Living in the valley under the sun, snow isn’t really something you get used to, unless you’re one of those sickos that goes to NAU. As my flight landed at O’Hare a couple weeks back, though, I could see I was in for it. I actually ended up skipping the worst of it by a day or two, but damn was it cold. And snowy. And cold.
A new experience for a new age.
I might be accused of hyperbole, but I’ll boldly say that COVID-19 has messed some things up. Rounding the corner of year 2+ since the pandemic started, what was at first seemingly temporary has now become routine, and new standards are being set everyday. Large, live conventions, what I had begun to think of as a relic of a past time, are slowly creeping back into form. For fighting game events, it was only a matter of time before one of the big events opened up for offline business again, and it ended up being CEO in Florida back in December. After that largely successful event, the blueprint had been set, and I’m sure many tournament organizers were taking notes.
Enter Frosty Faustings XIV.
As a retail manager I’ve gotten pretty used to this whole dog-and-pony show, but even I can admit I was feeling a bit froggy as the date approached. The Omicron variant, while certainly less potent, has been infectious like mad. FF was going to require a vaccination card or proof of a negative test within the prior 24 hours, but even that can only go so far. And I was even more skeptical that the tournament’s new policy, in which every guest would be required to take an on-site test before checking in, would be a smooth operation. I respected the lengths to which ElvenShadow and his crew were going to make sure everyone could have fun while being safe and healthy, but I wondered if the deck was too stacked.
I haven’t been happier to have been so wrong in a long time.
A local clinic, specializing in this kind of newly necessary operation, had set up shop right inside the lobby of the Westin hotel, with plenty of staff. Processing was as simple as scanning a QR code and handing over some ID before one of the professionals would hand you two swabs, a nasal and an oral. Both were used for rapid antigen tests, and the results came back in minutes flat. Show proof of the negative results via email, and you were wristbanded for the weekend. I never saw a huge line build up in the two days I was there, nor did anyone remove their mask except to do the tests. Everyone knew the score and everyone was willing to cooperate for everyone else’s sake.
At this point, it has been a solid 3 years since I’ve stepped foot to a convention, or even flown. Once the negative test came back and it was time to check in, it was hard not to appreciate just how…normal it felt. That’s become a bit of a dirty word, but it’s how I felt: retro gaming stands full of awesome bric-a-brac and pop culture t-shirt stands both set up in the lobby, a row of tables with friendly staff handing out lanyards, perler bead art necklaces! In the face of a pretty relentless past couple of years, something as pedestrian as seeing the booth set up with keychains of the various different fighting game franchises as adorable kittens was enough to get me a little wistful and weepy.
That same creeping feeling of nostalgia lasted as I drifted through the Westin, peeking into all the rooms and seeing familiar, socially-distanced rows of tables with labeled placards, the Gaming Generations logo splashed over all the equipment. Head to head Japanese arcade cabinets? You bet your ass. My good friend and I had literally hours of fun at the Super Street Fighter II Turbo cabinet, although I arguably had more fun as it would take until the second day of the tournament for her to figure out how to deal with Dee Jay’s crouching strong attack.
Although I will say, and this is something that I’ve kicked around for a while, we get all these great cabinets with the utter classics like MvC2, CvS2, ST, etc. but no love for the goofy American coin-ups of yesteryear? No Primal Rage, no War Gods, no Pit Fighter? Not even a crumb of Killer Instinct or Mortal Kombat? It’s not really an aching criticism, but it’s something I’ve noticed every time I see the free-to-play setups at tournaments. I want my stop-motion and I want it now!
Another thing I really appreciated was that there was a designated room to eat and drink. A room with limited capacity, tables with no chairs, and two entrances so people could cycle in and out, take a break, then keep moving was great. Big tournament ballrooms can always seem a bit jarring, especially in these times, and I think a nice room where you could go that was going to be sparsely populated anyways to chill for a bit, take your mask off, charge your phone at the wall, grab a snack, etc. was really nice. I believe something similar to this was at the old Pheasant Run that Combo Breaker was at, but it’s something I might really like to see as a tournament mainstay.
Aside from that, I don’t have a lot of words for the individual tournaments themselves. While I may have misjudged the amount of people there because I (and my friend, she needs to take some of the blame) was too stupid to notice where the main ballroom was for most of my time there, Frosty was such a slickly run event that it just felt like being at Combo Breaker in a smaller venue. Plenty of Gaming Generation-provided setups and rooms solely dedicated to BYOC or more obscure games, 4 or 5 really big screens in the main ballroom for everyone to see, and plenty of staff around to manage the brackets. Given its more specialized name and general reputation as a headliner for smaller games, Frosty doesn’t usually get the ‘major’ moniker that most would typically attach to an Evo or CEO, but honestly, being there? Nothing about it felt small time or lacking in anything other than space and scale. Not only that, at 2 days there was zero fat, and even thought it may seem like a tournament of its size would have ran into problems, it didn’t feel like there were any notable ones. Made me even wonder if some tournaments could stand to use this same format in the future.
The lads ran a good show, what can I say?
There is something to be said about how the standard quality of life for tournaments is at this level. I’ve been going to major events for a very long time now, a decade plus; to see how much these events have matured in terms of punctuality and scale. As I mentioned, Frosty is typically considered a fairly good-size regional event, but if I were to compare its logistics to, say, Final Round in 2012, there is no comparison. For that sense of professionalism to be maintained and consistently held throughout the entire weekend after a very long hiatus is a testament to the staff that ElvenShadow and his team have assembled. 10 years is the blink of an eye for the universe, but taking some time away has really helped me reflect on just how much can be done in 2022 for these tournaments, and it makes me happy for those who compete. Really exciting stuff.
