“How do I stay motivated without a local scene?”

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Hi Patrick,

I know you’ve covered this a few times like in your articles, but regardless my motivation has been pretty low lately to play fighting games. I tend to go through this every year, and the cycle continues as per usual. Regardless though, I’ve been really thinking about some terrible experiences I’ve had at fighting game tournaments the last few years. I should mention these are only tournaments at Anime Conventions, I can’t afford to go to something cool like Combo Breaker or EVO.

There are two cons I go to every year, and a few years ago in 2017, I went to Con #1… they had Guilty Gear for a tournament and I joined. They couldn’t get the console to work online to download Dizzy, so I had to play my old main Leo (sorry, I was a brain-dead Leo player at one point lol). Regardless, I got third place. Sure it’s not a major, but it still felt pretty good. Coming out of that I was pretty motivated to get better. A few months later I went Con #2 and didn’t do as well, but I still felt pretty motivated. 2018 rolls around, and I went back to both cons, and at Con #1, I didn’t do as good again but I still had fun… but that was the last time I felt good about joining a tournament.

Back to Con #2… first I had a Ky player laugh at me for not doing good, then I had another guy laugh at me for playing a “Waifu” character. Lost both games, but man they were assholes. As much as I would like to say it didn’t bother me, it did. So finally this year rolls around and as per usual I went to both. This year they only had UNIST at Con #1… and long story short, I lost to a dude who never played the game, and I had to teach him out to play as we setup. I became very aware of the crowd hyping their guy up behind me during my matches, and I just couldn’t stop focusing on it. Excuses aside, I lost, and I tried to laugh it off. Found out later the guy went on his Twitter and stream and essentially gloated he won because I was “salty.” That one hurt pretty bad. Later at Con #2 this year I bailed on all of the tournaments because negative situations seems to keep happening, and I honestly felt better about not joining stuff like Guilty Gear this year.

I tried to make those stories as short as possible, but the tl;dr part of it is… I keep having bad experiences at events. I can’t afford to go to actual fighting game tournaments, and I don’t have a local to go to. At best I have something like your streams, but I can’t watch lately as much because I work in the mornings now.

So my only options are lobbies online or Discords… the latter I tend to shy from because I dunno, people seem to be all about being meme lords in them. All of that basically makes me wonder what is it all for? I know you’ve said we as players need to figure out what we want out of it… and to be honest, I don’t know anymore. I wanted to just have a good time at an event big or small, win or lose, but it’s been anything but that. What can I do?


Lack of Locals

Fun fact: The first tournament I ever won was a Street Fighter III: Third Strike tournament at an anime convention in 2007, over at Cal State Northridge. I brought my MAS stick, and the guy running the bracket looked at it and told me he’d have to check to see if it was a legal controller.

So yeah, I feel your pain.

In general, most people are sore losers and ugly winners. Most people don’t spend a lot of time pursuing explicitly competitive activities as adults, unless they’re playing sports or competitive games seriously. Give them a fighting game and some “real” stakes, and odds are high that they’ll be jerks when they win and scrubs when they lose. (This is why most people don’t play fighting games.)

The thing that makes a fighting game tournament special — whether it’s Combo Breaker or a local — is that everyone is there for the tournament. They’re there because they want to hang out with a bunch of nerds and test themselves. They’ve probably been practicing hard, and they know everyone else who is there has been practicing hard too. If you go to a place specifically that attracts people who want to compete in some fighting games, they’re generally a bit better at handling all the social niceties that come with pounding each others’ virtual faces in. It’s some real Ryu shit.

This is not true at anime con tournaments. People are either there because it’s a) one of many things they want to do while they’re there, or b) because they want an easy win beating up scrubs at an anime tournament, and neither of those motivations are quite as good for establishing trust between two strangers who are about to engage in virtual facepunching as the real Ryu shit is.

(To illustrate the point: Imagine if the local anime con had a mixed martial arts tournament. It would be terrible! There would be Aikido, some illegal prop sword combat, maybe a few special move callouts, and everyone involved would probably be a little bit worse for it. Emotionally speaking, fighting games aren’t really that far from actual fighting in that regard.)

