Fighting games are one of the oldest genre of esports, with international tournaments and championships dating back to 1996.
With a number of unique quirks and characteristics that set them apart from any other types of game, and boasting some of the most spectacular moments in gaming history, they have certainly generated huge interest over the years.
One of the oldest and most prestigious fighting game tournaments is the Evolution Championship Series, known more commonly as Evo. These tournaments began with the playing of early Street Fighter games, with the later inclusion of the Marvel vs. Capcom and Tekken series. Featuring famous players such as Alex Valle, Justin Wong and Daigo Umehara, the genre was soon distinguished by the character and unique playstyles of the more elite players.
These tournaments featured players from all over the globe, although by far the most prominent regions have always been Japan and the US. Both areas have very different metagames and professional scenes, particularly concerning the character choices in specific games.
Although Street Fighter was the most prolific series of the fighting game genre, countless others have risen in popularity in recent years. Professional leagues for Smash Bros., Injustice, King of Fighters and Guilty Gear all exist alongside the mainstays of the subculture.
Fighting games usually play out quite similarly. Although more free-roaming three-dimensional games do exist, they tend to be side-scrolling and linear for simplicity’s sake. The player selects from a list of characters, each of whom has unique statistics and abilities, and battles against another character. With a variety of attacks to use – kicks, punches, jumps and more – part of the true skill of fighting games lies in the art of combos.
Combos are patterns of attacks which allow for unique, character-specific special moves. Although combos can be as simple as pressing two buttons in sequence, the more lengthy and powerful ones require absolute pinpoint precision and timing, often with only a single frame’s worth of time to activate each input. This means that professional fighting game players must have absolutely perfect timing in order to properly execute these moves.
Another crucial element of competitive play lies in the understanding of the game. Each game can boast dozens of different characters, all of whom have completely different attacks and combos. A top-tier player must memorize all of them so they know which maneuvers their opponent could potentially use against them.
In the highest levels of competition, players often seem to be reacting to their opponent’s techniques with unbelievable speed. Although reflexes are important, just as important is the art of prediction – the ability to know your opponent’s best course of action before they follow through with it allows you to prepare a counter more easily. Famously technical, fighting games therefore have an extremely high skill ceiling, with even the most experienced and talented players making errors now and then.
Compared to the more popular esports such as League of Legends and Dota 2, fighting games are far more fast-paced and precise. Another difference is that MOBA games tend to be won or lost through overall strategies which are far more varied than they may be in fighting games due to the greater map scale. Conversely, fighting games are far more based upon reactions, instincts and precise timing. Whilst of course these things are useful to any competitive player, they’re essential to a professional fighting game player.
Although the prize pools might not be as grand as other esports (they are generally in the tens of thousands of dollars), fighting games tend to be far more active in small, local scenes rather than grand, international events. These community events showcase plenty of talent, with a great deal of banter and rivalry between individual players to add yet more excitement to the proceedings.
The genre tends to be less popular than most esports, largely due to the overwhelming variety of games within it. Whilst arena shooters and MOBAs only have two or three prolific serious competitive games, the niche of fighting games has far more, each of which requires a proficient level of technical understanding to appreciate properly. Naturally, this makes them less appealing to new viewers, particularly given the frequency at which these games produce sequels with radically overhauled gameplay mechanics.
Fighting games offer displays of extreme technical skill, a good deal of astonishing comebacks and some vivid characters – from the stoic Daigo Umehara to ‘murderface’ Tokido. Featuring some of the most impressive scenes in esports history, such as Daigo vs Justin Wong in the gripping Evo 2004 semi-finals, this branch of esports culture is definitely worth getting into.