Fighting games used to be an easy sell. One need look no further than the popularity of the genre in the SNES era of games to see that. A large portion of the appeal in the genre could be attributed to the voyeuristic nature of it; the games were meant to be watched.
In a time where arcades ruled, these games drew crowds. Showing off in front of these crowds in a head to head test of quick thinking, head games, and reflexes produced the reward of pride and the risk of shame. High stakes for a video game, right?
With the newest generation of home consoles eliminating both the cost and effort barriers of live streaming, the fighting genre may stand to gain the most from live streaming services like Twitch.
I caught up with Dylan P. Jones, who runs the largest 24/7 fighting stream on Twitch, to get his impressions on the future of streaming in fighting games.
His channel, PJS Winning, is approaching 7 million views, and offers a place where people can go to learn from some high-level play in a variety of the most popular games in the genre. Well known top players such as SF Nightmare and NY Chris G, have been known to frequent the channel to show off new techniques.
Dylan is particularly excited about the ease of access the PS4 provides.
“For example, you would need to get a PC, a solid Internet connection, capture card device, and mics. Now all you need is a PS4 or Xbox One and an Internet connection to be able to deliver your game play for people to see.”
The share button, in particular, is a tempting button to press, and will allow players to document unpredictable, defining moments of the genre as they happen. Dylan views this button as a game changer.
“Being able to capture now those last 30 seconds at any time when a big moment happens, instead of digging through hours of archive to find that perfect combo or comeback, is great. Not only will it change how we as viewers see highlights, but it will allow them to upload more of those big moments or things people want to learn.”
He goes on to elaborate how this button will be a power tool for players of all skill levels, in regards to both publicity and practice.
“In Injustice, currently one of our more popular players, SF Nightmare (who placed 9th at this year's EVO in Injustice) always creates buzz around his Batman gameplay and the combos he can string together. So we have a lot of Batman players who visit our stream and watch him and others to pick up new strategies, or even test them out in the lobby on stream. The simple record/upload and streaming will definitely help people want to learn mechanics about the games, but more importantly, it will raise exposure the fighting game genre is looking for.”
He isn’t sure if the exposure will be immediate, though. He does, however, maintain that it is inevitable.
“I think there is a lot of potential for growth among fighting games. We won't see it at launch with only Killer Instinct 3 coming out on Xbox One, but in the long term, definitely.”
And why wouldn’t it grow? There are a myriad of unique benefits to watching fighting games on Twitch.
“To some extent, you can learn about match-ups or the tendencies a player might make in situations by watching the video. Watching won't replace the training room by any means, but it's a great way to not only learn about the game at the start, but to refine your play on a deeper level, watching which characters matchup with each other and in game situations. Of course, you have to realize that online play isn't as valuable as versus mode on the same console, but that doesn't mean competitive gamers can completely discount it. If a player does not have an active community around his or her residence, their only choice to get better may only be able to play online. It's rare to get a group of class A players together outside your typical Top 8 in a tournament, especially in an online environment. But when they want to test out new tech or tactics, they will go online to test it against people who wouldn't be as competitive instead of trying it against a weekly tournament opponent. Sometimes, they happen to jump in our stream, or if they want to show off new tech, they could broadcast it to the world on Twitch through our channel.”
Obviously, most of the channels won’t be loaded with top players. That’s okay, Dylan believes. Watching fighters is beneficial, regardless of who is playing, beyond the obvious entertainment value.
“The play might not be as high level, but that doesn't mean you can see what does/not work in a matchup or using a super move in a situation. In my experience, you never fully conquer a game as new tech, combos, and glitches are always being discovered the more you play into it. Yow always adapt and figure out the best way to combat this new team or new approach to a character. You would be surprised in how much one can not only learn by watching a stream, but by also playing casual matches on stream. With the growth of spectator mode and lobbies in fighting games, it makes learning the game easier as you can watch hundreds of combatants duke it out while you see what works and doesn't work.”
I can’t wait to see what happens with the genre, moving forward. I can’t wait to see what happens with games in general, moving forward. Will live streaming affect the way games are developed? Will developers aim to put in Herculean tasks for gamers to overcome? Streaming is quickly turning the world of video games into an online arcade, complete with crowds, and that fact will amount to more than just a gimmick.
And in a genre as grounded in spectacle as fighting games, the effects will be immense.