Ever since Street Fighter II revolutionized arcades, competitive fighting game culture has evolved into a full blown Fighting Game Community (FGC). On one hand, that development has allowed for incredible displays of skills, camaraderie, and competition. On the other hand, it's left casual players who want to move past button mashing in a tough spot: How the hell do you start getting better at these games? This feeling isn't helped by the fact that a lot of the advice coming from FGC veterans amounts to some variation of "Get good, scrub."
"It took the pioneers of the genre almost 10 years to get to a point where we even came close to making it look how it is now. Now we expect players to get that far in 10 weeks," said James Chen, an FGC mainstay who you'll hear commentating most major tournaments, in an email to Waypoint.
"The main problem is that fighting games do not provide adequate single-player experiences. Even when you play online, it's stressful and a huge grind: Losing points is discouraging and frustrating. Many games have tried their best to make tutorials, but few have even come close to what is needed to make Fighting Games more accessible to casual players. No one goes through tutorials more than once, essentially making them useless."
As the FGC is slowing breaking out of its niche community status, we're getting games that take accessibility to heart like Iron Galaxy's Divekick. Anyone can play Divekick and get the hang of its two commands: Dive (Jump) and Kick. The objective of the game is to hit your opponent before they hit you. That's it, really. But what lifts Divekick above mere gimmick is that its simple exterior hides a lot of depth. In order to achieve consistent victory, you'll need an understanding of fighting game concepts like spacing, zoning, and timing—all of which are generalizable to the entire genre of fighting games at large. The game can be played casually with friends but it has also found itself played at high level tournaments like EVO and CEO.
Above: The Divekick Grand Finals at CEO 2015. By limiting the game to two buttons, it removes input barriers (overly complex button sequences that end up being a barrier to entry for new players) and forces players to focus on higher level concepts. Divekick's respect in the community proves an idea like this can work.
While Divekick is an excellent entry point for FGC newbies, jumping into popular franchises like Street Fighter or Guilty Gear will provide players with a frustrating difficulty spike. Providing something in between Divekick and more complicated fighters is one of the core tenets of currently in development title Fantasy Strike, which people can currently support on Patreon and is on pace to hit Steam early access later this year, by Sirlin Games. The game is billed as "A Fighting Game for Everyone" and is a game without complicated button inputs to pull off special moves and combos.
The studio is headed up by David Sirlin, who has been instrumental in making the FGC into what we know today. He has represented Team USA in Street Fighter at the now discontinued Super Battle Opera tournament series in Japan, helped run the Evolution Fighting Game Championship (EVO) for years, and was even the lead designer of Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix. His design choices come from a long history in the competitive community and an understanding of the barriers preventing casual players from advancing.
"I'm trying to take what tournament players already knew, and interpret it for players who don't know all of the jargon because they haven't lived that life," said Sirlin in a Skype interview. "I really liked the gameplay I experienced in fighting game tournaments, but it's so inaccessible. It's hard to get people to understand what's so fun about it when they're not in the scene. [ Fantasy Strike] is extracting the core fundamentals of fighting games and trying to simplify them in ways that don't ruin it."
One reason new players aren't getting better is because they don't understand why they lose. It's tough to excel when you keep making the same mistakes and getting punished for them. When looking up tips online, videos detailing advanced combos are the easiest to find. While mastering these high damage sequences can definitely add an edge to your game, knowing how to throw a fireball is nowhere near as important as knowing whento throw a fireball.
Above: 'Fantasy Strike' uses basic gameplay inputs, but still focuses on the fighting game fundamentals like spacing and timing. While being able to properly execute your moves is an important aspect of most fighting games, Fantasy Strike is balanced around the idea of the moves being easy for everyone. I took a copy of the pre-alpha to my local FGC meetup and after a few games, people had crowded around and were cheering for clutch decisions and hype moments. Advanced fighting game concepts like baiting, block strings and punishes were all present and accounted for.
Luckily for us on the periphery of the competitive community, there are YouTube channels like Core-A Gaming producing content that teaches more than the typical combo video.
"My personal project was Core-A Gaming which was mainly going to focus on KFGC (Korean Fighting Game Community) news. Then I saw a Jimmy Kimmel video where he marginalized people who watched gaming, so I decided to make a video about it. When it got shared by prominent FGC people, I realized I should keep making more videos like it which eventually turned into the 'analysis' series." said Lee in an email.
What differentiates his content from the combo tutorials of old is how he boils the minutiae of fighting games into digestible videos through use of real world examples like pop culture and sports. For instance, his most recent video "Analysis: Why We Should Buff More Than Nerf," uses the real world example of how the introduction of the goaltending and 3-point lines changed the way basketball was played in order to make it better for the fans, and contrasts that with the recent balance changes that happened in Street Fighter V.
I've seen my friends' eyes glaze over when I tried to explain to them how Street Fighter Vseason 2 is a completely different game because of the removal of "invincible wake-up dragon punches," but showing them that video got their attention better than any of my FGC jargon filled diatribes.
"Of course I hope more people get into fighting games because of my videos, but I want gamers in general to have a better understanding of why people like fighting games. I'm happy when the FGC is talking about the topic of one of my videos, but I'm the most excited when non-fighting gamers talk about them," said Lee whose videos are receiving regular attention on hubs of FGC information like Shoryuken and Eventhubs.
Videos like Lee's have sparked discussions surrounding Fighting Game Theory for a new generation. Previously, if you wanted information with this level of detail, you'd have to look to written articles like the column Justin Wong of team Echo Fox (previously of Evil Geniuses) used to post on Eventhubs.
Intellectual conversations about fighting games have revealed their depth and are beginning to affect game design. There's a school of thought in the FGC which believes that it doesn't matter how complicated a game's moves are, as long as you have an understanding of fundamentals, then you will be successful.
This back to basics mentality has inspired others to get into creating FGC content. We're past the point needing to do the most complicated stuff, and learning to win has taken precedence. Luis 'Pugilist Penguin' Sierra Jr. is a YouTuber who boils down this concept into a series of two minute tutorials.
"We've got more information about the games we play than ever before. We're exposed to data in such a capacity that combo videos are antiquated by the ability to just peek at the frame data and see what links," explained "Lots of content creators have skill sets they've developed either in a university or through practice and as a result we're finally seeing the fruits of of their labor coalesce into videos which are informative and entertaining and also have high production value, too."
The fighting game is in a unique place. There are more teams, tournaments are being broadcast on ESPN, and people are even getting together to watch major tournaments in the same way others would to watch the Superbowl. The only way to keep this growth up is by bringing new players and spectators into the fold, so something has to be done to help these games make sense and also show why they're fun. Luckily for players on the periphery of the competitive community, more games, videos, and tutorials are being aimed directly at them, evening the field.