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This past weekend, I spent time with some of the world’s most talented, intelligent and fierce fighters at Canada Cup. Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi, Daryl “SnakeEyez” Lewis and Bruce “GamerBee” Hsiang duked it out for a $15,000 pot bonus. Fierce punches, swift roundhouses and fireballs were perfectly executed until one competitor was left standing. It was an unforgettable show for the 600 attendees at the Sheraton Toronto Airport Hotel and Conference Center.

Canada Cup 2015 has become the largest Canadian fighting video game tournament in history. This weekend was a spectacle for competitors and fans alike, but for a small Hamiltonian group of gamers, Canada Cup saw the birth of a local champion, and solidified the importance of the gaming community as an outlet for individual passion.

Street Fighter and the Capcom Pro Tour

Street Fighter is the 28-year-old series that took arcades by storm, and created the foundation for one of the first genres in competitive gaming. The franchise has been the game of choice for the majority of the fighting game community’s history, largely because of how it has stayed relatively true to the fundamentals that hooked so many young arcade enthusiasts back in the day.

Despite the relatively small size of the community built around these games, the competitive scene is experiencing a period of phenomenal growth. The Capcom Pro Tour, a Japanese video game company, and Sony, have greatly contributed to this growth. The total prize bonuses to win in Ultra Street Fighter IV total $500,000 throughout the year. A large number of tournaments throughout the year provide opportunities for players, amateur and professional alike to accumulate ranking points and automatic qualification opportunities.

Canada Cup was the final North American premiere event before the final 32 players were to be fully qualified to enter the Pro Tour Finals in December. It comes as no surprise then that both professionally sponsored and independent players flew from over ten different countries to try and compete for the automatic qualification spot and prize money.

The international FGC

By some unexpected series of events, I somehow find myself in the infamous “Salty Suite.” A post-tournament hotel room hosts a party with the who’s who of the fighting game community. These rooms are regularly hosted and streamed on Twitch TV, and feature high-stakes money matches between high-profile players. The big names of the international fighting game community were all partying in the same room, and I was there, completely star struck.

I took pictures, had actual conversations with the same people that I loved supporting and watching from home, many of whom can be considered legends within the community. They were all extremely approachable and relaxed despite the crowd of locals that found their way in the room despite a long day of tournament matches.

This was the personal equivalent of partying with some famous Hollywood celebrities after sneaking into an exclusive Hollywood nightclub, with the addition of a not-so-PG live stream, Chun-Li cosplay and an abrupt police shutdown due to the room being over capacity.

The next morning revealed some of the more “exciting” antics that occurred that evening, but nonetheless transitioned into top eight action in the hotel ballroom. The final match that day, between two Japanese arcade legends, Tokido and Fuudo provided a thrilling, and fitting close to the end of the day, but the fun I had with fellow players, both international and local, will remain with me the longest.

Hamilton’s journey

The local fighting game community has been cultivated in the weekly Super Steel City Fight Nights (SSCFN), hosted by Super 1UP Games and tournament organizer Vince “RXS” Hui. The series of tournaments has run for over three years, and has built up a group of friends just as much as it has built up a safe, competitive environment. The Hamilton fighting game community traveled to Canada Cup as a unit, under the SSCFN moniker.

The level of dedication that players and other professionals have for a very specific genre of video games can be difficult to understand. Countless debates about whether or not “e-sports” count as “real” sports indicate that there are enough people who do not understand. Competitive gaming, particularly in the case of fighting games, is simply breaking down mechanics, and the carefully crafted rules laid out by game developers, who are now very conscious of the potential competitive communities that can be built around their games.

Street Fighter, Guilty Gear, Under Night In-Birth, Mortal Kombat X and Smash Bros. all share the fundamental concepts of controlling space with punches, kicks and fireballs of various ranges and speeds. The one-on-one nature of these games also stresses anticipation and predicting your opponent’s next move.

What makes these games suitable for competition is one thing, but more importantly, committing to a single game is just plain fun. Critically thinking and practicing these games is just a satisfying and enjoyable way to approach them.

Some are more driven by the way in which testing, trial and error and the general search for understanding and knowledge within a game can translate directly to results. Others are motivated by self-improvement. When wins and losses are attributed to your ability to make critical decisions, and the dexterity and awareness needed to execute those decisions, victory comes with a real sense of accomplishment.

A victory for Hamilton

These are the elements that attracted local players such as Van Nguyen to take part in competitive Street Fighter IV. Nguyen traveled along with over thirty local players, representing the city of Hamilton, and more specifically, the local independent game shop that hosts this small community of competitors, 1UP Games.

Nguyen is Hamilton’s best player, but with minimal experience against international competition, there was really no telling how well he would perform this weekend. Then Nguyen beat Evil Genius’ sponsored player Kenneth “KBrad” Bradley, and ultimately finished his run in the top 32 out of about 300 players.

“I was just elated. I was having such an adrenaline rush. Everyone came up and congratulated me, and I want to say that I didn’t feel deflated from it, cause I achieved something so great,” said Nguyen.

Despite his relatively short history with the franchise, the local player was able to level up his game relatively quickly. “In the recent year, what I think I’ve improved the most; I would do things like… a lot of introspection, a lot of watching my own replays, asking for advice, and a lot of thinking about my own game,” described Nguyen.

The level of competition is what has attracted Nguyen and many others like him to the scene, “I guess just competing in general, competing to try to win it’s something I wasn’t used to as a kid,” explained Nguyen.

A final thank you

I didn’t think I’d be affected by what professional Street Fighter commentator James Chen, aptly called “Post FGC Major Depression.” I was quickly proven wrong. After the half hour set between Tokido and Fuudo concluded, tears started welling up in the legendary commentator over the live broadcast. As people began pouring out of the ballroom, one last family picture of the Hamilton crew before they departed triggered some similar sentimentality.

A quiet ride home let me reflect on how significant and how necessary these events are, not just for the fighting game community, but for any group of like-minded individuals who need to express their passions with others like them.

That Canada Cup was a success is undeniable. The tournament will once gain return to Toronto next year, but attendance numbers and a plethora of exciting matches are not the only reason this event was one to remember. The feeling of community and a shared passion is really what makes these events so successful.

It’s all too easy to feel alone when you have a niche interest. Yes, the scale of the Capcom Pro Tour, and the general growth in online viewers and e-sports in general has made huge leaps in growing this niche. But even still, my excitement about our local hero’s run in Ultra Street Fighter IV will generally be met with polite disinterest. Canada Cup was a place to be loud and proud of the games that I love.

So thank you to the organizers of Canada Cup for providing a phenomenal tournament, an even greater outlet for so many people. Thank you to every single professional player who let me take pictures, and who tolerated my gushing. Thank you to the energetic crowd of spectators during grand finals, and all the players for giving it their very best.

Hamilton can truly count itself among the lucky cities in this international community. Super Steel City Fight Nights has shown no signs of slowing down, and it has successfully fostered a welcoming community that actively seeks to develop local players and build many friendships along the way.

Playing games online and watching Twitch streams is valuable, but it fails to incite those strong feelings of unity. Don’t keep your passion, whatever that might be, to yourself. It is something significant and real, and it demands to be shared and expressed.

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