It’s kinda nice to see some fighting game tournaments happening. Mainly it’s been Capcom going full throttle on this with their Street Fighter Capcom Pro Tour series but others have been trickling in for the past few months with smaller tournaments involving games like GranBlue Fantasy and Smash happening once in a while. I totally understand why fighting game tournaments are like unicorns nowadays (i.e. they’re extremely rare) and there are so many hurdles to overcome in order to host them. There’s also no way the results are never going to be controversial because of things like lag affecting the gamers’ execution.
However, I’m just glad Capcom is at least trying to push through with it just so people like me can have some feeling of normalcy in this crazy time. They are definitely going the extra mile to make it seem like this is how all their tournaments are supposed to run even before everyone was locked in their homes. Things seem to be much more professional as well. There’s always an hour long “pre-show” talking about the people who made it into the Top 16 or Top 8, which looks really excellently filmed, by the way. The commentators, even though they’re clearly staying in their own domiciles, still talk about the matches as if they’re right in a venue. Even the wait time between each match is much snappier since there’s no waiting for the players to set up their sticks or test out buttons! Capcom has been putting their best foot forward and giving us a expertly crafted viewing experience of what’s happening at each Capcom Pro Tour tournament.
As good as the tournaments Capcom have been producing so far are, there’s just a nagging feeling like something isn’t right. I’m watching a hype tournament with killers making it to the Top 8. I get to hear the commentators go on and on about each match. The production does even feel much better as there aren’t any long waits nor any obscenely long commercial breaks while we wait for the next match. Yet I can’t help but feel something is off with everything. It’s the same “uncanny valley” feeling of something which is supposed to be real but you know it’s not.
I guess the biggest thing contributing to that feeling for me is we never get to see the reactions of the players in the tournament. Since most of them stream their matches on Twitch, you would think Capcom would give the players the option to also turn on their webcams when they’re competing. Then again, they might be asking them to not do so to reduce as much bandwidth/lag as possible. However, it’s seeing the players’ reactions to what’s happening and how they handle wins and losses that really help sell the fact it’s a high stakes tournament and not just two people playing video games.
Take the rivalry between arguably the two best Dragon Ball FighterZ players in the world, Sonic Fox and Go1. They have battled each other in the game and have bested each other at one time or another. Even if they do compete at a very high level and should hate each other because of how often they have to battle for the top spot in each tournament, both Go1 and Sonic Fox are more like friendly rivals. Their set at Grand Finals of Dragon Ball FighterZ at last year’s EVO is a testament of, not only how good they are in the game, but how much they respect the other.
Now, I’m picturing what this match would look like without seeing them climb on the stage, shake each other’s hand and just goof around between each match. I’m imagining watching this awesome set but without getting to see Go1’s emotional outburst of emotion just as he won and Sonic Fox giving out a hearty laugh as his opponent’s reaction. The matches themselves would be excellent and the commentary would he hype as well. However, there’s just something missing as the human element of seeing two gamers enjoying the spirit of competition won’t be there.
I do also miss the live audience who cheer on and boo at the appropriate times. This does add a lot to the experience and, because, there isn’t a live crown watching, all I have now is the Twitch chat who is still spouting emotional outbursts but it just isn’t the same. There isn’t a loud, audible gasp when something awesome happens on the screen nor are there going to be a groan when someone drops a combo. I guess this is why other sports are toying with the idea of adding video game characters to the stands during their games. Well, they can try with all their might but it’s obviously just not the same.
However, the thing which is really exciting my “uncanny valley” feeling while watching these “online only” Capcom Pro Tour sessions is the basic fact that everything is professionally formatted. I’ve watched a lot of fighting game tournaments, Capcom Pro Tour or otherwise, and they are never this rigidly structured to feel like a corporate show.
Now, I guess this can be a good thing, especially if they really want to go the eSports avenue. However, if or when this does happen, it will cut off the grassroots/underground feeling of what each and every fighting game tournament is based on. Sure, it’s nice and orderly but a lot of the fun is also the chaos that comes from the disorder. Most fighting game tournaments I’ve watched feel like a bunch of friends who decided to see who’s the best at the game, whether it be Street Fighter, Tekken, Marvel vs. Capcom, Dragon Ball FighterZ, etc. It’s the feeling of camaraderie and the boisterousness of everyone that makes the tournaments feel like something different.
It may sound like I’m unappreciative of what Capcom is trying to do and I’m not. I’m glad there are still Street Fighter tournaments, especially with all that’s happening in the world right now. I still enjoy the matches and I actually like the sanitized production values because it looks well made. However, there’s still a part of me that yearns for the old non-“online only” ways. I know those days are not going to be happening anytime soon or even within this year and I will take whatever I can.
It just feels weird, man.
How are you taking to “online only” fighting game tournaments? Let me know in the comments section below!