I attended the Southern California Regionals this past weekend in Onatrio, CA, which is only a short drive from me. Since the release of Mortal Kombat X in April, I’ve been using it to learn steadily more about fighting games and their community, which I only had an at-a-glance knowledge of based on watching annual EVO streams. Having played MKX almost every day though, I’ve slowly started to learn about things like 50/50 mixups, meter awareness, and what an overhead is. I’ve also started watching more and more streams, following players like YOMI DJT, STB Shujikidink, and cR Honeybee.
SoCal Regionals was my first fighting game majors, and when I walked into the Ontario Convention Center, instead of the University of California, Irvine, like previous years, it surprised me how small it was. I’m used to attending events like E3, PAX, and Comic-Con, where attendance can hit in the hundreds of thousands, but I’d estimate SoCal Regionals housed about 1,000 people. I was actually confused for the first 10 minutes or so. I walked in and sat down, and seeing all the promotional banners for the Capcom Pro Tour, and figured I was in the wrong ballroom for Mortal Kombat X. But nope, SoCal Regionals was entirely one ballroom.
Once the tournament and streams started taking place, the size didn’t matter so much, and many of my ideas about the fighting game community and its players became obsolete. The set up for the main stage was three screens: Smash Bros. on the left, Mortal Kombat X in the center big screen, and Street Fighter on the right screen. Street Fighter players and its audience were definitely the ones making the most noise, and at one point, they had what I can only guess was a hype-man literally running up and down the aisles getting the crowd into matches more as they went on. The Mortal Kombat section would get cheers and applause when big plays happened, but most watched the back-and-forth footies, trying to poke each other for an opening to convert into a big combo.
Among all this, one of the things that stood out to me was a sense of male physical intimacy I don’t think I’ve seen at any other kind of event. Players and fans alike slapped hands, giving each other dap, hugging each other, and hanging on each other like they were old high school friends. Sure, some of these players have been competing for a while, and it makes sense that once you start competing regularly, you’re likely to see the same people over and over at each event. But these players seemed more than just friends, they seemed like family. This couldn’t be more true when after Rx DAB clenched his top 8 spot, YOMI Slayer jumped up on stage into his arms like they were brothers, despite being on different teams and competition for each other. For a community focused around aggressive fighting, direct head-to-head competition, and the salt that gets thrown around, there is a lot of love in the fighting game community.
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Speaking of the YOMI boys, I got a fresh new perspective on them after seeing Slayer, Michelangelo, Hitbox Tyrant, and ForeverKing in person. Having watched the YOMI Gaming stream, it’s clear to see why they’re the easy target to hate on. They’re loud, boisterous, arrogant, and cocky. YOMI Gaming has one of the few, what can be described as a gaming house, in the Mortal Kombat X scene, and they almost always have at least one teammate in the top 8 of a majors tournament. But the people I saw in person at SoCal Regionals weren’t loud, arrogant, or elitist. They were humble, friendly, and approachable. They congratulated players whose it was their first time competing in a majors. They hung out in the audience with fans. It really changed my opinion of them as a whole and made YOMI Slayer my pick to win SoCal Regionals, though he lost deservedly to A Foxy Grampa.
I came away from SoCal Regionals not only with a better appreciation of Mortal Kombat X and the fighting game community as a whole, but also an appreciation for the players who are able to overcome their nerves and win, and those who don’t let their personas better the better of them when interacting with fellow players and fans. I’d absolutely love to attend more events, though unless it’s local, I can’t see myself attending an event unless I’m competing, which I doubt I’ll be good enough to do one day.