Prior to Evolution 2013, the largest fighting game tournament that I had attended was held at a local Game Stop to commemorate the release of Street Fighter X Tekken. The tournament ran two setups which were placed atop a single shaky table directly in front of the store’s entrance. Patrons had to shimmy around us to enter the store. There were no chairs, so we just sat directly on the floor with necks craned up toward the TVs, one of which was incredibly laggy since we didn’t have a second HDMI cable. There were only about ten entrants and we all had a few week two combos, but none of us had truly grasped the game’s engine yet so our matches were mostly bland and filled with abuse of tactics that people weren’t used to blocking. In the case of the laggy TV, massive volleys of projectiles, for example, proved quite difficult to avoid. The first place prize was a guide for the game, second place was a Madcatz fightpad and third place was a hearty hand shake. I think I got fifth place, so I was simply asked to exit the establishment.
Three years ago, when I gained a revitalized interest in the FGC, I watched the Evo streams for the first time. If you had told me then that I would not only soon attend the tournament, but also compete, I would have thought you crazy, but last Thursday evening a small group of friends and I stepped off our plane and onto the neon-lit streets of Las Vegas to do just that. I was there to compete; they came as supporters. Our three hour flight, which was packed to the point of bursting with eager Vegas-goers who somehow managed to drink all of the booze on the plane, arrived just after dark. We caught a cab to Fremont, checked in to our rooms and wasted no time getting down Binion’s for some diner food and fifty ounce plastic footballs filled with beer. I made sure only to enjoy a single footballful evening, as I didn’t come to Vegas to drink, well, okay, I didn’t go to Vegas exclusively to drink. I came to fight, and the fighting started early the next morning.
We stayed at The Plaza, which you may know better as Biff Tannen’s Pleasure Paradise from Back to the Future
My pools for Street Fighter began at noon Friday morning, so I set an alarm way too early–something to the effect of 8:15–so that I wouldn’t have to rush. I intended to wake up, grab a coffee and some sort of moderately-healthy breakfast food item, then show up in time to find a setup and get in some casuals to work out the pre-tourney jitters before my pool was slated to begin. It was a pretty good plan, but I really love hitting the snooze button and ended up sleeping until around 10:30, which left me just enough time to inhale a protein bar and a soda, rush outside the hotel, eight arc in hand, hail a cab and sit biting my nails for the 20 minute ride to Bally’s from The Plaza, certain that I would be disqualified for being late, as I hadn’t even picked up my pass yet.
With just over an hour remaining before pools, I made my way into Bally’s. A line of people, probably fifty feet in length, snaked out of a tiny, roped-off room. The room was filled with tables stacked high with black t-shirts and blue badges. I knew that I’d have to wait in the line before I could enter the venue, so I accepted my fate and checked the time every minute or so, convinced that I’d not make it to my pool in time. Then the line started moving. I talked with some of the guys that were around me and they were all there for different reasons, one for Smash, a couple for Street Fighter, another only to watch and as we talked, the line melted in front of us; after only ten minutes of waiting, we all went our separate ways and I heaved a sign of relief because I still had over half an hour to figure out where pool C15 was.
The Game Stop experience in mind, you can imagine my amazement when I slipped my competitor badge around my neck and walked into the grand ballroom at Bally’s. Everywhere I looked there were small groups of players huddled closely around lagless Asus monitors as though the glow emitted by their flat screens was the only thing keeping them alive. To my left stretched an impressive food cart offering vastly overpriced burgers, chicken fingers and sodas and towering to my right loomed a massive projector screen upon which Chun-Li and Ryu fought for dominance in front of an erupting volcano. Each successful strike landed by Chun-Li drew a grunt of pain from Ryu and a cheer or gasp from the crowd. I couldn’t turn my head without catching sight of some influential individual in the fighting game scene: Ed Boon brushed by me at a rapid pace on his way to the overflow room; Yipes leaned against a nearby wall and regaled a small group with tales of Marvels long past; Justin Wong stood, arms crossed as he watched pools just a few feet away; Yoshinori Ono snapped pictures of the event and held aloft his famous Blanka figurine in greeting to any who offered him a hello; I was, quite literally, surrounded on all sides by fighting game greatness.
