The Fighting Game Community has a lot to look forward to in 2018. Street Fighter 5 received a much-needed overhaul with the release of Arcade Edition. Beloved weapon-fighter Soul Calibur has been revived for a sixth iteration to be released later this year. Noctis, the protagonist from Final Fantasy XV, will soon be a playable character in Tekken 7. However, there was one new release that dominated the FGC conversation leading into the new year. With its slick graphics, fast-paced gameplay, and loving respect for the anime series, Dragon Ball FighterZ has sparked interest from all corners of the gaming community.
Some have heralded the game as the savior of the FGC, the bridge that will unite all players and elevate fighting games to the next level. Others preach caution, saying the game may still be too difficult for casual fans, or too shallow for elite competitors. Could FighterZ elevate the FGC to the level of CS:GO and DOTA 2, or is it yet another niche title that will frustrate casual fans? To understand the game’s esports potential, we’ve reached out to representatives from every corner of the FGC:
- Ramin “Mr. R” Delshad -- Smash 4 player for Beastcoast, ranked top 10 in the world.
- Keenan “Kizzie Kay” Kizzie -- Anime fighter specialist. First place at Frosty Faustings X.
- Christian “Forever King” Quiles -- Injustice 2 player for Circa Esports. 4th place at the ELEAGUE World Championships.
- Justin Wong -- Street Fighter and MvC:I player for Echo Fox. UMvC 3 Evo Champion, 2014.
- Jonathan “Cloud805” Morales -- Marvel vs Capcom veteran, winner of Battle for the Stones 2017
- Alex Myers -- Street Fighter player for Tempo Storm.
- Stephen “Speedkicks” Stafford -- Tekken 7 player for Panda Global.
- Stephen “Sajam” Lyon -- Commentator and analyst across multiple fighting games. One half of the famous “Tastyjam” duo.
- Steve “Tasty Steve” Scott -- Commentator and event host for many titles. The other half of the “Tastyjam” duo.
Reconnecting with Your Inner Child
With the exception of Pokemon, no anime series has captivated Western audiences quite like Dragon Ball Z. Every player we interviewed expressed a strong connection to the series. “ I actually remember being so excited as a kid watching Dragon Ball,” said Sajam, “that I would run out into the living room between commercials to try and explain what was happening to my parents.” A few players remembered doing everything in their power to never miss an episode. Mr. R told us about rushing home from school to make sure he didn’t miss the start of each new episode. For others, DBFZ represents the greatest realization of their fandom. Justin Wong expressed immense excitement, saying that finally having a true fighting game for the franchise was a “dream come true.” He went on to say that he “watched it every day at 6 a.m. before going to school and also bought fake VHS tapes of the show in Chinatown.” In each interview, the players and commentators explained that Dragon Ball was an important part of their childhood. “It's one of my favorite tv series of all time,” added Forever King, “to the point where I'm considering making my next tattoo Dragon Ball related.”
From the first trailer shown at E3 2017, it was clear that this game was made by fans of the anime. Arc System Works (best known for the Guilty Gear and BlazBlue franchises) are revered for their attention to detail and cinematic visuals. Dragon Ball FighterZ has lovingly recreated many of the show’s most iconic scenes. Gohan’s father-son Kamehameha, Chiaotzu’s sacrifice, Captain Ginyu’s body swap--every character has special moves ripped straight out of the anime. The game’s respect for such an iconic IP caused players from every corner of the FGC to take note. Sajam put it this way, “When you take a fighting game developer who has created one of the most complex and overall best fighting games on the market and deliver them the absolute perfect IP to thrive you have such a perfect recipe for success.”
How Deep is your Game?
While there’s no doubt that the IP will be a key part of the game’s success, it also has to deliver on gameplay. To foster a competitive scene, a game has to have meaningful depth that rewards the countless hours fighting game players will pour into mastering their characters. Fortunately, DBFZ appears to have delivered on that front. According to Cloud805, “the more I played and figured things out, the more I realized that it has more depth than I originally thought.” To Forever King, the game’s appeal was in it’s low barrier to entry combined with rewarding exploration. “There are mechanics placed in the game that make it easy for low-level players to get into it like auto combos and one-button supers, but there also difficult combos for the hardcore fighting game players,” he said.
“The fact that there is no incoming mixup when your character dies is a BIG deal for me,” said Alex Myers. This is often cited as a major barrier to entry for the MvC franchise, as inexperienced players can remain stuck in the corner while each team member gets slowly combo’d to death without the game ever giving them a moment to breathe. In DBFZ, when one of your characters is knocked out, the game plays a quick scene of the next character flying in and resets to neutral, giving both players a moment to collect themselves before the fighting resumes. “It definitely feels like you earn your wins more in this game,” Myers added.
Come Together Over Z
The fighting game community has always been a fascinating niche within competitive gaming. There are very few tournaments or leagues dedicated to a single game. Instead, players of every title travel to a central location. Each game’s bracket is run separately, but are open to all players.