So: It sucks that you had a bad time, but it’s honestly not that surprising. Tournaments are not guaranteed to be socially awesome engagements, but the ones that exist and persist tend to do so in no small part because they’ve managed to consistently create a good (or at least good-enough) social experience. (Anime tournaments do not have this kind of survival pressure to cull them from the floor plan.) Sometimes good tournaments will still have people cheering against (or for) you, or people making fun of your character pick, but it’s happening within a context of trust and camaraderie that I wouldn’t expect at an anime con.

Most folks who survive and thrive in fighting games need a steady intake of events to keep them motivated. At first, the tournament is the milestone that gets you to practice and study and grind, but eventually most of us find that tournaments are the excuse to get everyone together and play some games, in the same way that the Super Bowl is an excuse to hang out with buddies and eat nachos. When you have a good local scene, the social ties are what keep people motivated; every local you attend is a chance to hang out with your homies and do the thing you like to do together. (Again: Imagine the kind of person who trains specifically to beat people up at anime con tournaments; you probably don’t want to hang out with them either.)

Every event finds different ways of creating the vibe they want. For example, I went out to Fighting Tuesday, a Tokyo local run by Jiyuna and MajinObama, and was struck by how the venue, layout, setup count, and play format (free tournament, single elim) made the night feel like a friendly casuals session happening around a tournament, rather than the other way around. And I really like what we’ve got going on in the Bay Area, where a handful of local TOs work with venues to run free tournaments (shoutouts to HellaBrett’s Norcal Dogfight and Hagure’s Norcal Crabattle over at Myung’s Gamecenter, and Rose over at WNF Oakland). Making the tournament free means it’s easier to get new people to join, and it means that the people who come out are coming out because they want to play, not because they want a shot at winning fifty bucks.

If you want to feel that motivation to play, I think your odds are better with an in-person community. (Discords aren’t the worst! I’m in a couple that I really like, but it can take time to find one you click with.) So your choices are the choices that everyone has when they don’t live near an arcade or major urban center:

  • Get your friends to play Guilty Gear (by playing with them)
  • Make new friends that play Guilty Gear (host local meetups)
  • Play something that your region does have (probably Smash, Tekken, or SFV)

I don’t really know where you are or what the local scene is like, so I couldn’t tell you which option would be the most successful. Nor are they exclusive; you could pick up Tekken, bring a Guilty Gear setup to their locals, and bring your friends to teach them and see if any of the Tekken players are interested in trying it out.

What I can tell you, having done each of these, is that each of these will do different things to your motivation to play. Getting your friends to play Guilty Gear means you’re going to spend a lot of time playing characters that aren’t your main and doing combos that aren’t the ones you need to practice for a tournament. Hosting locals means you’re going to have to do a lot of stuff that isn’t playing Guilty Gear just to make sure people have a good time and want to come back. And if you really want to play Gear, a little Street Fighter V just isn’t going to cut it.

None of this is what you’re looking for, but that, too, is part of the fighting game experience. It’s why I was playing Third Strike at an anime tournament when I don’t really like Third Strike. Sometimes not getting to do the thing you want exposes you to new things you didn’t know you wanted. It’s not optimal, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good.

Because if you were hoping to get the motivation you wanted from sticking with the anime con tournament circuit, I’ve got bad news for you. You could just sit down and get good enough to beat everyone there. (Trust me, it’s not that hard.) But I know from experience that all you get is a sense of empty victory that can’t be filled by any number of Street Fighter Alpha: The Anime Movie DVDs. You want a community to play fighting games with, and nothing else will do. You will have to push yourself outside your comfort zone to look for it, find it, maybe even build it. It’s a great thing, and you will grow from the experience — but only if you’re up for the task.

For some, fighting games is a hobby; for others, a job; for others, a calling. If you simply don’t think you want to give that much of yourself to play some Gear, well, I understand. Run a netplay stream of your own and see who comes through. Try hanging out in a couple anime FGC Discords and look for people to run sets with. Someday you’ll make it out to a major and see them in person, and it’ll be cool. It’s not the best option, but sometimes you do what you can to stay engaged with the thing you love (like play 3S even though you don’t like it). And hey, maybe you’ll find out about some locals that are within your reach.

And when you’ve done all that, then go back to the anime con and run that shit back. When you win the tournament, that’ll be a perfect time to tell everyone about the local you’re starting up.

Thanks for reading!


-patrick miller

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