TVGB is always ready to cover gaming events in Chicago, big or small. And this past Saturday, Chicago happened to be the location of the first qualifier round for Red Bull Conquest, a major fighting game tournament series. The organizers invited us to take part in this first of 16 qualifying tournaments, so prepare for pictures and way too many details.
First, the actual competition. I got a chance to speak with tournament organizer Jimmy Nguyen, who broke down the basics of Conquest for me. Basically, there will be 16 regional competitions, starting with this one in Chicago. Anyone can attend and sign up to participate, with players moving through the tournament via double elimination rules. Competitors can choose their game between Street Fighter V Arcade Edition, Tekken 7, and the bizarrely named Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2. Nguyen explained that these games were chosen because they represent franchises that revolutionized the three main fighting game genres: 2D, 3D, and “anime.” The winners for each game get $500 and will make up a team that will then go on to represent their region at the final tournament in Washington DC. The winners there will each get $1500 and a trip to EVO Japan, so the stakes are high. Conquest is actually, to use Nguyen’s terminology, an evolution of Red Bull’s tournaments over the last couple of years. Previously, they focused on only a few regions, and the only game was Street Fighter. The expanded competition was meant to give opportunities to players in regions that didn’t have big competitive gaming scenes or were often skipped over by events like these, as well as players who prefer the other types of fighting games.
As a purely casual fighting game player, I did wonder what drove people to compete like this. I asked both Nguyen and a couple of the competitors about this, and their answers were very similar. The one on one nature of fighting games seems to be the biggest draw for Conquest’s competitors. They cited the quick play, learning opportunities, and complexity of gameplay as their other reasons for choosing fighting games. There’s no question these people are serious; many (or maybe even most) brought their own arcade sticks and everything. I spoke to one Guilty Gear competitor in particular, who goes by Chikin, who told me he was heading out to another tournament in the same weekend. For him, one of the big reasons he preferred fighting games was that when he played team-based competitive games, he was annoyed when his team would lose due to the actions of another player. All of the reasons I heard made sense to me, but even so, I can’t imagine myself competing in one such tournament, let alone multiple in one weekend. These competitors were a dedicated bunch, many belonging to larger groups that would compete together. Me, I would rather game in the comfort of my home.
Fortunately, there’s more than one way to enjoy a competition; there were plenty of spectators there as well. You might not expect this, but the crowd was loud and excited for every major match. When I asked people why they came to watch, they explained that there was excitement in the emotions of the players, and their down-to-the-second command of these games was impressive. I’d have a hard time disagreeing with that; even I found myself entranced by the quick execution and smooth moves on display. It made me want to pick these games back up, even though I could never come close to reaching the same heights as the finalists. And by the time the final rounds began, I was clapping for impressive performances and rooting for my favorites too.
Now, all of that is pretty general and will pretty much apply universally, but I also want to talk about the location and layout of this particular regional event, as well as other details about the tournament setup. The competition took place at a venue called Ignite Gaming Lounge, which is pretty much what it sounds like. I’d been meaning to check the place out for a while, so this gave me a great opportunity. Basically, they have a lot of desks, a lot of monitors, and a whole lot of games; but on Saturday, everything was organized and decked out for Conquest. At the front were three stages, one for each game, where the final matches and more prominent early matches would take place. Big screens above the stages and throughout the lounge showed the gameplay from these battles. Most of the desks and screens were dedicated for tournament play, with officials bearing tablets telling competitors where to go, but there were a few rows of screens open for casual play of the three tournament games as well. Near the entrance was a table where one could purchase Red Bull Conquest merchandise, which included some apparel featuring Street Fighter characters; the Ryu shirt in particular was pretty cool. Ignite also has a snack bar, and right next to it, Red Bull set up their own miniature bar complete with fighting game-themed (non-alcoholic) Red Bull cocktails. Naturally, I had to try out the “Beast From Brazil” (named after my favorite video game character, as you may recall from C2E2), and it was actually pretty good, even though I usually don’t care for energy drinks.
I have to be honest, I wasn’t sure how much I would get out of this event as a spectator. But it was actually a lot of fun, and it was cool to see people so passionate about gaming. The environment was as electric as the aforementioned Beast from Brazil, and everyone I talked to was very friendly. Granted, if you aren’t a fighting game fan or a fan of watching others compete, there may not be too much to draw you in. But if you do like the games on display, or if you want a chance to show the gaming world what you’re made of, you should consider making your way to the next qualifying event. And rest assured, you don’t have to live in a region to compete there. For a list of all of the qualifiers, check out Red Bull’s website. And if you make it to the finals in DC, tell them TVGB sent you.