While this ease of access encourages some players to cross party lines, most remain loyal to their favorite game. Some players like Justin Wong have been able to succeed at the highest level of multiple games, but they are the exception, not the rule. It’s especially rare to see players cross into different subgenres. You’ll almost never see a Tekken player in the Smash bracket, or a Guilty Gear player in the top 8 for Street Fighter.
This is why many in the community see Dragon Ball FighterZ as a potential unifying force. “I feel like there are a lot of Dragon Ball fans out there among all the gaming communities,” explained Forever King. “So it's possible hundreds or maybe even thousands of players will unite under one roof that is DBZF.” King’s statements were confirmed by both Speedkicks and Alex Myers, who assured that players in their respective scenes would certainly commit time to the game. Cloud805 added, “several scenes are going to be intertwining due to this one game so the potential rivalries and insane tournaments are going to be amazing.”
Across the fighting game community, expectations are high for the success of FighterZ. Kizzie Kay predicted that “this will be the biggest fighting game of the year…” The sales figures certainly backup his thoughts, with the game already surpassing two million copies sold. More than even the sales figures, however, FGC pros are focused on how the game will perform at tournaments. Mr. R expects the game to bring in huge entrant numbers at tournaments, just behind Smash and Street Fighter. Speedkicks echoed this sentiment, saying “I would be surprised if it wasn’t top three in numbers this year.”
So far, the data appears to backup these lofty expectations. On January 16th, Combo Breaker, one of the most prestigious fighting game tournaments of the year, announced that FighterZ had more players pre-registered than any other game. While the metrics are encouraging, Sajam cautioned the FGC to temper their expectations. “My worry was that people would expect this game to push fighting games to another level that they aren’t ready to reach. While DBFZ is pretty likely to be one of the best selling modern fighting games, it won’t suddenly change the genre as a whole.”
Building a Following
To Sajam’s point, tournament entrants aren’t the only measure for success in esports. For the game to contend with the big names in the industry, it will also need a massive following on Twitch and social media, as well as a large online playerbase. This may, in fact, be where DBFZ has the potential to surpass all other fighting games. Most esports fans will be aware of Dragon Ball to some degree. The characters on screen will be instantly recognizable and draw an emotional response from the viewer. If Piccolo is your favorite character, you’ll immediately want to cheer for the player using him on their team. That emotional connection will become even more intense when you see Piccolo unleash his Hell Grenade attack, ripped straight out of one of his biggest moments in the anime. “To me,” said Sajam, “the characters are so iconic, and it brings in an audience that might not traditionally watch most fighting games.”
It’s difficult for casual viewers to follow the flow of a match in a fighting game. They have no reference point for which moves are most impactful. Because FighterZ has followed the show so faithfully, fans will be able to instantly recognize the pivotal moments in a match. Not only that, but fans of the series will also have a deep knowledge of the lore behind the characters. When Teen Gohan and Cell are fighting on screen, viewers will be able to recall the epic bout between the characters during the Cell saga, which will provide extra flavor to the match.
Of course, having such knowledgeable fans could present a unique challenge for commentators. In most fighting games, the lore is superfluous. It’s there for the hardcore fans of the series, but most players couldn’t tell you exactly how Vega fits into the overall Street Fighter storyline. “Personally, I know almost nothing about the story about any of the fighting games I commentate,” Sajam explained. “I know about each of the characters, but I’m not digging through wikis or anything. He went on to acknowledge that this strategy may not work as well with FighterZ. “That being said DBZ is such an iconic franchise and the pull from scenes outside of the traditional FGC fans makes it so that knowledge of at least the interactions between the main cast is probably pretty important.”
Fortunately for Sajam, his partner, Tasty Steve, is exactly the sort of commentator to dive deep into the lore of a game. “I think the viewers expect commentary to have a firm grasp of the lore up to a point,” Steve explained. “Some of the most fun and exciting parts of DBFighterz is explaining a new game with fast-paced mixup options with your favorite characters and how pretty it is for fanboys.” He added that because the game is so faithful to the anime in every move, voice line, and cinematic finisher, working the show’s history into his commentary will only enhance the viewer experience. Aside from the flavor, Steve echoed Cloud805’s opinion that the game’s appeal to so many different players will open the FGC to new rivalries and unique storylines. “With all the top players in respective games who doesn’t want to see their favorite players clash?”
This year, those epic rivalries and new storylines will play out on the FGC’s grandest stage. In their reveal show on Tuesday, February 6th, the Evolution World Championship (Evo) announced that not only was DBFZ one of the eight featured games this year, but that it would receive a coveted slot in the Sunday finals. It seems the biggest fighting game tournament of the year sees the potential of this new title. Between the mass appeal of the brand, the attentive recreation of iconic moments, and the casual-friendly mechanics, the stage is set for Dragon Ball FighterZ to revolutionize the FGC. Can the game live up to expectations, or will it be yet another niche title once the hype wears off? Find out on the next episode of Dragon Ball FighterZ!