The Eternal Challenge Explored in New Indie Documentary: ROAD TO EVOLUTION

By on February 22, 2017 at 12:00 pm
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A closer look at something that unites the FGC: the struggle to play a better game.

The drive to improve, the urge to compete–feelings well-known to fighting game fans! In his new documentary Road to Evolution, director Jonathan Rouzier explores these concepts as they are expressed through his cousin Cliff Rouzier: inspired by a trip to Evolution 2011 to step up his Super Street Fighter IV game, to compete as best he can in at subsequent Evo events. With commentary from his friends and family, we get a profile of what sort of man takes on this sort of challenge, the trials he faces, and the lessons learned in the pursuit of one more win.

The film is stuffed with footage from both Evo and other major FGC events, clips of the games themselves and well-known FGC personalities like James Chen and UltraDavid, and delves deep into Cliff’s own experience through interviews and candid glimpses into his life and Street Fighter training. Check it out on YouTube below, and scroll down further for some more insights from the film’s director.


In anticipation of this documentary’s release, I had the opportunity to ask the director a few questions after I had the pleasure of watching the film myself.

Zavian “mushin_Z” Sildra: What particular aspects of your cousin’s experience with Street Fighter inspired you to commit his story to film?

Jonathan Rouzier: Growing up, Cliff was always the best at Street Fighter and Smash Brothers. Between our group of friends, it was rare that anyone would beat him. After we watched Evo 2011, his eyes were opened to the FGC. We had no idea there were people competing at such a high level in the games we loved so much. To see it take place on such a grand stage was inspiring. After watching the event, Cliff decided that he wanted to start training for Evo. This is when I thought it would be a great opportunity to document the beginnings of someone’s journey in the FGC–which is something you rarely get to see. Usually, films follow the top players of their respective games, but I wanted to give viewers a look at what it is like for someone to step out of their comfort zone and start facing a much higher level of competition. It is definitely a humbling experience for a “local hero” to become a complete novice at the pro level.

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mushin_Z: When you started filming, what target audience did you have in mind for the documentary? The FGC specifically, gamers in general, or a broader audience?

Rouzier: When I started filming, my intention was to create a short piece about Cliff’s 2012 tournament season, and yes, it was geared specifically to the FGC. However, like many creative projects, sometimes it evolves into something else as you work on it. Once I started interviewing more people, particularly his dad, I started to realize there was a potential for a larger audience for this film. To me, the film can appeal to anyone, from hardcore gamers to parents who might not understand why their kid who loves video games so much would want to make a career out of it. The love of competition is a driving force, but gaming has brought me together with some of my closest friends, and I think that is another amazing aspect of the FGC.

mushin_Z: Your cousin’s struggle for wins at Evo and other events yields mixed quantitative results–but we see the growth of his dedication and character: his “fighting spirit” only becomes greater. Was it your intention to highlight the “value of the journey” this way?

Rouzier: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”  This is one of my favorite quotes, and it’s something that has always stuck with me. Fear holds so many people back from doing what they truly love. If you have the will to push through all the failure, there is nothing stopping you from reaching your goal. I always had faith that Cliff could do well entering tournaments, but no one ever got great at any sport overnight. To me, the journey is much more interesting than the destination–in any story.

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mushin_Z: In your view, what do large events like Evo offer the average fighting gamer?

Rouzier: I think it’s very important to have events like Evo, which stand as the Mecca of your sport. It gives people something to strive towards. From an entertainment standpoint, it gives people a chance to see matchups with players from other countries they would never get to see otherwise. For example, the feeling of being in the audience during top 8 of Evo 2016, as the audience was giving their all to cheer for LI Joe, was better than any other sporting event I’ve been to in the past.

mushin_Z: It seems to me you took time and effort to really depict the experience of attending a large tournament to the viewer. Were you hoping to encourage viewers to take up their own challenge to compete?

Rouzier: My hope is that viewers would see how fun and exciting these events can be. Even if they were usually reluctant to participate in tournaments due to the fear of losing, they would see the benefits of challenging yourself to face higher-level opponents. Everyone is always searching for a place to belong, and I think that there’s no better way for gamers to come together than at these events.

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mushin_Z: As he’s the subject, what does your cousin think of the finished film?

Rouzier: I let him see a few segments while I was editing over the last few years. When I finally sent him the finished product, he was speechless. This whole journey into the fighting game community has been life-changing for him, so I can only imagine what it’s like to watch the events of the last few years of his life as a film.

mushin_Z: How much do you play? How’s your Street Fighter/Smash Bros. game?

Rouzier: I’m a gamer, but not on a competitive level. I enjoy coming up with combos more than anything, so I would say Marvel 3 was my best game. Back in 2004-2005 I had a pretty solid Fox in Melee, and recently we’ve resurrected Smash 64 at my office, it is kind of a daily ritual now to prove who is the best. We get into some pretty heated competition, but it’s great to step away from editing and play a few games to clear our minds.

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Road to Evolution is available to watch on YouTube now. You can also watch Cliffdog stream on his Twitch channel.

Source: Jonathan Rouzier

Shoryuken.com Editor-in-Chief and performing member of Kita no Taiko. Street Fighterin' since there was only a "II" in the name.