I didn’t primarily go to compete – the days of that being my primary motivating factor have vanished. Nevertheless, it was fun to play Mortal Kombat 11 against other people, and the mood around the setups was what I can only describe as “relieved.” I’m sure there were your usual amount of bad feelings after losses and casual shit talking, but from my observations, people just seemed to be content enough that this event was going off without a hitch. I also was able to meet the Erron Black, who I play in MK11. How often do you get to say that?
I beat one guy who went to his first tournament, got a bye, then got scraped pretty good in the next two matches. I got 17th, and I think I’m pretty good with that. I was going to play Tekken 7, but it was late and I wanted to hang out and do other things, so I bowed out. It feels nice to go to tournaments and have zero expectations. It’s mostly a new feeling, something I would probably have said 3 years ago but not really meant it. I guess a few years of rumination was what I finally needed to get over that hump.
Speaking of getting over humps, it was truly an honor to be witness to David “UltraDavid” Graham, play his MK11 pools. For the folks at home, this was David’s first round of pools matches at a major tournament in roughly ten years – a harder focus on commentary was part and parcel with a nerve condition that made playing these games quite difficult. Nevertheless, David took his Robocop and shot, shot, and shot some more in pools, losing his first match but prevailing in his second before being eliminated in a difficult third match. It can be very difficult to solely play online or in training mode a lot and then expect to make the more-difficult-than-it-seems transition to competitive tournament play, especially after such a hiatus, but I thought David handled it splendidly. It was a standout feel-good moment, the kind of thing you can only really find in the thrill of standing around the pools area, watching match after match play out with a host of excited players frantically paying attention.
On a funnier side note, I remarked to David how the last time I saw him, at Evo 2019, he, his co-host of the Ultrachen Podcast Tuboware, and myself were sharing sips of a Scottish soda that Tubo had brought as we shot the breeze. It was something none of thought twice about at the time, but would almost surely never happen again anytime soon.
Man, 3 years is a long time, isn’t it?
There was a moment, on Saturday, that served as a capstone to a really fun weekend. My friend and I, still riding high on ST, went to watch the top 8 matches that were occurring in one of the side ballrooms. Veterans yet amateurs to the specifics of the game in 2022, we openly speculated about what appeared to be good strategies and who we felt the best characters were. As we did, I noticed the fella in front of us kept looking back towards us, as if he either recognized us or was taken in by what we were saying. After a minute, the guy finally turned around, starting with “You know, it’s funny…”
The mask on my face probably did a poor job of hiding how big my smile was hearing that.
Anyone who has attended a tournament and watched a games finals get played out has surely run into someone like this: a person who is intimately familiar with the game, excited to watch it, but even more excited to share with curious nearby watchers about the ins and outs of the game. And it was a fascinating conversation, in which I learned that Chun-Li’s medium punch throw does the same damage as Zangief’s Jab Spinning Piledriver, likely due to some obscure bug, and it was one of the major reasons why she was considered very near top tier.
I think over the course of what has felt like twenty years passing by in only two, we’ve become deeply aware of our divisions. It’s abundantly clear where we don’t stand together, and every day you get bombarded with all matters of cultural strife, where a line in the sand is drawn seemingly over even innocuous topics. It’s a shame that this need, this very human need to engage with the rest of our species, has become so black-hearted as it has slowly swallowed up all of our lives. To not participate in the social media ratrace is often to go uninformed,unseen, and unheard; often there is a terrible cost of entry for wanting to sate this need that drives so many of us. Confined to the four walls of three websites, context and the natural, unvarnished flow of conversation is diluted to its most basic slop, to fill a trough that attracts the angriest among us to thrust themselves into the subterranean goop and spit it in someone else’s face.
If it sounds like I’m about to give a big stroke job to the magic nature of fighting games to supersede this, I’m not – the level of discourse around fighting games has gotten remarkably poor as everyone has retreated online. What I will say, however, is that sometimes you get reminded that underneath the aesthetics of the dogfights that take place on social media, we all play because there’s something meaningful there. There is an inherent fun to tinkering with these neat toys that have surrounded us all our life, and in each one of us is a compulsive tick to curate and share that knowledge with others in the hopes that some may find it useful or that it might spark a conversation.
Despite this, it’s such a fight (ironic!) to gain this experience without heavy curating and isolation, everyone retreating to various corners where the overwhelming weight of mass interaction can be softened. It’s understandable, maybe even preferred sometimes, but it makes me sad nevertheless. In the age of COVID, this is why I’ve resigned myself more than ever to retreat from social media more and more, even if it’s the best place to find good clips and discussion for fighting games. Major tournaments, for the most part, were a place where all the plaque and infestation that rots online communication was suspended so people could gather together and watch, cheer together, and enjoy. With those gone, one of the few bright spots of playing these games had been extinguished, and it was back to pissing contests and beating the corpses of long dead horses to the bone.
But I am newly confident this will not be permanent.
After our lovely crash course in 2022 ST high level play, my friend and I were discussing the game on the way back to my hotel. She was, at one time, an established player herself, boasting many trophies and medals, even Evo medals, that had since been relinquished to dust, her passion for competition nearly extinguished. You can imagine my surprise when she explained to me that, amidst me spamming Dee Jay’s crouching strong at her for almost minutes at a time, she had actually been trying to figure out strategies on the fly. Not only that, the lack of pressure to be the best, to have to perform the role of being “a good player” for faceless zombies online, to just sit around with like-minded fellows getting excited for other fighting games was…fun.
“It’s been a while, I had forgotten fighting games can be fun. They’re pretty rad, right?”