Gamestop has been holding a national tournament for Street Fighter IV players and Jenna and I went to check out the action a few weeks ago.
We managed to catch the third round of the tournament with the final round gathering the top players from all over the country in San Francisco. The grand prize of that tournament is entrance to EVO 2009. The winner of the tournament we attended won a Tournament Edition Fight Stick, a very desirable prize on its own.
The action was fierce between the players and there were plenty of onlookers as well. You could sort of sense a community growing in the building. As I watched later rounds of the tournament, I overheard conversations between the fighters. Phone numbers and gamertags were being exchanged. It seemed SF IV was fulfilling some unsaid promise to rebuild the fighting game community that reigned in the days of Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat. I half expected quarters to take up space on the controller decks.
How does a game go from "Ken Fighter IV" to a real, tried and true iteration of a great fighting game franchise? The skilled players remain, while the mob that buys the game the day its released and moves on to the next Halo.
I think that phenomenon is really problematic. With the rise of online play there's a grab-bag of benefits and costs. Now people will always have someone else to play with, but is that other person someone you really want to spend your gaming time with?
I know that the answer for me is frequently "No." How do we build a network of people to play against that consists of people we actually want to be around and interact with and match our skills and wits with?
There were a few things I noticed about the competition. A lot of people mained Balrog and Byson. As the tournament eliminated more and more competitors, we kept seeing more of those two fighters. Ironically enough, the only Zangief we saw lasted until the very last round, where he was (to our dissappointment) bested by a Balrog. The only Ken at the tournament lasted about half way through. As I watched the competitors exiting the stage, I wondered what their opinion was of the lone Ken. It was a much younger competitor.
My hypothesis is that, the only Zangief at the tournament had probably been playing SF competitvely since SF II, while the only Ken we saw was making his first foray into competition.
I'm hoping to make my way up to San Francisco for the Final Round. I wonder what kind of mix we'll see at that tournament.