One thing I’ve realized over the years is that even on a family vacation, there’s always a little time for video games. Whether it’s because of lousy weather, people napping or whatever, opportunities to sneak some games in are always going to be there.
I just got back from a week in the land that’s “Stronger than the Storm,” (a.k.a. the Jersey Shore) but this time I spent more time watching video games than playing them myself. That’s not something I normally do, but it happened because the first weekend of our trip happened to coincide with Evo 2013.
I’m not a huge fan of fighting games newer than, say, “Mortal Kombat 2,” mostly because I’m terrible at them. That changed a little when “Injustice” came out earlier this year (because I am a huge fan of comic books), and when my brother Max Parker told me that game had joined the Evo lineup, it was enough to make me intrigued.
As it turned out, I ended up watching quite a bit of the streaming coverage, including games I’ve never even played like “Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3″ and “The King of Fighters XIII.” I didn’t sit there for hours on end taking in all of the finals or anything, but I enjoyed what I saw more than I thought I would.
There’s no question that Evo caters to a particular niche — or more properly, a niche of a niche, because the target audience is the subset of gamers that prefers fighting games and gets into them as a competitive sport. Don’t get me wrong, because Evo is already quite popular and getting bigger every year by all accounts. It’s just that even Evo doesn’t appeal to everyone.
That being said, I’m living proof that you don’t even have to really dig fighting games to get sucked into the Evo fun. Here are a few things this particular Evo rookie fan noticed that surprised or excited me:
The difference between the top players is razor-thin
Once pool play is over, it seems like everyone is playing at an extremely high level. The outcome of matches can and did come down to one mistake at the wrong time.
This has to be extremely stressful for the players. I can’t even think of a comparable analogy from the world of sports, because generally even in tennis and golf there are one or two athletes at any given time who are just that much better than the rest of the field. Maybe mixed martial arts is closest, because one punch you don’t see can end your night, even when things have been going your way.
Competitive gamers seem to have a healthy respect for work ethic
You don’t get to the final eight of any game at Evo on talent alone. Those gamers put in their time, perfecting their marriage of reflexes and quick thinking with practice. Lots and lots of practice.
That wasn’t the surprise. Rather, it was the players and commentators talking about putting in the time and grinding out games to become the very best. That was nice to hear, and it reinforced the feeling that anyone could get there with enough dedication (even if, as in my case, that really isn’t true!).
The commentators are half the fun
Here’s where my true noob-ness shows, because I wasn’t sure who any of the guys calling the action were. I gathered that most or all of them were pro gamers themselves, which makes sense because it would be hard for anyone not versed in those games to offer intelligent analysis.
They were also a mixed bag, which is what happens when you’ve got dudes calling matches for 12 hours and tagging in and out like pro wrestlers. But by and large, the commentators made things a lot more entertaining with their expertise and enthusiasm. For a first timer like me, that was crucial. I even kind of sort of understood what was going on in “Marvel vs. Capcom” by the end.
eSports can make for good spectator sports
Having never seen Evo before, I’ll admit to being skeptical about this. And I still don’t plan on camping in front of my laptop for 12 hours a day next year or anything.
Yet there’s no denying that the Evo events show the untapped potential that is still waiting in all eSports. It was impossible to watch Justin Wong’s amazing comebacks, for instance, and not get swept up in the drama. At their best, the Evo finals have just as many storylines and amazing moments as more traditional sports.
Those were fun lessons to learn. Bravo Evo. I’ll be watching again next year, whether I’m on vacation again or not.