I’ve been to quite a few of gaming events but recently, though, I had a unique new experience: I attended my first ever pro fighting game event. This wasn’t just a small event either; it was the oldest fighting event in Australia, OzHadou. Now, I’ve been to smaller fighting events before – mainly at my local university and the occasional friend gathering where someone inevitably rage quit claiming “All you do is spam one move!” – but something was different about OzHadou. I experienced a contagious hype and passion I never thought I would have felt from a gaming event.
Fighting games are one of the oldest competitive games in the world, stemming back to the vibrant tunnels of arcades or in the corner of fish & chip shops in the 80s. Despite their legacy, somehow fighting games have seen themselves take a backburner to larger, more financially successful genres of esports such as MOBAs like League of Legends and DoTA, and first-person shooters like Counter Strike and Call of Duty. Even when one Googles “history of esports,” you can hardly find anything apart from a mere mention – when in fact, there’s a good chance if you’re under the age of thirty, your parents once played fighting games in arcades in their youth.
Regardless of huge events like EVO, fighting games still find themselves in the background noise of the ever-growing industry of esports, but remain so due to its oddly whimsical premise and organic sense of community they bring. Perhaps this is due to the nature of the fighting game genre, which finds itself made up of sub-groups branching under one ceiling. I expected these groups to be visibly separated at OzHadou, crowded into their own areas like rookeries of penguins or the clearly-marked genre sections of a library. Loose analogies aside, my point is I was fully prepared for the entire event to be stratified based on a kind of hierarchy. Thankfully, and refreshingly, I was mostly wrong. There were only two explicitly designated segments: Smash players had their distinct, old-school TV sections, where Street Fighter (the disputable best-known fighter) found itself and its players at the front of the event’s main room. But the remarkable thing was that even in these minor separations, the event was still so inclusive. Everyone felt united toward a single purpose: kick ass at the game(s) they were playing, and have a good time doing it. I’ve never been a Tekken player, but surprisingly, I found myself at OzHadou standing amongst fans of the fighter, cheering on someone I’d never met or even heard of, just purely caught in the moment. I was enthralled. It was more than just a game on the screen – it was two competitors visibly struggling against each other, battling using their innate, raw talent and skills.
“Regardless of huge events like EVO, fighting games still find themselves in the background noise of the ever-growing industry of esports”
I myself have been to numerous first-person shooter and MOBA esport tournaments, and you see the social trend there. Sure, there are the friendly interactions, jeers and cheers from the crowds and the occasional boos, but nothing that draws you in and instantly makes you feel like you’re a part of something. Though the stereotype of competitive gamers exclusively being socially-awkward, neckbeard men in their early 20’s still slightly clings to life, OzHadou served as a reminder that gamers come in all shapes and sizes. I watched one woman take a gripping best-of-five series against another male opponent that had both players’ supporters grabbing their hair in nervous anticipation, waiting for a crucial strike to land.
The event itself gave a homely warmth, like one you might feel at a friend’s LAN party that got out of control. There were shout-casters using a dust-filled computer I assume one brought from their home, cramped onto small desks just feet away from competing players. The behemoth was full of fluffy grime, and the side had been removed to help the flow of air in the already hot room. No sound proofing, either; just an unfiltered gaming event whose atmosphere you get lost in amidst the energetic crowd roaring at every crucial punch and kick. They didn’t seem to mind; in fact, they seem to relish in it. Many of attendees were just other players substituting in and out to call each other’s matches. There was no clear separation of fan and pro, no clear indication of distance between normal players and “higher ups.” It was something else entirely.
“An unfiltered gaming event whose atmosphere you get lost in amidst the energetic crowd roaring at every crucial punch and kick.”
The room was hot, the stations were cramped, but I loved it. It oozed a passion and hype I had yet to experience from any other event I had attended. As a media pass holder, on the Saturday we only had limited time slots where we could come and view, but I didn’t want to leave. I kept glancing at my watch then to the screens hoping I could stay longer and watch the fights play out.
The event itself, of course, was more than just a fun event. It had stakes – large ones, in fact. OzHadou National 14 was the biggest OzHadou yet, and was a part of the Capcom Pro Tour, meaning the victor would secure precious Capcom points that would qualify them for later events. This year, OzHadou found itself the host to not only one of the most notorious fighters of all time, but a legendary pro gamer known by tens of thousands: none other than Daigo “The Beast” Umehara. The attraction of the event was clearly more than just for games, but for the man himself. Upon arrival to the event, I asked the man at the front desk where Daigo could be found, he promptly answered with, “Ahh, the question of the day.”
After his former sponsor, Mad Catz, left the FGC sponsorship business earlier in the year, Daigo had something to prove. He finished with an impressive 11-1 win-loss ratio in the top 16 at the Esports Festival in Hong Kong earlier in the month, and looked to continue this beast-like form at OzHadou. It was less impressive, but still saw the Japanese legend secure first place after some clutch 3-2 sets against Jonny “Humanbomb” Chen and Bruce “GamerBee” Hsiang. Daigo’s performance was mesmerizing. It was like seeing a famous boxer fight in real life for the first time. I even heard comments behind me, whispered under breaths; comments like, “Wait, how did he do that?” and “I need to see that again.” It made the event ever more memorable for me, not just as a fighting game fan novice but as a fan of games in general.
When considering and even (to a certain degree) admiring the simplicity of OzHadou and its wide-eyed, eager but clearly wildly talented attendees, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the many other gaming events I’ve been to in the past. I’ll be totally honest: OzHadou isn’t the fanciest setup for a competitive event I’ve seen. But that’s what makes it so special, so unique. OzHadou stood out for its stripped-back nature and its community-centric focus. The entire event was grounded in passion, a genuine interest in gaming that was universal among everyone in attendance. This is something arguably quite rare in the modern PR-pushed, super-themed (maybe even over-the-top) events that are so commonplace in the industry today. There were no huge sponsor banners; some computers under tables pressed against player’s legs; and from what I could tell, most PlayStation 4 units and varying-sized old CRTs were brought in by the players, cramped onto long tables. It was chaotic. It was beautiful. Though the room was packed with people, OzHadou was a breath of fresh air.
Thanks to the team at OzHadou for having us there. Give them a follow on Facebook here.