I love competitive gaming. I enjoy watching fighting game tournaments way more than I’ve ever liked any sort of physical sport, and about as much as I like watching speed runs (which are somewhat competitive in their own right). If you’ve never seen this or this, then your are really missing out on one of the most fun aspects of gaming.
Unfortunately, there is one serious problem that I have when it comes to competitive games: I really and truly am terrible at them. There’s a lot to competitive gaming, from score attacking to fighting games to first person shooters (and don’t forget speed runs). How about we take a look at the cool stuff each one brings to the table even as I recount how I specifically suck at all of them?
As with many people, my first proper introduction to any sort of competitive gaming in an obvious sense was fighting games at my local arcade. Prior to this, my experiences were largely single player or cooperative, so the arcades in our bowling alley and pizza joint gave me an introduction to the crazy worlds of Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct, X-Men, Darkstalkers, and Primal Carnage. I still wonder if my interest in fighting games would be different if I had started out with a simpler offering like Street Fighter, rather than something visually exciting but more difficult to play. Probably not, but you can’t help but wonder.
In fighting games, the competitive aspect is extremely obvious: sure, there’s a bunch of AI enemies you can fight, but the second stick makes it pretty clear that the game is really there so that you can play against others. I certainly loved watching these games, but the skills to play them with anything resembling competence was (and still is) quite beyond me. Fortunately, when I was younger we were all pretty terrible at them (so long as I was playing with friends), so it was easy to get in a win here and there or at least have some fun. As we grew up and people’s skills developed (read: everyone I knew but me), I stopped playing as much and fell out of playing fighting games altogether.
I missed out on a lot of the development of fighting games, and only recently came to learn that serious fighting game tourneys were even a thing. Everything between Street Fighter 2 and 4 passed me by (all of the Alphas, 3, and all sorts of other fighting games), but I feel like I got back just in time for some of the best. Street Fighter 4 has beautifully deep mechanics, but a simple and clean system that makes it incredible to watch. The number of possibilities at any time in a match makes for some really brilliant plays, and even the most mediocre matches can be a real joy to see. It’s interesting to see that the character rosters have exploded as time has gone on (in the genre on the whole, not just in Street Fighter), but regardless of the flashy and interesting characters, the incredible mechanical depth of even just a Ryu mirror match in any SF game makes fighting games awesome to play or watch.
Admittedly, my heart seems to belong to the Street Fighter series (and Capcom fighting games in general), but there’s a lot out there to enjoy. Marvel Versus Capcom 3 (and previously 2, which is still incredible to watch), Smash Bros (various versions, this one really depends on the event), and Skullgirls offer faster paced fights that make for some great watching (even though I have a harder time tracking what’s happening than I would in a SF4 match). Mortal Kombat has really come into its own, and the latest entries take the competitive aspect quite seriously rather than focusing on insane amounts of gore (though there’s plenty of that, too).
Interestingly, 3D fighters don’t seem to show up a lot (at least not the places I follow), but I’m plenty happy with what there is to see. Though the barrier to entry can be quite high (to play, anyways. For those interested in just watching, the mechanics are pretty simple and easy to grasp for most of these games), there’s a lot of depth available as a result. Be it in online matches, or in person tournaments, there’s a ton of excellent competition out there to be had. If you’re even a little bit interested and aren’t already following the fighting game scene, check out SRK – the articles are excellent and very informative, and there’s plenty of tournament coverage.
Score attacking has been a part of gaming since the two big arcade hits (Space Invaders and Pac-Man) first arrived on the scene. Scores were such an integral part of games that Super Mario Bros. features a score counter and scoring for various actions even though it’s very clearly irrelevant to the actual point of the game (progressing through all eight worlds). My own history with score attacking has given it a special place in my memories, and my interest in self imposed challenges in games makes anything with a score counter (especially if it’s irrelevant) all the more interesting.
I got really into score attacking with NiGHTS into Dreams for the Sega Saturn. I joined an online forum dedicated to the game, and while I participated in the more social areas of the forum, the part of it that really drove me to play the game over and over was score attacking and the constant self improvement. Sure, I had seen scores on arcade cabinets while growing up, but NiD was the first game that made me actually interested in getting a high score. Sadly, even in the small community of us score attacking the game, I was never on the top, but it pushed me to play a game I loved, so I’d call that a win of some sort.
Score attacking has certainly evolved since the arcades of yore, and those scrolling score screens of the past have transformed into the leaderboards of the present. It’s actually pretty awesome that you can go online and see where you stand against the vast majority of other people that have played the game. Admittedly, I rarely look at my own place in the running, but for games where it’s possible to load runs from the leaderboard and see how the best did it, I love to pop on and watch them wrack up points like I will never be able to.
FPS stands for First Person Shooter. That’s honestly about all I’ve got on that. I suck at them versus terrible AI, I suck worse against competent humans.
I realize speed runs aren’t competitive gaming like fighting games or FPS or even Pokemon (lets come back to that after this… I should have mentioned Pokemon at the top), but the constant battle to have the lowest possible time certainly makes for some fierce competition. While I’m no good at speed running (the only thing I ever attempted was a Hard Mode Shadow of the Colossus playthrough, and my time was always terrible), I love watching them, and they do a lot to illuminate alternate play styles and tricks that I would never have tried if I hadn’t seen them on speed runs.
For anyone that’s played a game before, seeing someone perform at the pinnacle of skill and speed can be both enlightening and frustrating. If you want to see some people destroy games that you’ve suffered at the hands of (or had fun playing and just want to see how well and fast it could be done), check out Speed Demos Archive. They do some great charity work a couple times a year with the Games Done Quick events, and host some mind blowing speed runs.
Okay, a quick note about Pokemon and I’ll shut up. Like everything else I’ve talked about here, I’m not very great at it. That being said, I have a lot of fond memories of breeding Pokemon with really specific stats to help friends with their competitive interests, and a lot of less fond memories of getting crushed in every versus match we ever played. If you’re into Pokemon and competition, much like the fighting game scene there’s some very epic tournaments out there.
So, yeah, I’m not good at pretty much any branch of competitive gaming. That’s okay though, cause competition can be enjoyed just as much by the spectators as the competitors. I don’t think it’s for everyone to go out there and start trying to break into the fighting game scene or devote countless hours to score attacking or speed running, but I do think that people who have a lot of fun with games should at least try watching the competition happening out there. Forget the NFL, this is the sport to get into.