A Boy Among Men: A Cautionary Tale of Fighter Tourneys

I offer the following story as a lesson, dear readers: no matter how well you perform against your friends in video games, no matter how good you think you may be, do not think you’re going to waltz into a tournament and come out a king. You will be highly surprised at how well you will be handled. It doesn’t matter the game, either; whether it be Madden or Fight Night, Halo or Call of Duty, you probably won’t fare nearly as well as you think you will. Read on, dear friends, and learn.

I’ve made no bones about being “the fighting guy” during my time at The Node. As Eddie said in a recent podcast, “Jason may have been more excited for Marvel vs. Capcom 3 than anyone at this site has ever been excited for anything.” I’ve been playing the fighting genre for my entire life, starting with Street Fighter II on the SNES and working my way up to where I am today. The only major fighter I missed was Street Fighter III (I know, what a game to skip, right?!) because I was on a 3D-fighter kick (Tekken, Soul Calibur, etc). I also thought myself to be pretty good at fighters, my 154-16 record in MvC3 across all modes being pretty good (even if it does include Arcade mode). As such, I decided to try something I never had before: enter a fighting game tournament. Winter Brawl V, one of the first stops on the EVO 2011 Championship Tour, was coming to my neck of the woods, so I thought I’d go put my skills to the test against the best.

I return from my experience a humble man, learning exactly how far behind the competitive scene I am.


For those who don’t know about competitive fighting game events, Winter Brawl is one of two annual fighting game tournaments that take place in Philadelphia, the other being the Northeast Championships. For Winter Brawl V, fighting fans descended upon the Sheraton Suites near Philadelphia International Airport ready and willing to play. I thought this would be a low-key event, only having heard and/or watched EVO for my competitive fighting game fix and thinking that Winter Brawl wasn’t as much as a “marquee event” as EVO or NEC. Boy oh boy, was I wrong.

Over 500 people were there, just as ready and willing to kick some fighting game butt as I was. Some I had heard of: Justin Wong (one of the top SF/MvC players), Michael “IFC Yipes” Mendoza (the “IT’S MAHVEL BAYBEE!!” guy), and Adam “Keits” Heart (head of fighting game site Shoryuken.com). Most players, though, were like me: doing it for the first time and wondering how things would turn out.

The games on display were split into three rooms, each with a separate live stream of the events. The main room was half Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and half Super Street Fighter IV, the room across the hall was BlazBlue, Guilty Gear, Soul Calibur IV, Tekken 6, and various anime games I’m not familiar with (Melty Blood: Actress Again, Arcana Heart 3, and more), and the room down the hall I called the Classic Room: Mortal Kombat II, Killer Instinct, Street Fighter Alpha 3, and two old school arcade cabinets: Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 and Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Needless to say, I was going to get my fighting fill.

I had officially signed up for Marvel vs Capcom 3 and Super Street Fighter IV when I pre-registered, but I decided to try my hand in the Soul Calibur IV tournament as well. I played a lot of casuals in various games, but one theme was apparent throughout: I was getting my Italian/Irish arse kicked. Hard.

I won a grand total of TWO, count ’em, TWO matches the entire 13-hour day. There were both in Super Street Fighter IV against a kid who was no older than ten and had already beaten me three times. During Tekken casuals, I was getting romped by a guy playing as Kuma. I NEVER see Kuma when I play Tekken at home, which was one disadvantage, but this guy had such a mastery of Kuma that I couldn’t believe it. Later on, I came to find out the person I was playing is the best Kuma player IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. Later on, during the Soul Calibur IV tournament, I was getting wrecked by a Talim player who also ends up being the best Talim ON EARTH.

These are the kinds of people you see at fighting tournaments. This isn’t your in-the-basement, drink-beer-and-play-Street-Fighter environment; this is some hardcore stuff.

However, despite being everyone’s whipping boy no matter the game, I couldn’t help but feel like I was a part of a brotherhood; a group that comes together and plays fighting games not just for the prize money (which helps, don’t get me wrong), but because they genuinely enjoy playing games with their peers. It didn’t matter who was better or who put in more hours, everyone was playing together. It didn’t matter how bad someone had just whipped his opponent, every match was a “good match” followed by a handshake.

The aforementioned “IFC Yipes” approached me as I sat on a bench, shook my hand, and asked me how I was doing without me even realizing who he was. If I’d known, it would’ve been the opposite. Keits was talking MvC3 with anyone and everyone who wanted to, giving his opinions on characters and talking about strategy as if he were a tactician in the Army. If a major combo was unleashed in MvC3, everyone would yell and cheer and high five like their team won the Super Bowl. Anyone could talk to anyone about anything and no one would be like “Ew, get away from me.” Where else can you find that kind of kinship?

I should have been embarrassed when my first-round opponent in MvC3 (E Hon, I believe his name was) toyed with me in the first match (a close loss) before unleashing the fires of Hell and destroying me in match two. I should have been mortified when a guy playing as a bear slapped my King silly in Tekken 6 for seven straight matches on a live stream. Instead, I found myself thinking, “I’m losing, but at least I’m losing to the best.”

Perhaps, one day, I’ll be the one dishing out pain in a competitive fighting tournament like Winter Brawl. For now, though, I’m licking my wounds and realizing one simple thing: to not overestimate my gaming talents, because there’s always someone out there willing to put you in your place…

…even if he is no older than ten.


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Author: Jason Fanelli View all posts by
Jason lives and breathes gaming. Legend tells that he taught himself to read using Wheel of Fortune Family Edition on the NES. He's been covering this industry for three years, all with the Node, and you can see his ugly mug once a week on Hot Off The Grill.

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