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My Multiplayer Story - How Street Fighter Made Me a Better Person

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My Multiplayer Story - How Street Fighter Made Me a Better Person

When we were growing up, my brother and I would fight a lot.

I've heard that's pretty natural actually, but when we were younger it always drove me crazy. Not because we weren't close, I didn't really care about that, but because my parents would always demand we be nicer to each other. Well, specifically, they yelled at me that I was too mean to him. I figured they were playing favourites, but looking back, we were very close in age, had similar interests, plus, we were little kids with awful tempers- we were bound to butt heads.

We would hit each other, a lot. I was bigger and stronger, but not by much. There's about two year's difference between us, so whenever I got a little bigger and tougher, he'd just have to wait a few months and eventually we'd be on the same playing field again. 

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OP-ED: Loathe to Love

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OP-ED: Loathe to Love

I think I hate games.

Not because I don’t like them, I’ve been playing games my whole life, and video games for longer than I remember at this point. I have a few moral objections to things in the gaming industry, but nothing that really makes me want to stop playing them forever. No, I think I hate games because I’m almost always destroying them.

HULK SMASH PUNY EMOTIONAL OPINIONS

HULK SMASH PUNY EMOTIONAL OPINIONS

Recently, I played last year’s Tomb Raider reboot. In it, Lara massacres the population of an entire island, almost single handedly. She kills an animal or two as the plot demands it, but most of her time is spent slaughtering the hundreds of beardy goons who get in her way. This is a far cry from the original Tomb Raider, where Lara was more interested in climbing and jumping around ancient ruins than fighting the four human enemies she comes across. Of course, the shift can be explained by realizing that modern Tomb Raider is inspired by Uncharted, which is in turn inspired by classic Tomb Raider, but I digress.

Take THAT, you beardy goon. 

Take THAT, you beardy goon. 

Tomb Raider has always featured that sort of destructive relationship with the world. The title even admits that Lara is a thief, a Tomb Raider, and, like Indiana Jones, she’s a scrupulous hero at best. You might ask why a name matters, but when you look at the titles of our most popular games today, you start to get a picture of the problem. Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed, all of them pretty squarely place your relationship with the world as an antagonistic one. You are a soldier, at war, a career criminal, an assassin. These are the fantasies we want to play out. We want to destroy.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. People need release, power fantasies sell, and with good reason. It caters to our instinct to lash out, to get even with the world and work through our frustrations in a safe environment. It’s fun to crash a car into a pedestrian in Grand Theft Auto because you’ve been annoyed at pedestrians before. It’s fun to kill a cop because you get to thumb your nose at the authorities. You’re the underdog, using the game as a way to fight back .

But there is a severe imbalance.

Three beardy goons, one arrow, and a pocket full of napalm. What's a girl to do?

Three beardy goons, one arrow, and a pocket full of napalm. What's a girl to do?

Throughout my tenure as a person who plays video games, I’ve depopulated kingdoms, rendered entire races of mystical creatures extinct, and beaten the ever-loving crap about of Ken Masters like a thousand times.

TAKE THAT, MASTERS. EAT MY DUMB PLASMA FIST.

TAKE THAT, MASTERS. EAT MY DUMB PLASMA FIST.

But I can count on one hand the games where I feel like my love for existing in the world was proportional to my having a positive relationship with it. Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon come to mind, sure, but even generally family-friendly Nintendo games like Mario and Zelda are about nothing but destroying the world and its inhabitants. The plot of the first two Metroids is literally Samus committing genocide.

Seriously, Metroid II keeps track of how many Metroids you have left to kill until you've eradicated the species.

Seriously, Metroid II keeps track of how many Metroids you have left to kill until you've eradicated the species.

It’s not hard to see where this destructive impetus comes from. Games tend to have a winner and a loser, and the distinction usually involves the winner triumphing in some way over the loser. Winning makes us feel good, especially when it means we beat someone else. In this case, that someone else is the computer, or in a more immediate sense, the game world.

