Why you should attend a tournament in 2013
When you watch a tournament stream, you get a very narrow view of what a fighting game tournament feels like: top players on a stage, the highest level of play on the screen and the occasional crowd shot at the end of a match. It’s not at all a bad view of the community, but it is a narrow one. Less than 1% of the experience at any major makes it onto a stream, and that small percentage may contain some of the best matches to watch from home. At an actual event, however it is very easy to forget about the streamed matches completely when faced with a 2-3 day window of casuals and hanging out with people who you may not get to see again for another year.
One of the things I wanted to do, starting in 2012 and moving forward, was show more parts of tournaments that people don’t see when they are watching streams, things that people who attend tournaments are familiar with but that people who have never been may not know about. Hanging out in hotel rooms is a large part of any major, and while there may be the occasional after-hour stream, you don’t really get to see the scope of it. On the Saturday night, or more accurately Sunday morning, of NEC I decided to do something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time: I went from the bottom floor of the hotel up to the top floor, knocking on every door where I could hear buttons from the hallway and asking if I could take some room pictures. What I got was exactly what I expected and exactly what anyone who has gone to a major would expect, but it still seems to be something that many fighting game fans who have never been to a major are not aware of: rooms full not only of Marvel players and Street Fighter players, but also of Tekken players, KOF players, Soul Calibur players, Persona players, and all manner of poverty game players.
There are two questions that I hear constantly from people who have never attended a fighting game tournament: how do I know if I am good enough to start going to tournaments, and why should I go to a tournament if I am just going to lose immediately? You can only answer the same question in words so many times before it starts to drive you a little crazy, so I hoped that pictures would get the point across a little more clearly.
How to know if you are good enough to attend a tournament
If you are a fan of fighting games, then congratulations, you have just passed the skill test to attend a tournament. Don’t worry, if you hate fighting games you have still passed the skill test to attend a tournament. Let’s be realistic here: your chances of winning your first tournament are pretty slim, especially if it is a big tournament, but then again, how good are your chances of getting to the level where you can win a tournament if you never go to any tournaments? Thousands of people have gone 0-2 in their first tournament. It is just something that may happen to you when you start out, but you play your hardest, take your loses if they come, and if you get eliminated you spend the rest of your time stress-free, enjoying the event and having fun playing, free of the constraints of the shakiness and tension that usually come with first-time tournament play. Yes, there are people who go to a tournament and are legitimately upset when they don’t win, but if you think all three hundred people in a three hundred entrant tournament came to that event because they expected to win, then you still don’t understand the fighting game community. Unless you have practiced extensively against high-placing tournament opponents, winning everything at your first tournament should be at least fourth on your list of priorities after having fun, meeting new people and trying to learn as much as possible.
Why you should still go to a tournament even if you may not win any tournament matches
I’m not sure where this idea comes from, but I have talked to a number of people online and locally who believe that they if they go to a tournament they will walk into the tournament, pay the entry fee, lose two games and then immediately leave the venue, get back in their car or on a bus and take a long drive or ride or flight home. If you are a fan of fighting games, there is never a better chance to be around more people with that same interest than at a tournament, where there are actual people willing to talk about games and give you tips with absolutely no interference from forum trolls or stream monsters. There is also tech that people will share in person that they do not post online. When you try to weigh the solo travel cost against the benefit of an hour at the venue, of course it seems like the trip isn’t worth it; the problem is that if you are balancing the solo travel cost against only one hour at the venue, then you have an unrealistic value entered for every variable in that equation. As you can probably tell from the pictures, the idea that there is nothing to do after you are eliminated from a tournament is completely ridiculous. For example, on the Saturday nights of both EVO and NEC, I didn’t go to sleep until sometime after 5:00am.
Another reason these events are so fun is that you get to meet people in person that you have talked to or played online. When you make friends who live outside of your area, it adds another reason, besides the games themselves, to show up to future tournaments. I’ve seen people take long drives and plane flights to attend tournaments where they weren’t going to enter any games just so that they could hang out with other people in the community and have a good time.
Making new friends also helps with the issue of how you can afford to go to a tournament. Hotel rooms, gas, tolls and other travel expenses become less of a concern when you can split them amongst a group of people. Splitting up the cost will not only save everyone money, it will probably make the trip, especially the travel time, more enjoyable. Even if you are going to a major and no one else in your area is going you can still split a hotel room with people from other areas who are also going. So when you look at it again, solo travel expenses vs. an hour at the venue is not a choice that anyone actually has to make; a more accurate assessment would be split travel expenses vs. 36-72 hours of fun and a lot of memories. If traveling to a big event is still out of your reach, there are local tournaments, weeklies, biweeklies, monthlies and special events you can still go to and meet people to play against and possibly travel with to other events in the future.
If you’ve only experienced fighting games like other genres of video games in which you only play against faceless competition online, and the thought of Marvel or Street Fighter or KOF doesn’t bring to mind the faces of people that you actually know as easily as it does the faces of characters from the game then you are only experiencing half of what fighting games are about. You meet people, you talk to them, you order pizza or Chinese food with them, and that is where the community part of the term fighting game community comes from. This is a community that started face to face, and even with the rise of online gaming it is still a face-to-face community at high levels. You can observe this community from your couch or desk but you can’t fully understand what drives it until you come out to an event.