When it comes to fighting games, there’s nothing more exciting, intense or as important as the fighting game tournament. This is the place where fighting game players who take their games seriously strut their stuff in hopes of winning the big prize, and more importantly, earning the respect of their fellow fighting game playing peers. You can say what you want about how you scrape your friends all the time at your place, or how you’re a legend at your local arcade, or how you’re one of the top ranked players online, but in the new era of fighting games, it’s all about showing and proving at a tournament, especially one that’s being live streamed for viewers around the world to check out.
Though I’m far from a seasoned tournament veteran, I’m still very much feeling the buzz from my time at T12: Toronto Fighting Game Championships, which is the inspiration for today’s post. I think I’ve had enough tournament experience (and have heard enough second-hand accounts) to give you a few words of wisdom if you plan on going to a tournament, especially if this will be your first one.
1 ) Register early
Tournament organizers would greatly prefer it if you pre-register for the event, as it helps them gauge a number of factors. It also has a number of benefits for you. Oftentimes, the benefits of pre-registering include cheaper entry, a lower likelihood of being matched up against your friends, shorter lines when you show up and a guaranteed spot in the tournament. I’ve found that a ton of people register for fighting game tournaments at the last-minute, and you may run into a scenario where they’ll cut off registration before you get a chance to sign up.
2 ) Find out what console the games you’ll be playing are running on
Almost all tournaments will run each game on just one console platform. You’ll never be in a position where you’ll play your first Street Fighter match on an XBOX 360 and your second Street Fighter match on a PlayStation 3. For most games, tournament organizers will go with either XBOX 360 or PlayStation 3. It’s imperative that you find out which consoles you’ll need to play on, as this will directly dictate your controller options. For me, I can go either way, as I have fightsticks for both XBOX 360 and PlayStation 3. For most people, they’ll most likely have one or the other. In order to play on your controller of choice, you may need to find/purchase a converter. Don’t rely on borrowing one from another player, as many players are protective of their equipment. In any case, you don’t want to be the dork who shows up to a PlayStation 3 tournament with only an XBOX 360 controller and no converter.
3 ) Practice
While tournaments are primarily serious fighting game events, everyone comes into it with a different level of seriousness. Some players are in it to win it, practicing 8 hours a day every day, while others are showing up out of the blue cause it’s something to do. Unless you’re completely indifferent to the event, I’d definitely recommend getting in at least some practice.
How deep should you go with it? That’s for you to decide. At the very least, I’d practice till I felt like I was as good as I was going to get for game day. General things you can practice include your execution of combos, mix-ups and specific match-up techniques. Due to the amount of time I spend playing online, I found that practicing in training mode or local multiplayer will help you tremendously, as the timing online is not the same as it is locally. If you don’t get comfortable with local multiplayer timing, you can find yourself dropping a number of combos you would normally hit online.
4 ) Learn with the resources available to you
With the plethora of information available online, you’re only a Google search away from the latest in fighting game techniques, strategies and tactics. Depending on how serious you are about winning, you may want to keep your eyes out on the fighting game news, as people are discovering new techniques all the time that you can use (or opponents will use against you). You’d much rather be the person with the knowledge than the person having the knowledge used against you, so it may be worth your time to check out what’s out there.
Depending on how deep you want to go, you can even use the internet to scout potential opponents. While the odds of you fighting one of the top guys is relatively small, you never know who you’ll get paired up against. For instance, at T12: Toronto Fighting Game Championships, I earned my way to face off against MarlinPie in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Although his skills horribly out-classed mine and the chances of me winning on that day were slim-to-none regardless of how prepared I was, having seen his videos in the past at least gave me an idea of what I’d be up against and an idea of what I’d need to do to shut him down.
5 ) Get a good night’s sleep
Tournaments are a long and drawn-out process; especially if you win some matches. You might be required to wake up early and not have the ability to go home until very late at night. It’s critical to your success that you get a good night’s sleep, so that you’re sharp in the morning and that you’ve got enough energy to power you through the day.
6 ) Pack food
One of the biggest challenges about the tournament experience is getting food. Regardless of how many food options you have within the area, there’s always the fear of being disqualified because you were out getting food rather than waiting for your match. The easiest solution to this would be to pack some sandwiches and snacks to make sure you stay energized while staying in a place where you can get to your match in a timely manner.
7 ) Pack spare parts or a spare controller
Things break. They also seem to break at the most inopportune times. While you can’t do anything to stop your controllers from breaking, you can have a plan B. Whether that’s packing in spare parts and tools to make a hot fix or bringing a spare controller, be prepared for the worst. As I pointed out earlier, even though other people have brought their own controllers, there’s no guarantee that someone will be kind enough to lend their controller to you.
8 ) Get in as many casual matches as you can
Once you’re in the venue, you’re going to want to get comfortable. Odds are, the tournament jitters are going to get to you. When I went to T12: Toronto Fighting Game Championships, my girlfriend Steff saw a guy who was so nervous in casuals, his hands were shaking the entire time he played. Even after the match, he couldn’t make a call properly on his phone because he couldn’t control his nervous shaking. The best way to do that is to get in some warm-up/casual matches as you can before the tournament starts. Besides using this as a means of warming up and calming your nerves, it’s also a great way to familiarize yourself with any sort of input lag the televisions may have.
9 ) Make friends
As you play casuals, be nice. Start up a conversation. Even though everyone is here to ultimately kick each other’s butts, it’s mutually beneficial for you to make friends at the tournament. For one, you’ll at least have someone to talk to during the day, especially during the long stretches between matches that can take hours. Two, you’ll be able to coach each other through casuals to help you both benefit from having another person analyze your game. Three, you can swap gamertags and play each other on XBOX Live or PSN going forward.
10 ) Calm down
As someone who has been able to keep my nerves in check to win matches, and as someone who has let his nerves get to him on the big stage against the very best competition in the world, I can tell you first-hand that nerves will absolutely be a factor in almost every match you play. When you play in an environment you’re not comfortable with, with an audience watching you and your tournament livelihood on the line, it’s going to be really hard to keep your emotions in check.
I have a difficult time providing council on this one, as I have yet to solve this one myself. My gut tells me that this is one of those things that comes with experience. Going into T12, I felt more comfortable going into my fights knowing that I’ve been to a tournament before and have won a tournament match before. After T12, I know that I’ll be a bit more comfortable at the next one knowing that I’ve won more matches, and experienced the highest of the highs (getting to face MarlinPie in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 at a major tournament that was broadcast on a Team Spooky stream) and the lowest of lows (getting destroyed by MarlinPie in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 at a major tournament that was broadcast on a Team Spooky stream). While I don’t think anyone can ever truly shake off the tournament nerves, I think that being in that situation enough will help you greatly calm down and just focus on winning. It also doesn’t hurt to celebrate any sort of actual or moral victories you may have along the way, as little as they might be, as they may be enough of a confidence boost to get you through.
11) Have fun
As serious as these events can be for some people, we play fighting games in the first place because they’re fun. Having the opportunity to be with and play with like-minded fighting game enthusiasts in an event that celebrates what we love doesn’t happen every day. Make sure to soak the experience in and enjoy every minute of it!