This year’s Evolution fighting game tournament was full of exciting moments, but one has got people talking more than most – and it’s all about a slightly controversial coin flip.
Picture the scene: in the grand finals of tag-team battler Dragon Ball FighterZ, Japanese player Goichi “Go1” Kishida and American Dominique “SonicFox” McLean are having a high-octane encounter.
Goichi had found himself in losers bracket, meaning in order to triumph over the as-yet undefeated SonicFox he’d need to defeat the legendary Mortal Kombat and Injustice player twice. SonicFox dominated in those games for a lengthy time, but he’s recently shifted to focus on being one of the top Dragon Ball FighterZ players in the world. Going into grand finals, I fully expected Goichi would put up a valiant fight but ultimately go down to SonicFox.
Things didn’t go that way. Goichi came out swinging, eager, and slapped SonicFox down to losers with a 3-0 victory in straight games. This is crucial: it now means both players are in losers bracket, so Goichi only needed to repeat his first set of matches to become the new Dragon Ball Fighterz world champion. You can see the sets in the embedded video below.
This is where the coin flip comes into play. After his sudden, decisive defeat, SonicFox appears a little rattled. In fighting games there’s a rule where if you don’t like the side you’re playing on you can ask your opponent to switch and, if they refuse, force a coin flip for the decider – and so that’s what SonicFox did.
It’s not clear what SonicFox’s intentions were. It could be that he was genuinely unhappy with the Player 2 side, but he was happy to play the first set there. “Player 1 side just puts my mind at ease because I can execute better at round start,” SonicFox explained on twitter – but many fans don’t quite buy that explanation, especially given in a fighter as frantic and fast-paced as Dragon Ball FighterZ players swap sides on-screen every couple of seconds. Starting position couldn’t feel less relevant.
Whatever SonicFox’s intent, his call for a side switch and then a coin flip when Goichi declined the initial swap caused a large delay in play. Goichi was on a roll after those rapidly played straight sets and victories, but that momentum was interrupted nicely by the five-minute delay while the rules were debated and the coin flip actioned.
This is one of those fascinating moments in esports when the rules and regulations outside the game can be used to influence and impact the results.
Picking sides has more impact in some fighters than others, so it’s ultimately a pretty traditional rule. If players can’t agree who gets what side initially, you flip a coin. In fighter esports the losing player always has the opportunity to mix things up after a loss – they can change character, or load-out – or, in this instance, request a side change.
— SunhiLegend (@SunhiLegend) August 6, 2018
SonicFox says it’s really, truly all about the side, but it reads pretty easily as a tactic given how little sides actually matter in DBFZ. By calling for the swap and then coin flip, SonicFox bargained himself over five minutes to reset his mental state. Goichi had the same break, of course – but whereas SonicFox was evaluating his defeat and ways to remedy it, Goichi instead had time for his hot streak to cool off and momentum to ebb away.
It’s a real and viable tactic no different from using time outs to try to run down the clock or arrest momentum in certain sports, though it’s one that attracts criticism from those who consider those sort of mind games underhanded. For the rest of Evo the stream chat treated it as a meme: as Street Fighter finalists Tokido and ProblemX saw a thrilling bracket reset, the chat sarcastically called for ProblemX to request a side switch.
For my money, these sort of tactics are A-OK – I’d argue an enormous amount of competitive fighting game play is played in the head of your opponent, and pop-offs and mind games are a huge part of that. I personally have friendly rivals I can more successfully beat when I can get in their head and interrupt their flow outside the game. None of this stuff is against the rules, after all.
Whatever the intent behind the switch, it worked: after the delay, SonicFox goes on to completely turn the tables. It honestly looks like a different match with different players, and by the time SonicFox is about to be crowned champion Goichi, who had previously been feeling himself, looks dejected.
SonicFox was ecstatic, of course. He bounded about on stage after his win, and quickly took to twitter to boast.
“I’m gay,” he tweeted. “Also the best DBFZ player on this fucking planet don’t forget it.” SonicFox will carry on celebrating, but today elements of the fighting game community are surely debating the traditional side switch rules.