I’m not calling for an end to video game violence or something like that. Games have violence like movies have violence. The recent crusades against violent games are the same crusade waged against rap, cartoons, movies and rock and roll. And personally, I sort of like violent games. Not always, and not senselessly violent games, but I’m not above playing Saint’s Row and kicking someone so hard in the balls they fly across the street. I’m not above feeling satisfied that I got a really clean headshot in Uncharted. I’m not above feeling that adrenaline rush that comes when you’ve accomplished something challenging, even if it involves killing a few dozen fictional dudes. Because they’re just that: fictional.

Catharsis, in .gif form.

Catharsis, in .gif form.

Games come from a tradition of winning and losing, but their key strength over board, card or playground games is showing you your moment to moment progress. A video game can always make you feel like you’re getting better. The easiest way to do that is have you complete multiple tasks, or in the now-common gaming parlance, “beat them”.

You beat a game, you rarely finish it, and you never end it. You beat it.

You assert dominance over it by completing every task it asks you to accomplish. The simplest task for someone to understand is defeating someone else with similar tools. Think about football. The core actions you do in a game of football are easy to understand because they’re just basic actions. Throwing, catching, kicking. You’ve known how to do those things since you were a baby. Video games on the other hand require you to press certain buttons and move sticks around to manipulate a 2D or 3D plane. It’s hard enough wrapping your brain around the actions necessary to make your on-screen avatar do anything at all, let alone trying to explain some asinine set of rules you’ve layered over those actions. Imagine if football never existed as a sport, and only as a video game. A newcomer would have to not only figure out how to control the game and manipulate it as a player, but also figure out its many, many rules on top of that. It’s hard, and would make people stop playing pretty quickly- the last thing any developer wants.

So, our games give us tools, explain how to use them, and then ask us to beat someone up. That person is hurting you, use your tools to hurt them more. Use your tools in conjunction, develop strategies, but make sure you kill them before they kill you. It’s easy to understand, caters to our natural instincts, and best of all, it’s fun.

I am the cowlord, bow before your moo-ster.

I am the cowlord, bow before your moo-ster.

I love Harvest Moon, but it is an incredibly complicated game for being “just” about farming. Chulip, a game about love, suffers because its goals are poorly communicated and abstract. Visual novels and dating sims are derided because all you do is read. You can’t win. In order to make a complex goal, you need to simplify the game, which doesn’t sell. In order to have a complex enough game, you need to simplify the goal, which makes it easier to lean on destruction, because that does sell.

Love is complicated, love is hard, we’ve always known that. Which is why hate sells so well. We want to feel powerful, and it’s easy to feel powerful when you’re constantly proving yourself superior to everything else in the world. Eventually you become the most powerful thing in the world. Destructive power fantasy is easy. And though it’s hard for me to say it, I like it sometimes too. It’s fun to feel powerful.

To be fair, I can see how this might actually be a little destructive. But it's for the good of mankind!

To be fair, I can see how this might actually be a little destructive. But it's for the good of mankind!

But, It’s also fun to feel like I’m making a positive contribution to the world. It’s fun to feel like I’ve made people’s lives better in the Ace Attorney games, or changed the world a little bit in Harvest Moon, all without hurting anyone or destroying anything. Even destructive games that aren’t about violence, like Katamari Damacy or Portal are rare creatures these days.

After finishing Tomb Raider last month, I decided that I wasn’t going to play another game this year where I was doing nothing but shooting people. It’s a small gesture. I’m still going to end up playing things where I have a negative impact on the world, or primarily interact with things though violence, but I want to put down the guns at least Just as a symbolic move. I want more Harvest Moons, more Ace Attorneys, more Catherines. I don’t want to want to have to hurt a single digital soul to get them.

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So, What's Happening With Capcom?

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So, What's Happening With Capcom?

Capcom might just be the single most confusing company in videogames right now.

That’s right, more than Microsoft’s Xbox One backtracking, Nintendo’s WiiU bullishness, and Square Enix’s maddening attitude towards Final Fantasy, Capcom has managed to make their every business move so confusing, so baffling, that they’ve developed one of the largest hatedoms in gaming.

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There isn’t a news article about Capcom in existence that doesn’t have some commenter fuming beneath it about how it’s the worst company in existence ever and why did they kill Mega Man those horrible people. But I don’t think these people necessarily hate Capcom. It’s hard to hate a non-physical entity that exists to put out products for your entertainment, even when they aren’t always great. My best guess is that these people are, like me, completely and utterly baffled by Capcom, and are angry to see their favourite games caught up in the mess they’re making right now.

