To the 11-year-old I beat at Street Fighter, I salute you

Grown-up gamer and Herald journalist Francis Cook tested his fighting skills against New Zealand's best.
Karin didn't quite get the chance to demonstrate her moves before getting pummeled.
Karin didn't quite get the chance to demonstrate her moves before getting pummeled.

When I entered a Street Fighter tournament, I hoped to take one game. I never expected to win the whole thing.

And I didn't. But I did get that game.

First Blood 6, hosted by Standing Fierce, was the first New Zealand tournament for Street Fighter V, bringing together 64 of the best players from Auckland, Wellington and the Waikato.

There were a number of games to enter including Super Smash Bros. Melee and Mortal Kombat X, but Street Fighter V was by far the most popular.

I knew the skill level would be high, but I had been training and I thought, if Lupe Fiasco can beat the world champion, I can at least win a round.

Those weeks of training ended in a very aggressive defeat in a livestreamed battle in front of a room full of expert players scrutinising my every move.

They knew I was a journalist. I had advertised to them my inexperience in a previous article, and they relished in showing me how good they really were.

But they also relished in welcoming me to the community. It was baptism by fire, but by the end of the day I was a convert.

The night before the tournament I trained hard with my chosen character, Karin. I had a breakthrough and went on a killer win streak which slowly petered out as I ingested more and more beer.

In the morning, my nerves and slight hangover had converged and made me a sweaty, shaky mess. We got to the tournament early, and I spent an agonising four hours watching players of a far higher skill level than me brutalise each other as the large crowd cheered and booed. There were games happening on all sides of the room, but one large screen was reserved for the 'big match-ups'. It was livestreamed and commentated on.

Please don't put me on there, I thought all day.

"You're up soon," came a voice from behind, "I'll put you on the stream".

"Please don't," I said.

"Nah you've come to us from the Herald, gotta represent."

I tried pleading with him again to no avail. I found out my opponent was a guy who went by the name "Skyy" and he played Ryu. A bad match up for me in any case. I asked around for advice.

"Don't get hit," one guy laughed. "Make sure his health bar goes to zero before yours" said another.

The first round started and I went from hoping to win a game to hoping I'd at least land one hit. He beat me convincingly in every round apart from one, when I managed to get his health bar below half.

You can watch my embarrassing defeat here. Skip to 01:12:00
Watch live video from StandingFierce on www.twitch.tv

The look of bewilderment after losing my first round to Skyy. Photo / Ash Lambert
The look of bewilderment after losing my first round to Skyy. Photo / Ash Lambert

The crowd went silent as I took beating after beating. I turned to "Chalice", a player who'd been coaching me before the game. He shook his head.

"At least I hit him," I said.

"You need to hit him more," someone laughed. The game I had waited so long for was over so quickly.

Karin vs Ryu. My game was made available for everybody to laugh at. Photo / Ash Lambert
Karin vs Ryu. My game was made available for everybody to laugh at. Photo / Ash Lambert

Luckily I didn't have to wait long for my next round in loser's bracket, this time on a small screen. My foe, Julian, was 11 years old. I turned around to see people had followed me, probably to take pleasure in another crushing defeat.

There were wry grins on their faces as they waited for me to get wrecked by a young boy. I was more nervous about this game then the first.

I won the game in a sweep - a massive relief. Julian had moves, but dropped the ball whenever he got some damage in. His dad, James, thanked me for being a good sport; I think he thought I was playing soft.

Coming off a convincing victory, I felt I was back in the tournament.

A girl named "Sh4miya" (Lizzy) ended that feeling pretty quickly. While it was probably the most even match I had on the day, she took it out with some well-timed throws.

I asked Smoof (Caleb O'Leary), the commentator and fellow Karin player, for his opinion on my performance. He told me I looked "new" and "missed a lot". I found it interesting to find out I wasn't just getting pummeled, I was missing my moments to strike back. "Skyy" was a good player, but I was being a bad one by giving him space and "resetting situations" by running away.

Back in the game crushing Julian (11 years old). Photo / Ash Lambert
Back in the game crushing Julian (11 years old). Photo / Ash Lambert

By this point I was relieved to be out of the competition. I took the opportunity to grab a beer with "Chalice" (Kurt Silva) and talk about the game, the scene and the competition.

I first noticed Kurt because when he was picked to go on stream a chorus of boos and laughter started. I knew immediately that he was the bad boy in the scene. His smack talking was backed up, however, by his strong game. He made it out of his bracket and into the top 16 in winner's bracket.

Besides, he loves being the villain.

Kurt is a lab technician from Hamilton who's been playing Street Fighter since he was seven years old. He is widely regarded as the best player in Waikato and led the charge on creating a scene there.

While "Chalice" might be the villain in Auckland, he's a Robin Hood in the Waikato. Street Fighter, he said, attracts a lot of players who materially don't have much. Being an arcade game, anyone could go to their local arcade and play without having to fork out for a pricey console.

"If you win, you stay on. So if your mum gave you $2 to go to the arcade, you wanted to make sure you stay on that table," said Kurt.

"There are guys here who don't have Playstation 4sor the game because they can't afford it. But they still come and play."

Street Fighter V hasn't had an arcade release, so Kurt invites player's to compete at his house where he runs a regular session for locals.

Tournament organiser Dave Douglas (Optimus Dave), said people like Kurt are good for the community.

"He makes himself the villain, but he's a good player and everyone gets on well - it just adds a bit of narrative and rivalry." Narrative and rivalry helps attract players and viewers.

And growth is the main goal here.

Dave and "Smoof" say they are getting nearer to being in the Capcom Pro Tour, a league system with points which Capcom helps out with financially. By competing in the Pro Tour, players will earn league standings and can gain invitations to tournaments.

Dave himself is heading over to the biggest tournament of them all, the Evolution Championship Series (EVO) in Las Vegas, where the top players from around the world gather for a chance to be crowned No. 1. Dave said it's a life goal of his to compete at EVO, and he hopes to put New Zealand on the map by bringing a presence.

Growth is what the other players want too. Julian's father James says he would love it if Standing Fierce could join the Pro Tour. He's been playing since 1991 and said it's exciting to see the scene grow. He too, would "love to do an EVO" at some point.

For now, Dave is working on a deal with the bar Neck of the Woods to host casual competitions combining Street Fighter and mates with beers.

After the day I had, I look forward to playing again with these guys.

Watch: Lupe Fiasco vs Diago Umehara (though Chalice reckons it's staged).

- NZ Herald

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