A Retrospective on Tournament Attendance

My name is bellreisa, and I am a nobody in the fighting game community of 2013.

To many people, I am an important member of their individual niche of the overall community. Some consider me one of the figureheads of the American scene for Immaterial and Missing Power. Others have been following my performance in Melty Blood from the early days when the game was still a casual fan-made game on the PC. But to the majority, I am another nameless “anime fighting game player” out of hundreds across the country.

As of this writing, I have been playing fighting games for almost 20 years. I started like many other kids did in the 90s, when Street Fighter II was in its heyday and Tomo Ohira was the name of legends. I didn’t play seriously until I started college in 1998, and like many others starting out I was absolutely terrible. I lacked many parts to my gameplan: fundamentals, adaptation, execution, and the mentality of a fighter. It took many, many years and hours of endless sessions across multiple games before I got to the point where I could be considered competent, and even after all that, I’m still a far cry from top tier player material.

Most players in the community are in their early to mid 20s. While the attitude towards older gamers has gradually softened over the past few years, the overwhelming mentality for people who play fighting games in their 30s and 40s is still the same. You’re too old for this shit. Your reactions aren’t as good as they used to be. You don’t have the time to practice the new games, and you really should have better things to do in your life than sit in some guy’s house playing games for 6-8 hours. The fighting game genre is, in my opinion, one of the most unforgiving and time-consuming genres out there, as you need so many separate elements to align in order to succeed.

Recently, there has been a fair amount of discussion about whether attending EVO — by far the largest tournament in the world at this point — is even worth it. Viscant made an excellent post about it and I felt like providing my own perspective on it as a non-mainstream, non-top player.

Attending a tournament is by far the most rewarding experience that a player can have, as it not only puts your abilities to the test but is often one of the only chances you’ll have to play certain people, socialize and more. When ShinBlanka announced that Kusoru would be attending Final Round XV and entering Melty Blood, most of the Melty scene was ecstatic. Even though Kusoru didn’t actually play the game, he remains a high-profile player in the Guilty Gear scene for his trolling and randomness. Aside from the promise of his infamous shenanigans, it was a great opportunity for our game to be indirectly publicized through a famous player entering.

The tournament didn’t start well for me; I ended up facing Garu, one of the strongest players from Japan, early on and was sent to losers. Originally, I was slated for double jeopardy and I was ready to accept my fate until the tournament organizer floated me to the other side of the bracket. As I stood in the humid ballroom, buzzing from the rush of two NOS energy drinks coursing through my bloodstream, I’ll never forget what he told me.

“Bell, your next match is going to be against Kusoru.”

I had been playing fighting games for almost 20 years, and that was the instant when I realized that everything had aligned. This was going to be my one chance to face a legendary player… and more importantly, this was going to be my one chance to leave my own impression in the scene. Without hesitating, I responded:

Make sure I play on stream.

There was never going to be another moment ever like this again. Kusoru didn’t care about Melty; he had come to Final Round XV to play Marvel (where he trolled his way to victory there). If he came back next year — which he didn’t, by the way — he was probably not going to enter Melty and even if he did I had no guarantee of facing him again. As for myself, I was already well on the way to accepting my average, non-top player life. I wasn’t even originally planning to go to Final Round until a last-minute deal came through for a flight. On top of that… my character had an infinite that only worked on Kusoru’s character. When I think about it now, the perfection of that moment seemed almost scripted, a coincidence that would’ve been contrived by Hollywood standards. I knew I would never be a top player, but I didn’t need to be in order to leave my mark on the scene.

I was so focused on landing the infinite that I nearly lost my matches. After the match was over, I stood up and knew that this was it: this was going to be the pinnacle of my career. I was never going to take 1st in a major tournament, but that didn’t matter. I was euphoric regardless, and had I not gone to that tournament, that defining moment never would have been possible.

Most of us are never going to be top 3 in the tournaments that matter, but that shouldn’t make a difference. Even if you’re not a high-profile player, even if you’re not the best in your local community, even if your moment isn’t as high-profile as mine was… these events can only happen if you go out and participate. The fighting game community is only as good as you can make it to be. In the fighting game scene of 2013, people should never forget how the community got here as a whole and continue to support from the bottom on upwards. The scene will grow and improve only if people remember exactly what it is that makes these games fun to play.

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