Over the last week there was a little brouhaha involving a certain journalist's coverage of competitive gaming. Her article was panned by readers for its anti-e-sports tone, sarcastic word choice and lack of research, earning itself a follow-up article to cover all the response.
In reality it's hard to really justify getting that excited about watching someone else play video games. For most of my life I've have little exposure to the pro-gaming community, aside from watching King of Kong a few times. The Billy Mitchell's of my world were lost to me for a long time but now...now I'm starting to see into a whole side of gaming I'd missed out on. Like realistic racing games and street basketball before it, I tackled the world of competitive gaming with gusto.
And I'm so pumped for EVO. Here's why.
1) I know the Billy Mitchells and Steve Wiebes of the world.
Justin Wong, Daigo Umehara, Ricky Ortiz, WolfKrone, Mike Ross, Floe, Clockw0rk Filipino Champ, Combofiend and MORE. There's a wild set of very regular, everyday gamers taking their game to unheard of levels. When I say regular every day I am not talking about skill level, the fact they're pros makes it obvious they're skilled. What I mean is they're black, white, asian, gay, straight, fat, skinny guys and gals who just have a passion and enthusiasm for virtual combat. Read this article by James Chen, which does a great job outlining the evolution of the Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 scene and names some of the big players this year.
Having gaming celebrities used to just mean watching Kevin Pereira on TV, or reading an interview with Cliffy B in a magazine. There was a golden age my (I'm 24 years old) generation missed out on in the 80s where the gaming chic was in full swing. For a while we didn't have Billy Mitchell, and by that I mean record breaking, people screaming, big competition...Remember that great Fred Savage film "The Wizard"? Did it ever feel like that outside of the movies for anyone? Not for me, at least. Not until point #4 on my list.
2) I'm learning the games
So after I started hanging out with Joe Endzel I started watching Starcraft II streams on the internet. Starcraft II is competetive as hell, but it's also really hard to watch a game that's mostly people trying to keep their actions-per-minute above some god level. That's a lot of mouse clicks. I switched channels to fighting games, and would just have them on in my room as I worked, as background noise. Soon though I was watching and learning about technique, combos and more. Watching some random gamertag go 30 wins with Sakura is thrilling, and on some weekends I'd catch a live streamed tournament. The tournaments became deeply interesting events, where commentators (some better than others, Chris Hu being among the best) give me insight into what I'm watching, more than I'd glean from watching the weekly streams. Soon I wanted in, so I went on a little shopping spree.
Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, Tekken 6, Mortal Kombat 9, Arcana Heart 3 and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 later, I was equipped. Joe and I sat down to destroy some games, and I quickly learned the ropes. Focus Attack Dash Cancelling, Dragon Punching, Delayed Hyper Combo, Level 3 X-Factor, Breakers and X-rays, On-The-Ground attacks...these are some of the phrases I know have more or less engraved on my thumbs. By gathering the knowledge of the games watching the games has become more fun. Just a little patience and a thirst for competition got me through hours of losing match after match to my friends, leading to my first victory. And it was sweet, though short lived. Sweet enough that I wanted for more. And in the world of competitive gaming there's always a fighter somewhere waiting for an opponent, which means there's always something new to learn...and new challenges to master.
3) Mob mentality
My friends play a lot of games. On top of that, a few thousand people play most of the games I like too. Online and off. This means that the lifespan and, in my opinion, the worth of my multiplayer games stays higher than my other single player titles. I can get crazy salty (fighting slang for "Filled with a boiling, all-consuming desire for revenge") grinding a team against my friends better skills in Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, learning from each failure and passing the controller, studying the other players choices and movements. There's lots that can be discussed about what you can observe in a good match up, and the eventual degeneration into gripes about win streaks and money match challenges makes it all the more fun.
Having a community makes a game strong. We define online communities by their shared interests. There's the Counter-Strike players, Starcraft players, Team Fortress 2 players, Bejeweled players, Xbox Live, PSN, Steam...There's a body of people looking to play games with each other, and there are games to support those communities. The ideas of clans: online teams bonded like brothers in arms with everything from entrance rites to codes of conduct. I was invited to a Modern Warfare clan by a friend of mine who I met at GenCon, and he described it like a gamer fraternity. Ultimately it wasn't for me, but the circle of friends I have for fighting games and high competition does have a name: The Dojo. And we like to kick ass. Cheesy as it sounds, friendship makes games more fun.
4) Evo Moment #37
No list about EVO would be complete without mentioning this fateful day in 2004. Daigo Umehara drops Justin Wong's Chun-Li, parrying perfectly 15 times before unleashing one of the finest counter supers in history. EVO is about the top level, the highest caliber of play. There's a chance each year that we'll be watching the next "stand up and sh*t yourself" moment of the decade, for the one past time we can all agree on. Isn't that exciting? Hell, even if you don't like baseball you freaking LOVE a Grand Slam. The thrill of victory is shared by the crowds that support the winner, and at top tier competitions the energy is definitely there, in person or via stream.
The numbers may be looking great or grim but the passion will always be there for competitive play. EVO is July 29th-31st, in Las Vegas at the Rio Hotel and Casino. More information can be found on their website. I'll be in Baltimore working Otakonthat weekend, so I'll be tuned in on my phone. I hope that if you've never given tournament spectating a chance you take this opportunity to try something fresh. It gives back what you're willing to put in, so treat it like the E-Sports Superbowl and throw a party. But be sure to drink plenty of water...it's going to be a salty day.