Ask a Ryu Player: How do you start a fighting game scene?

By on January 27, 2015 at 2:37 pm
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Editor’s note: This article was originally posted on Patrick Miller’s personal blog, but he has graciously given us permission to repost it here on Shoryuken. It’s an informative, funny read, so if you want to see more of this column in the future, let him know!

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First off, I play Ryu and that means I can read minds, so I figured I’d take a shot at writing an advice column. Today’s topic is: how do you start a scene? I don’t really have to worry about this because I mostly just travel around fighting the world’s strongest nerds, but sometimes I stop over in some boring town somewhere and I’m disappointed when I can’t find anyone who is willing to let me sleep on their couch in exchange for a few hours of Super Turbo Ryu mirrors. So, here is some advice for future Ryu players/Evo champs living in Scrubsville.

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Step 1: Are you SURE YOU CAN?

Every fighting game local community origin story starts with something like a group of people meeting each other in an arcade somewhere and forming fast friendships in the heart of battle. This still happens, except arcades are dead, so it’s kind of unlikely.

Fortunately, fighting games are bigger than ever, and we have a lot of excellent tools at our disposal to bring people together. Seriously, just check your local Craigslist for a whole bunch of awesome perverted stuff — if those people can find love on the Internet, you shouldn’t have any problem finding someone to play anime games with you. (Unless you play Arcana Heart.)

Before we get to the advice, though, I want to ask you a question: What are you fighting for?

If you want to build a scene for selfish reasons — you want to take people’s money, you want to get better at the games, or you want people you can beat up on — you probably won’t get anywhere. Being a community organizer means putting your players before yourself. There is a reason tournament organizers usually don’t win their own tournaments — all that time you spend trying to find players, organize events, line up casuals, travel to other cities, and level people up is time you’re not spending in training mode.

That isn’t to say you won’t find it rewarding — you’ll undoubtedly make lots of friends, learn new skills, and earn the respect and gratitude of your peers. But there is a reason why most top players aren’t scene-builders, and it’s because their first priority is winning, not building.

However, if you want to see other people find themselves in fighting games the same way you did — spreading the gospel of Ryu, of course — then you’ll do just fine! And as a side note, most of the work involved here is highly relevant to work in marketing and event production, so you’re not just having fun, you’re developing career skills that are way more likely to pay off than the time you spend playing video games.

Organizing for fighting games vs. organizing for your favorite game

If you live in a fighting game wasteland, starting up a scene for Guilty Gear might be tough, because the game is basically designed for people who have been around fighting games since they were conceived in a 7-11.

Fact is, Street Fighter and Smash have the broadest appeal and a relatively low barrier to entry, so you might want to start with those if you don’t feel like there is a lot of pre-existing interest in other stuff; on the other hand, maybe you’re a bunch of metal anime nerds who wear too many belts, in which case Guilty Gear might go over well and Street Fighter would be a tough sell. If there is an existing fighting game community in your area but no one playing your preferred games, then you have a better shot at finding converts who at least can understand the fundamentals without having to learn from complete newbie status.

In my experience, Street Fighter is for people who wish they had the balls to get into actual fighting, Smash is for people who never grew out of playing with dolls (sorry — action figures), anime games are for people who love women too perfect to be real, and Marvel is for people who don’t have jobs and are too broke to play poker for a living. Figure out which shallow stereotype most closely resembles your local community and start from there!

Step 2: Build your channels to create discoverability

The first step in building a fighting game community is figuring out how to make it so the other people who are already out there looking for one can find you. This is the “low-hanging fruit” — you won’t really need to sell people on coming out to play because that’s exactly what they’re looking for. Ideally, you want to be so easy to find that when I am hitchhiking and get dumped in your miserable hamlet, I can just Google “who is free in [name of miserable hamlet]” and the first ten pages are just your name.

At the very least, you’re going to need a Facebook group, some kind of Twitter presence, and maybe a Shoryuken thread in the relevant Regional Matchmaking board, just in case (if you can still remember your login, anyway). You should also look for Facebook groups for neighboring regions, because there will be invariably be some people who live on the outskirts of one local fighting game nexus and don’t want to drive two hours each way to get bodied.

