With the new year well underway, the various gaming communities of Cork begin to line up their year’s big events, from tabletops to TV screens. With expansion on their minds, and an eye to national and international competition, Cork Fighting Game Community look toward bigger things in 2017. Throwing fireballs with Mike McGrath-Bryan are Cork FGC members Chris O’Shea and Joe Devane.
The early-to-mid nineteen-nineties saw the videogames industry grow up in a big way, with the bright, blocky sprites of the ’80s giving way to the basis of the medium’s future as a pillar of the entertainment business. One of the central titles of the games industry’s charge on the Western world was 1991’s Street Fighter II, a one-on-one combat game that boasted detailed two-dimensional graphics, finely-balanced gameplay, and a timeless soundtrack, that maintains a cult following to this day. This following has grown with the medium and changed with the times, but has remained dedicated to the purity and speed of old-time beat ’em ups. Cork Fighting Game Community, operating weekly up to recently in spaces the Roundy pub on Castle Street and the Camden Palace Hotel, serves as the local chapter of an enduring fanbase, for whom the magic of gaming’s adolescent frontier has remained entrenched. “For my tenth birthday, I got Street Fighter II on the Super Nintendo, and my brother and I became the Ryu and Ken (series protagonists) of the house, with our rivalry in the series continuing to this day. That’s what always keeps me coming back, the constant competition with my brother and the few other friends I have that play fighting games”, says Cork FGC member Chris O’Shea.
The group’s foundations happened on social media and forums for dedicated players seeking local competition, as local gamers hosted the community’s initial meetups in their own houses, opening their living rooms up to barrages of monitors and consoles. “The Facebook group actually came into being on boards.ie. I’d started a thread looking for anybody that was willing to host a meet up, and in that same thread discovered that two of the best players in the country today, Ross and Conor O’ Leary, lived literally just up the road from me. Jason Goodison was the guy that actually started the group itself, and was the first to host the group consistently in his own place.”
Being the local chapter of a national community, going to each other’s houses with monitors and consoles, etc., it might have been a little like the Wild West in the beginning, surely? “Personally speaking, it was all pretty exciting. Just like now, it took some coordination with everybody involved. I can’t imagine I was the only person nervous about all these strangers meeting up and was fearing some personality clashes, but once everybody realised we were all there for the same reason, love of fighting games and the banter, it all just clicked.”
With time and organisation came infrastructure, and in short order, the self-organised gaming tournaments that had emerged around the country weren’t long entrusting the Cork FGC with the Leeside legs of national competition, including the developer-sanctioned annual classic, Celtic Throwdown. Tom Devane, also of FGC, recounts that effort. “Luckily, the lads up in Dublin were very interested in getting us involved. Ireland being as small as it is, it encourages all the communities to come together for the benefit of the whole Irish fighting game community. Doom and AJ, the main organisers of (national tourney) Celtic Throwdown, have been brilliant to us, giving us a lot of their expertise, equipment & exposure. Travelling down for regionals to help with setups, tournament organisation, streaming. Stuff we could probably figure out on our own, but having them around to help is a huge bonus, since they’ve been doing this for nearly nine years now.”
Celtic Throwdown is the Irish national lead-in to the Capcom Cup, the premiere accomplishment in fighting e-sports. As the year wears on, the group will begin to liaise with the Street Fighter developers, run qualifiers and regional heats, and help oversee the grassroots framework of the tournament. For all of this formality and structure, though, the centrepoint of the fighting game community is to provide social space for avid Hadouken-throwers. It’s a recurring theme among the members of the community when asked about the time and effort that goes into mastering the art of fighting. Says Chris, “Asking for insight implies I have actually mastered that art (laughs). I’ll try not to throw out the old cliché “it’s just a game”, but enjoying yourself is the most important thing at the end of the day. I’ve lost many times and got frustrated, like every player does at some point, but the enjoyment of the games and the friends I’ve made through them is what always brings me back.” It’s a viewpoint with which Tom concurs. “The most important thing for me is: have fun. If you’re not having fun, it’s not worth your time. If you can’t have fun while losing 40 games in a row, you’ll never be able to put in the time required to get good. I’m a terrible Street Fighter player, I regularly go an entire night without winning a game, yet i turn up every chance I get because I have fun playing and interacting with the lads in the community.”
The uptick of this openness has been an expansion into games more friendly for a general audience, with Nintendo’s cartoon brawler Super Smash Brothers bringing new players in. With changes made to the use of their previous venue space, and with the closure of an interim home in the Camden Palace Hotel, the team will likely have to lay low for the summer outside of visits to other fighting game communities around the country, before setting back up in any of the newer spaces opening up to community groups around town.
With all of the recent nostalgia for retrogaming in particular in mind, the question is floated around of the best place for new people to start, that one all-time-greatest scrapping sim. There may be variations on the theme, but one clear-cut winner emerges: the seemingly immortal Street Fighter series. Says Chris of a later instalment, “Street Fighter Alpha 3 was the game my brother and I played to absolute death on the PlayStation when it originally came out. We had no idea of the broken stuff possible at the time, just simple mano-a-mano stuff that kept us enthralled for many a night, until sunrise the next morning.” Tom issues an open challenge when discussing his personal favourite: “For me it’s Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. It’s absolutely gorgeous, some of the best looking, most detailed sprites you’re ever likely to see. The fighting engine feels fast and fluid, with the parry mechanic. Unfortunately due to its age, the only people who still play are absolute beasts, so online play can be a bit scary. But if you’re ever at an event, come find me and I’ll always be willing to throw down in 3rd Strike!”
Cork Fighting Game Community organises and discusses gaming at its Facebook group: search for ‘Cork Fighting Game Community’ and join for announcements of upcoming gaming sessions and events.