I made my way to my station 15 where my pool (c15) was to be held and tried to get an idea of what kind of opponents I should anticipate. There were a lot of Onis, like… a whole lot of Onis. Every other match was Oni vs. someone. I have fought him plenty of times in the past, but I had no idea that he would have such a presence in pools. I sort of thought people had gotten over him by now, but apparently not. I watched another Ibuki, tons of Ryus, a Zangief and a particularly impressive, dirty-fighting Vega. They were all good. My brow began to bead with sweat.
I was nervous. I knew that I would be. I hadn’t anticipated just how nervous, though. When I took my seat and pulled on my headset, my hands visibly shook as a small crowd gathered directly behind me. Though it was only a handful of people, many of whom I knew personally, they were standing less than an arm’s length away from me as I plugged my borrowed stick into the Playstation. I nervously drummed the stick’s buttons as I began the most important button check I’d ever done. A quick slap of each of the six buttons, a glance at the button config menu, another slap of the six buttons and an obligatory combo with the character played before me to be sure that everything was as it should be, a quick nod and thumbs up to my opponent and it was back to the character select screen. As his cursor slid over Chun, I felt a bit uneasy. I have played as Chun extensively myself and have a decent grasp of the matchup, but I would have rather started somewhere more familiar, y’know, a Ryu or something. I don’t believe either party to be at an advantage in the Chun – Ibuki matchup, but Chun is one of those characters who, when she has meter, can escape every vortex setup for free (ex spinning bird kick), so I have to play a different game against her, which is exactly what I didn’t want to have to do in the first round.
Me (foreground) and Chun (background) preparing to throw hands
I dropped combos. I botched setups. I dashed away from kikokens when my back was to the wall, allowing them to slam into my chest. I mistimed jump-ins, whiffed kunai and wasted meter… and I took the set 4-0–a commanding victory. My nerves were shot, but such a convincing win, however ugly it may have been, boosted my spirits. I GG’d my opponent, unplugged my stick and shook the hands of everyone around me. I even got a couple of victory hugs. Suddenly the crowd felt a little less imposing. They were there to see a good fight and my opponent and I had done our best to deliver that to them. They were pleased with our performance and I moved on to my next fight: A Ryu, just what I thought I wanted.
The Ryu had been to Evo four times, he claimed. And it showed. He knew that I was nervous and he played me accordingly. I attempted to do some variant on the Gootecks shuffle to open him up, but eventually just ended up eating shoryuken after raw shoruken. I put in some work, but my jitters still weren’t gone and playing against someone who was 100% jitter-free certainly didn’t help my chances for success. Ryu came out on top, placing me in losers against a Honda player who was equally ready to fight against nervous first-timers. He had an answer for everything that I threw at him, kunai included.
Upon elimination, my friends and I went back to our rooms and drank heartily in celebration of the fact that I actually managed to send someone else to losers before going there myself. Some hours later, filled with beer thirsty for more Street Fighter, my buddy Menno–who let me use his stick since mine only works for Xbox, thanks again!–and I made our way back down to Bally’s to check out some top 64 action. As we walked, Menno asked me if there was anyone that I wanted to meet and I told him that I’d really like to shake Mike Ross’ hand and maybe get a picture with him.
“Oh, Mike? Man, that’ll be easy. Let’s go.”
See, I had in my mind that for whatever reason, I should just let the pros be, but Menno assured me that they love talking to other players. So we talked to them. We talked to a lot of them. We talked to Ricky Ortiz, Gootecks, and Maximillian. We thanked Ono for all that he does to help make these games a reality. We spent a solid twenty minutes talking to Keits about Dive Kick, then I got to play it for the first time ever with Keits coaching me. That evening I became something greater that just a stream monster. That evening, I became a true member of the FGC. That evening I started to plan for Evo 2014.
This concludes part one of my two (maybe three?) part series on Evo 2013! Check back tomorrow for a very special video segment which includes all of my Street Fighter pools matches!