A New Era Begins: The Origins of the Modern FGC
In 1991, a little title came to arcades called Street Fighter II which would create pop culture icons, and dramatically shift the gaming world as we knew it. As machines found their way across the world, small pockets of players gathered at arcades, convenience stores, and even movie theaters to play the phenomenon that is the first true fighting game. Street Fighter II set the frame work for everything that would come after and gave birth to the FGC. The Fighting Game Community.
It was only you and your opponent. Locked in the purest form of skill vs skill. This spirit of competition was the heart of the scene, but more importantly it was a way for people from any sort of background to come together. if you wanted to play you were accepted, and this is really where I found my love for the community and still find it to this day. You simply had to put your quarter up on a machine, wait your turn, and then you could do what everyone was there to do… play some damn good games.
Growing up in a small town I never found myself in an arcade scene like Chinatown Fair in NYC, Super Just Games in Chicago, and Golfland. These were the most prolific venues that housed the most competitive and the best of the best. Tournaments grew in popularity until eventually the FGC had to decide who was the best, which side of the country produced the most champions when, inevitably, this pocket of hungry sharks grew to an international level.
As the years went on, more games would be released that grew the diversity. Competition was changing. sub genres, even within the FGC, were developing. “Hyper fighters,” like Xmen vs Street Fighter, sped things up from the usual pace and focused on teams of 2 or more. Mortal Kombat would enter the scene known for it’s intense gore that garnered TONS of media attention. The evolution of 3d technology in video games gave rise to games like Virtua Fighter and Tekken implementing a Z-axis and side stepping. There really was a place, and game, for everyone.
Evo Moment #37
If I could pinpoint a single moment however that put the FGC “on the map” for the general populace it would be Evo Moment #37. This was it for me and many others. This was when I bought into the FGC, live events and everything that came with it. At the Evolution Championship series in 2004, two of the worlds fiercest competitors would meet for the first time in the semifinals of the Street Fighter III: Third Strike tournament. Justin Wong and Daigo Umehara had already made names for themselves with multiple tournament wins under their belts and had known of each other for awhile. Justin using a more defensive approach to his playstyle that commentator Seth Killian mentions, to everyone’s surprise, is getting Daigo flustered when Justin unleashes his big super move! Daigo then proceeds to parry 15 hits of Chun-Li’s legs and returning a super of his own to win the match. The crowd erupts in an electricity that cannot be described.
The Dark Age Ends
While Evo Moment #37 was in 2004, a majority of the 2000’s are often viewed as the “Dark Age” of fighting games, A fair number of fighting games released in that time, but arcades were dying and competitors also tended to stick to the same few games. At least until 2007 when Street Fighter creator Capcom dropped the announcement for Street Fighter IV. This would be the first numbered entry in the long running series in a decade, and fans could not be more excited!
People flocked to the few remaining arcades in 2008 to get their hands on this beautiful new 3d iteration, but something else had come to fruition… the internet. The birth of this platform into a more modern sense allowed for the FGC to flourish in a way that it simply couldn’t before. Yes, there were chat rooms, forums, and even some videos floating around, but nothing like when Youtube became a solid platform. This game would be a fresh experience for all to share and grow together! And on top of that? The utilization of online matches in 2009’s home version.
Now accessibility to competition was not limited to an organized event, or living in a small town like myselff, having to travel to play with like minded individuals. Such a huge influx of new members of the FGC, often lovingly coined “09ers” similar to a gen x/ gen y style identification, the “online warriors” would rise up as all you had to do was turn on your Playstation 3 or Xbox 360 and off you went. I remember the first time I logged on to the servers with confusion and a bit of hesitation, only to be destroyed relentlessly by the person on the other end. And I loved every second of it,
Street Fighter IV jump started the fighting game market and continued to have support until 2014, It got multiple iterations each time adding new mechanics, costumes. and characters with a final roster of 44.
DLC Seasons Are Born
Our story to the framework of the modern FGC and their games cannot (in my opinion) end without talking about the game that set standards for DLC practices. Street Fighter IV had adopted an iteration model that had several large updates chunked together every few years with several patches for character balance in between. But there was another franchise that would develop a seasons model, a single character released in a cadence to supply a steady flow of content, and that was Killer Instinct (2013).
A franchise that, similar to Street Fighter, did not see an entry in the series for many years until it launched with the Xbox One. But the biggest change we would see it being Free-to-play! Killer Instinct (2013) would rotate which character was available, and if you wanted to keep that character you could buy them separately. Or if you just wanted all the characters out of the gate a full version was available. This allowed many people who did not normally play fighting games, or know what killer instinct was, try the game risk free. And this lead to further growth in the community!
When season 2 came around, they continued this trend as you could pre-purchase the 9 characters and would receive them as they were released every few months. This style of DLC quickly became the standard for fighting games and still continues into the present. The story of Killer Instinct (2013) is quite fascinating and if you would like to learn more I highly recommend the documentary from Hold back to Block on Youtube called Fight On: The Killer Instinct Story.
The Fighting Game Community
If you ask other competitive communities about the FGC I feel, more often than not, it is seen as the rowdy younger kid. Is the community perfect? Absolutely not. But it is a community that continues to accept no matter what and once offline tournaments return I think it will truly thrive again, but more on that later.