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We prepare for a weekend of constant fighting

Matt Gerardi joins me once again for the weekend thread. Matt penned an extensive viewer’s guide to this weekend’s Evo Championship Series, the biggest fighting-game tournament of the year. So it’s clear what Matt will be up to this weekend—as always, share your plans in the comments.

(Also, a programming note: Next week, Gameological will be publishing a limited slate of content—we’re essentially taking a week off to tweak some internal editorial processes, very boring stuff. We’ll still do What Are You Playing This Weekend? on Friday, and we’ll return to normal the following week.)

John Teti: What are you playing this weekend?

Matt Gerardi: I’ll probably be playing “sit around all day and watch livestreams of people far more talented than me playing fighting games.” That’s because this weekend is Evo, the world’s biggest fighting game tournament. It’s kind of like the Olympics of fighting games. Elite players from all over the world come to Las Vegas to compete in tournaments for a bunch of different games. There are eight different games on the main tournament roster this year.

JT: We know; we all read your viewer’s guide earlier this week. How did you get interested in the fighting game scene? Do you play the games a lot yourself?

MG: I’ve been playing them pretty much my whole life. That’s not to say I’m any good. The original Mortal Kombat is one of the first games I can remember playing. Like a lot of people, I got back into them when Street Fighter IV came out. I played a ton of that—and its various revisions that Capcom has released—even buying one of those fight sticks. That’s also when I started watching the competitive scene. I think for a lot of people, Street Fighter IV was really the entry point. 

JT: Why? Was it especially good, or was the nostalgia factor helping it out?

MG: The nostalgia is definitely a part of it. SF4 did a nice job of balancing everything people loved about Street Fighter II with some new ideas. But I think it was just the timing of it all. It had been a long time since Street Fighter III and Marvel Vs. Capcom 2. So we hadn’t really gotten a big new Capcom fighting game in a while. When you combine that with the advent of livestreaming, everything just came together at the right time.

JT: Do you find the community welcoming to a newcomer?

MG: Well, as with every community, you’ve got your good apples and your bad apples. For one, I wouldn’t consider myself a part of that community. I’m just some dude that watches these things from the comfort of my own home. I don’t really know what it’s like out there first-hand, actually being at these tournaments or anything. 

That said, the fighting-game community is kind of notorious for being unwelcoming to women and people of varying sexual orientations. You know, the usual. But these are the kinds of things that eke out onto the Internet and get media coverage. I wouldn’t say they’re necessarily the norm. Of course, the people that I spoke to for the viewer’s guide are faces of that community, and—along with a majority of the people involved in the scene—they’re trying really, really hard to push back against that crap.

JT: Which game are you most looking forward to watching at this year’s Evo?

MG: Ultra Street Fighter IV is exciting because the Ultra version is brand new, and there are tons of entrants (nearly 2,000). It’s the headlining game every year, and it’s the one where the crowd gathers together near the stage and gets the most excited for. So that’s always a highlight. I think, though, that the Killer Instinct tournament is going to be a surprise hit. Some of the most famous fighting-game players in the country will be in that, and for whatever reason, they’re very excited for it. It’s also Instinct’s first year at the show.

JT: Street Fighter is the headline game every year?

MG: At least since the first version of Street Fighter IV came out, anyway.

JT: How did you find the experts for your preview?

MG: Well, for instance, Prog, or Wynton Smith, is a Super Smash Bros. Melee commentator. I’ve always thought he was one of the better commentators out there, across any of the games. He really puts an emphasis on building up the story of the players, which is so important for anyone who’s not really familiar with the scene and just starting to watch. So he was my first stop when looking for someone to talk to about Smash.

He’s actually from Long Island and recently moved back there, so we ended up getting together for lunch at this coffee shop out here. I’ve never done that kind of interview before, over lunch with an audio recorder on the table between the plates and stuff.

JT: That’s the classic celebrity interview scenario. If this were the New York Times, you’d be sure to include a note that your interview subject “picked at his meal” as you talked. Why was your viewer’s guide missing these essential splashes of color?!

MG: [Laughs.] Should I talk about what we ordered? Is that color enough, John?!

JT: [Laughs.] No, proceed, proceed.

MG: As new of a situation as it was for me, I imagine the staff at this place was pretty weirded out. Prog and I ended up chatting for almost two hours, and when the servers would come over to check on us, they just kind of looked terrified to interrupt. Which I guess is a natural reaction when someone’s been there that long and has this weird microphone thing on the table and is writing in a notebook and stuff.

JT: Waiters always interrupt me when I’m in the middle of some fantastic anecdote that is sure to delight my dinner companions. It always makes me realize that’s just one more pain in the ass you have to deal with as a waiter—you’re always interrupting people.

MG: Yeah, but I imagine some of them have fun with it. I always feel like a total ass when they start talking to me while my face is stuffed full of whatever crap I’m eating. They probably know.

JT: I was reading something the other day—I forget where it was—about the gap between regular folks and pro athletes. The general idea was that even the worst NBA player, for instance, is still going to blow the doors off the best guys in your street league. So I’m wondering, how would a pretty good “amateur” player fare against the Evo guys? Would it just be instant defeat, every time?

MG: It depends who you’re defining as “the Evo guys,” right? Nearly 2,000 people signed up for Ultra Street Fighter IV. Not all of them are gods like Infiltration or Tokido or Justin Wong.

JT: Can anybody sign up?

MG: Yes. You can just up and register for it. It costs money, though, $10 of which goes into the prize pool. 

JT: So let’s say you’re playing against the top-tier guys. Do you even have a chance of landing a blow? Or are they really playing an altogether different game?

MG: They’re not going to go out there and beat you without getting hit every time, but I doubt some complete unknown is ever going to go out there and beat any of the elite players.

JT: No, obviously. I just wonder how extreme the beating would be.

MG: It would be pretty extreme. The experience factor is a huge thing. Not only does it impact knowledge of what to do and when to do it, there’s a psychological element as well. Especially at something as big as Evo, nerves can be a huge problem. Some players are able to shake it off, some aren’t. Then there’s, how do you respond to a tough loss? A player like ChrisG, probably the best Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 player in the country, is known to get in his own head and have trouble with recovering quickly from mistakes or losses.

JT: I imagine the fact that he’s known for getting in his head doesn’t exactly help matters.

MG: Well, he’s known for kicking the crap out of everyone in Marvel 3, but yeah, that’s also a trait you hear about a lot. Maybe it’s why he hasn’t won en Evo yet, even though he’s won everything else.

JT: Well, now I’m going to root for ChrisG. What player are you most interested to follow in the tournament?

MG: I love PR Balrog. He’s a very fun player to watch because he likes characters with very explosive offense. So if he can get in and land some hits, things can get very exciting. Plus, he’s American, so you can cheer for him when he inevitably goes up against the Japanese or Korean players who will be at the top of the heap.

JT: Such a patriot.