The weeks leading up to the release of Street Fighter V have been unexpectedly emotional for me. To some, that may seem like a bizarre statement, so let me explain.
I started playing Street Fighter competitively in 2009 while I was at UCLA. Around that time, my drinking and drug use was also just starting to become regular. Naturally, the activities went hand in hand. It almost became a rule that if I was playing, I was also drinking and getting high. My life progressed like this for several years.
In a short period of time, fighting games took over my life. I got really, really into it. I started playing another game called King Of Fighters 13, and became an author for a blog about the game. In college, I wrote an award winning research paper about people who play fighting games. This paper got me a full ride scholarship into graduate school for a PhD program in Sociology.
In 2012 I took every dollar I had and traveled to fighting game tournaments all around the United States and Mexico. On average, I was logging in 30-50 hours of game time every week. I recorded videos, hosted events, did live commentary for tournaments, and made friends from around the world. I was drunk the vast majority of the time. That year culminated in me competing at the Evo Championship Series in Las Vegas and ranking among the top 64 players for King of Fighters. Oh, and I also beat Filipino Champ in rock paper scissors. Life was one big video game party.
Eventually, my drinking and using caught up with me. The physical deterioration from partying was evident in my videos and I was becoming emotionally unstable. With my mind constantly clouded, I couldn’t keep up academically and dropped out of grad school. My life eventually became so unmanageable that I stopped playing completely. I stopped all of my fighting game activities and disappeared from the competitive scene in 2014. A few months later, I went to rehab and got sober.
Seventeen months of sobriety later, I find myself reflecting on all this as a brand new, big budget, AAA Street Fighter game is being released.
What a journey it’s been!
As it currently stands, Street Fighter is much more than just a video game. To some extent, it has shaped the course of my life. I’m very grateful for all the amazing experiences I’ve had and all the friends I’ve met along the way!
I also look back on the regrettable stuff I did: the immature trash talking, excessive partying, and desperate attention seeking. Part of me is scared that those things haven’t completely gone away; that somehow jumping back into the fray will reignite the aspects of my personality that I hate the most.
With this mixture of excitement, anxiety and nostalgia in my head, I ventured out to the new venue for Wednesday Night Fights, the mecca for competitive fighting game players in Southern California. It’s just one day after the official release of Street Fighter V and this is the first big tournament for the game.
As I sat and played my matches, I felt cathartic. Even though I lost early on, I was reminded of why I fell in love with this stuff to begin with. The games themselves are great, but being surrounded by the familiar faces of like-minded people is what really makes the experience worthwhile. The tournament had close to 150 entrants and a bunch of spectators, so the venue was pretty much packed! Randomly, the UFC fighter Rampage Jackson was also there LOL!
And so, what’s next? As a competitor, there is a not-so-small part of me that constantly yearns to get back in the ring to test myself against other players. However, I’ve also changed a lot since I got sober. At 19, I had the mentally of an arrogant kid with a giant chip on my shoulder. I lacked self esteem and was looking for validation. At 26, I’ve had time to really work through most of my demons, and in general am much more at peace with myself.
I think that as far as fighting games go, I’ve already found what I was looking for. From all the lessons learned in competition, I have a fully formed sense of who I am and what I value, both in myself and in other people. I don’t believe that I’ll ever stop playing completely, but I also won’t be grinding training mode everyday like I used to. Right now, I’m looking forward to cheering on my friends from the crowd as they continue their own competitive journeys. I sincerely hope that they all find what they’re looking for, too. 🙂