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Gym-goers know that the worst time to go to the gym is at the start of a new year, where the combination of guilt and hope drive so many people to fumble with weights and puzzle over cardio machines for an hour. Over time, these crowds will fade, and the gym will return to its usual murmur, but for all of January and early February these folks will try their damnedest to push past their accepted limitations and make a part of themselves better than it was.
For people who play video games, getting into fighting games is the New Year’s Resolution equivalent of saying you’re going to actually run that marathon. You like the sound of telling people you’ve been thinking about fighting games. You’ve seen other people talk about them knowingly and wondered if it was all as cool as it sounded. And you’ve probably watched Evo and thought about just trying some of the games out for yourself.
If any of that sounds like you, this essay is for you.
If you have an arcade stick lying around somewhere, maybe for an older console, definitely one you told yourself you’re going to sell but just haven’t gotten around to it: this essay is definitely for you.
Listen up: The best time to get into fighting games was the first time you saw them. The second best time is right now.
It’s 2019. Other video games are played in sports stadiums by 20-year-olds in team jerseys for millions of dollars while 25-year-olds in formalwear explain why these kids are so good, but the hypest shit on the Internet was a bunch of Grown Ass Adults playing Marvel vs. Capcom 2 in a guy’s living room for a crowdfunded $7800 prize pool. Watching it was like watching a PBS fundraising drive, except Sentinel is stomping Magneto in the face, and then the commentators join in singing the Ducktales theme song.
Fighting games are basically the coolest thing going on video games right now and you get to be a part of it. This year, you join us.
Step 1: Pick a fighting game
Every fighting game is special and beautiful and challenges your brain in unique ways. Somewhere out there is a game that is perfect for you right now; somewhere out there is a game that’s perfect for you ten thousand years from now. However, you have no real way of knowing which fighting game that is, because you haven’t really played much of them, so just pick something that satisfies as many of the following conditions as possible:
- It has a cool character you want to play
- You can play it with a friend nearby, ideally in-person, or at least netplay with voice chat
- You can get it right now (protip: Skullgirls is often on sale for like $3 and has a useful tutorial, there is a version of Street Fighter out there for like any computer-related device, emulators are great, Rising Thunder is free and was designed to be played on keyboard, Killer Instinct and Brawlhalla are free-to-play)
- You can watch people playing it (fortunately pretty much everything has videos of someone playing them on YouTube, just search for “[game name] tournament”, bonus points if the results are in Japanese.)
- Don’t worry about buying a controller of any kind. Seriously this guy plays Guilty Gear — one of the most complicated fighting games — with a steering wheel controller. Just play with whatever you got.
Step 2: Play that fighting game
Click that big blue button and you’re on your way.
You have a fighting game! Now it’s time to pick a main, look up all the frame data, watch dozens of YouTube videos, dissect tier lists, buy an arcade stick, do all the trials, NOPE DON’T WORRY ABOUT THIS JUST PLAY THE GAME HOWEVER YOU WANT.
Most advice for learning fighting games comes from players who think about how they wish they had learned fighting games, because if they had learned them the Right Way then they’d have gotten better faster. This is well-meaning advice! It is also terrible advice, and in my experience most people who try to learn a fighting game this way burn out because it’s not fun and you mostly feel bad.
Don’t get me wrong: There are a lot of things in fighting games that don’t feel fun and can feel bad, and learning to appreciate them and get comfortable with them is the rewarding part, but you don’t need to do that until you’re ready to. Most video games are very good at giving you a sensible order to learn how to play the game, and escalate the level of challenge gradually to make sure you’re always in the “feeling good but learning new stuff naturally” zone. Fighting games are not very good at this, so you need to learn to do this for yourself, and exploring on your own in the beginning without worrying about that stuff is often more fun.
- Don’t try to learn everything at once. Play however you want, ask questions, and learn things step by step. You do not need to know Everything before you play the game.
- Consistency is key. Focus on building the habit of playing a bit every day. Arcade mode, multiplayer, training mode, trials, whatever. You won’t notice yourself getting better over the course of a single session, but the more often you play, the more you’ll notice things coming together just a little bit better.
- Look out for yourself. A little frustration can be good, but if something feels too hard, give it a break and try doing something different. I’ve talked to new players who are worried because they can’t do this thing that Justin Wong does really well. That’s okay, Justin Wong couldn’t do that in his first week of playing fighting games either.
- Pay attention to who you’re playing with! If they’re getting super frustrated, consider switching to two-player training mode or taking turns instead of just beating each other up. It’s fun to butt heads against a rival, but if you’re just starting out, consider that your sparring partner may not have the same mentality you do. (Yet.)
- Don’t be shy about trying other games out. There’s a lot of stuff out there, and playing a lot of different stuff is fun. Go deep when a game makes you want to go deep.
Step 3: Go to a tournament
Watching fighting games with me is actually the best way to watch fighting games.
OK, you have a game and you’ve started playing it! Now you’re ready to go to a tournament.
“Shouldn’t I practice more first?” you say.
I say No.
Tournaments are the main way to get a bunch of people who playing fighting games to drive out to some place and play them together. Arcades used to do this back when fighting games were mostly only played in arcades, but now arcades are dead, so we all just go to tournaments to hang out and play instead.
If you’re not hanging out and playing fighting games with other people in-person, you’re missing out on the best parts of the fighting game community experience.
This is how these games are designed to be played.
It doesn’t matter that you suck and you’re not going to win. Only one person gets to win a tournament. What’s important is that you’re there, hanging out with other people who are also there because they want to play the video game. You’re surrounded by strangers who have something in common, which means you’re almost friends, and that’s pretty rad.
NO ONE CARES THAT YOU ARE BAD SO DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT.
25% of everyone in a tournament loses their first two games. It’s called going 0–2, or “two and out.” Everyone who enters a tournament has done this before, and everyone can relate. There is even a t-shirt design featuring Ryu’s begloved prayer hands by Brokentier and an 0–2 casual fashion line by Jisu.GG that includes a $70 sweater and a $15 cannabis grinder. (I have the prayer shirt and the grinder.) Going 0–2 is fine.
You don’t even have to enter the tournament if you don’t want to! You can play casuals. You can watch people play fighting games alongside other people who play fighting games, which is the best way to watch fighting games.
If you do want to play competitively, tournaments are important because you’re guaranteed to be playing against people who are Serious Enough to enter a tournament. But if you’re still pretty new, tournaments are important because that’s your chance to connect with other people who play this game. That’s how you find people who you like to play with, or can answer your questions, or help you find out where to learn more.
If you don’t know where to start looking for tournaments, try searching for Facebook groups made in your region for fighting games — that’s where I see most local events advertise. And if you can make it out to a larger regional or major tournament, I highly recommend doing that. Bigger events tend to be more hype and more fun, and if you’ve already met some folks in your local scene, you’ll have people to hang out with.
And if you don’t have a local scene, you can start by just dragging people you know to play games with you. If you can’t do it locally, do it online and get a group voice chat going. Hanging out is the best part of fighting games.
Start now, stay consistent, and I’ll see you at Evo. We’ll work on the gym thing in 2020.