Roll up your sleeves
This past weekend I played in the Guilty Gear Xrd Rev2 and Accent Core +R tournaments at Combo Breaker 2022. Having made Top 8 at Frosty Faustings earlier in the year for both games, I had high hopes for a repeat performance.
It didn’t happen. I put in a respectable, if underwhelming 3–2 in both games, placing 33rd out of 128 in Rev2 and 17th out of 92 in +R. Not the worst, but certainly not anything close to what I had hoped for.
I let myself feel disappointed for a minute or two, and then I rolled up my sleeves and got back to work. I lost in Rev2 and got up to check on our pool runners and make sure Starsky had all the matches he needed for the stream; I lost in +R and went back to the hotel lobby to secure a spot for Rev2 casuals. I will not think of Combo Breaker 2022 as the tournament where I failed to meet my expectations in bracket; to me, it is the tournament where the Rev2 community, spearheaded by the Play Guilty Gear crew, supported by the amazing Midwest scene (shoutouts to Thursday Xrd Throwdown!), and carried by everyone who came through to mash in bracket and casuals, reminded the world that nothing hits quite like offline Xrd.
I generally use my essays here as a way to guide people on their path towards self-improvement in their practice of competitive fighting games because these games taught me to learn how to guide my own growth. Many people watch fighting games, some of those who watch decide to play, and some of those folks stick with it long enough to get kinda good and enter a tournament or two. For many of the pandemic FGC generation — the ‘20ers, if you will — Combo Breaker was their first offline event, and they’ll have returned to their homes with some amazing memories and newfound motivation to sharpen up for the next one. (Welcome to the rest of your life! We’re glad to have you.)
However, competition is really only the first phase of your fighting game experience. You can compete for as long as you have the energy and willpower to keep going; some of us stay in the bracket forever, while others fade out. But the backbone of the community is composed of the army of event organizers, bracket runners, streamers, and assorted volunteers that come together for a weekend to make sure that everyone in attendance and on stream can partake in the wonder and beauty that is homegrown grassroots fighting games. From Chicago’s Mystery Tournament to the Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 Auction, from Windjammers to The Popcorn Baron, everything beautiful in fighting games happens because normal everyday people like you and me decide to roll up their sleeves and make it happen.
The satisfaction of a good tournament run is similar to the satisfaction of running a good tournament in that they’re both the reward of a good job done, but the former is mostly about you, and the latter is something that you do for others. It is a simple truth of fighting games that even though we’re all here to kick each others’ asses in the fiercest competition possible, we’re also all here to make sure we all have a good time, because we’re not gonna get our salty runbacks if we don’t all come back for the next one. If you grew up in the last two years of faceless netplay, stream shenanigans, and awful YouTube thumbnails: welcome to the real fighting game community, where the beef is (mostly) kayfabe, the trash talk (mostly) comes from a place of love, and we’re all just here to get hype and have a good time.
There’s nothing in the world quite like it, and that’s because we made it this way ourselves. Every volunteer, every local TO, every streamer, everyone who brings a setup or runs a bracket or has ever partaken in the time-honored tradition of buying pizza for the crew has all contributed to help build this beautiful thing we’ve got going on here. It’s not about the publisher funding or the developer support; it’s not about big checks and bigger stadiums. We’re all just here to play some video games, and it doesn’t happen without people like you pitching in to make this community just a little bit warmer and deeper and danker in whatever way you see fit.
I use many different perspectives and lenses in my study of fighting games. When breaking them down for teaching purposes, I treat them as a mix of martial arts, musical instruments, and foreign languages; as a game developer, I take deep inspiration from kung-fu movies, anime, and pro wrestling; as an event organizer, I study fight promotion and social activity design. But when I have to describe the experience of being part of a fighting game community, I can only describe it as the most deeply spiritual experience I’ve ever had. We show up to our halls of worship, we greet each other, we test our dedication to the faith, and then we take a slice or two of communion pizza. I’m not a church-going man by any stretch of the imagination but I’ve seen that divine spark at Combo Breaker just like I’ve seen it on a wrestling mat, a dance floor, and a mosh pit. If I had been alive in the ’60s I would have been your go-to acid guy, but these days I’m out here slangin’ Gear.
I walked away from a disappointing run and got to watch my favorite Rev2 players put on a top 8 performance for the history books. After it was over, we took a picture far sweeter than any medal ceremony I’ve ever been in. None of this would have happened if we all didn’t roll up our sleeves.
We’ll see you in Rev2 at Evo.
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