Well, this was a very exciting weekend if you are a fan of fighting games. Capcom Cup 2017, the year-long culmination of all the drama and excitement from the annual Capcom Pro Tour, was held all weekend, starting with a Last Chance Qualifier on Friday and ending on Sunday with an intense, grueling final set between reigning EVO champion and favorite Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi and Saul “MenaRD” Segundo that saw Segundo win three games from the loser’s bracket to reset the match, then pull an amazing comeback while down two games against the veteran Taniguchi.
At just 18 years old, Segundo was overwhelmed to take home the $250,000 dollar prize, which made him a millionaire in his home country of the Dominican Republic. In an interview that took place before the finals, Segundo promised to use that money to help fund his local gaming community, who were cheering him on in the crowd during his matches. He spoke of the importance of having a central location for them to meet so they could train, and help send more talented players from that region to compete next year. After all, if the region can produce a talent such as Segundo, who primarily used online and his local scene to help become strong, then there may be more hidden gems yet to be discovered. I was stunned that he was so willing to pump up his local scene and help them become a lot stronger as an overall region over, say, moving to America or Japan, typically considered stronger regions, to improve his own skills.
I say I was stunned because, on the NRS side of things, local meetups are a thing of the past, and it has hurt the scene in a big way.
Recently, a gentleman by the name of Sam Corkery uploaded a tremendous video documentary that detailed an intense rivalry from back in the good ‘ol days of 2011. The feud was mainly between players from New York, known then as the Valley Stream Monsters, and a few players from the Midwest, mainly in the Illinois/St. Louis area. Like any FGC rivalry, this feud started when players on either side found the others obnoxious, overbearing, and overrated. And when players like Emmaneul “CDjr” Brito and Steve “16 Bit” Brownback were involved, you knew it was going to get heated quick. Before long, both agreed to meet at neutral ground, the Atlanta based Final Round tournament, and settle their differences in a winner take all five on five challenge. Both assembled a crew, and the date was set.
As is now written in NRS scene lore, the result was resounding victory for the Valley Stream Monsters. Team Midwest, in the parlance of our times, got their backs blown out in humiliating fashion, and even the Final Round tournament was won by REO. It was probably the height of tension and fun drama in the scene and is fondly remembered by all involved. I may be biased, considering two of my training partners, Alex “DetroitBallin” Rayis and Mark “MortySeinfeld” Camps, were on Team Midwest, and the fact that I was there (I can be seen in Corkery’s video), but man that was a fun event to be had. I’ve never had more fun at a tourney than in that sweatbox of a hotel room, hopelessly dwarfed by a bunch of other dudes packed like sardines watching people play a video game.
When this was posted on TestYourMight.com, the response seemed to center around the game itself. “Oh, man, if only Injustice 2 was as hype as MK9,” “Boy do I miss playing MK9,” etc. I feel this is sort of missing the point about what made this great, and what made tournaments in the past great. REO and 16 Bit started off their rivalry very early in the year with some mild shit-talk that escalated into that five versus five. After that, and a 9th place finish at Final Round, 16 Bit would later go on to beat REO in tournament at the Major League Gaming event in Anaheim, which further cemented the rivalry. All through the year this feud persisted, mostly between everyone involved in that five versus five event. And the reason why it kept going was because it was a regional thing.
Back in 2011/2012, there were only a few events a year for Mortal Kombat players to go, and not everyone traveled. A lot of the player base skewed young, and the online was horrible, so categorizing skill was mainly just boasting about who you played with offline. 16 Bit and his ilk were very sure about the strength of the Midwest, likewise with the Valley Stream guys, and there were other groups too: Atlanta, which included Brant “Pig of the Hut’ McCaskill, the SoCal/Arizona/Vegas region, which boasted Denzell “DJT” Terry and his brother Malik or “MIT” and the Epic Gamer Productions crew, the Maryland/Virginia area, and so on and so forth. Whenever the groups would meet, which might be a handful of those people at an East Coast event or vice versa, as well as Evo, then it was a big deal.
