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Brighton fights on: keeping it in the community

A group of fighting game fans in Brighton have started fortnightly events, creating a local community for those nearby. Such small scenes exist across the country: they are more important than many realise.

"I'd urge anyone to check out what's going on in their area and join in, because while the arcades may have died off, the spirit of that arcade experience is very much alive up and down the country.”

Fighting games used to be personal. Hordes of challengers, crowding around arcade cabinets as they eagerly awaited their chance for glory. Cheers, jeers and smack talk being thrown around as the competitors tried to prove themselves. Those lucky enough to have lived through the arcade glory days will always remember them fondly.

Street Fighter IV did a great job of revitalising the listing fighting genre, but the resurrection came at a price. The arcade culture of old is long gone. Competition is now global, with players battling online whenever they choose. Online play is a great thing – you will never be short of people to challenge, whatever the time and wherever you are. But the atmosphere, the camaraderie and the fun of the arcade can't be replicated over an Ethernet cable.

The thing is, fighting games never really went away. As the arcades slowly died, various “scenes” sprang up to keep the genre alive. Groups of fans used the then-new internet to arrange meetings and tournaments, creating their own DIY sessions.

Several large scenes still exist around the country, but, for many years, Brighton has had little local competition to speak of. With an aim of revitalising a once great local arcade culture, two men started up a small, regular fighting game night at the beginning of last year.

They are arcade

Robby Gee and Samuel Scaife are The Fight Lab, the organisation behind the I Am Arcade events in Brighton. Every other Wednesday, fighting miscreants gather at a local bar and battle it out on the games of choice.

“We’d been going to tournaments for a few years and always thought that there was a lot of potential which was not being realised,” says Sam. “When Robby had finished uni he suggested that we try and make something happen.”

“The initial turn out sucked,” remembers Robby. “It was a very slow start as it was winter and Sticky Mike's (the venue) was damn cold. Often it was just Sam, me and a couple of our friends and the one or two regulars we had back then.”

Over the year, word of mouth and online canvassing have led to larger turnouts and numerous regulars. “We've had some people who've been turning up every week since the start. We can't say just how valued those people are by us,” says Robby.

For fighting game purists, online play will always be strictly second-best, with even the slightest lag making frame-perfect combos impossible to perform. When asked on the advantages to playing in person the two have plenty of reasons, but for Robby it always comes down to competition.

“The hype element of fighting games comes from showing off the things you practise in your room for hours in front of a crowd, clutching out the win and overcoming tough opponents in person. I value sitting next to the person you're playing and don't enjoy the online experience with fighting games because of things that offset skill, such as lag or dropped frames.”

Local fighting game scenes are fantastic for players, but also invaluable for publishers of smaller, niche fighting games. Geraint Evans is the director of Zen United, the UK publisher of Guilty Gear, Blazblue and Arcana Heart. He knows how important the Fighting Game Community (FGC) is when it comes to the success of his games.

“It's absolutely vital - I really can't overstate the important role that the FGC plays in making our games successful. When you look at the bigger fighting brands out there, they already have a name to trade on, they have a long history, it's difficult for the more niche fighters to compete. But if the FGC can get behind a title, it can make a big difference. To see a group of dedicated players get behind you, and help spread the word - it really does help.”

Yen Hau is the product marketing manager for Rising Star Games, publishers of numerous Japanese imports including The King of Fighters XIII.

“Small gatherings are just as important as the big fighting communities, maybe even more so. This type of grassroots social communication is essential to keep the game alive well beyond the release date and I believe that the smaller scenes help grow the overall experience. Not everyone can get to the big gatherings, but anyone and everyone can help set up a small tournament in local areas.”

Looking to the future, Geraint is enthusiastic. “I'd love to see more and more people taking time out to come to FGC events. People always say, 'Oh, it's a shame the arcade scene has died off.' But in many respects it hasn't really gone. You have all these groups getting their set ups into a venue for weekends and having tournaments and casuals. They're great social events - and you can't beat the thrill of playing against someone in person, offline, and learning from that experience. I'd urge anyone to check out what's going on in their area and join in, because while the arcades may have died off, the spirit of that arcade experience is very much alive up and down the country.”

Thanks to the steady growth of I am Arcade, Robby and Sam collaborated with artist David Blandy to host Fated Dual, a large tournament event with every game played on re-purposed arcade cabinets. The event saw competitors come from across the country to fight it out for prizes supplied by Capcom, Zen United and others. A huge success, Fated Dual was a testament to how far the two have come in a short time. But they still have great plans for the future.

“The Fight Lab has big ambitions. Both myself and Sam struggle to temper our aspirations and therefore we have some very grand aims. Maybe we're a little deluded? I can't tell you exactly what it is, but there should be some very interesting things to look forward to over the next year or two.”

I am Arcade takes place on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month at 8pm at Sticky Mike's Frog Bar in Brighton.

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