Hello! My name is David Graham, also known as UltraDavid. I'm a fighting game commentator who spent a dozen years competing. I'm also an attorney specializing in the transactional side of esports, video game development, online media, and intellectual property. I'll be writing a twice-monthly editorial piece for Red Bull Esports on issues in fighting games, esports, and the law. Consider this the first one!
Before we move forward, I'd like to look back. 2015 was a momentous year for the fighting game community, full of strong games, great players, hype moments, bad news, and heartwarming stories. But which game was the strongest? Which moments were most memorable? Who was the best overall player? What were the worst and best stories? Let's take a quick jaunt through some FGC awards and I'll give you my picks.
Strongest Game of the Year
We'll start with the strongest game of 2015. I'm not interested in the inevitable flames of a “best” game category, so instead, let's talk about which games had the strongest tournament showings.
3. Mortal Kombat X: MKX overtook everything else in entrants, stream views, and main event slots almost immediately after its release... for a while.
2. Super Smash Bros Melee: One of the oldest fighting games still in major tournaments is still one of the strongest. Its tournament entries, stream views, and player dedication are nearly unmatched.
1. Ultra Street Fighter 4: With Street Fighter V coming soon, this year was probably SF4's last hurrah. But with 2,200 players at Evo, the headlining position at most events, the strongest international competition, and the biggest ever FGC prize pot, it was a good one!
Moment of the Year
Picking a best moment is usually a tricky endeavor in a scene with so many games and events to choose from, but 2015 had some easy picks.
3. The Malfunction: Momochi's stick malfunction during the last game of Evo USF4 grand finals was a cattle prod to the heart of everyone watching. For Gamerbee, coming off an arduous journey through losers bracket, it was fatal.
2. 13-0: Perfect Legend set an unbeatable record by managing to lose an intended first-to-ten set by 13 to Sonic Fox. PL is my boy, but the cringe and hilarity of that set is timeless.
1. Woshige, No: Woshige's premature celebration and Ogawa's ruthless destruction of his opponent before Woshige sat back down was for me the craziest and memorable moment of 2015.
Player of the Year
The players who impress me most tend to be multi-game performers... but I think I can make an exception in 2015.
3. Sonic Fox: At 17, Fox already has the widest web of domination in fighting games. He won the biggest MKX tournaments of the year in Evo and ESL and got at least 4th in every MKX major he entered. He also won every Injustice tournament, got to grand finals in all his Skullgirls tournaments, and did well in Under Night In-Birth and Dead or Alive.
2. Kazunoko: With wins at Capcom Cup and CEO, nine top 4s, one top 8, and placings just outside top 8 at Evo and Canada Cup, Kazunoko was arguably the strongest USF4 player. But he also had success in Guilty Gear Xrd, with many tournament wins outside Japan and a team victory at Arc Revo.
1. Zero: Duh! Zero won 55 tournaments in a row, then got 2nd place, and then finished out 2015 with six more wins. That volume is impressive, but what seals it is that he's doing it in Super Smash Bros Wii U with regular thousand-player tournaments. To me, his was the most dominant individual year in fighting game history.
Worst of the Year
Ok, let's turn away from the good stuff and talk about what sucked. After all, one of the best ways to help the scene progress is to recognize what failed! So, what was the worst of 2015?
3. Missed potential: MKX started strong, dominating North American entrants and viewership and getting nearly 1200 players at Evo. As a big fan of Netherrealm Studios games, I'd hoped MKX could stay big and bring new players into the tournament scene. But its terrible PC release, canceled 360 and PS3 ports, poor online play, and frustratingly frequent early balance changes drained its entries down to nearly pre-release NRS scene levels. The netcode is finally being fixed, but even as MK giveth, it taketh away by abandoning support for the PC version. NRS, please!
2. Bad business: While the FGC has made strides into legitimate business, some BS still remains. There was the sad situation of Epic Gaming Lounge, which held an event promising $40,000 in payouts before failing so completely that players never got paid and EGL itself had to close its doors. There was also the saga of Zeveron, an esports team that briefly signed Kazunoko before internal ownership issues caused the team to go belly up. But let's take solace knowing that in years past this list would have been much longer!
1. Xboned: Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to announce the death of the Xbox One as a major fighting game console. Its only life support was the Microsoft-published Killer Instinct, and that game's exclusivity to Xbox One was a major cause for its smaller tournament player base. But with KI coming to PC soon, a fighting game fan will be able to play all the biggest games of this generation without having an Xbone at all.
Best of the Year
But enough about the bad stuff. Let's go through my favorite stories from 2015!
3. Apex 2015: After its literally crumbling venue was shut down by fire marshalls, the entire scene came together to find a new venue, plan a new event, provide rides to the new hotel, and somehow run smoothly despite record-setting entrant numbers, all in less than 24 hours. And in the end, the matches were sick too! This was a fantastic testament to the strength and unity of the Smash scenes and the FGC as a whole.
2. Small but strong communities: I want to highlight the success of some underrepresented FGC scenes. We saw top level USF4 play from Brazil, Evo titles for Chile in Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 and Super Smash Bros Wii U, and the UK comprising half of Evo MKX winners semis. We saw the growing talent in North American anime/airdashers and Japanese Killer Instinct. And we saw more success for independent games like Skullgirls and Rising Thunder. Great work everyone!
1. We esports now: Multiple players won six digits worth of prizes. We were on ESPN. Pro wrestling stars talked about us. We had a stage at Capcom Cup with projection screens doubling as invisible stage doors. To me, the very fact that I'm writing this article for Red Bull drives the point home: the FGC went esports. But we didn't do it by selling out to outside groups. Instead, the tournaments, the games, the media, the streams, the commentary, and the contracts are nearly all made by FGC members ourselves. That's the kind of esports I can get behind.
Check back every other Monday for Ultradavid's take on esports, gaming culture, and the FGC. For more esports features, follow @redbullESPORTS on Twitter.