I first heard about the local Street Fighter crew about a year ago. Word was passed down through a friend of a friend, through facebook, then through a spot of grapevine, and another friend told two friends until finally someone informed me. I’d previously run my own fighting game gigs in the area, but due to poor turnouts and hassle with transporting gear, it ended up being nipped in the bud. I took it for granted that it was just a hard town to start a gaming group in. I attended the local tournament as soon as I heard about it and my mind was all types of blown. I walked into the back room of a bar on a hot summer’s night to see that it was filled to capacity. There was only one set-up which consisted of a TV hanging on the far wall and an Xbox360 underneath it. In front of that there were two big lazy-ass leather chairs for the players’ comfort and a huge selection of fightsticks and pads. When your fight rolled round you could choose from any of the controllers on display or use one of your own, and lay back, veging out on the chairs during your fight. Since there was only one set-up, this meant that everyone who wasn’t playing at that time could chill out and watch the fight, cheering on their favourite players. The whole tournament felt like it was built for comfort, and everybody there was incredibly friendly and welcoming to all the new challengers. You’d only be a new comer for a few minutes after walking in the door before these folks counted you as one of their own.
One of the great things about Street Fighter, indeed competitive video games in general, is the fact that it puts everyone on a level playing field. Your real life physeque means nothing. You can be the most frail human being on the planet, yet you could still choose to play as a massive character like Rufus or T.Hawk. On the other hand you could be a huge motherfucker who likes to play as small, scrappy fighters like El Fuerte or Cammy. You don’t even have to be covered in oil to choose Hakan. It’s a strange place of make believe where US marshall’s can kick the living fuck out of peaceful yoga experts without it being considered a war crime, or gigantuan professional wrestlers can man-handle tiny schoolgirls down darkened back alleys in the middle of the night, yet nobody bats an eyelid. A place where out of work boxers bully convicted criminals on busy city streets, and and well respected detectives dress like... well like Chun-Li. With this in mind, anybody can play and have a good time trading blows. Because of that Galway’s Street Fighter scene sees all sorts of different people from all walks of life showing up, joining in, and having a good time.
The Galway scene as a few guys who are known for their mastery of particular characters. One of those is the house’s Ibuki player. This dude plays Ibuki like a science. It’s clear when watching him fight that he’s aware of all of her tricks and traps, and he’s fully capable of using her arsenal of moves to their full potential. We developed something of a friendly rivalry since I first started playing at these events. I remember my Ken beating his Ibuki and knocking him out of the first tournament I attended, and on a few following occasions too. He’s not the kind of man who’d take this sitting down though, even on those comfy-ass leather chairs, and so behind the scenes he worked on his character. A few weeks later, my Ken couldn’t get a single hit at him whenever we fought, and he was more than able to return the favour of knocking me out of the competition.
More time passed as we fought each other over and over throughout the weeks. Although the fights were intense and vicious, we’d always have good fun chatting about it before and after. There was no malice between us. Just two gamers who were constantly trying to outplay each other. After a while, I began to play a new character. A completely different style to what I was accustomed to. I picked up E. Honda. Honda plays like a power house. He takes hit’s like a brick wall but deals them out like the Incredible Hulk’s fat Asian cousin. In a rounabout way, he’s like the Street Fighting equivalant to Pokémon’s Snorlax. When I brought Honda out against Ibuki, I gained the upper hand. He’s huge and fast on his toes for a character of his size. Each time he got his massive burger-eating sumo hands on Ibuki, he easily ripped up her health bar. For a while, the tides had changed again, and I was the coming out with the win more often than not. Of course, this only lasted so long too. Last time I checked, the Ibuki player and I were neck and neck. Each time we fight, we learn more about each other’s play-style. It’s become a case of never knowing who’ll win. We each enter the fight respecting and fearing our opponent in equal measure, yet with fires burning in our bellies, pushing us to do all we can to succeed. These are always enjoyable fights!
