Competitive gaming. It's such a weird term, and one which almost drowns in it's ludicrous nature. The idea of playing a 'game', an almost pointless task in itself, seriously is one which doesn't hold much merit with the modern community. It's like being a professional movie watcher. But it's there. People make money out of it these days. They're pseudo-celebrities, and enjoy respect and admiration from the scene they play in.
Millions of people line up in Korea to play Starcraft against each other. They take the game so seriously, that people are now facing jailtime for match-fixing. In other places, Call of Duty is universally played and considered the peak of online FPS. Just type 'no-scope cod' into YouTube, and watch how people have made thousands upon thousands of videos, just on using sniper rifles in a interesting way. People all over the world have stopped playing games just for fun. There's more riding it on it, and the level of competition and passion found in these circles is undeniable.
Since the dawn of the online age, I've always enjoyed playing against others on a casual level, but now something has took hold, and has started to change the way I look at gaming.
I am completely hooked on fighting games.
It's such an odd little pocket of gaming. It's competition condensed down into a strangely pure form. It's about skill, completely and utterly. In the same regard as fighting sports, it's all down to the player's individual ability, both mentally and physically. I'm not going to pretend that playing Street Fighter is as difficult as boxing or light vigilante work, but it still requires a level of commitment, and a degree of knowledge and understanding about exactly what you're doing. It requires complete concentration, and a level of intelligence to understand your opponent's moveset, and ways to beat exactly what he's doing. There's a well known phrase in the SF community, 'Street Fighter is Checkers, that with time, turns into Chess'.
A couple of months ago, I bought a copy of Super Street Fighter 4, to see what the fuss was about. It was relatively cheap, so I thought I'd take the plunge. At first I hated it. It's slow, and it's not flashy. There's no easy to way to win, and you can't unlock achievements easily. To a modern gamer, it feels broken. But that's when I started to speaking to the guys at Street Fighter Preston, a Facebook group dedicated to playing fighting games and getting better. Think of it as Fight Club, but for geeks. I asked them what's so special about this, and why a group of them felt compelled to set up a group about this game.
And that's where it happened. They were basically crack dealers, and give me a taste of it, and 'plugged me in' to the Street Fighting community. I was introduced to some streams, live videos of American tournaments with top players competing. It was something completely new to me, but I could see what was going on. There were hundreds of people, all crammed into a hotel function room, all jumping up and down whilst looking at a projector that was showing the match taking place at the front of the room. There was commentary. Just like a sporting event, there were two people talking over the match, explaining what's happening, and screaming as someone pulled off an Ultra move at the right time. It was infectious. It's what I had been looking for. People taking gaming seriously, and still having fun. It was hyped up. It was ridiculous. It was competitive. It looked FUN.
I could see, then and there, that this was something special. Here was a genre of games that was closed off from the rest of the world, but only because a degree of patience was required to sit down and try and understand it. Those who did so were rewarded with a community. Groups of people all over the world meet up and brawl, shunning online as a poor substitute to beating an opponent sat right next to you. There's No 10 year-old COD heroes sat in a bedroom, singing down a microphone. These are dudes in a pub, playing in the corner, and genuinely honing a skill that they've learnt.
I realised I had to do something, so I have. I've helped Street Fighter Preston locate a venue. Once a week, I'll be joining them to meet up, have fun, and practise.
There's local venues and tournaments springing up all OVER the North West. There's a rivalry with Blackpool and Lancaster, where people are striving to represent their town, to show just what they're made of. It's infectious, and that feeling of pulling off that combo and finally beating that opponent you never could, it's like crack. Believe me when I say, this is only going to get bigger.
If you've got any questions about any of the garbage I've just burbled out, or want to come and join us and see what all the fuss is about, check out Street Fighter Preston's Facebook page. HADOUKEN!