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Leaping over the learning curve — why King of Fighters 14 isn't booming like it could be in the US

What changes need to happen to get more Americans to feel the burn to fight?

Posted by Ginni 'extopdoll' Lou, EventHubs special • November 8, 2017 at 2:30 p.m. PST • Comments: 189

Triple-A fighting games such as Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom have massive followings within the fighting game community. Almost everyone has picked up an NRS title at some point, be it Mortal Kombat or Injustice 2, and even anime games like Blazblue and Guilty Gear, while part of a niche player base, have their respective audiences.

However, there are some fighting games that rarely make an appearance in both tournaments and on social media, which leaves them largely swept under the rug.

The King of Fighters exists as one of these games. Its newest release, KOF14, sold only 20,655 units in Japan during launch week of August, 2016—lower than its previous title, KOF13.

While SNK has shown support for its competitive scene by creating a KOF World Tournament and updating its social media with tournament information, the community remains relatively sparse. Why is this?

Jeffery Hill, retro fighting game expert, and Andres Velasco Coll, KOF veteran and previous resident of Mexico, filled me in on the origins of this disparity. “KOF was very big in other territories due to NEO GEO Cabs being cheaper to have overall,” Jeffrey stated.

“MVS was supported until 2008, if I remember correctly. If you bought a cab in the early 90’s, you didn't have to buy another cab, and you could load multiple games. It was cheaper and more abundant, versus having to upgrade and re-buy CPS1, CPS2, CPS3, NAOMI, and Taito cabinets.”

“The MVS was a cheaper alternative for arcades, so while the US could afford expensive stuff and could see returns on it, it was more viable for people outside of the US in arcades or small convenience stores to have one machine they could easily update the game on, hence the success of the MVS and why games like The King of Fighters were everywhere,” Coll imparted.

The fact that Latin America and China are the strongest regions for KOF because Neo Geo cabinets were cheaper and easier to pirate partially explains why the game doesn’t have a large community in the United States, and history isn’t the only glaring factor as to KOF’s relative radio silence.

The current fighting game community lists several issues with the title itself, starting with the game’s graphics. As the franchise’s second title using 3-D models, it makes sense that the game might look a little rough.

“People compare KOF14 to a PS2 game, which turns a lot of people away.” The problem was so prevalent that SNK released an update rectifying these concerns in patch 1.10 of January 2017. While some praise the improvement, others say it is still not enough.

However, fighting games aren’t all about looks. Mechanics play the largest part in defining the genre, as seen in Street Fighter’s introduction of the parry in Street Fighter III: Third Strike. This tool turned the franchise on its head, and is a large part of what makes it so successful.

Each Capcom fighting game utilizes a different technique to attract players. In trying something new, the company was able to find achievement. The King of Fighters has largely stuck with its 3v3 format, leading to boredom for some. This layout likewise leads to another issue the series suffers from: difficulty.

“I feel like needing to learn three characters from the jump is very intimidating,” NRS connoisseur and FGC hotdog (he literally wears a big hot dog suit at virtually every tournament he attends) Jon Nitti responded. “In most games, you only need to focus on one.” This sentiment was widely echoed throughout responses to my posts, and for good reason.

In 1v1 titles such as Street Fighter, players can pour hours, months, or even years into spending time getting to know a single character. There are numerous situations that competitors must practice dealing with using one character alone. When they are ready, they move on to the next. In KOF, this need is multiplied threefold, understandably leading to intimidation and frustration.

Forcing players to learn three characters from the jump isn’t the series’ only intimidating aspect. While most fighting games turn casual audiences away due to a heavy learning curve, KOF pushes even competitive fighting gamers to the side with a learning cliff.

“Ever try jumping in KOF?” Chau Nguyen, owner of esports website PAR, commented. “Just jumping, not combos or meta. You have to practice precise jumps to even be slightly competitive.”

This statement is true. The King of Fighters games take a basic movement, such as jumping, and give it a depth that must be mastered for players to stand on equal ground in the competitive scene. For instance, KOF games have four different kinds of jump—a regular jump, a super jump, a short hop, and a hyper hop.

Each of these jumps has their use in battle, and, unlike simply moving the stick upwards and in the desired direction (with the exception of the normal jump) seen in other fighting games, require additional inputs to complete.

Inputs for special moves can similarly daunt players used to execution in other titles, such as the classic quarter-circle-forward motion used for throwing fireballs. For instance, Geese Howard’s Gedan Atemi (just one of a plethora of his unique attacks) requires the user to perform a quarter circle back motion, then quarter circle forward, before pressing light kick.

The game’s netcode is also to blame. With so many within the fan base living in Latin America and China, it can be difficult for those in the United States to find a stable connection with which to play—and good luck finding anyone in your local area willing to put in the time and effort to compete with you.

There also doesn’t seem to be much in the way of funds provided for tournaments, which would explain why so many competitive fighting gamers are turning toward companies with larger esports followings.

While many issues exist to push players away from the franchise, the King of Fighters has plenty of redeeming qualities that deem it worthy for a greater competitive scene. The execution barrier, while strict, has proven to improve players’ execution in other games.

The wide range of characters means that there is likely someone for everyone—from Terry Bogard’s quick, flashy fighting style to Daimon’s slower, collected method. The 3v3 format can lead to some fun, memorable gaming experiences, and for those willing to put in the time, it can be incredibly rewarding.

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