If Chess is a sport, Then Fighting Games Are a Sport

Winter Brawl 8 LogoWe live in a world now, where a game becomes a sport. It can be a game of poker or even a game of League of Legends. The tireless efforts of its players, the stress of making the best plays, the grind to perfect every strategy it all requires constant devotion to the perseverance of rising above and beyond the average. To be more than just a casual player, sacrifices must be made. That can be financially, mentally, physically, or even emotionally but to win the game it is all worth it.

My roller coaster ride with the FGC started about one and a half years ago with learning about a social networking function called “Mashfest”. Words cant describe the sheer unnerving fear I had entering what I thought was a non-woman zone of confusion and hostility. Swaying about the atmosphere on pins and needle I was ready for an attack or reproach of my knowledge of whatever fighting game I was staring at. Would I fit in? Would I have be mocked? Where there opportunities to just play without judgment? We hear of the constant prevalence of misogyny and immaturity among the “stream monsters”; those that watch the matches on streams commenting horrendous remarks that make Charlie Sheen’s personal life look like a day at Chucki’e’Cheese. I will state quite expressly and clearly that my understanding of the FGC is limited yet I put all expectations, stereotypes, and fears aside.

At first glance, any outsider will look down at the FGC community not even taking a step into a tournie, community event, or salt chamber. Granted, the community may be riddled with immaturity, but this is an aspect that is prevalent in all gaming cultures and not just the FGC. With regards to misogyny, one would assume it would come with the package but on the contrary its almost unrecognizable for you see as I, a female gamer, entered the environment of the FGC even with my lack of knowledge I was welcomed as a humble addition to the community. Yes, there are instances that jerks will make themselves known, but one instance doesn’t represent the whole. One notable instance is during a Tekken Tournament when Aris Bakhtanians proceeds to making lewd comments to a fellow female competitor. We can evidently say that Aris is a jerk in the community, but that doesn’t solidify that all competitors are jerks.

What makes the FGC a profound experience is the history behind it all. Starting from its arcade roots it evolved into casual sessions after many arcades shutdown when home consoles were introduced. What truly kept players playing were underground sessions in basements, homes, and community events all run out of pocket from die hard fans. Fans whom enjoy fighting games because they are 1v1 competitive 99 seconds of uncertainty that requires your mental, emotional, and physical focus. You are not just playing a character when you play, you the character. Utilizing and adapting as you play to overcome your opponents playstyle is what defines the winners from the losers. The competitive nature of fighting games evoke a calling its players as Jane McGonigal states in her book Reality is Broken “ They shift our attention from depressing goals and train us to be more flexibly optimistic.” Even in the face of a possible lost, learning to stay optimistic is an important emotional strength that we can learn in games and apply into real life. Take Evo Moment 37 as a prime example below.

http://youtu.be/KS7hkwbKmBMEven with barely any health, professional gamer Diego Umehara victoriously won against Justin Wong and transformed the concept of the FGC for thousands of gamers. As Evolution2k9 and APEX 2014 winner Sanford Kelly says,

“What makes the tourney scene like nothing else is the hype and experience. When you’re there whether its playing or even watching the experience is so much better than if you were watching it at home on a stream. Although streaming can be a great thing, nothing beats the in-person feel of it. For me it’s a sport of sort because it takes a lot of mental toughness and awareness. Adapting to the competition makes it fun and also frustrating at times. Overall you can be battling for a lot of reasons. It could be for pride, honor, your ego, or just to make money. At majors, some get fatigue while others have much energy. How you are physically at a tourney affects you mentally.”

The competitive nature of fighting games has many of its players torn between defining it as a ‘sport”. Midtown Comics Creative Director and Lead Organizer and Founder of the casual fighting game organization Mashfest Jon Haehnle puts it

“Fighting games are a sport, if not particularly physical one. To win you have to be adept physically and mentally. It takes a combination of reflexes and strategy. If you’re only good at one of the two you won’t have much success.”

Take the story of two passionate gamers: Justin Wong, whom started in humble roots to become a professional full time pro gamer playing from arcades to local matches and finally to the largest fighting game event “Evolution Tournament” or EVO, and Mike Ross, one of the most passionate and well respected fighters in the entire Super Street Fighter 4 community.

With the announcement of League of Legends becoming an esport, we must really ask ourselves “If this can be a sport, why not fighting games?” Yet, to pitch the idea of even considering something to be a sport we must define what a sport is. Co-founder and Editor-in Chief of Chocolate Lemon Gamer, aka CLGamer, Christopher “Phire” Scott presented this statement from one of the greatest American broadcasters and sports announcers,

“There’s glory in the legends of this hard-muscled life . . . and there’s poetry in each season made of sweat and strife. But now’s the time to work and strain at a sport that tests the spirit and challenges the brain. Do you fear the force of the wind, the slash of the rain? Go face them and fight them — be savage again!”

– John Facenda, 1913-1984

Beyond micro and macro managing there is another level to fighting games that transcends the visible. Most of the matches you will see are more a battle of minds; either your opponents or your own. Fighting games require players to position themselves in their opponents real emotions and real thoughts bringing an immense amount of reality into a digital battle so much so that when you beat a player’s character you’ve beaten his ego, honor, and pride. Phire continues to state,

“While every game has an execution barrier and learning curves. I feel that fighters are one of the hardest games to excel at because of the requirements on [the] physical for one person to play a character or team at a high level and the learning curve is quite steep. Knowing data about the opposing character is important but it is equally as important to know the mindset of your opponent as well. Being able to see a set of exchanges and then adjust your play style within moments after is the hallmark of high level fighting game play. That’s really absent from many other genres.”

