“WOW! Did you see that uppercut?” the commentator shrieks as the fighter, scarred and hulking, evades his opponent’s torpedo-like legs and drills his fist — his entire body, really — into the challenger’s head. It’s a knockout blow. “That was…that was…” The commentator can’t even find the words to finish his sentence. The victory is an upset.
This isn’t the year’s best boxing match or an explosive mixed–martial arts bout, though — this is the Super Street Fighter II Turbo Asian semi-final qualifying round for Capcom’s Street Fighter 25th anniversary tournament. A video game.
The world’s most beloved fighting game turned 25 this year, and part of Capcom’s blowout birthday bash was a series of tournaments held all around the world. Capcom recently dumped videos of several of the grand finals’ matches onto YouTube, and they are sublime, even if — well, especially if — you didn’t spend a significant chunk of puberty hiding from girls in a dark, musty arcade, hunched over a worn cabinet, the glow of the CRT monitors softly reflecting off the row of tokens perched just above the joystick, staking your claim to take on the reigning champion. (Not that I did that. Nope. Noooooope.)
A pair of commentators cover each match, emoting exactly as if they were watching two real human beings destroy each other’s bodies, flesh and bone working like machinery to pound another person into a limp sack of meat. Yips of “wow!” punctuate perfectly technical-sounding bits of sports commentary — “[he] punishes a hurricane with a standing fierce” — to the point that if you were listening to an audio-only feed, you might be convinced you’re simply hearing a thrilling kickboxing match, albeit with oddly named opponents like WW MCZ Laugh and Poongko. At least until a commentator offers an insight like, “I think the question is whether there’s going to be an ultra cancel after the roundhouse,” and the camera cuts to a pair of sallow, skinny nerds, slouching in between bouts of frantically wagging very phallic knobs as they machine-gun tap on a set of six concave buttons the size of half-dollars.
These matches parallel real sports broadcasts in a way that borders on surreal, especially when you consider that some gamers very much want their coordinated button-bashing to be seen on the same level as the athletic events these tournaments are aping. Below are the Grand Finals matches for a handful of Street Fighter titles featured in Capcom’s Street Fighter 25th anniversary tournament — and watching them is well worth your time.