When Super Smash Brothers Ultimate released on the Nintendo Switch late last year, my interests as a gamer were changed in a profound way. While the game legitimately kicked ass as probably the greatest party game of the decade. I then found myself engrossed in an aspect of Smash that has traction in the mainstream gaming world: competition.
When hazards and items are turned off, and the game is played with only two players; Super Smash Brothers suddenly turns into a cohesive fighting game.
Smash is designed to be a chaotic brawl where even causal players can eke out a lucky victory, but I’ll admit to enjoying and engaging with the style of Smash that’s the ultimate (pun not intended) show of skill, strategy and timing that’s played between two high-level players. Turns out it would be Smash Ultimate that would turn me into a fighting game fan, and my interest in other fighting games would only grow over the course of 2019.
When I decided to go to the Esports and Gaming Summit (ESGS) this year, I knew that the fighting game booth was going to be my main destination. After spending the first couple of hours roaming the convention center, I made sure that the sanctuary of the fighting game community (FGC) would be my last destination. I spent a total of 5 hours there.
The main layout of the booth consisted of a main stage for the competitors, a side area dedicated to the match commentators, and a kiosk of monitors for both casual and tournament play. I was actually really glad that there was a part of the booth dedicated to allowing any person to pick up a controller and play friendly matches with one another. You can’t spell FGC without the C, so it’s important that regular folk get to play, improve, and bond with one another, in order to sustain the communities that give these tournaments their meaning and value.
I admittedly arrived at the booth late into the day that I only managed to watch 3 games crown a champion: Under Night In-Birth, Dragon Ball FighterZ and Smash Ultimate. Two of them, Under Night and Smash, are games that I’m hoping to become better at. I try to watch as many tournament matches as I can so that I can learn and self-improve. As such, I made sure to watch both tournaments with intent so I could get a feel for the competitors’ playstyles and strategies. It was also fun seeing friends of the competitors close to the main stage, eagerly cheering to cheer on their comrades to take home the gold.
The Smash Ultimate tournament, in my opinion, was the most memorable of the three.
I admit to a high degree of personal bias here, but not only was it the most spectated tournament of the three that I watched. The audience was clearly engaged with the action that was happening on the giant screen. It was also telling that nearly everyone, myself included, stopped playing casual fights in order to witness the Grand Finals.
While I’ve seen many Grand Finals sets online over the course of 2019, I’ll admit that there’s no experience like being in a live crowd who share the same excitement.
By the time the tournament was over, it was already 9 in the evening, and over 85% of the SMX floor had already vacated. However, you wouldn’t have noticed the eerie silence of the show floor had you been there with the crowd, cheering on a Wii Fit Trainer and Link fighting tooth and nail for championship glory.
Overall, I’m glad I was able to check out for myself what the fighting game community is like up close. It’s good to see the human faces that make the games I personally enjoy. If anything, I may need to plan next year’s trip to ESGS carefully. I might end up being too engrossed to see anything else that the event will have to offer.