How to E-Sports: Joining the Fighting Game Community

Fighting games are a bit different than your standard e-sport. There’s a much loser feel to the scene, which is why fighting gamers insist on being referred to as the FGC (Fighting Game Community) rather than e-sports. Teams are far less common, prize pools are practically just a gigantic gambling pot, and the largest fighting game tournaments in the world feel more like conventions than the Superbowl.

It’s an odd but good feeling for a professional gaming scene – as if professional wrestling, underground pit fighting, and a gigantic party all had a baby and taught it how to wake up shoryuken. If this sounds like the e-sport for you, then this guide will teach you how to take the steps needed to get up to peak fighting condition and jump headfirst into the FGC.

Pick a Game

The first thing you have to do is choose the game you are going to specialize in, and this process comes with some hard truths.

First of all, accept that you will have to choose to “main” one game. While you might be up for competing in more than one fighting game, competitors usually only have enough time in their lives to focus on being tournament-grade at one game.

Second, be realistic with your game expectations. It doesn’t matter how much you think Skullgirls is the best fighting game out right now (and it is), the scene for it, as well as many other good games like Under Night In-Birth, Blazblue, Soul Calibur, and so on, is small. Small scenes mean small prize pools and small prize pools mean little opportunity to go professional. If you are joining the FGC for fun, choose whatever game you like, but if you are joining for profit, then you have to choose one of the 3-4 popular sponsored games, which tend to be restricted to titles published by major companies such as Capcom, Bandai Namco, Netherrealm, Microsoft, and Arc System Works. 

It’s also worth noting that going professional in the FGC means constantly adapting. So if you are a professional Mortal Kombat X player now, and everyone stops playing it when Injustice 2 comes out, you too will have to abandon it to follow the money.

Research and Practice

Once you have picked your game, it’s time to “git gud.” It doesn’t matter how good you are in your circle of friends, the FGC is a worldwide stage. First, complete every tutorial your game of choice has to offer. Then complete every challenge. Then beat the arcade mode on the highest difficulty. Once you have done all that, take your skills online and see how you do. If you find yourself getting stomped by mid-ranked players, you still have some growing to do.

Luckily, the FGC is full of great resources to help you up your game. The forums on sites like Shoryuken.com or Dustloop put tons of info at your disposal, from frame data, to combos, to matchup strategies. Study your favorite game until you know every mechanic, every trick, every quirk of the system. Watch professional matches and try to mimic what the pros do. Go into practice mode to train your fundamentals, especially when it comes to executing combos and blocking tricky setups from certain characters. You can expect to spend somewhere between a half hour to an hour each day practicing and ramp up once you have a few tournament wins under your belt. Professional fighting games require serious dedication, and you’ll end up putting a sizable chunk of your day toward getting better.

Hold Sessions

No matter how good you are online, it will never quite matchup with skill in face-to-face play. Online delay and rollback netcode simply present a different gameplay experience. Certain setups that are borderline unblockable online are transparent in meat space.

To get truly better, you need to fight against real people, good people. Luckily those same forums I mentioned are fantastic ways to set up sessions. Sessions are just a fancy way of saying getting a bunch of fighting gamers together to play and practice.

It’s important to note that playing with your friends doesn’t really count unless they are playing at a tournament grade. Any successful session is one where you lose about as often as you win, with your best characters. You want to be learning at these sessions, picking up new skills and triumphing over difficult opponents.

It’s important to invite players you have never met before to your sessions. Granted, this might make things awkward if you are holding sessions at your house, so I suggest finding a more public place. Game stores, cafes, small restaurants, and any public meeting spaces with power, are fantastic places to hold sessions. Just clear it with the owner and they will be more than happy to have the increased foot traffic. Of course, public sessions will require you to carry your console and monitor or a gaming laptop into a public space, which you might not be keen on doing.

If organizing a session seems like a bit too much work, it’s understandable. Luckily, the same forums we linked earlier provide convenient list of local practice sessions for you to take advantage of. Going to someone else’s session is just as effective as holding your own.

… but the least you could do is pitch in for pizza.

Find a Local

The next thing you need is real tournament experience, but no one expects you to head straight to EVO. Every step in the process is just a little bit more nerve wracking than the last. Online play is more serious than playing against the A.I., sessions are more serious than online play, and tournaments are more stressful than all of them.

Your goal at your first local tournament is to get over “the woof.” That’s that feeling you get when you are pushed to perform. It’s the shaky legs you got while in your first school play. It’s the terror you feel when you have to speak publicly. The woof is a stronger enemy than any other competitor. It will make you play badly. It will cause you to make horrible decisions. It will make your hands shake, causing you to drop inputs and miss buttons. The woof is stronger with fighting games because you have no team to back you up. It’s just you and your opponent and a crowd of hundreds watching.

You aren’t going to win. In fact you won’t win your first local for a long time. Internalize that now. Also internalize that you won’t be making money until you win. You’ll be spending money – about five to ten dollars per local just to join in. It’s not a waste. The experience is not only invaluable, it’s needed to push your play to the next level. You’ll also meet new players to practice with, and if the local streams you’ll also expose yourself to the international fighting game community.

Go to Your First Major

Once you have won a couple locals, it’s time to step up to the national level, and that means going to a major. This too requires a bit of research. Head to community sites for your favorite games and look for upcoming events. It helps to track major tours like the Capcom Pro Tour or the Killer Instinct Ultra Tour. If you live in or near a major population center, there is likely a major event that happens once a year near you. If not, then you should really consider finding the closest one and booking a hotel room.

Majors are going to be a repeat performance of locals for a while. You won’t win, and to be honest you might never win. The best players in the world go to majors and that means you have a real chance of encountering Daigo Umehara in your tournament. But the plus side is, you don’t have to be sponsored to participate (which is unlike many other e-sports scenes). Just pay your registration and fight.

And that’s the beauty of majors. Your goal isn’t necessarily to win every tournament. Your goal is to do your best, and through that effort get noticed. If you do run into Daigo Umehara and beat him, you will be talked about on the internet for days, and that’s what you want. Getting noticed is the first step toward sponsorship and its sponsorship that really allows you to make this a professional career.

Enrich the Community

By now, you are a part of the FGC, winning majors, getting sponsored, hopping from team to team, and practicing your sills every day. But this won’t necessarily last forever. Games will change and you may not be the big rising prodigy a few months from now.

So the best way to stick around is to give back to the community. Run tournaments. Help stream and commentate for smaller locals. Write for strategy sites. Don’t just be a player, become a personality. Maybe one day you’ll end up owning the arcade that hosts the local the next big up-and-comer gets his first win at.

Are you part of the FGC? Does this sound like the path you are taking to stardom? Let us know in the comments.