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Of Headphones and Wolves

Once upon a time I was actively involved in the fighting game community. I would split my time between Time Out at the Poughkeepsie Galleria (R.I.P.) and Game Station at the Danbury Fair Mall in Connecticut (R.I.P.). I was a part of the separate posses that dominated both arcades and we were a ragtag bunch that came from different walks of life, different age groups, different tastes in music, and different lifestyles. If it was highschool, we would’ve been a ticking time bomb, but it was because of the love of the games that we all bypassed the supposed norms and became the best of friends. It was actually how I came to meet Thunderbolt’s Associate Editor, Sean Kelley, before we became a part of this site. There was plenty of smack talking, but by the end of the day we would all hang, grab a burger or two, and just laugh it off. Those were the days.

Back then, if one was to talk about the community and say “if you’re looking for a place to make friends, you’re in the wrong scene” that would be dismissed as words from a sap who had the misfortune of running into the wrong crowd. But today, these words ring true much to my dismay. Sore losers, or even people who are just disappointed in their own performance, are called out as ‘salty’ and it’s said with an aftertaste of malicious jest. And those who lose, despite putting up a good fight, are still called out as ‘free’ (someone of zero skill). Let’s face it, since the uprising of e-sports in fighters and being neck deep in the angry nerd era, of course this was bound to happen.

At the risk of sounding less than patriotic, taking great joy in trash talking someone to kill their focus as they perform has been a boldfaced element of the US fighting repertoire. Aside from a number of western players currently sporting headphones during tournament play, Japanese prodigy, Daigo Umehara, is now rarely seen without his when making his rounds state side after becoming fed up with being heckled on and off stage where ever U.S. players may roam. When watching the streams and footage of Japanese and Korean tournaments, headphones aren’t represented as the communities of the other side still practice the old fashioned tradition of only shouting when you want to voice your support for your favorite player. Sure it was wrong, but this was perhaps one of the core reasons for the Super Battle Opera controversy that occurred last year, contrary to the popular belief of racism.

If it’s hard to believe that trash talk can be that big of a deal, allow me to turn your attention to Exhibit A:

Joshua ‘Wolfkrone’ Philpot has been one of the best US C. Viper players in Street Fighter IV. This footage took place at the recent Power Up tournament from last month and this was his response to his loss against scene veteran Sanford Kelly, of Empire Arcadia, in the grand finals. Sp00ky, leader and commentator for Team Sp00ky and its renowned stream, may have been a bit too defensive, but I won’t deny that choosing to go on live and say that tournament holders should provide headsets was not a smart choice in Wolfkrone’s pick of venting outlets. It’s like saying that event holders should provide sticks – if a device malfunctions the fault should be on the players and no one else.

Fact still remains, Wolfkrone admits that his concentration was broken up because Empire Arcadia’s leader – a man in his 40s, who totes a power glove in public, who takes pride in being called ‘Triforce’, who still dares to show his face after getting blown up in King of Chinatown, and already has a history of causing inappropriate, escalated disturbances – yelled in his ear as he played and that’s considered normal. Shortly after, Cross Counter did an episode that discussed the incident, but rather than bringing on Wolfkrone and hearing him out (with maybe a chance to apologize), Mike and Peter brought on Triforce and Sanford, who weren’t at all sorry for what transpired and used the airtime to egg on Wolfkrone and his credibility. Be that as it may, those who put the wrong foot forward in front of a live audience will get what’s coming to them, but this was nothing short of overkill and I honestly sympathize with Josh. Of course this happened a month ago, but again, this is still considered normal, not many were willing to hear Wolfkrone’s take on the situation, no new ground rules were added and that’s acceptable.

To emphasize the point of the twists and turns of what is labeled normal in the community, two months back, on the reality show Cross Assault, veteran player Aris Bahktanians caused quite a stir when he sexually harassed Miranda on the show’s first day. Abhorring was not the fact that Aris was her team captain, or the fact that the show was sponsored by Capcom and IGN and this was allowed to continue for as long as it did, but being subjected like that in front of thousands, caught off guard, and made to feel awkward. Despite Miranda trying to hint that Aris’s conduct was inappropriate, she was immediately shot down with Aris’s backwards logic of weakness, and her teammates looked on in silence. Despite the hot topic being discussed, the general consensus still stands that this is normal, no one cares that we haven’t seen Miranda’s blip on the radar recently. Whatever, call it a day.

There are plenty more stories, but all in all, the fighting game community can be regarded as the living embodiment of the old saying: “Like it or not, it is what it is.” This isn’t me saying that it’s right, nor am I implying that a revolution is in order. It’s like if one opted to live in the wild for a month, you can’t expect to walk away from it without having been bitten by something. And every now and then, you’ll see something here and there that you kinda wish you hadn’t. As just another community fossil, I wish things could be like the good old days – a time of respect, courtesy, and good clean fun. But it’s no longer my era. This is something I’ve come to accept, and the masses have already decided on which tide to ride, with or without Aris and Triforce. For those who aren’t familiar with the scene, especially the ones who wish to participate, if you’re not cool with having a group of strangers make sport of your emotions and mentality (and they could care less about how much you’ve leveled up your game) there’s no shame in avoiding a situation where you’re made to feel uncomfortable, hurt even. No one should have to go through that. But to those who think they got what it takes, make sure to do it up like a cage fighter – carry your headphones like you would a cup.

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in August 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @S_Chyou.

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