No gaming genre is quite as fragmented or as fascinating as fighting games. Unique in its variety, the fighting game esports scene is great for casual fans — the ability to drop in and enjoy multiple different titles during major events without following complex leagues or storylines is something a lot of viewers come to appreciate.
Cinema has Pacino; music has The Beatles. In competitive video games, our timeless classics are arcade fighters — the sidescrolling button-mashers of yore. With a massive (and growing) range of incredible and complex titles showing up in the fighting game esports scene, it’s an awesome time to be a fan — if you know how to keep up with it all.
You’ll see big name fighting titles with loyal, enthusiastic followings, like the various Super Smash Brothers games (notably Melee, originally released for the Nintendo GameCube in 2001) or Street Fighter (various iterations of Street Fighter IV since 2009). But a number of popular games feature in major fighting esports events, including Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Dead or Alive, Marvel vs. Capcom, Soul Calibur, and others.
For as much as fighting games are among the best spectator experiences for potential audiences to get into easily, it can still be daunting — and, as with most sports, having a grasp of the rules, terms, and players improves the whole experience tenfold. It has fewer league-style events or long-term storylines to follow, too, so understanding the game matters more than it might in some other games!
To get you started, here are some quick tips on fighting games, where you can watch them, and when the biggest events to check out take place!
Fighting Games 101
Watching a game being played at the highest level is incredible, even if you’re not a great gamer (or a gamer at all!). But without some of the basics, understanding what’s the announcers are saying and appreciating the complexity and intricacies of the moves the pros are pulling off can be more challenging. Grasping the terminology and core concepts of a given game are pretty much required to get started. If you stick to watching, that’s great, too, but picking up the games and trying them yourself will make your viewing experience even better.
There are too many different fighting games with competitive scenes to list them all or get into the specifics here. It’s impossible to get into meaningful specifics with how many popular fighting games have competitive scenes, but most of them are playable on modern consoles. For those that aren’t and require older hardware, like Super Smash Bros. Melee, find a local retro gaming store or hit up online options like eBay.
Core concepts, like zoning — control over the space your opponent is in and the distance your abilities will travel within that space — cut across all fighting games, but many others are unique or exclusive to individual titles. Most fighting games will have fairly good online wikis to help explain their concepts:
Where to watch
The gold standard in online game streaming has been and continues to be Twitch, which was the first (and arguably remains the best) platform for accessible broadcasting of games. Competitive fighting games don’t always have a major presence in the online game streaming world — rarely cracking the monthly top 20 streaming titles — but as console games, that’s not a huge surprise. When major tournaments or events are happening, though, they are almost all on Twitch.
Accessing Twitch is easy, so even if you’re not a big PC person (and fighting game fans may well not be), you can use Twitch apps on your PlayStation 4, Xbox One, iOS devices (including AirPlay to an AppleTV), or Android gadgets. If the biggest fighting game spectacle of the year happens when you’re at work, at the lake, or so late at night your only option is watching it in bed, you’ve got options.
Unlike PC games, where you’d have year-round content to enjoy on Twitch, fighting game enthusiasts are more likely to tune in on a per-event basis. Rather than following particular channels or events, if you want to have the option to check what’s happening on a day-to-day basis or watch non-event streams, you should hit the Follow button on the game categories themselves:
Following game categories rather than individual channels won’t give you notifications when something important goes live, but does ease your navigation around Twitch. If you do enjoy a particular channel or streamer’s content, follow them.
What’s worth watching?
- Shoryuken: You can find a tournament calendar, player rankings, a detailed glossary of terms, and many other useful tidbits via the Shoryuken (SRK) news and forums. This is probably the singular best cross-community (multiple game/platform) resource available.
- Liquipedia: Team Liquid is a multiple game esports organization, but its involvement in fighting games is limited at this point to Super Smash Bros. Upcoming events, player bios, and other news can be located here.
In the fighting game community (or FGC), all of the events are held offline, and many of them are smaller tournaments dedicated to only one individual game. A few tournaments feature multiple titles and are worth paying particular attention to, though:
- EVO: The Evolution Championship Series, or EVO, is the largest fighting game tournament in the world. The format is somewhat unique to the FGC in that any attendee can sign up and play in the tournaments — allowing relative newcomers to shine in an open bracket that ultimately hones in on the absolute best player of a particular game. EVO 2015 featured nine different fighting games.
- Dreamhack: A massive European gaming festival, Dreamhack began featuring Street Fighter in its 2012 circuit, and it has since gone on to add Mortal Kombat. More fighting games may join the Dreamhack lineup in the future!
Ready … fight!
Players in fighting game tournaments exercise some of the highest levels of hand-eye coordination in the world, and what games do or don’t thrive in the community are decided entirely by their skill cap and support from fans. You can try the games out for yourself, see what they’re all about, and then be blown away time and time again by the prowess the world’s best players present onstage — side-by-side, as only fighting games can be played.