I’d really encourage anyone to go if you’re into fighting games, whether you want to enter a tournament or not, I am sure you’ll have a great time. Of course this year I’m going to enter the Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix competition and see how I do. In the meantime I thought I’d try and get a bit of practice at the game at least, and I discovered an European-only tournament being run over XBox Live & via shoryuken.com that some of my XBL Friends List were involved with. I gave that a shot and duely lost in the first match, only then to discover it was only single elimination – and so I was out immediately. At least I discovered later the player I lost to ended up placing 2nd overall
… BADA DADA DA DA DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! …
Now, fight a DRAMATIC BATTLE!
When looking for news on SVB I discovered there was a preliminary “Dramatic battle” tournament running in Birmingham. Whilst it was quite a way to travel, it was the nearest HDR tournament to me by far. So after forum reassurances that I’d be able to borrow a TE stick to play on – because they were using the horrible PS3 hardware to run it on I wouldn’t have my own, I started to sort out my travel arrangements. In the end fellow Sheffielder & gaming blogger id0ru, aka Marc from Dead Pixel Skyline joined me for the trip, so with a navigator on board I decided to go by car as the most efficient option.
But as expected finding the place proved to be an immense challenge in itself. After numerous wrong turns, illegal manoeuvres, giving up and deciding to park in a shopping centre carpark, seeing the ridiculous prices at shopping centre carpark & giving up on that, throwing the as-usual ridiculously inaccurate googlemaps directions out of the window, and relying on the map printouts I had and despite the fact the road we kept missing turned out to not have the same name as on the map or the directions, we eventually arrived, ready for a fight!
The event was run really smoothly by the guys at Electronic Dojo, one of whom turned out to be an old friend of mine I’d not seen in years, with an excellent set of tournament rules (better than some of Neo Empire’s rules in my opinion): double elimination format, characters selected once at the start of the tournament and no changes allowed, ie: Japanese style. However I wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence anyway, or worried about the rules – as long as it wasn’t one and done – I mostly just wanted to go for the sheer experience of it and to see just how much I had to learn. However I fully expected to go 0-2 and out immediately. When I recognised ‘Prodigal Son’ Ryan Hart outside the venue – probably the UK’s top fighting game player & also known for this money match against Justin Wong, I became even more certain this was going to be a lot of fun but any wins at all would be a very good result I thought. As I’d driven all the way there for over two & a half hours and there were spare slots available still, I decided to enter 3rd Strike as well just for a laugh – even though I haven’t played it properly in many years – just so I’d get a few more games of something in. I started taking some quick notes in my phone after my matches as to how my matches played out so I could try and play them back in my mind later and learn from whatever mistakes I made, and also to remember which characters I needed more practice against. However I then discovered the organisers were actually video capturing all the games anyway. Brilliant!
My first game was on HDR and I beat a rather cagey T-Hawk 2 rounds to 1 with DeeJay. T Hawk is one of those odd ‘unstable’ matchups for DeeJay where I feel he really has the advantage and holds all the cards, yet one mistake can spell defeat. As long as I can keep my cool and there’s not horrible lag, online, I’m pretty confident against all but the very best Hawks though, so despite the fact my opponent was playing as pink T-Hawk (who as we all know does extra damage on all his moves), I was pleased I didn’t blow it. I was finding the “but it’s not mine” effect on the joystick rather weird as well – it definitely felt looser than my TE stick. I was also really struggling with the button config and menus on the PS3 with its stupid shape symbols instead of simple button letters – everything felt so unfamiliar. I ended up always leaving it up to my opponents to navigate the menus.
Next my name was called for 3rd Strike and I quickly & unsurprisingly lost 0-2 to a Chun Li, although it was amusing being asked which character I wanted to play, given my signup name. 😉 My next game of HDR I lost 1-2 to a Ryu player called Jinty who played some really good rounds and got me in a perfectly timed & spaced fireball corner trap in both his wins. This put me at 1-1 and quickly into the ‘losers bracket’. I managed to actually win a game of 3rd Strike against a Ken. It was only during this match that I remembered you could actually ‘super jump’ on 3rd Strike, which made me laugh as to just how much of the game I’d forgotten. I also discovered I couldn’t reliably even do a flash kick motion on the PS2 joystick I was borrowing; already not taking my 3s games at all seriously, I didn’t really care. My bottom-tier Remy quickly lost to yet another Ken on 3rd Strike so I was done with that anyway. As expected almost all the players were playing Ken-Chun-Yun, although it was fun that there was actually another Remy player there. I never thought I’d see that.
