I've loved fighting games since I was a kid, but I never thought there were whole communities around them. Competitions. Majors. Prizes. Legends.
How does one become a gaming journalist or writer? How does one connect their passion to a job? It took me a long time to make that happen.
I'm not exactly sure what attracted me to fighting games in the first place. I think it's mostly about the aesthetic of my favorite characters and the fun of pulling off special moves. The sword clashes, the perfect parries, throwing super attacks back and forth. Reaching for that ultimate technique to pull off a miraculous comeback.
Other than some Kunio Kun games on the NES, I've mostly played fighting games starting with the PS1. Battle Arena Toshinden 3 was one of the more memorable ones; the sizable cast had so many special and super attacks in their arsenal, pulling them off was both easy and fun. I also loved Marvel Super Heroes, which takes a backseat to the more mainstream Marvel vs. Capcom games. MSH featured the famous Inifinity Stones, which you could use during battle for special effects. That was always really cool.
Soul Blade (the granddaddy of the Soul Calibur games) also caught my eye and hooked me on the Stage of History forever. I've played every game in that series and still really enjoy the sixth one, the latest installment.
However, everything changed in 2005, when a Polish magazine CD-Action attached Guilty Gear Isuka (it was a magazine with full games on CDs, every month!). I've never heard of Guilty Gear before, and Isuka was the oddball game; it was a 4-player party fighting game.
I was loving it though, and much to my surprise, the same magazine included another GG game next month: Guilty Gear XX #Reload. And only then it dawned on me. This is supposed to be a 1 vs. 1 fighting game, not a party beat' em up. And I fell in love with the series. That was also the first game that I decided to seriously learn, as Guilty Gear has a lot of depth.
I found Dustloop, which is nowadays mostly a Wiki for a variety of games (heavy focus on Arc System Works fighters), but back in those days, it was a lively forum. This was probably the first time I stopped being an internet lurker and got out there a bit, posting in some threads, asking questions, and developing technology. Some folks figured out a mod for the GG #Reload game to play online on PC, and with the marvel of broadband internet in 2006, I'd go home from high school and challenge anybody and everybody as my Baiken and Anji. Little did I know, I would meet most of the people I've played in real life, later.
Meeting up with people
A lot of this networking took place before Discord was even born! I used Dustloop forums to go to some of my first tournaments. In Chicagoland area, it was Frosty Faustings (event concentrated on Guilty Gear, but it has grown tremendously throughout the years) and Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament (UFGT, which turned into Combo Breaker later).
Going to events like that is daunting at first, but it may just change your life. Think of them as conventions. They usually take place over the weekend, so unless you live very close by, it's time to get a hotel. That's the best part of it, though. It's a mini vacation packed with nerds who all share the same passion as you do, which means playing till whatever hour you want. And as you start to make friends across the country, each event will be like a reunion.
While I attended some of those big events during college, after I graduated, I started to show up to "locals" -- those are weekly meetups in certain venues where people show up to play fighting games. It's usually a combo of small tournament brackets, casual gameplay, drinks, and food.
The fighting game community is an awesome place, and it's welcoming; it strives to be as inclusive as possible. There are many Discord communities nowadays, and a lot of members use Twitter as well.
SRK and Evo
During all this time, career-wise, I was trying to make it as a games journalist. After writing for a few sites, I joined Shoryuken.com (SRK for short. It sadly doesn't exist anymore). This used to be the "home of the competitive fighting," a source of news and forums, and a website sitting under Evolution World Championships (Evo).
At SRK, I became a hybrid of journalist and competitor. My specialization in fighting games became a strong asset in several ways; I was good at reviewing titles (I was the in-house Arc System Works specialist), I was familiar with the scene at large, and I could write articles with authority. Knowing the scene was especially helpful as I often featured participants of online exhibitions and interviewed players. Traveling and going to events has been extremely helpful (and I can confidently say, things like these helped me get to where I am at SteelSeries).
I traveled to events more, including going to my first Evo in 2017. That year was particularly memorable, as I was able to interview the most important people behind the Guilty Gear and BlazBlue series (pictured above). Around that time, there were rumors circling around a collaboration between them and RWBY, the popular Rooster Teeth series, so I asked Mori about it, and he lied straight to my face. Two days later at that Evo, BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle was announced, which included the RWBY characters. No hard feelings though! I get it.
My best placements were in Guilty Gear Accent Core, the predecessor to Xrd and the current Strive. I scored 2nd place in 2019 and have had numerous top 8 placements at other tournaments. Evo is coming back this year under new management, so I'm looking forward to seeing how everyone receives it.
An online future
The pandemic deeply affected many of us, and it was a mixed bag for fighting games as well. Most small and major events were canceled as couldn't meet in person. Indoor events in close proximity were particularly risky. Conversely, many online tournaments began popping up in early 2020, which actually became fairly profitable to many players. Crowd-funded prize pools with Matcherino, combined with weekly online events, led to many embracing the online culture.
One persistent issue with playing online is the quality of netcode. Some games just don't have very good netcode -- it's typically delay-based. The worse the ping, the bigger the frame delay between your button presses and what happens on the screen. Some popular games still have this netcode, which greatly limits the scene for those popular games, such as Dragon Ball FighterZ, Granblue Fantasy Versus, Soul Calibur VI, and Samurai Shodown.
However, some games switched from delay-based netcode to GGPO, a rollback type of netcode that's vastly superior. This included my favorite Guilty Gear game, which received this better netcode thanks to community efforts (if you want to read more about this, I wrote a feature for Upcomer about it). A strangely good thing from the pandemic came, as developers realized their fighting game has to have really good netplay in order to have longevity in the FGC.
The netplay is so good, we even had a USA vs Japan exhibition!
In summary, I highly encourage anyone interested in playing fighting games to reach out and find a community. Forums are a thing of the past with Discord, making it very easy to quickly find some friends to play. Get out there and start fighting and making friends!