There are so many good players to trade blows with in Galway. There’s a Makoto player than makes this sorry, lumpy, and downright boring little character move like a cannonball. He also plays a calm, calculated Rose who’s spacing is simply incredible. Every move his Rose makes feels like it was predetermined, thought out, and executed with amazing accuracy. There’s a player who makes Dhalsim actually look useful. Since Street Fighter II, I’ve always considered the Indian yoga master to be absolute junk. I’ve recently been proven very, very wrong indeed. The Dhalsim set-ups on show here are mind boggling, with crazy mix-ups between fireballs and long ranged normal attacks. He also packs an absolute bully of a Balrog whose gloves still have your blood on them! There’s also a Bison player who’s guilty of more shenanigans than a pub full of drunken leprechuans. Fighting against him can be a chore, as he’s wants to confuse you just as much as he wants to beat you.
For example, I used to have no problems dropping the local Gen player’s health bar. He was coming from a Tekken background, so didn’t know his way around a street fight to well. To make matters worse for him, Gen is an incredibly diverse and indepth character. Not the kind of choice you’d expect form a first time player. However, he stuck with him and became a solid player. He never dropped his Gen, instead he made the character’s complexities work for him. Another player was a girl who’d never touched a Street Fighter title until recently. When I first played her, she didn’t know her heavy punch from her medium kick, never mind anything beyond that. She was literally starting from scratch. However, in a few short months through attending the weekly tournaments and throwing down at casuals, she got into the game. Now, not only does she know her Metsu-Hadoken from her Metsu-Shoryuken, but her Ryu will have no hesitation in proving it anyone who stands in his way.
All this has been set up by one guy. One guy who decided that playing every character on the roster simply wasn’t enough. He also wanted to play every character against everyone else, while packing his own terrifying renditions of Oni and Cody. He’s a quiet dude who just loves playing Street Fighter, and managed to create something out of nothing. He somehow to wrangled together a community of players in a town where there seemed to be none, and then proceeded to hurricane kick them all into shape. He’s done more for local gaming than he realises; not only creating the Galway Street Fighter community, but also putting Galway on the Irish Street Fighting map. Because of the success of the his tournaments, other gaming events have started popping up. I recently attended a Tekken 3 tournament filled with old school Tekken players, and not a funny Paul Phoenix haircut to be seen... unfortunately. Following that, I’ve heard rummblings in the underground of a Tekken community getting together with plans on running regular events too. Also, a weekly gathering of Pokémon players have start up in the city too, and is growing in popularity. I can’t help but think that these events have spawned in some way from the how well Street Fighter gigs are doing, and how they’re bringing gamers together. There are almost more gaming communities in Glaway now than there are Supermacs outlets!
It’s been an amazing year for me, running with the local SF players. It’s been a whirlwind of wins and loses. Soaring highs where my E.Honda took me to the grand finals on a few occasions, and crushing lows where I simply played badly and got punished for it. A lot can happen in a game of Street Fighter, and a hell of a lot more can happen during twelve months of it. When I’m fighting, I come to life in a way that I really can’t explain. I get a crazy rush, and live off it for three rounds. The all-or-nothing concept which the game runs on makes for some of the most exhillerating experiences I’ve ever had. I’ve recently had the best fights of life, as far as SF goes, and these memories will stay with me for a long time. The atmostphere, the cheering crowd, the thrill of fight; everything. It all comes together to make something that’s got to be experienced first hand to really be understood.
The weekly tournaments are coming to an end now. It looks like there will still be a big monthly tourney, but the future of fighting on a week to week basis is unsure at the moment. I guess it will be down to playing in fighter’s houses for the time being, where there’s always more coffee and players than there could ever be chairs. However, the community is, and always has been, in good hands. During the final tournament, you could feel the want for more games in the air. What’s happened here is a community have come together and helped each other become better at their game. They now know each other inside and out, and are thirsty for bigger and better fights. When these guys break out and challenge the big established players from Dublin, Belfast, Cork, and Limerick, it’s gonna be incredible to watch. The Galway players are not to be sneezed at. Whichever route this community takes, I’ll happily pack up my sumo slapping machine and travel with them. I’ve made a lot of friends that I love trading blows with, and I’m looking forward to continuing to evolve along with them while kicking each other’s polygon heads in.