But then after a wait for the winners brackets to be resolved, it was back to HDR. Losing in my 2nd game I was deep into the losers bracket hole & found myself up against another excellent Ryu – who is also DeeJay’s worst character matchup at least ‘on paper’, yet I just managed to scrape out a 2-1 win with a ‘Sobat Carnival’ (Super Dread Kick) as Ryu tried to land a j.LK on DeeJay on wakeup. My opponent lamented he was trying an SF4 tactic of a LK crossup when it was hardly the right thing to do in HDR! I completely understood as I’d found my own HDR game got worse back when I played SF4 any amount at all. The TE stick I’d borrowed for this match (from a fellow DeeJay player M. Turbo, who luckily played blue-pants DeeJay to my purple-pants so there was no squabbling) felt a lot nicer and actually felt identical to my own.
Next HDR match up was my friend Marc! I joked that I wouldn’t give him a lift back home to Sheffield if he didn’t ‘play possom’ and let me win.. but then I told Marc seriously it was actually the opposite – he’d better play his best against me or I wouldn’t drive him anywhere! But his Cammy went down 2-0 to my DeeJay; it’s another matchup I fortunately feel very confident in & once again, the TE stick I had felt perfectly familiar. The TO told me to stay in my seat because the way the brackets worked I was up next. And then again, and again. I somehow beat past a Honda, another Ryu & the fellow DeeJay player without losing a round. I think having a run of games in a row like that really helped me though, and I suspect a lot of the players were distracted by also playing other games too.
So somehow I’d made it out of losers bracket and through to the HDR final! I was absolutely overjoyed already that I’d managed to even win a couple of games – this was far surpassing my expectations already. I’d read all about “bedroom champions” and “internet warriors” falling flat on their face their first time in a real-life tournament. I fully expected I’d end up the same way the moment the pressure was on me to perform on the spot. But whilst I’d been playing pretty badly, missing combos and setups I do regularly at home, and forgetting basic things like to LIGHT Jackknife-Kick a Honda butt drop from underneath it, I’d still managed to do ok and had managed to keep my cool despite my errors, and I’d even managed a few moments of clutch play that I’d had no idea were in me. However I found that something else I’d read was completely true; that in a tournament setting combos that you find easy normally you completely mess up when the pressure is on. But fortunately it wasn’t just me making these mistakes, it seemed to afflict my opponents just as much. Plus I’m not very good at combos anyway, so it probably hurts me less than most. Another major thing that was very strange was that the game seemed so slow to me. I don’t know if it was the fact I almost never get to play offline and so it felt much more responsive to me than online matches, or whether I’d somehow developed the Sirlin super power to slow down time (!!! 😉 ); but I actually suspect it is the much complained about speed differences on the inferior Ps3 version of HDR. However I can’t really complain because once I’d become accustomed to it, I feel it was actually helping me a lot. I frequently find HDR online on the 360 actually feels too fast for my reactions, yet I never felt that problem all day at this Dramatic Battle. It may equally well have just been that I was wide awake, I’d been sleeping, eating & drinking pretty well the whole weekend, and I wasn’t playing drunken at 4am as I somewhat prone to doing. 😉
However despite this speed ‘advantage’, I was already thinking about how I was going to write up an agoners blog post about how I was so thrilled to come 2nd in my first ever real fighting game tournament. I now had to play against the only guy who’d beaten me all day, in technically DeeJay’s worst matchup, I didn’t really think I had much hope, but I knew it would definitely be great fun when I realised they were going to hold the finals so you each had your own screen and everyone else at the event would be watching – Fantastic! However I had to wait for quite a while before the HDR final would come along.. in the meantime I did everything I could to keep my focus. I sat down where I couldn’t even see any other games (in truth I’d not been very interested in watching anything other than HDR matches anyway – to me it’s so much more interesting than the other Street Fighters these days), and did mental ‘reps’ about the Ryu vs DeeJay matchup. How did I want to start the round? What did I want to try after the way Jinty had beaten me before? I kept going through various theory fighter games in my head again and again to keep me concentrated on nothing but HDR…
“Don’t psyche yourself out man! Just picture the fight in your head. How will the battle shape up? How will you win? Let’s get started!”
