I never stood a chance.
As I write this, I was just utterly annihilated in an Ultra Street Fighter IV match against one of Canada’s premier Street Fighter players at the biggest tournament the competitive gaming club at Algonquin has ever held: the multi-game Super Gonq Battles held in the Student Commons on Nov 22.
It’s not like I was expecting to do well. I mean come on, my first opponent was Jimmy Bones, a man with hair as impressive as his skills who was at one point, according to tournament organizer Bruce Szego, the best Street Fighter player in Toronto. As Szego told me, and after experiencing this first hand, I have no reason to doubt him, Toronto has a “super strong” competitive Street Fighter scene.
Flash back a few weeks. I’m talking to my editors in our office, and bring up the idea of covering the tournament. We’d had a few discussions about the legitimacy of competitive gaming being considered a sports in the past, and they suggested entering the Street Fighter tournament, one of the bigger name games being played, alongside Guilty Gear, King of Fighters and the latest Super Smash Bros. game, and writing about my experience.
I jumped at the chance. I’ve never played Street Fighter before, and until recently I had nothing but disdain for professional gamers. But lately my stance has been softening and I was eager to learn more about the competitive gaming scene.
I signed up, chose a character at random, and got to memorizing some of his moves. Come game
time though, all that fell apart: I choked, fell into button-mashing mode and got destroyed in seconds in both matches I played.
After it finished, Szego was kind enough to introduce me to the winner of the Ultimate Street Fighter IV (the most recent iteration of Street Fighter) bracket, Henry Oung, better known in the gaming scene as Chi-Rithy, one of the top several players in Montreal, and someone with many years of experience on me.
Talking to Chi-Rithy about the degree of training these people do was humbling to say the least. I went into this knowing almost nothing about the game, in fact at one point I got the punch and kick buttons mixed up, and In Street Fighter, that’s a lethal error.
“Before entering a big tournament,” he says, “I go into training mode and I test all my set ups, mix ups, and my finishes for all those different characters and practice my execution.”
Before events like these Chi-Rithy makes a point of learning several characters’ in-and-outs, to plan against whatever his opponent could throw at him.
“In Street Fighter IV, I use Chun-Li, she’s my main character, and my secondary is Ken,” said Chi-Rithy “I mix it up pretty well to cover the whole cast.”
One thing that I really wanted to understand from attending this tournament though, was why competitive gaming was so popular. It’s obvious why real life sports are popular among their competitors. Imagine being Usain Bolt, able to run 100 meters in less than 10 seconds. That has to be an exhilarating experience.
But games like Street Fighter or King of Fighters are nothing like that.
After the other tournaments, when everything was all packed away, Szego introduced me to Colin Street and Pedro Rodriguez, friends and fellow competitive gamers, who explained to me that it’s not the money that attracts people. “I won three dollars today,” Szego said, to which Street replied “I didn’t win money. I lost money.”
“Normally,” Street elaborated, “you don’t even pay travel expenses” with winnings from tournaments.
Chi-Rithy didn’t even talk about money. He cited more metaphorical things.
“It’s nostalgic,” he said that Street Fighter is his favorite fighting game series ever and that one of the best aspects is it’s incredibly competitive. “You get to meet so many people, you get to meet a lot of friends, and have a lot of interaction with people who share the same passion as you.”