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Let’s start with the most recent red flag: PAX. At PAX last weekend, Capcom’s booth was only showcasing one unreleased game: Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies. There was also a photo-op area for the new Strider game, and then demos of games that have already been released. Some demos for games like Monster Hunter 3, which came out in March. It’s strange, but it makes you think. Capcom’s marquee games right now are Ace Attorney and, judging by the amount of advertising still going on for it, Ducktales Remastered. Nothing against either of those games, especially not Ace Attorney since I love it so, but two digital only, niche titles don’t seem to spell out “marquee game for one of gaming’s giants” do they?

Meanwhile, Keiji Inafune, former head of R&D at Capcom and creator of Mega Man, announced a kickstarter for his new project, Mighty No. 9. To spare you the finer details, No. 9 is essentially Inafune making a new Mega Man game now that he’s left Capcom and no longer has access to his character. Inafune left Capcom while two Mega Man games were in development, both reportedly eaten alive by executive meddling, and cancelled soon after Inafune departed from the Company.

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But now that the Mighty No. 9 kickstarter is already funded and hitting stretch goals left and right, I imagine Capcom isn’t so pleased about cancelling those games. I imagine they’re wondering why they didn’t let Inafune make the Mega Man he (and the fans) wanted.

That or they’re still busy putting out other PR fires. Between Devil May Cry fans getting up in arms about the recent reboot, causing the game to miss sales expectations (one million copies isn’t bad, but it seemed like the game was worth a lot more to Capcom), and Resident Evil 6 hitting 4.9 million copies and still being considered a financial disappointment, Capcom is preoccupied with corporate schizophrenia. They can’t seem to decide what company they want to be.

Capcom, pictured here about to do battle with Capcom.

Capcom, pictured here about to do battle with Capcom.

Capcom wants to be like Activision, taking massive risks by pumping huge amounts of money into huge games and getting to call 4.9 million sales a disappointment. Capcom also wants to be like the more fiscally responsible Aksys games, relegating riskier propositions like a western release of Ace Attorney to digital only. But Capcom also wants to be like Atlus, releasing the previously digital only Ducktales Remastered in a limited physical edition with goodies inside the box. Of course, they also want to be like EA, taking risks on smaller games like Remember Me and making them big under Capcom’s umbrella. But then they also want to be like Nintendo, and rely on their classic staples by rereleasing old titles on every digital platform under the sun. And finally, they want to be like Capcom of the ‘90s, releasing minor updates and closely related sequels to Monster Hunter and Street Fighter for as long as people keep buying them.

But none of these companies MOs really fit together in any cohesive way. Especially when your company isn’t doing so well, financially speaking, and you’ve just suffered significant layoffs, like Capcom has.

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And what’s on the horizon for Capcom? Dead Rising 3, which, if its showing at E3 is anthing to go by, is trading off on the series’ trademark humour and zaniness for grim, gritty and brown, presumably to turn a once decently performing series into a next gen cash cow. It’s not a bad move for the company, since it’ll probably fall more in line with current popular consumer taste, but doesn’t bode well for Dead Rising fans, who seem to just want more servebot helmets and mega busters in their million zombie death carnivals thank you very much.

If I was Capcom’s PR, I’d be seeing a feast of good publicity just around the corner. With the company (seemingly) strapped for cash, reusing the Resident Evil 6 engine (which must have cost a fortune) and the DmC engine (which was 100% solid as a Devil May Cry game) for lower budget, back to basics games for each franchise seems like it would kill four birds with one or two stones. Fans would get their franchises back to normal; Capcom would release highly successful instalments in their marquee franchises, and make a nice profit off reusing assets from two underperforming games. I understand that fan desire isn’t enough to get games greenlit, but this seems like an obvious chose to (an admittedly outsider) me.

