As expected, the intensity ramped up significantly at the second day of proceedings at the 11th OzHadou Nationals. The fact that it’s a Road to EVO qualifier, where the top 2 of most games receive seeding points towards the Evolution championships in Las Vegas later this year, helps somewhat.
Mind you, a few thousand dollars changing hands doesn’t hurt either — and more is expected to come out tonight.
Money matches are kind of a tradition among the fighting game community, a way to spice up the action. Outside of the group stages, the first and second days are peppered with games that can become rather heated — although it’s the evening skirmishes that attract the most cash.
A large part of the appeal is the occasionally bristling, but usually friendly, rivalries between the states. Melbournians tend to play it up more than others, although a healthy dose of Marvel vs Capcom will always get Queenslanders riled up.
As someone who has spent the better part of a decade floating between various competitive scenes, it’s fascinating seeing the pressure applied to players by their peers, who desperately don’t want to let the state down. But the main attraction was the group stages, the first step on the path towards the top 16 and potential glory (which in turn allows the winner to talk copious amounts of smack, a commodity almost as lucrative as the prizes themselves).
And people take this seriously. In between the laughing, joking and the banter, the level of focus and concentration is at its peak. Moves need to be executed to the split-second, counters worked out to the exact frame.
Each fighting game has its own approach and calculations, and part of OzHadou’s appeal is moving from one match to another and just seeing the differences. From that, players can work out which games suit them best; I spoke to many who said they tried Street Fighter, or tried Tekken or King of Fighters but admitted that they “just weren’t very good”. In essence, fighting games are no different from your high level RTS, action RTS (or MOBA if you prefer Riot’s terminology) or a team-based FPS in regards to the level of dedication required.
But fighting games have that extra element, that additional layer of adrenaline others lack. Perhaps it’s natural considering how close many matches are; how often games come down to the wire and just how quickly things can turn in an instant.
One mistake can always, for instance, cost you a game of StarCraft. The time it takes to resolve, compared to an ultra move in Street Fighter, is typically much longer.
And maybe that’s why there’s so much more hype, so much more banter and so much more — and I agree that this is an unfair premise — passion on show.
Within the space of a few hours players were jumping (against the wishes of a distressed admin team, who were doing their best to honour OH&S laws) up to the stage to hug their recently-victorious friend. These aren’t even the finals. Like everything else on show though, the trials, tribulations, anger, relief, happiness and adulation are all spent within an instant.
You can see it on the crowd, the intense way they follow every move, become exasperated at every mistake and audibly gasp in unison at every piece of genius.
There is nothing else like it in eSports. The closest I can remember was Counter-Strike and even that was a slow burn; the players themselves were emotional and not shy about expressing themselves, but it was a different experience for the crowd.
You could see it in their eyes towards the end, when Frenetic Array’s Stef eked out the narrowest of wins against NefeliousG in the Pool G semi-finals; both had an opportunity to win, but a failure in execution saw them both throw their chances away. At the time of writing, the pair are due to face off in the grand finals for their pool; the winner will progress to the upper bracket of the top 16, while the runner-up will begin in the lower half.
This was just one of many, many nail-biters. And to think the crowd’s just getting started.
If you can’t still can’t visit York on 99 in Sydney (spectating is free!), OzHadou’s two streams on TwitchTV has all the live action and all the VODs from the games played. Go to http://www.twitch.tv/Ozhadou and http://www.twitch.tv/Ozhadou2 for more. The schedule for the whole weekend is also available on the OzHadou website.