When I finally sat down for the finals with my friend Lom in the ‘judges seat’ between us, he announced that because I was in the losers I had to beat Jinty twice to win. I knew about this from watching how Evo was run this year, but I’d actually completely forgotten about it until I was reminded. I didn’t really think too much about it though, as I thought the finals would have been more sets anyway. I was still just thinking about Ryu vs DeeJay. We did our button configs, then went into a match and picked our characters. As my opponent pressed to pick “Ryu stage” I’d already started to hold down-back to charge at the start of the round, and so the stage selection cursor moved down to China as he hit the button. I said “sorry” across to him & I meant it – I actually much prefer Ryu stage graphically & musically :P. As the round started I walked back away from Ryu and then threw a Hard Max Out.. and my DeeJay Dread Kicked his merry way across the screen! “My buttons are wrong” I said matter-of-factly but loudly. The annoying PS3, like the pox on the video-gaming world it is, had chosen that moment to dish up it’s known bug of actually being unable to save the button configuration between the options menu and an actual game.
Is there no end to the bad comedy that is the PS3?
Luckily for me not even a single blow had been landed and the TO kindly immediately stopped the fight and allowed us to redo our button config, twice, so that we knew it had actually worked.
Then to my complete surprise I managed to go on to win twice in a row to win the final! I was so focused on playing the individual rounds that I can’t recall much other than setting up a bunch of start-of-the-round guessing games pretty well, but apart from that they were really rough & ready games with lots of mistakes on either side – as others commented afterwards, and I readily agreed, they weren’t very good performances. I felt we’d actually both played much better in our earlier game where Jinty had won. I recall I did win one round when I managed to cross up Ryu, not quite finish him off – I most likely fluffed a combo as usual – and I just decided to play clock and distance as there was no way Ryu was going to beat me with fireball chip damage at that point and couldn’t gain a super either. So I just blocked, Max Out & slid about and tried to bait a jump in that never came until the timer ran out. I remember this because I was glad I managed to keep my head enough to do this in this situation. I don’t even know what the round counts were in the finals though, I was so concentrating on just playing each round as it came and I was really glad I was able to focus in that way as it’s something I’ve actively worked on doing a lot when playing SF.
I also wasn’t sure what, if anything, I got for winning this.. it turns out I won a ‘Gold Pass’ to SVB which is free entry and a free game entry. Nice! However I’ve already paid for SVB and my entry to HDR and I can’t really play any other games I might have tried since they haven’t been released on the 360 yet, so I need to find out how I can actually use this Gold Pass… but it does manage take away my disgust and disgrace of playing a video game for the first time in my life on a PS2 or a PS3. At least no cooty-infested Sony control pad got near me though.
But it was the fun of the whole thing that was the best thing to “win” anyway. I’ve thanked the organisers already on their forums for this, but I have to re-iterate it was absolutely amazing to be able to play the game I love the most in this kind of atmosphere. I do really love playing with an audience – even if I was concentrating so much I was barely aware of their presence for the most part – it feels like old times in those all too rare occasions I’d get to play in an arcade and when I’d manage to draw a crowd. I do wish there was something like this closer to home, and I have to admit I’d really like to try and run an event like this someday locally, if I could ever find a suitable venue for it.
When I got home it was gone midnight but I was still so mentally into Street Fighter there was no way I could sleep, so I went onto HDR, and promptly got my ass handed to me online. I’ve hopefully made it clear enough that although I’m really happy about this result (if you can’t enjoy winning at your favourite game then I don’t know what you can enjoy!) I’ve got no delusions of grandeur, nor would I want to brag about my performance in any way as I genuinely felt I was pretty bad for the most part – as you’ll be able to see on the videos most likely soon enough. I felt I got lucky a bunch of times in this tournament, and I’m absolutely certain that a fair few of the players were much better than me overall and will I am sure will beat me the next time we play. I actually found it a great shame that Jinty, who I most wanted to play against again (as he beat me!), was only on PSN so there’s really no way we will get any matches in.
In any case, this will all mean absolutely nothing once SVB starts, and I’m still expecting to scrub out 0-2 there if I don’t manage to up my game and play much better. I’ve got so much to learn and improve still, but that’s exactly what makes fighting games so much fun – the endless challenge! 😀
Afterall, the answer lies.. in the heart of battle! 😉
(Note: At this Dramatic Battle some people also played some games of SF4 apparently)