What Happened to Character Loyalty?

What Happened to Character Loyalty?
Date Published: 5 October, 2018

The term “Main Character” refers to a fighting game character associated most often with a specific fighting game player. The main character is also thought of as the player’s best character, at least on paper.

Throughout the short, but rich history of the FGC, certain players have become almost synonymous with certain fighting game characters and be it tournament or casual setting, that tradition affected a major part of the FGC, which almost set a precedent for how matches were played. However, like anything that sees tenure, change is inevitable, and FGC traditions are not immune from it.

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Knee (right) preparing to play Saint (left) at EVO 2017.

Considering fighting games are predominately played in a one on one format, factors such as respect, competitive edge, and of course pride, play a huge deal in how matches play out regardless of personal skill or history.

Traditionally, when a player played a character he is known for, his opponent knows that on paper, he is getting the best version of that player. Which consequently sets the tone for the set as a serious one, as well as a showing of  respect for the opposing player.

However, on the other hand, when a player decided to test the waters first by selecting a character he is either less experienced with, or not associated with, it could mean multiple different things. Though, three reasons stand out the most.

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Gootecks and Mike Ross receiving an online message from a player claiming they are sandbagging the match during an episode of Excellent Adventures.

The first possible reason for a player not wanting to play his main character is one that historically has surfaced in the FGC, and still does. It is a simple test to gauge how skilled is the opponent in front of you?

Although it is often seen as disrespect, veterans in the FGC on occasion will pick their secondary or tertiary character often referred to as a sub character to get a measure of how good their opponent is, whether they are a newcomer or simply a lesser known player.

The second reason, and perhaps the most common one for a player to switch away from his main character is the attempt to exploit a match-up, or what is simply put as counter-picking. It is not applicable in every game, however there are fighting games that have characters who on paper hold an advantage over another.

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SonicFox (right) taking off his signature hat after falling behind in the set vs TekkenMaster (left) at EVO 2016.

Therefore, players who may be less familiar or comfortable with their counter-pick character, but understand how to exploit a specific match-up, will rely on the on paper advantage over the more comfortable pick of a main character, and although it is seen sometimes as the “easy way out”, it is a strategy nonetheless.

Lastly and the most interesting reason for players going away from their traditional main character has to do with what can best be described as lost confidence. It is not easily broken down into specifics, however, a player losing confidence in his character may derive from lackluster play, poor results, or even unfavorable balance changes to the character.

It has been exemplified by many players in the past, however one of the more notorious ones was Daigo Umehara’s character carousel across the multiple versions of SFIV as he experimented with multiple characters before landing on Evil Ryu to end his SFIV career.

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Daigo Umehara (right) vs Fudoh Fujimura (left) at VSFighting 2018.

A similar pattern followed Daigo in Street Fighter V as his Ryu simply proved to not be as efficient of a pick compared to past iterations of the character in previous Street Fighters, eventually landing on Guile upon his release, with much more consistent results.

The Tekken scene has also experienced this with the release of Tekken 7 as top players such as JDCR and Knee who customarily picked the same one character in previous versions of Tekken. JDCR, an Armor King player in the more traditional 1v1 Tekken games, was left without his legacy character upon release, as Armor King was not included in Tekken 7’s roster.

However, as opposed to playing a familiar face he had played with in the Tekken Tag games in Heihachi Mishima, JDCR elected to play Sergei Dragunov instead, citing that it is simply easier with regards to execution in a tournament setting, especially considering Tekken 7’s severe input delay during the initial launch of the game.

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Knee (second from right) explaining to Ryan Hart (right) the issue with Tekken 7’s input lag issue in 2017.

Knee, in a similar fashion also cited Tekken 7’s input delay, however his journey was much more arduous during the first competitive year of the game as he simply could not find his footing with his traditional main character in Bryan Fury, nor did he have any sort of consistency with regards to picking another character.

It is safe to say that perhaps in the early years of the FGC, switching to another character after making a name for oneself with another, wasn’t seen in the greatest of light, especially after experiencing adversity or struggling, however as times change so do the circumstances.

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Infiltration (left) hugging Gamerbee (right) moments after Gamerbee fell to Momochi in the Grand Finals of USFIV at EVO 2015.

The FGC has been exposed to Esports, and with that come higher stakes and simply more on the line, and although grassroots values like counter-picking which was deemed distasteful and staying loyal to the character that brought you to the dance was highly respected, those values were forced to see a change with the new age of fighting games.

As fighting game fans who support players from all over the world, we always enjoy and celebrate their success and large victories no matter which character it is done with, however, the fundamental values still very much lie within the FGC, and whether a fan or not, there is a special somewhat honorable feeling when seeing a player sticking true to the one character they call their main character.


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