I have ever (mostly) seen, I’m not sure anyone will remember that. Instead, I think we are all just going to wonder whether Capital One is really the right choice of creditor. Oh and this.

Good games, peace out Canada Cup.