Fighting games have always been a mainstay in our gaming community. In the 90s and early 2000s, it was the most vibrant sector of the community – if you didn’t know how to play at least one fighting game, then you couldn’t talk when other gamers were talking. The rivalries, thrash talking and hype that came with some anticipated battles could only be equaled by what you get in an anticipated boxing match. And believe it or not, we had the talents and we had them plenty. Even though there were no major tournaments back then to assemble all these talents at one spot – save for the LTV tournament in 1997, the pocket fighting communities that existed here and there all had their ‘gods’. Sometimes, some ‘gods’ went on a campaign to ‘conquer’ the gods of other territories and the battle, when it does happen, was something that was told as legend and passed down to generations. I still remember legendary fights like Obasa vs Dele Neri (Tekken 3), Foley vs Dele Neri (Tekken 3), Egedo vs Chinedu (SF2Turbo), Obasa vs Theodore (SF3Strike), Law 1 vs the gods of Olympus (Tekken 5) just to mention a few. So what happened? How did a once vibrant, proud, stamina-filled community now degenerate into a bunch of wimpy, excuse-giving, and moribund pack of tired fighters? Is there any hope of a restoration to former glory?
Let’s take a little history lesson and see where we probably started getting it wrong.
PS: Everything written is from the writer’s perspective. You are free to add your views in the comments section.
The year was 1992 and Capcom had just released their masterpiece Street Fighter 2: World Warriors. It was a breath of fresh air from the Super Mario Worlds and other adventure games abound during that period. Being the natural competitors we were, we wanted something where we could truly show that we were better than the other person in a ‘sharp-sharp’ way that didn’t require having to wait till the person finished a stage and then we played. Moreso, during our childhood, a lot of us had engaged in children fights where we assumed our favorite actors or wrestlers and fought our friends who also assumed their favorites. You get to hear things like: “Me, am commando (what we called Arnold Swarzenegger) and you are Rambo (our name for Sylvester Stallone). Oya let’s fight.” Or things like “I am Hulk Hogan and you are Macho man, let’s fight.” So deep down in us, we still had that wanting to fight another person but not really fighting him. Street Fighter provided that avenue. We could beat up ourselves and yet, there would be no harm done, except to our ego. Street Fighter: World Warriors didn’t gather as much followers until 1993 when SF2Turbo: Hyper Fighting was released with the four bosses from World Warriors added. Along with these came the speed increase, new moves and other tweaks, which we today refer to as “patches”.
Examples included changes to Ryu and Ken’s hurricane kick (Ryu’s was changed to a one-hit hard knock down while Ken’s was multi hitting and comboable. In World Warriors, they had similar properties – a multi hitting juggling kick), ability to perform the hurricane kick mid-air, Chun Li being able to perform spinning bird kick mid-air, Blanka’s rolling attack is separated into horizontal and vertical, Honda gets Sumo Smash, Chun Li gets a fireball, Gief gets two lariats with different properties amongst others. And then it started to pull in more people. It became a trend. If you didn’t know the word, Street Fighter, at least you would know or would have heard the words – Hadoken or shoryuken. Everybody wanted to belong. Then the game centers started to spring up too. They too caught the fighting game bug, even though theirs was more of a business decision. If a kid came to play an adventure game, he would pay #5 or #10 (depending on the gamehouse) to play for 5 or 10 mins. In that time, if two people came in to challenge themselves in Street Fighter, he would make twice that amount. And when one of them lost and the salt was flowing, he would pay more. Also the game owners always delighted in the rivalries that they witnessed and also added fuel to the fire. In the event where the opponent had no money after playing the first game, the gamehouse owner or ”Onile” as they were generally referred to played the winner or in some other cases, they call their in-house champion to come and take care of business. If the onile didn’t know how to play and they didn’t have an in-house champ, the game was set to max difficulty and the winning guy played against CPU. Unlike the rubbish easiness of games we have these days, back then, hard difficulty was hard and gamers sweated to finish games.
The arcades, which also thrived back then, also helped to fuel this growth. If you went to play at Underground Arcade at Ojuelegba back then, after slotting in your coin, you had to be very strong to be able to retain your win and play CPU unless there was another strong-handed person around who was courageous to slot in his coin and play you. All these factors combined together to make the fighting gamers very strong-handed back then. Initially people died at the second character they met, but slowly, they started adapting. Until it got to a point that people started thrashing CPU without losing a single round or even taking half bar damage. There was a legend I heard of at the Underground Arcade, Sukanmi Kolade popularly known as SK. I heard that if SK was playing CPU and he took a hit, he gave out the round to someone to play. Back then, only few people had the game consoles at home so most of us were sharpened on the streets. The fighting community was like a jungle and it was survival for the strongest. Different names were whispered as gods and anytime these gods played, it was a spectacle. Some ”fight promoters” went as far as arranging fights between gods, sometimes with their consent, sometimes without. But even when they were not ready, they dared not back out from any fight when it came, especially when it involved another god. The shame would be too much to bear.
Whenever any two gods clashed, like 60% of the arcade or gamehouse stopped whatever they were doing to watch – even the onile. There was an occasion I witnessed where the onile didn’t even collect money. He just wanted the fighters to battle because their battle had been a long time in coming. In other cases, people who volunteer to pay for them just so that they can watch spectacular play. That was the kind of hype that came with the community back then. Also there was no patch back then to “buff” or “nerf” any seemingly weak or strong character. If had a problem dealing with Ken’s dragon-punch or Bison’s Psycho crusher in Street Fighter 2 Turbo, you looked for solution to counter it. If Michaelangelo’s rolling attack to sweep stun combo in Tournament Fighters was giving you headache, you did your research on how to avoid getting into the situation that makes you eat it. It made fighters hardworking and strong. There was no free meal. You worked to earn your name and bragging rights.
To be continued.
Read part 2 here.