Hang out in the Fighting Game Community long enough and sooner or later you’ll run into the ADAPT shirt. Originally sold by Brokentier, a community-run apparel brand, the shirt has four words printed below one another: NERF, BUFF, PATCH, and ADAPT. The first three have been crossed out as if spray-painted over, leaving only the last one untouched.
Since its arrival on the scene, the ADAPT design has been parodied, copied, and turned into everything from a tattoo to a throw pillow. No other image encapsulates the soul of the FGC as simply and elegantly as it does. Among fighting gamers, “adapt” isn’t just a word. It’s a five-letter manifesto. Unlike in traditional sports like basketball or football (in which sheer athleticism can generate an overwhelming advantage) and traditional games like checkers or spades (which often rely either on luck or the player’s starting position), every contest in the FGC comes down to questions of adaptability. How much do you know about the game? How many different skills have you practiced? Are you willing to trade discomfort for a win? Do you care enough to keep trying even when things aren’t going your way?
These questions are central to the FGC because they’re central to life. In a way, that’s the genius of the community: amid a culture that prefers either inborn talent or rote repetition of a static role, the fighting game scene teaches an older and deeper philosophy. And there are few better practitioners of that philosophy than LolitaBot and SonGohanX, co-owners and -operators of Arcade Impact, a mobile video game arcade based out of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Their path in the FGC has been anything but easy, and without their adaptability and persistence, an entire region of the community would have gone dark long ago.
It Takes More Than Two To Tango
Even at the best of times, video game arcades have always been a niche interest. Historically, they often survived by operating inside high-traffic, free-spending areas like boardwalks and shopping malls. Running a freestanding arcade has always been a challenge, and that challenge has only intensified as home consoles have improved and netplay has become more normalized.
For LolitaBot and SonGohanX, the situation was even harder. The two met in 2011, by which point SonGohanX already had years of experience organizing tournaments in Tekken 5, Super Smash Bros. Melee, and rhythm games like Dance Dance Revolution. When he introduced his new girlfriend to the fighting genre, she took to it like a duck to water. Before long, she was helping him run events, running Mitsurugi mirror-matches with him in Soulcalibur, and testing his Wang Jinrei with her Feng Wei in Tekken.
But their home of Myrtle Beach is the kind of place that can feel like a non-place. The main drags are full of strip malls and gargantuan, brightly lit box stores that sell novelty towels and other overpriced beach gear. In many areas, prime real estate has been eaten up by vacation rental properties. Visit at the right time of year and you’ll see enough Steelers bumper stickers to make you think that you’re in Pittsburgh, a city six hundred miles and four states away.
These realities have had ramifications for the Myrtle Beach FGC. “I’ve always tried to do everything I could to keep people interested in competing and playing, from running locals, hosting weeklies or house sessions, or helping organize trips to majors,” says SonGohanX. But all of that relies on what LolitaBot calls “a consistent player base.” Without a critical mass of devoted players who regularly attend local events, there’s no way to have a local scene; no matter how outstanding a leader may be, they still need people to lead. Because of Myrtle Beach’s unusual civic character, it’s an area that has had a hard time maintaining that player base. By 2017, so many players had moved away or fallen out of the community altogether that LolitaBot and SonGohanX couldn’t fill a bracket. Suddenly, the two people who made it possible for fighting gamers to have a home in Myrtle Beach found themselves without one.
From Niche To Nomad
It would have been easy for them to shrug their shoulders and move on. SonGohanX had collected arcade cabinets for years, and in 2015 he’d turned his hobby into a small business. Under the name Arcade Impact, he and LolitaBot rented out their collection to conventions and tournaments, with SonGohanX handling most of the technical and mechanical elements while LolitaBot worked tournament logistics. If they’d simply wanted to stay connected to the FGC in some capacity or other, Arcade Impact would have done that all on its own.
But neither of them was willing to throw in the towel. For LolitaBot, participating in the FGC was a way to adapt to a chronic illness. She has lupus, a little-understood autoimmune condition that can cause everything from headaches to heart attacks. Because the symptoms of the disease are unpredictable in both their timing and their severity, lupus patients can find themselves pushed out of the working world and limited in their social interactions. But she never wanted her illness to define her. “It’s important to me that I can contribute in some tangible way, because it makes me feel productive and less limited by my health,” she says now. So when her boyfriend suggested that they help Carolinian competitors “further themselves in the FGC” by providing sponsorships through Arcade Impact, she was on board.
After a few years of experimenting with the world of esports, LolitaBot and SonGohanX had expanded their sponsorship program as far north as New Jersey – and had put a strain on their finances. So they shifted their focus again, this time to a rhythm and dance game tournament called The Beast In The East (“BITE” for short). Thanks to SonGohanX’s longstanding connection to the rhythm game community, he and LolitaBot were able to bring Arcade Impact to the very first BITE, where they ran side tournaments in various fighting games while also helping out with the main events.
From there, LolitaBot says, “we just kept trying to grow the FGC attendance little by little each year as the event itself grew. Now it’s starting to feel like an established event in the area and the local FGC is more aware of it and excited to come out, so that aspect of the event is sort of coming into its own.” Last year, BITE had such a large fighting game presence that it counted as an official Dojo-level event on the Tekken World Tour.
Following the model they used for BITE, LolitaBot and SonGohanX now regularly use Arcade Impact as a vehicle to spread the good word about the FGC. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, they attended roughly one event a month, including fighting game majors like CEO and DreamHack Atlanta. When they travel to non-FGC events, they always try to “host fighting game tournaments as well as [LolitaBot’s] ‘Fighting Games 101’ panel to teach interested new players more of the fundamental concepts and terminology.” It’s a more nomadic existence than they’d started out with, but it’s one that gives them what they need: income, connection, and the chance to use their talents in support of a community that they believe in.
LUPUS MONEY COVID ADAPT
When COVID-19 struck, LolitaBot and SonGohanX found themselves both better and worse off than most. Between her lupus and his asthma, they’re both highly vulnerable to the coronavirus. And their work with Arcade Impact, which relies on large in-person gatherings, has been put on hold for the foreseeable future. But if there are any two people who know how to adapt to a tough situation, it’s these two.
At the end of September, they helped put on an online edition of BITE, which raised over seven thousand dollars for Direct Relief, a medical nonprofit. Having accomplished that, they’re already looking to the future. “Once it’s safe to do so,” SonGohanX says, “I think my main focus will be on the arcade side of things and getting out to more events. I really just miss the whole arcade experience from my childhood and I love being able to help recreate that for people.”
Of course, both he and LolitaBot know enough to keep their options open. No one knows just what the landscape of the FGC will look like when the pandemic finally subsides, and it may well be the case that Arcade Impact will have either many more or many fewer opportunities by then. In the meantime, they’re both continuing their adapting ways by returning to some classic titles, including Street Fighter III: Third Strike, the King of Fighters XIII, and Vampire Savior. And no matter what happens, one thing is for sure: LolitaBot and SonGohanX will be there, doing whatever it takes to keep their community strong.
Eli Horowitz lives in Pittsburgh, PA – and, yes, he’s been to Myrtle Beach on vacation. His first novel, Bodied, is set in the FGC. Get your copy here, then follow him on Twitter @BODIEDnovel for FGC jokes, puns, photoshops, and general positivity.