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So what happened to Capcom? Just five years ago, they reinvented and revived the fighting game genre, turning Street Fighter into a serious franchise again and putting fighting games on everyone’s mind. Ten years ago, they created some of this generation’s most popular genres; the third person shooter with Resident Evil 4, and the third person action game with Devil May Cry. Twenty years ago, Capcom invented modern fighting games in the first place, and before that, codified the template for a side scrolling action game that wasn’t Mario. Now, they’re releasing bloated, broken Resident Evils, shutting down any Mega Man related project that might make it past the greenlight stage, all the while finding new, contradictory ways to baffle fans.

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Ace Attorney not receiving a limited physical release while Ducktales does makes a little bit of sense, considering Ducktales will sell more in a week than AA5 probably ever will, but still leave Ace Attorney fans in the cold. A $60 dollar limited edition with a soundtrack sold exclusively through the Capcom store would probably even make its money back at this point. Similarly, after touting that Mega Man Legends 3 will have unprecedented fan input on design decisions, Capcom cancelled the game, and never released the paid beta/demo. I have to imagine that making back any money on a cancelled project would be a high priority for a company that seems as down as Capcom right now, and releasing the demo on the 3DS eShop for 10 bucks would recoup something. And something is always better than nothing.

Honestly, what I think is happening to Capcom is what’s happening at every major Japanese publisher right now. The West has fully taken over, and these companies are struggling to find relevance now that they can’t just take being the mainstream for granted anymore. But Capcom’s the one that’s receiving most of the hate. People have totally given up on Sqaure Enix, and Nintendo will always have its diehards, but they always come back to hating Capcom. I’m not sure why. My best guess is because Capcom was one of the few companies that always had titles that appealed to the west. Games like Mega Man, Resident Evil and Street Fighter caught on in the west in a bigger way than Final Fantasy or Castlevania, and occupy a pretty big place in western gaming culture. People hate Capcom because they care about those games, and the longer Capcom spends confusing the living hell out of everyone, the longer we have to wait before seeing them get back to form.

I just hope they get back to form at all.

 

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EVO: The Evolution of a Community

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EVO: The Evolution of a Community

Evolution, or Evo, is an annual fighting game tournament held in Las Vegas. It’s sort of like the Super Bowl or Stanley Cup finals of fighting games, except instead of a selection of teams competing, every single fighting game player who flies out to Vegas is taking a shot at the grand prize. During the event, on-stream commentators continuously referred to the tournament as a mountain, and compared victory to scaling it. You don’t just have to beat the best at Evo, you have to beat everyone.

Evo’s traditional games are Capcom fighters. The Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom series make annual appearances, but other games shift in and out of the roster. SNK’s King of Fighters games, Namco-Bandai’s Tekken series, and this year, even Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. Melee made its first appearance since 2007 as an official tournament game.

But that’s not really what Evo is about. No, Evo’s about something bigger. Well, a few things that are bigger. Evo 2013 had three matches in three games that perfectly exemplified was Evo is really about, and here they are.

Justin Wong vs. Chris G

"Going into Evo 2013, there was one name on everyone’s hitlist: Christopher “NY Chris G” Gonzalez."

I don’t really love sporting events. I’ve never been a big fan of sports, I don’t have much national pride, and think it’s sort of silly to cheer for a team because they have the name of my city on the back of their shirts. What I can get behind is a story, a rivalry, a heel and a face.

In baseball, everyone hates the New York Yankees. In hockey, Toronto and Ottawa have a long history of rivalry. In basketball, the Miami Heat might as well be the Yankees at this point. Going into Evo 2013's Marvel vs. Capcom 3 tournament, there was one name on everyone’s hitlist: Christopher “NY Chris G” Gonzalez.

Chris G plays Morrigan/Dr. Doom/Vergil, a team focused on covering the screen in Morrigan’s fireballs and Doom’s missles, juggling players between them, or just chipping away at them until they die. It’s a slightly boring strategy to watch in action, but it’s by far the most dominant team in the history of the game. Not only that, but he has a bit of an emotional streak. Chris lashed out at Evo founder Joey Cuellar over twitter a few weeks ago, referring to Cuellar as a “faggot.” Going in to the tournament, Chris wasn’t only the player to beat to prove your worth at the game, he was also the player everyone wanted to see knocked down a peg.

