I stayed up until 07:00AM this morning watching the last eight of a Street Fighter V tournament. When I told editor Sammy Barker about my shenanigans, he looked at me like I was a complete lunatic [I believe I said I'd rather eat my own fecal matter than engage in such an activity - Ed] – but I don't regret it one bit, because Capcom's vision for the brawler has finally clicked with me.
I admit that I haven't been watching professional fighting game tournaments for a large amount of years. I remember catching the odd highlights of Tekken competitions here and there as a teenager, but never to a point where I knew the names of involved players and was interested in anything outside of perusing some high-level gameplay.
That all changed a couple of years ago when fellow Push Square writer and Street Fighter enthusiast Steven Hill somehow convinced me to watch the final few Street Fighter IV matches of an Evo tournament. At that point, I'd never been a massive fan of Capcom's franchise, always finding myself on the Namco side of the fighting game scene, but there was something about watching Street Fighter as opposed to playing it that had me intrigued.
The series has always been more calculated and arguably more refined than its peers, requiring players to second guess each other, punish mistakes as effectively as possible, and generally just be two steps ahead of the opposition in order to achieve sweet, sweet victory. It's this tense game of mental chess that makes professional Street Fighter such a joy to behold, and once I understood the process behind playing at high levels, I quickly began to appreciate just how entertaining it was to watch.
Needless to say, it wasn't long before I was tuning into almost any livestream that I could find of ongoing tournaments. I slowly became acquainted with legendary players like Daigo Umehara and Infiltration, and this familiarity just made watching competitive fights all the more compelling.
However, as hinted by the opening paragraph of this article, it wasn't until the release of Street Fighter V that I found myself truly glued to the screen. Now, there's no doubt that Capcom's latest has been divisive – even I've been very critical of the publisher's handling of the project, from the lack of single player content in the base release right the way through to the company's dismal attempts to communicate with the title's fans. It's been a very poor showing from the Japanese firm, but on the professional scene, I think Street Fighter V has the potential to be one of the most entertaining fighters that gaming has ever seen.
For me, the moment that sealed the deal came at around 7:00AM this morning when Chris Tatarian fought PR Balrog in the grand final of the West Coast Warzone tournament. Chris had made his way to the final match without losing, boasting the most inspiring use of Ken that I've seen to date. PR Balrog, meanwhile, played a mean looking Necalli, using his extensive tournament experience to brutally punish all who had previously opposed him. Both competitors looked fearless in their style of play, and that's really the crucial point that I'm trying to make here.
With Street Fighter IV, Capcom had created a fighter that often demanded patience, and this could lead to competitive clashes that were slow paced and carefully poised. This, of course, can be the case with Street Fighter V as well, but the developer's deliberately tweaked the fundamentals to force players into being more aggressive – and that's absolutely clear to see from recent professional tournaments.
The visible stun meter, along with the V-Skill and V-Trigger systems, give players more options when it comes to keeping opponents guessing, and in turn, pressure can be applied almost relentlessly with many characters. This is especially true of Ken and Necalli, so an intense, ridiculously fast paced grand final was on the cards – and that's exactly what we got.
From the very first round, both Chris Tatarian and PR Balrog held nothing back. It was like blocking didn't exist as the two finalists kicked the absolute snot out of each other, round after round, match after match. In the end, the fight was settled on the last possible round, and only by a tiny amount of health. Chris Tatarian took home the win, but I was cheering for both of them. It was a breathless, incredible display of skill and passion that simply wouldn't have been possible in Street Fighter IV - and that's precisely what Capcom wants.
While there's no telling how competitive play will evolve and change as time goes by, I reckon that Capcom's nailed what it set out to do with Street Fighter V – at least on the professional side of things. Every tournament that I've watched over the game's short existence has been hugely entertaining, and most importantly for the developer, far easier on the eye than tournaments featuring previous titles. If you've ever been even remotely interested in checking out some competitive Street Fighting, now's the time to start.
Do you watch any competitive gaming tournaments? Have you been keeping up with Street Fighter V's professional side? Don't forget to block in the comments section below.