The Case For Playing Long Sets of Matches in Fighting Games

By on March 5, 2020

Nowadays, tournaments in the Fighting Game Community (FGC) typically run sets in one of two formats: first-to-two (FT2) and first-to-three (FT3). These are the sets that we see at every major tournament in every major game. Pro tours run FT2s and FT3s, the Evolution Championship Series runs FT2s and FT3s, and most locals run FT2s and FT3s. The FT2 and FT3 formats have become so dominant within the FGC that they almost go without saying. They’re how we think, practice, and play.

But it wasn’t always this way. Look around on YouTube and you can easily find FT5s, FT10s, FT50s, and even FT100s. As recently as 2018, the Topanga League, a community-led Street Fighter invitational tournament in Japan, featured FT7s. For many of us, especially those newer FGCers who’ve been raised to look at FT2s and FT3s as the only options, it can be hard to know what to make of these longer sets. Are they just a gimmick? Are they worthwhile? Wouldn’t they get boring after a while?

Why Play Long Sets?

To help answer these questions, I talked with sixteen people who recently signed up for the North American Showcase. The Showcase is an online FT10 Street Fighter V exhibition series run by ZeroLoyalty, a Seattle-based competitor and tournament organizer (TO). Players of all skill levels are welcome to participate, so the series has attracted grizzled veterans and newcomers alike. Of the sixteen players that I interviewed, ten had played sets of FT10 or longer before and six were new to the format. 

Of course, a long set isn’t the only way to get your hours in. There’s arcade mode, online play, and the traditional FGC practice of playing casual games with friends until you pass out. So why did these players sign up for the exhibition series? They gave a wide range of answers:

  • Long sets force you to abandon your auto-pilot
  • It’s a good way to build an online community of players
  • It’s a good way to encounter uncommon character picks and practice specific matchups
  • The exposure from an exhibition draws attention to the player’s scene
  • The exposure from an exhibition draws attention to the player themselves
  • Long sets require different skills, such as adaptability and endurance
  • It’s a good way to find other players who are dedicated to self-improvement instead of players who are just looking for quick-and-dirty wins
  • It’s a good way to meet and challenge new players
  • Knowing who your opponent is in advance gives you the chance to practice scouting and theory-crafting
  • A long set is a reality check
  • It’s a good way to train up a new character
  • The exhibition format raises the stakes and makes it feel like you have something to play for

But one answer was the most common by far: the players saw the FT10 Showcase as a way to grow. By fighting their way through a different type of set, they believed that their abilities would undergo a greater challenge. In the brighter light of a longer set, their weaknesses would become more apparent, they’d see new opportunities, and they’d become more consistent players with a broader array of skills.

The Results

So how did it go? I’ll let the players answer in their own words.

  • @AlfieRoach: It was “exciting,” and even though the chat always has something to say, “I only see the benefit for me.”
  • @ArsanyAzmy: “The exhibitions have all been really great so far. I learned a lot from my opponents and met people I’ve never heard of that are actually really strong…It’s almost like an online community of self-betterment where everyone [is] trying to learn from one another.”
  • @Blyff: “It was fun!”
  • @Carlos_CLOS618: “Overall the experience was amazing…I’m not taking this as a loss [but as] more of a great learning experience.”
  • @ChrisCCH_: “I just wanna say that I hope these longer sets become more common among the community.”
  • @ESFCMario: “[H]aving to adapt to my opponent several times and change my strategy accordingly is something I’ve always wanted to try and it was an experience you can only learn in that setting. As the game count became tighter and the set was nearing [its] conclusion, the player with the stronger mental fortitude comes out on top [and] I appreciate that.”
  • @FGCN8Suave: “I felt like I had really laid it all out there…I think long sets are also a much better platform for players to present themselves and build an identity within the community.”
  • @gekclol: “I enjoyed the two exhibitions I’ve had. I’m able to learn from my experiences and try and better myself personally.”
  • @Geki_CP: “It was an awesome experience.”
  • @MarioDB760: “It helped build muscle memory and [helped with] practicing theories in a competitive format.”
  • @Nogarremi: “It was fun…I learned a lot and got better.”
  • @saddave666: “I had a great time…Just playing Washington’s best and showing my capabilities was super-cool.”
  • @ThomasWinkley: “I care more, I focus more, and I want to learn more [in long sets]…It’s also really important for growth to play in situations that stress you out, and even better when it’s documented.”
  • @SatchmoFGC: “It was tiring but a nice experience” Would he do it again? “Yes most definitely. Everyone should get into this”!
  • @heyitscoins: “It was mad fun. I was a lot more tense that I thought I would be. But being put in that environment felt like good training for the pressure of a tournament setting. Or any setting with some sort of stakes for that matter”
  • @MrKagiwada: “This series definitely tests your intestinal fortitude. In my opinion this was the most fun I’ve had online.”

And there you have it: no matter whether they won or lost, no matter how much experience they had with the game or with the FGC in general, all sixteen had a good time with their exhibitions and all sixteen would recommend them to other players.

The good news is that the long set is something that everyone in the FGC can enjoy. If you’re a Street Fighter V player who’s willing to play your long sets online and have them streamed, contact ZeroLoyalty on Twitter. If you’d rather avoid the netcode or the scrutiny, talk to your local TO about setting up an exhibition in person. Even if you live in a sparsely populated area without an arcade or play a rare game, all it takes is a little work to find an eager partner for a FT10, FT15, or even something longer.

So take a chance, break out of the short-set mold, and put yourself out there! Long sets are a great way to announce yourself to the world, make new friends, and grow as a player in the FGC.

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