This persisted into Injustice: Gods Among Us, where we saw the rise of a united Florida front, an even stronger SoCal/EGP scene, New Jersey getting a lot of additional players, and even some strong Canadian players as well. Each region had claim to at least one pretty darn good player, which meant that every time a tournament happened it was like worlds colliding. Evo 2014, which was sadly largely unstreamed except for the top 8, was like the ultimate collision course of every scene and it was a beauty to behold. Everyone had something to prove and everything was on the line. It was awesome.
Now, in the year 2017, there are grumblings of a “hype” issue with Injustice‘s sequel. People say that it’s just not like the olden days, and many blame the game for being the cause of all of this non excitement. To me, I think what people miss but just aren’t able to pinpoint is that, at the moment, the local scenes have almost all but extinguished in the NRS scene. And worse still, some of the people with a real voice in the community have advocated for that to happen.
I can trace the beginning of the end back to the early days of Mortal Kombat X. In 2015, Giancarlo “Reno Racks” Moreno decided to open up a gaming center in Atlanta called Yomi. Seemingly having money to burn, he immediately invited several players to stay at the actual Yomi building as a team, much like you would see with pro teams in games like Starcraft and League of Legends. He recruited from all over too, taking players from Norcal, Socal, Vegas, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and even some from the surrounding Atlanta scene. Yomi, for a time, was essentially the New York Yankees of the NRS scene.
Now, I do not think that there was any malicious intention in grabbing all these players. It’s just natural, especially since it had already been done in the FGC: until recently, a popular meme was discussing the “EG Bois” in Street Fighter, a group of players sponsored by Evil Geniuses that was similar in scope to Yomi, with a big acquisition of talented players all at once. And other Esports have been doing it for years, too. Having said all that, I think this was pretty disastrous for the local scenes that lost those players, mainly because they were already small to begin with and taking away the top talent was a good way to stagnate the scenes. Now the mid-level guys now don’t get the experience of playing those stronger guys, and that stagnation trickles down through all the different skill types until one of those mid-level players breaks through the glass ceiling, which may take some time.
So Yomi now has a bunch of top players, and to their credit, at least ran local events that were popular when they were on. But those quickly shrank away when the big tournament season came along, and it was very common for every Yomi player to travel together and probably have at least 4 players placing in the top 8 of almost every tournament they went to. The worst part, as a viewer, was that they had collected so much of the local talents from across the nation that had become strong during Injustice: Gods Among Us that it was going to take some time before a new hometown hero emerged to be on their level. That’s not to say they won everything, or weren’t occasionally upset, but by sheer force of will they could end up in the finals all the time, and I think this did a number on the scene’s overall excitement for the tournaments as compared to the previous NRS titles. They were essentially the Monstars, although not really cartoonish-ly villainous.
So that was deathblow #1. Deathblow #2 is harder to really come down hard on, because it was such a tremendous change for Mortal Kombat X and every NRS title going forward: the addition of rollback-based netcode. For those unaware, NRS titles prior to Mortal Kombat X used an input-delay based method for their online modes in order to account for natural lag between players’ connections. For fighting games, this is particularly bad as most inputs are meant to be precise and exact, so adding a delay will play havoc with the match as players are using moves but not getting a response on screen until a bit later due to the game “holding” the inputs to allow the data to arrive at the other player. This type of netcode is in most fighters, and almost any fighter that uses it, save for a select few, have either God-awful online experiences or just average, which is not really acceptable in the modern age. For MKX, this was the case for most of 2015, and in 2016, NRS made a surprise annoucement that they were switching to “Rollback” netcode.
Rollback netcode was developed by Tony Cannon, one of the founders of the Evolution tournament, in the mid aughts. Instead of delaying inputs to wait for the data to arrive, Cannon’s netcode instead predicts the player’s inputs and then will “roll back” the game to the last time it had a correct input. The system has proven incredibly solid in past fighters, and NRS spent the big bucks necessary to pull the plug on what they had and make the move to rollback. This was a big risk; MKX is so graphics intensive, and the game plays with such a different style than the other 2D fighters that used it that it could have been disastrous. The gambit paid off, however, and MKX went from having a pretty bad online experience to a top 3 within the whole genre.
