Well Evo 2012 has come and gone, so no doubt many of us have caught videos of those epic matches. Surprise defeats, epic comebacks and everything in between. We witnessed a veritable clash of the titans as luminaries such Daigo, Justin Wong, Gamerbee, PR Balrog (I’m quite partial to UMvC3′s the Man with the Bionic Plan: Combofiend) went head to head. When the dust settled, fame and fortune (relatively speaking) was theirs for the taking.
Now as you can probably tell by my rather flamboyant verbiage on the subject, I am an unabashed fan of eSports and professional gaming. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on YouTube watching and re-watching classic matches, but then, why wouldn’t I? Competitive gaming is an eminently watchable phenomenon. High level competition between some of the best players in the world? In the field that’s dominated my hobbies since I was old enough to pick up a controller? Hell, this must be how sports fans feel.
In watching professional gaming, we are presented with a showcase of superior strategy, of gameplay mastery, of brilliant timing, coordination and reflexes, and presumably the hand dexterity of a concert grade pianist.
To me, as a spectator sport, nothing epitomises these values more than fighting game competitions. Sure all these traits are present in FPS, strategy or even sports pro-gaming, but this isn’t just the fact that I prefer fighting games biasing my opinion (bite your tongue; gaming journalists are never biased, ever). No, I believe that this particular genre of gaming lends itself to the most easily digestible form of eSports watching.
Now, before those of you who follow StarCraft II competitions or COD matches begin grabbing your pitchforks and torches, hear me out. Think about it. StarCraft and COD are an often dizzying cavalcade of information. An endless barrage of highly complex micromanagement and hotkeying for the former, and fast twitch reflexive gameplay for the latter. Moreover, it is an inherently unbalanced affair to watch. One way or another, the viewer will be forced to focus on one side, such is the size and scale of competition between two armies or two multiplayer teams. No bird’s eye view will ever be adequate enough to encompass everything that is going on.
In stark contrast, for fighting games:
- Matches typically last less than two minutes (quick, but not overly so).
- Gameplay is at a speed that can be processed easily (not something that may induce seizures and/or motion illness).
- It’s two characters/teams beating the crap out of each other in traditional fashion (which makes it a rather more close up affair).
Now this just might be because I’m not sharp enough to enjoy and follow high intensity strategy or shooter gameplay, but you have to admit that two characters locked into a hand to hand battle is a lot more dramatic and easy to follow. Because there is so little (in comparison) to focus on, because the scale is so intimate and because you can clearly see exactly what both players at doing at the same time, fighting games have an advantage as a spectator sport.
Elegant in its simplicity, they are the traditional manner in which gamers can compete (only since Street Fighter II, but it has seniority), and as a simple easy-to-process package, highlight the virtues that make competitive gaming so interesting. A mastery of mechanics is apparent in the superior combo strings. Strategic ability is displayed as the two combatants continually outsmart and outplay the other. Timing, coordination, reflexes and hand dexterity? Well, go see Daigo vs Justin Wong Evo 2K3 for a rather brilliant example.
So whilst fighting games might not be the biggest, or the most popular genre in the ever growing realm of eSports, I believe that not only is it the most accessible (accessible and games need not leave a sour taste in your mouth), but it may just be the most dramatic example in the world of professional gaming.