I will digress that I am the button mashing chick that screams bloody murder every time I get my arse kicked ( which happens more often than not). You ask me what buttons executes a shoryuken and I just do the hand motions with a quirky grin. I’ll choose a female character for a new fighting game I’ve never played before because I can identify with it better. However, what truly makes the FGC spectacular is the non-exclusivity of the community. Everyone within the FGC at these tournies are all people from different walks of life all bound by the love and respect of digital combat. It is because of that, the true FGC is at the community events, the salt chambers in the basements, the major tournaments all over the world, and the local arcades that are still open and running. The actual community is a wonderfully holistic racially diverse dynamic community of men and women who travel far and wide to watch and play fighting games. In the short span of time I have had the privilege of being a part of the FGC as both an observer and casual player, I’ve learned that there is nothing like that experience of being at a tournie, salt chamber, or community event. The streams simply don’t do the FGC justice. If anything, they are two completely different worlds. It’s exactly like watching a baseball game and actually being at a baseball game. Looking at one of the worst academic papers about the FGC (Maddy Myers and Todd Harper from MIT) it is clearly evident that the authors of the piece never once took a step into actual in-real life fighting game event. Their argument states the FGC has:

-An obsession with balance/Meritocracy

-Overwhelmingly hegemonically masculine playerbase

-Defensiveness vs other gaming communities (especially esports)

-In which all above encourage bas, exclusionary community behaviors especially to outsiders and particular women.

In what is to be recognized as an accredited academic institution providing work that is predicated on insufficient research is dumbfounding to say the least. People will look down at the FGC maybe because most of its player base are minorities, the extent to which the stream monsters portray themselves, or even rare instances of fights breaking out at tournaments. But there is more good to the grassroots DIY FGC than there is bad and if we want to pull out the gender issues and immaturities of the community we need to then pull out the same issues in athletic sports, the sciences, medicine, film, law, and music as these all show instances of the same underlying issues.

These are all human issues the permeate beyond just the FGC. Labeling a fight in a basketball game as “thug” and “boys being boys” at a hockey game is problem with perception of the viewer not the community. As Sanford Kelly states,

“There are those outside of the FGC(fighting game community) that look down on it saying we all have no lives and are kids. This bothers me because the drive to improve and travel the world to become [great] and also play the best is wonderful if this is your passion. Nobody should be disliked looked down on or hated for their passion. If that’s what makes them happy let them be. I have personally meet some of the most amazing people in my life due to the FGC and some even turned into family.”

We can get fogged up in the misleading news of what other channels have to say about the FGC, but I will say it plain and true. The FGC is one the truest examples of a community of gamers that exemplify true gamership for the sake of the love of the sport regardless of recognition. As my good friend and FGC liaison Johnathan Martinez puts it,

“You will never find a place where even the pro players are willing to give you tips and advice. There isn’t a degree of meritocracy because we all respect the game. Instead of being douches, every player is approachable and down-to-earth. You will never feel like an outsider. It’s such an embracing community because everyone is attending to learn and grow. The face-to-face atmosphere the FGC has, most other gaming communities don’t. They lack that aspect and it becomes less personable. FGC cannot even be online because every frame can be the difference of a good move and death. Every decision is a “high cost.” Every second can be a dramatic game changer and any player that stands up for a battle is given their fair degree of respect. This is why the FGC something more profound.”

As an outsider attending Winter Brawl 08, Defend the North, a salt chamber, and many community fighting game tournaments, I’ve come to truly respect the FGC. To all the passionate members that constantly get bombarded with outlets weighing it in a negative light, you shouldn’t care what anyone says. Make the strides to overcome the obstacles and if worse comes to worse, hold back to block.

To show your support for the FGC here are a few ways you can do this.

• Tweet out, watch, and tell your friends about ESGN TV’s Fight Night. Watch high level fighting game action and give these guys some views!

• Attend Final Round 17 in Atlanta, Georgia area or tune into the streams and tell other people about this event.

• Give Capcom Pro Tour shoutouts on their twitter feed! Plan on attending the events, and/or showing your support via social media, comments and forum posts.

• Support terrific content creators like Cross Counter, Maximilian, and Desk via a comment on their videos.

• Visit and contribute to sites/forums like SRK , iPW , and NeoGAF.

• Show some love to major’s sponsors/partners Bronkentier, Dustloop, 8wayrun, EVO, FreeStepDodge, GamingVisionNetwork, Homingcancel, KombatNetwork, MeltyBread, PutThatBack, TekkenZaibatsu, and VirtualFighter.

• Send appreciation and recognition to hard working tournaments organizers in the scene like LU|Alex Valle , Alex Jebailey, Eric Small, Larry Dixon, John Choi and so many more.

Jennifer | Narz
*Mucho gracias to all those that made this article possible.

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Founder, Staff Writer
Narz is a journalist whom writes about League of Legends, video game psychology, gaming events in NYC, and loves being a otaku. Currently studying CBT/positive psychology in independent research to one day become a Player behavior Specialist for eSports. She also loves curry and wine. (/◕ヮ◕)/