A stunning success for sure, but combined with my earlier point, this was also a pretty bad blow to local scenes. With the netcode resembling offline play more than it ever had before, and with the absence of their top players, many of the scenes turned to online play in order to get their experience. In the NRS scene, it is easier to find, more than most, a top, top player who will actually play long sets with you, which means you can partially simulate the old boon of having a top player in your local scene by just reaching out on Twitter to one of dozens of top guys. And it’s free! Traveling to a local can often times be an expense that cannot be afforded more than a few times a month for some; online is a perfect solution.
Of course, I would argue that this can often times cut out the big middleman that helps to getting better, which is shooting the shit. Talking between sets, after sets, before sets, and every which way in between can be invaluable because you’re bound to reach a better conclusion with multiple heads working on the same problem than using yourself, who could just be having a highly emotional and volatile reaction to a certain situation. You can sort of emulate this at home if you’re on Skype or some other type of call with the other player, but that is where any FGC scene tends to get real cliquey; a popular way to get viewers for a stream is to just feature random Skype calls with known players, which are not really conductive to hashing out high level strategies so much as a stroke job where everyone’s sort of glad handing each other’s opinions rather than asking the tough questions. Casual impartiality and lengthy communication are key steps to really breaking down a fighter, and online can’t really recreate that.
Lastly, it never helps to have people who are well-respected known in the scene to openly disparage the idea of having a local scene. I saw this on TYM a month or so back and it just pissed me off.
Pig is one of the most known, vocal members of the NRS scene, and this is his general opinion of locals. “Dumb”. “Pointless.” Now, here’s the thing: for his general mindset, this isn’t really a problem. Pig, along with many others who were top during the MK9 days, is an elitist who craves long sets with known players over playing weaker players in his local scene. That is his prerogative, and I don’t really have a problem with that. Where I have a problem is that when you are seen as a leader, this talking point becomes a big problem. Imagine if you’re just a rando who wants to attend Atlanta locals, and you see this guy who is known to be a big part of your scene talking like that. Why would you go? Why even care? They’re “pointless.” I also find it incredibly ironic that Pig tends to be one of the biggest people talking about the lack of hype, yet seems to have forgotten about what created it in the first place, but I digress.
My point is that with the above mentality becoming further rooted in the scene, along with past damage to various local scenes across the country, locals are an endangered species in the NRS community. Now, I’m not going to shame those who don’t attend, as there are very good reasons why it can be difficult. If you’re like me, you just don’t have a lot of money and locals are far away. If you’re in California, you know that the commute is a nightmare and the tournaments tend to start very late. Same could be said for anyone whose in a major city trying to catch their local. But I actively want to attend my locals because I want the experience of hanging out with the fellas and talking shop, and don’t just see it as “pointless” because I could play any top player online.
To end this very long blog, I’d like to point out some people who are super dedicated to keeping their local scene alive, either through consistent attendance or just promoting general awareness. Evan “Wonder Chef” Hashimoto is a commentator for the ESL e-sports league, and a veteran FGC player from SoCal who tries his hardest to get people to come out to Wednesday Night Fights, the SoCal local event hosted every week by longtime player Alex Valle, through lots of tweeting and a general pumping up of his local players. Tom “TommyWafflez” Nieter is a former top Mortal Kombat player who is trying to push the revival of the local scene in the Chicago-land area, hosted at the Galloping Ghost Arcade in Brookfield, Illinois. A lot of players in the Florida area promote the Versus Weekly, held at the Versus Gaming Center in Southern Florida, where they are host to a who’s who of top Mortal Kombat, Injustice: Gods Among Us, and Mortal Kombat X players. There are probably many others that I missed, but I hope you know that I support you in spirit!
Well that about does it, wraps her all up. I’m very sorry for the long break, but I felt some time off gave me the motivation to continue doing this. If you want to get a better update of when I’m going to be posting a new article, you can follow me on Twitter at the links on the side of the page. I can’t make any promises as to what my next article will be about, but there are plenty of juicy topics in the FGC as we wind down 2017. Thanks for reading!