Competing with Fighting Games on E-Sports

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Players came from across the nation to compete.

By CHAZ PLAGER

Fighting games are a one-on-one computer game usually played in a competitive environment or casually with friends. You pick a character, your opponent picks a character, and each have differing moves they can use, as well as smaller details like movement speed, height, and stamina. Think Street Fighter or Tekken or Super Smash Brothers.

During COVID, I played Guilty Gear XXAC+R, and was instantly hooked.

This year I purchased a competitor pass to Frosty Faustings 15, an annual fighting game tournament held in Lombard, Illinois, about 15 minutes from Chicago.

On February 1, I left Palisades High School early to get on a plane by myself for the first time. I had bought myself a round trip ticket to Chicago. I’d arranged to stay with an online friend my age, with the tentative blessing of my parents, who had talked to his parents beforehand.

After two days of negative digit weather and heavy winds, I flew back at 8:45 p.m. from O’Hare, reaching the Palisades at 12:30 a.m. Overall, the trip cost about $340 to make. The biggest takeaway was a lesson in managing expectations.

The tournament Frosty Faustings started in summer 2007 when Mike “ElvenShadow” Bozcar became sick of having no one local with whom to play fighting games.

The event started small and grassroots, eventually growing into a large, sponsored event that this year attracted 3,300 participants. The tournament was held at the Westin – the entire first floor was used for the event.

With the advent of E-sports, fighting games such as Guilty Gear Strive and Street Fighter V have propelled into the mainstream, with teams and sponsorships being created that regularly compete for serious prizes. You may have noticed I entered as a competitor, meaning I was ready to compete for real stakes,

Though fighting games have a reputation for being hard, I found it was easy. Cumulatively, I have 3,126 hours on fighting games. That’s 130 days straight, or about a third of a year completely dedicated to fighting games.

And yet I’ve only played about 40 hours in person, because I can’t find anyone local who wants to play. I wanted to test my mettle in person, so I entered two at brackets at Frosty Faustings – Persona 4: Arena Ultimax (P4) and Blazblue Centralfiction.

Both are games I love, and both were double elimination tournaments, with several top players entering from across the nation. I felt that surely, I would go extremely far, maybe make the top eight?

No, I was 33 out of 162 in P4, and 65 out of 230 in Blazblue.

I was frustrated. How could I not be? I thought I was really good at something, and it turns out I’m not even in the top 15%. Why did I go 3-2 in both of my brackets?

Whatever the reason was, I learned an important lesson— managing my expectations.

Fighting games are not sports, they are E-sports. One controls moves on the computer and because even though I think about a move in my heard, it might not be done in time on the controller, which opens me up to a “free punish” from my opponent.

It’s frustrating to misinput (mess up an input or make a mistake) and even more frustrating to lose for it. That’s how I lost in the P4 bracket.

And then, I calmed down and realized that this was my first major tournament ever. Why did I expect to do so well?

A quarter of the bracket in any major tournament goes 0-2. No wins, two losses. Even a single win puts you in the top 75% of entrants, and two puts you in the top 60%.

And even if you may be skilled at the game, a competitive environment can cause you to choke up and lose because of mistakes.

When I complained to other contestants that I had only won three times, they just stared at me. One said, “You won three times? At your very first major? Playing one of the worst characters in the (Blazblue) game? And you’re complaining to me, a guy who has been going to tournaments for nearly three years and my best is 4-2?”

“Get real,” another competitor said.

While harsh, his words were entirely correct. I had done extremely well, and because I had set unrealistic expectations, I was obviously disappointed.

Even so, I’m glad I went. Not only did I get to meet several of my online friends who I had met through fighting games, I learned a lot about how to play better, my strengths and weaknesses – and traveling alone on an airplane.

I will absolutely be going back to Frosty next year. I might go 3-2 again. I might do worse. I might do better. But regardless, I had fun this time. Who’s to say I won’t do better next time?

If you’d like to play fighting games either in person or online, please email me at chazoplager@gmail.com.

E-sports are are played against competitors on the screen. The author of the story is playing as Ribbiwawa, which is on the left.

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