You’re also going to need a place to play. Ideally, you can find a public community center or place of business to meet in, so people don’t feel weird about going to a stranger’s house and no one is at risk of getting their gear jacked; if no arcade, I’d recommend other centers of nerd combat, like LAN cafés, hobby stores, or restaurants and bars that you have an inside connection with (you’d be surprised how often this happens). Note that hosting at 21+ venues mean you won’t be able to get blown up by anyone younger than Super Turbo is — you decide whether that’s in the plus or minus column.

If you can find a business that benefits from having you and your new crew show up and play games every week or so, that’s great! Remember to be gracious guests: respect the space, don’t be jerks, don’t take their support for granted, and keep your players in line so the venue staff doesn’t have to. If not, find someone who is willing to host at their house, cover the beer money, and don’t do anything sketchy, because it’ll probably be documented and posted to r/Kappa.

The last thing you need is a stream. It doesn’t need to be fancy, because no one is actually going to watch it — but you’ll want to have someone who knows how to run a stream for when you start hosting locals, and it’s a good way to spread the word about your new scene. It’s also kind of fun and validating to play for an audience, and it makes events more entertaining.

Step 3: Recruit new players

sf-ryusakuraOnce you’ve scooped up all the existing local players, it’s time to reach out and find other new people to join your nerd gang.

Since I can read your mind, I know that you were about to think this: “Oh godlike Ryu player, why do I need new players? I just want to play with people who are already good—ow!”

That “ow” is from me interrupting your scrubby thought with a Dragon Punch. See, you need a wide range of skill levels to have a healthy local scene and keep people coming back for more.

I’d bet a wakeup DP that the number one barrier to entry to fighting games is “intimidatingly large skill gaps.” Fighting games typically don’t have internal progression systems in the same way that RPGs like Call of Duty or Battlefield do; your key performance indicator is “am I beating X players more often than they are beating me,” and early on that KPI definitely doesn’t look very good.

Some people will be driven to get good no matter what. Those people are awesome (and probably play Ryu). Everyone else is going to need a few incremental steps to godlikeness, and that is best served by having a wide range of sparring partners. You need people who are worse than you so you can experiment with new stuff in a low-pressure, low-ego setting; people who are better than you so you can tighten up the holes in your game; and people who are roughly your level so you can benchmark your progress against a peer.

In other words, you need a Dan, a Ken, and an Akuma; I’d say you can consider your community stable and self sustaining if most people can find other people that fit into those tiers relative to themselves, and if they can’t, you’ll need to do something about it or people will fade away and do other stuff. (This is probably a topic for a future column, though.)

And for the love of Ono, don’t turn away unskilled players. Not only does that make you a dick, it makes the rest of us look like dicks by association. Yes, there is some scrub at your home session who is hopelessly bad, talks too much, and doesn’t seem to be getting better. Guess what? You were once that scrub too, and people had the decency to put up with you until you got better, so shut it and just tell them to download a copy of my book.

So where can you find new fighting game players? Well, I’d recommend starting by combing through your local communities with interests orthogonal to fighting games: competitive games like Magic: the Gathering or League of Legends, general-interest video game conventions, and other areas of interest that run in parallel to fighting games (if there is a competitive scene devoted to not showering, I’d say that’s your best bet). Once you’ve exhausted the easy sources, look elsewhere. Reddit has lots of regional subreddits where nerds go — post there and see if anyone is interested in trying it out (the downside to this approach is that you then have Redditors in your house and they can be hard to get rid of).

Honestly though, I think the answer is actually “everywhere” — I found people looking to play Guilty Gear Xrd on an anonymous mobile messaging board called Secret which is mostly used for soliciting gay sex, for crying out loud. But the easiest place to find new recruits are probably among your existing players’ friends. A surprising amount of people play fighting games or are open to the idea of learning how to play them, but need a person willing to function as an ambassador to the game and the community (that’s you).

The difference is not in the activity itself, but the offer you’re extending. Consider that “Hey, you should come to a stranger’s house and play video games you are bad at” is less compelling an invitation to most people than “Hey, come meet some friendly nerds and learn how to play a game that is a lot of fun.” If you can, try reserving a dedicated setup for newbies to play each other and have more experienced people coaching and teaching. Man, that’d be a cool way to get new people into fighting games, instead of just throwing them to the wolves.

That was way longer than I intended! In any case, if you have more questions for me (fighting game-related or otherwise) feel free to ask me on Ask.fm or hit me up on Twitter. Enough people ask me questions that I think I’ll try and just make it a regular advice column thing.