In the words of EVO 2017 Street Fighter V champion Tokido, “Fighting games [are] something so great.” The yearly competition held in Las Vegas showed the world once again how fantastic fighting games are and what they mean to the people who love them. Things may have been a little rough for a while, sure. Street Fighter V had a troubled launch, Tekken 7 took ages to come out and has some technical issues, and Injustice 2 is a NetherRealm game. Jokes aside, 2017 was a solid year for fighting games after several years of shaky territory. But 2018 is prepped to knock it out of the park in a huge way. From the emotional heights of EVO to a slate of recent and upcoming releases encapsulating unprecedented variety and hype, I think there’s enough at play here to spark a new fighting game boom, something we’ve been waiting for since Street Fighter IV brought the genre back to the mainstream.
Not only was the mastery of fighting games on display during the EVO 2017 grand finals and the emotional heights reached during the ending moments awe-inspiring, but the event was also littered with announcements. Games, characters, beta tests, and events were all introduced to a huge building full of the most dedicated fans, all of whom responded appropriately with a ton of shouting. Even at home, my social media (mostly Twitter) feeds were exploding with each new trailer or personality appearance, and the competitors in the Street Fighter V finals became e-celebrities overnight, if they weren’t already. The grizzled experience of Tokido and the young underdog story of Punk clashing in the final match was something so perfect, you couldn’t write it, and with the show airing on ESPN, it was the perfect storm of intrigue, emotion and weirdness.
EVO, with its drama, excitement and new content, is, I feel, using the already extreme heights of the video games industry in 2017 as a springboard into something new. 2017 has proved to be a banner year for the industry in several ways, in terms of finance, engagement, variety and in some cases maturity, as well as being enveloped in the emotions and politics of the real world as well. All of that equates to more eyeballs on everything and more openness to different and new experiences. It’s also a big year for nostalgia, as the games of the mid-late 90's have more presence than ever thanks to nostalgic fans having deeper pockets. This is leading to what will almost assuredly be a boom, and the content coming in 2018 is only going to fuel the fire.
Late 2017 and early 2018 are littered with fighting games, games that appeal to cross-sections of huge audiences, and the old guard. For starters, let’s take a look at Dragon Ball Fighterz. It’s a game using a beloved, eternal license, one that always has a presence in video games and manages to hang on to life. Even when the games struggle creatively, they sell well enough to continue. But finally, a game that is straight-up guaranteed to be good, if not excellent, is coming. Iit came out of nowhere, and the growing and hungry fighting game community is in love with it. The mood surrounding the game at E3 was crazy, and even non-Dragon Ball or anime fans were over the moon with the Arc System Works joint.
Arc System Works is also working the niche market with BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle, a game that leverages its Guilty Gear-lite brand BlazBlue, with its own rabid following, with the cross-genre appeal of Persona 4 Arena and a shocking inclusion of Rooster Teeth’s RWBY series. These are some pretty significant fanbases being simultaneously appealed to, with games like Persona 4 Arena already setting precedent for success. But this game has the potential to reach now levels, thanks to the circumstances I’ve laid out above.
It’s a good time to be a fan of fighting games. There’s more content than ever, and more avenues for different ways to play. Games like Tekken and Injustice 2 bring in even more kinds of fans, who will inevitably trickle out to some degree, but bring in just as many people who stick around. Games like Dragon Ball Fighterz will bring more eyes from the outside in, and Street Fighter will always be a juggernaut no matter what the Internet drama of the week is. EVO and the fighting game community only get bigger and more diverse as time goes on, and developers are noticing and delivering an array of content than will maximize interest and capitalize on cross-demographic appeal. 2018 is going to be a good year.