In MvC2, Storm was considered a top tier character, nowadays, she's just about average.

In MvC2, Storm was considered a top tier character, nowadays, she's just about average.

But back in the days of Marvel vs. Capcom 2, there was a different villain. Justin Wong. Justin won every single MvC2 tournament out there, he was legendary. His win streak in the game holds the record for the player to have won the most Evo tournaments for a single game ever. Justin and Chris have faced off before, recently even, but this one was for all the marbles. Whoever lost went home, and didn’t get a shot at the grand finals.

Chris, the favourite, took Justin down two matches in a best of three set. And then, the comeback happened. Watching the video still makes my heart beat faster, and I was close to ripping my hair out while I was watching it live. It’s some of the most incredible Marvel play I’ve ever seen. In case you haven’t seen that part of the video, Justin won. He won three games in a row, one from about as close to death as you can get in a game as fast paced as Marvel.

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The crowd was cheering Justin’s name as he played, jumping up and down and shaking the stage every time he took back a round from Chris. A few years ago, the crown would have booed him and resigned themselves to his inevitable victory, but now, he was up against the one man they all wanted to see go down. Even commentator Michael “IFC Yipes’ Mendoza, a fellow New Yorker who trained with Chris, was rooting for Justin by the end.

Chris probably isn’t a bad guy by any means, and one can only imagine how hard it must be to be part of a community that is so out for your blood, and hates seeing you succeed, but for a few minutes there, all that was put aside. For that whole comeback, it wasn’t about Justing Wong and Chris Gonzalez. It wasn’t even about the classic MvC2 east coast vs. west coast rivalry. It was about two giants of the game, two players renowned as the best, clashing with absolutely perfect play. It was about the hype of watching the good guys triumph over the bad guys. It was about watching an underdog win, even if that underdog is one of the best in the world.

Sometimes, Evo’s about the hype, and the legends behind the big matches.

Infiltration vs. PR Balrog

But sometimes, I don’t need a rivalry, I need personal stories. I need stories like Eduardo “PR Balrog” Perez’s. A player that came out of nowhere just a few years ago to become one of the best in the world, the last American player left standing in the top eight of Street Fighter this year. Or a story like Sun Woo “Infiltration” Lee’s, last year’s champion, playing for his tournament life after eliminating not only Daigo Umehara, the “god of Street Fighter” but also his best friend, sparring partner, and coach, Ryan “Laugh” Ahn in the most intense game of Street Fighter that’s ever been played.

"Lee had to win because he had to make sure beating his friend was worth it. Perez had the hopes of a nation on his back." 

After Lee beat Ahn, the two players turned away from each other in respect. They went into the match knowing that the loser would be going home empty handed, not even making it into top eight, and they played with every ounce of their skill. It was a slow, almost painful match to watch, with commentator and former Capcom employee Seth Killian pointing out that they were running down the clock just to avoid having to fight each other. 

Lee had to win because he had to make sure beating his friend was worth it. Perez had the hopes of a nation on his back. Both are two of the best players in the game. Lee took one match from Perez. Then Perez fought back and took two. It was looking to be Perez’s game until Lee used his privilege as the loser of the last match to switch his character. Lee is known for his dominant Akuma, widely considered to be one of the best characters in the game. He switched to Hakan, who looks like this:

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He’s not that great. Hakan is a Turkish oil wrestler who can oil himself up during battle to make himself a significantly more dangerous opponent, and when I say significantly, I mean that it turns him from one of the most worthless characters in the game into a top-tier threat. The only issue is that oiling up leaves Hakan open, and if the oil wears off in the middle of a combo, your damage output is shot. Needless to say, he’s not very popular in tournaments.

Sun Woo "Infiltration" Lee

Sun Woo "Infiltration" Lee

Which is why Perez had no idea how to fight him. Hakan is already a tough match for Balrog. Hakan likes to grab characters at very close range while Balrog likes to run right up and punch people, but doesn’t really have any answers for a grab. All this was made worse for Perez because there are really no high level Hakans to practice against, especially because Lee is the world’s best Hakan.

