Hey gang! This is the beginning of a multi-part series about my love of fighting games. It covers my humble beginnings as a child, my obsession as a teenager, and how I became the Canadian champion as an adult. It ends on a cliffhanger though, so subscribe to my RSS feed or Twitter page to get updated when I publish Part 2 in a couple of days.
So Evo2k11 just came and went. For those of you that don’t know, Evo is the biggest fighting games tournament in North America, and quite possibly the coolest and most hyped up sporting event I’ve ever seen. I had the stream playing on my TV all weekend, even when I was doing other things, just because I wanted to keep track of how the action was going.
Thanks to the modern streaming technology, and devoted followers, Evo hit 1.1 million viewers this year, proving that e-sports are very much alive, and slowly turning into a viable alternative to other sporting events.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Secret Origin of GutsyGeek
I’ll always remember the first time I played Street Fighter II (SFII for short).
Until 1991, the only beat’em up style games I played with my friends were the co-op kind, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, Final Fight, Golden Axe, and the legendary Double Dragon.
Those games were all about us teaming up against the bad guys, and fighting our way through levels to get to the big bosses. They were exceptionally fun, demanding good positioning and tactics from the players, as well as lots of cooperation.
And then Street Fighter II arrived. It pitted gamer against gamer in a beautiful fight to the death. No longer were my friends and I cooperating. Instead, we were vying for victory and first place. Our goal was to defeat all challengers and retain the most important thing of all in a room of several gamers: control of the arcade cabinet.
SFII was revolutionary in many ways. Each character was fully unique, from their looks to their walking animation to their normal/special moves. Each fighter came from a different country, and had his own backstory, explaining their reasons for fighting in the tournament. Oh, and there were Hadokens (fireballs), Shoryukens (dragon punches), and Yoga galore.
The Game Centers
SFII hit the arcades like a magnificent beast in 1993, overshadowing and destroying all other games to take the number one slot in kids’ hearts. I was 7 at the time, and living in Bahrain, which meant I was at the cutting edge of technology.
See, Bahrain’s proximity to Japan, as well as the country’s lack of copyright laws in the 90’s meant we would get all of the latest videogames in the arcades as soon as they were released in Asia. And SFII was the shit. There was nothing like it anywhere, and everyone wanted to get a piece of the action.
I used to dream about going to Jasmis, our local fast food slash McDonald’s ripoff, because they had a huge arcade with TWO SFII machines. I would get on that cabinet and just play for hours and hours, and when I ran out of money, I would stick around and watch other people play because of how good and entertaining the game was. A premonition to the modern e-sports phenomenon? Probably.
When the game finally came out on console, my friends and I would split our time between swimming and SFII. We even began playing the 1 player mode, to finish the game and see each character’s storyline ending. We also gave the characters personality traits. Whenever we beat Ken the first round, he would invariably take the second one right after.
“He’s angry!”, we’d say.
The truth of the matter was, the AI was programmed to increase the difficulty if you beat Ken the first round. But hey, we were kids, what did we know?
Capcom thankfully realized how great the game was, and decided to release new versions and keep the hype going. Just when I was getting bored of SFII, the SFII: Champion Edition was released, finally allowing us to play the 4 boss characters that had plagued and taunted us for years. This was followed by SFII: Hyper Fighting, which gave each character new moves to balance out the fights, and Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers, which added another 4 characters to the game, bringing the total roster to 16.
There were other versions of course, including many pirated ones that I loved (my favorite being Link Edition, where Ryu threw two fireballs that moved up and down the screen), and the magical Super Street Fighter II Turbo, which added super bars and a hidden character.
But by then things didn’t matter anymore. It was 1994, and the 3D fighting revolution had arrived.