By Isaac Minton
No doubt you’ve heard stories: huge international gaming tournaments with million-dollar prize pots; streamers online making thousands of dollars by playing popular titles like Hearthstone or Fortnite; and individual players with grassroots origins playing at local tournaments, working their way up to the top rankings of their game of choice.
As the video game industry continues to prosper in this age of technology, fans of gaming have taken to great lengths to get more entertainment from video games outside of just the game itself. Multiplayer has been an aspect of video games since the 70s with Pong, but after the Internet integrated with video games via online multiplayer, local multiplayer has been on a decline. However, a large genre of gaming has been keeping that style alive and well: competitive games. Specifically, the fighting game genre.
While fighting games aren’t the only local multiplayer games in the scene, first-person shooters and party games are also popular, there’s no denying how large the fighting game community, or FGC, as dubbed by fans and players alike, is in competitive gaming. Brought into the greater public consciousness by titles like Street Fighter 2, and further popularized by games like Marvel vs. Capcom and Super Smash Bros. Melee, fighting games have arguably the largest presence in the competitive gaming scene.
Just this last August, the largest fighting game tournament event of the year, EVO 2018, had a prize pool totaling up to over $100,000 across its eight main events, and peaked Twitch stream viewers to 253,000 during its Dragon Ball FighterZ tournament. Top FGC players can make an honest and lucrative living playing competitive games by winning and/or ranking highly in major tournaments in the same vein as athletes competing in their sports.
As this proverbial pie looks so appealing to fighting game fans, it’s no surprise that every year more players are trying to get their thumbs in it. But no top player got to nationals in a week, and it takes a lot of practice and discipline to reach the status and rankings top players have. Everyone gets their start somewhere, and the University of Central Florida’s Super Smash Bros. club “Smash Knights” offers a starting point for those looking to break into the scene or to just have some casual fun with fellow players.
Smash Knights, organized by UCF junior Lake Spangler, hosts free weekly tournaments every Sunday at the campus’ Libra Community Center for anyone who enjoys playing Super Smash Bros., specifically the most recent entry on the Nintendo Wii U.
“Originally there were just a lot of people who brought consoles to the Breezeway to play,” said Spangler. “I decided to bring my setup to allow people to play 1-v1-’s and 2-v-2’s and more serious players started noticing and joining in to bring their own setups. It snowballed more and more as people found out about our meetups in Tech Commons and our small 10-15 person brackets on Thursdays blew up into 30+ people and we were told by staff that we had to leave since there were too many people. We relocated to the Libra Community Center and after that we decided to stick to the Breezeway and discuss becoming a club so that we could utilize club resources to reserve rooms and other stuff so we could run our own tournaments since we had grown into such a large community.”
Along with its Sunday weeklies, members of the club meet up at UCF’s breezeway area whenever they have the time to play friendlies and hang out.
“The goal is just to provide a fun outlet for students to have at campus in their free time,” said Spangler. “Also it’s to help newer players who may be intimidated by the established tournaments and community by creating a type of beginner tournament that people can go to have fun at and hang out or improve. It’s the reason everything in the club is free since we want to encourage newer players to come out into the community.”
As eSports grows in popularity by the year, competitive gaming is getting more recognition from schools such as the University of Central Florida, who recently recognized the Gaming Knights organization, unrelated to Smash Knights, as an official sports team for the university; and the Seminole State Lake Mary campus’s student center, which was finished at the beginning of this year, features a game room with four TVs and consoles where students come to play fighters like Dragon Ball FighterZ and shooters like Call of Duty.
“I feel like competitive gaming is more inclusive and open than competitive sports,” said Spangler.
“Anyone can be accepted into a gaming community like the CFL community if they try and have fun. There aren’t as many barriers to entry like competitive sports like physical ability, so anyone can realistically become a professional in this community and respected if they have the right mind for it.”
Many members of Smash Knights also attend competitive local tournaments with small prize pools, such as the “CFL Smackdown Smash 4” weekly tournaments every Tuesday held at the Campus Cards & Games store, by the eSports organization Polarity.
Between tournament sets streamed on Twitch, to side events to money matches; members of the central Florida Smash community come together often with the broad goal of socializing and having fun over a mutual love for a video game.
With a new installment in the series- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate- hitting the shelves in December, many Smash players, including Spangler, expect the community to explode in popularity once again.
“I think that Smash Knights will receive huge amounts of new players and members of the club once Ultimate releases,” Spangler said. “I’m incredibly excited and anxious about the spring 2019 semester because I believe we could be looking at tournaments with numbers from 60 to potentially 100. The other tournaments in the region I expect to have just as much growth as well, but with Smash Knights tournaments being free I am unsure on how much growth we will experience.”
The growing presence of competitive games, and the communities they cultivate, spread further influence throughout the mainstream and the niche alike. Come December, the FGC will once more experience a wave of new talent, new communities, and new friends forged from frantic, frenetic fighters. Games don’t just connect people online to play across the world; they connect people right at home.