Perez didn’t know what hit him. In an utterly dominant set of games, Lee’s Hakan climbed back up and won two rounds, taking the set. The crowd was screaming, Hakan became a worldwide trending topic on twitter, no one could believe that they just saw a Hakan not only be played at Evo top eight, but that he just knocked out PR Balrog, the great American hope. 

Eduardo "PR Balrog" Perez

Eduardo "PR Balrog" Perez

Everyone was flipping out, unable to control themselves due to the hype when the match ended. But Perez and Lee were calm and collected. There was no anger, they knew that it was an incredible game they just played, maybe the best game of the tournament, and instead of the traditional post-game handshake, the two got up out of their chairs and gave each other a big hug.

Sometimes, Evo’s about the people and their love, not just for the game, but for each other.

 

Mango vs. Hungrybox

To continue the sports comparison, sometimes, there’s nothing that can get me into a sport. The stories aren’t good enough, the hype’s not great enough, and I go into it thinking I’ll be bored.

"To me, the people who broke down Smash Bros. and figured out how to remove all the randomness and understand the many, many hidden variables were developing an algorithm that churned out jazz."

 

Year ago, I used to play soccer with some kids from my tae kwon do class. None of us were “good” but we played as sort of a cooldown from the two hours of punching and kicking and pushups we just did. We weren’t playing it because it was a sport, we were playin it because it was a game. Soccer only needs a ball and something to mark off a goal, it’s the lingua franca of games, everyone gets it, and anyone can play it.

But whenever the World Cup is on TV, I always watch a game or two. Not because I love the sport of soccer, or I have any affiliation with a team, but because I have a respect for the game that anyone can play being played by the absolute best. Everyone plays hockey as a kid in Canada, but there are barriers there, you need to be able to afford the gear, it’s no cheap sport. Soccer is the cheapest sport in the world; literally everyone who can kick a ball has a shot at being the very best.

Street Fighter isn’t as simple as soccer, but it was born in the arcades, where one round cost 25 cents. It was the cheapest videogame to play, and it was all about who was the best. That’s might be a reason why the fighting game community is populated by so many visible minorities, who are very often, and very unfortunately, not given the same opportunities in this world as white people. Kids who couldn’t afford new games all the time, but could drop a few quarters on Street Fighter.

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But Street Fighter is too complicated to be a lingua franca of videogames. Super Smash Bros. wasn’t cheap, but it just might be simple enough to be a contender. I’ve never enjoyed Smash Bros. as a tournament level game. It was designed with elements of randomness, with certain factors and variables deliberately hidden from the players. A game designer once told me you want your games to feel more like freeform jazz than math. To me, the people who broke down Smash Bros. and figured out how to remove all the randomness and understand the many, many hidden variables were developing an algorithm that churned out jazz. Sure, it was recognizable as the the thing I love, but it wasn’t the same.  

After watching this video, and the whole Smash Bros. top eight, I still don’t like it as a tournament level game. I think matches take too long, characters aren’t distinct enough, strategies are boring, and positioning is pointless. I think playing on only a handful of stages without any items defeats the purpose of Smash Bros., a game all about randomness and goofy fun.

But, hearing the crowd cheer, and seeing two players that were obviously at the top of their game (check the moment at about 7:30 where Hungrybox’s Jigglypuff chases Mango’s fox all the way off screen, then expertly floats back to safety), made something click in my head. It’s not the tournament level game I want, but it’s the tournament game that thousands more do. Hell, the game made it in to Evo for the first time since 2007 this year because the fans won a charity drive; they love the game more than I could probably understand.

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I might not care about the World Cup, or the Super Bowl, or even the Stanley Cup finals, which my country places unbelievable importance on, but I care about Evo; because sometimes it’s not about me. It’s about something bigger.

It’s about the hype, the legends going into each match, the people who love the game, the people who just want to bond over their shared love of a game, the people who watch three days of tournament just to see the one guy who knocked them out make it to the top. Evo is about respecting a game, and falling into the hype. Evo is about a community, the fighting game community, and even though they’ve had some problems in the past, the very best of them, the ones on stage at the end of the night, they’re what shows you the community is great. People who inspire the hype, people who don’t let it get to their heads, and hug after a match, people who will respect another game, and another person.

Evo is about inspiring the community to be the best it can be. 

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