RETRO.HK and RETROCUP to show Hong Kong’s e-sports & music festival how it’s done
A look at the event which began as a local game lovers meet-up and returns for a third year just a week after the Hong Kong Tourism Board’s HK$35 million event
E-sports can trace its roots back to the arcade culture of the 1970s and 1980s and the fighting game community that was born there.
And this week’s RETRO.HK and the RETROCUP at Hong Kong Polytechnic University celebrates that as Hong Kong’s first and only retro gaming expo and competitive retro gaming tournament enters its third year.
Amateur tournaments at the volunteer organised event focus on retro fighting games such as Street Fighter II and King of Fighters ’98, which are the arcade games that gave rise to the e-sports phenomenon that’s conquering the world.
Competitive gaming had already been around for years in many different forms, with Pac-Man and Donkey Kong most notable, but fighting games and the wild culture that grew up around them took things to the next level.
When Street Fighter II, one of the most influential games of all-time, was released in 1991, local arcade and bedroom rivalries grew into a global fighting game community spanning Los Angeles to Tokyo.
Watch: RETRO.HK 2016
The grass roots scene now hosts massive tournaments like the Evolution Championship Series and the Capcom Pro Tour.
Where other e-sports scenes have adopted characteristics of sports such as football or basketball with team jerseys and suited analysts, the fighting game community (FGC) has naturally grown into something more akin to boxing or MMA.
Trash-talk, staredowns, which are either tongue in cheek or the real deal, and Don King-esque outbursts are the name of the game.
While League of Legends or Dota professionals are strategy and team play focused, their FGC counterparts are known for lightening quick reflexes, superior dexterity and the ability to read opponents.
The massive investments that have flooded e-sports over the past few years have yet to make their way to the FGC.
As a result, players must often personally take on expenses necessary to travel to participate in tournaments all around the world.
Watch: RETRO.HK 2016
However, this lack of commercial presence and light oversight by developers responsible for the games, such as Nintendo, mean the scene has maintained a colourful streak, amateur feel, and sense of humour which have earned it the reputation as the black sheep of the e-sports family.
Born in the arcades, the FGC is naturally more personal than other scenes like League of Legends, Dota or Counter-Strike:Global Offensive, online games whose incredible growth was only made possible by the advance of the internet.
FGC tournaments are still played in person, and that arcade or bedroom atmosphere can still be felt at major tournaments.
Audiences are full of close friends and die-hard fans. Players sit across from, or right next to each other, when competing.
Opponents look each other dead in the eye and victory or defeat rests on the shoulders of the individual, not the team. The result of all this is an authentic, inclusive, and wildly entertaining spectator experience.
In contrast to last weekend’s much hyped e-sports & music festival, RETRO.HK and the RETROCUP are small scale, amateur and focused more on audience participation than spectacle.
Games included in the tournament are decided by popular vote on social media and competition is open to everyone.
The open vote saw an explosion of interest, with thousands voicing their opinions.
“We want to keep the barrier to entry as low as possible,” said co-founder Dixon Wu. “We just want people to come and have fun.”
This year the event will hold eight tournaments with Street Fighter II – Turbo; Street fighter III – 3rd Strike; The King of Fighters ‘97; The King of Fighters ’98; Power Stone 2; Saturn Super Bomberman; Virtua Tennis; and a speed run competition of Super Mario Bros (level 1) set to feature.
Outside of competitive events, the expo is window on the pasts of gaming and e-sports.
Exhibits of collector’s item hardware and games will be on display, and a free-to-play zone with 100 playable retro consoles hooked up to old televisions.
As for the future, RETRO.HK say they plan to further develop their role in the competitive space, and a partnership with the massive Retro City Festival in California has been confirmed.
However, Wu still sees the event staying true to its roots, keeping things small scale and community driven, with an emphasis on fun.
If the passion that this group has for the event is anything to go by, then RETROCUP and the oldest scene in e-sports have a bright future.