The History of KOF Part 2 – Early to Late 2010s
In the over a quarter of a century since the original KOF ’94, The King of Fighters series has continued to make for many exciting matches for fighting game players. Many entries in different series have released during that time, and the fighting game movement has expanded and matured. The theme of this series of articles is asking those involved in the history of KOF about it directly, so we’ll be introducing some KOF experts from the Japanese fighting game community to speak on the subject. KOF community pillar Dune and top player Gosyo return from the first article. But this time we also have with us Score, a currently active pro-gamer that plays KOV XIV.
Dune – Originally a top KOF ’98 player, he’s now a pillar of the Japanese KOF community as the founder of the nation-wide privately-run tournament “Dueling the KOF”, since 2004.
Gosyo – A top player of the KOF series. Since he won the KOF 2002 championship at the first Tougeki tournament, he’s built up an incredible record in many tournaments throughout the country. Specializing in grappler characters, he’s known as the God of Throws.
Score – A pro gamer that’s primarily active in the Kansai area that’s shown us for a long time that he’s a top KOF player. He’s a part of the pro gaming team “Amaterasu”.
The Early 2010s: KOF XIII
2010 was a big turning point for the KOF series, changing up the visual style and mechanics with the release of KOF XIII. Beginning as an arcade-only game, the home port arrived in 2011. Chosen to be a part of global fighting game tournament EVO, it saw play on one of the largest scales ever so far.
What did you think about how popular KOF XIII got overseas?
(Dune) When you talk about the KOF series up until this point outside of Asia, before KOF XIII released…there was obviously a player community in the latter half of the 2000s in America and Europe. But since so few players from those areas entered tournaments like Tougeki, they didn’t particularly stand out from our point of view. The same can be said regarding other regions: We just heard rumors about them, and we weren’t sure if there were actually scenes there or not.
I see. When would you say that they actually became well known to you?
(Dune) Those communities actually became known to us when players from them entered into tournaments once the home version of KOF XIII launched. That would have been sometime in 2012. KOF XIII was an interesting game in of itself, but it felt so much more exciting since it brought in the mentalities and temperaments of players from other places in the world outside of Japan.
(Gosyo) I participated in EVO 2013, when it was featured on the main stage. I ended up losing to a Mexican player.
I wonder what type of player they were?
(Gosyo) I imagined that all Mexican players would be cheerful and passionate! (Laughs) But the player I was up against was very stoic and had a very controlled and traditional style of play. I thought the Japanese where the best there was at that style, so it really took me off guard.
So, would you say that made you aware of the Mexican player base?
(Dune) This is going back awhile, but I started hearing Mexico had some strong players near the end of the 2000s. What I’d heard is that KOF got big there in the late 2000s, but KOF 2002 especially had a lot of players. Then after KOF XIII tournaments started being held in North America, it felt like I started finally hearing more details than just the fragments of information we’d had before.
What kind of players were good outside of Asia?
(Dune) Later on there were a group of players that were dubbed the “American Shitennou (Four Heavenly Kings) of KOF” by the Japanese community. The first place to use that term was a very spirited blog site that reported on overseas KOF. The well-known Japanese pro gamer Tokido began proactively entering American KOF XIII tournaments, and that was when we started hearing more about American tournaments even though we were all in Japan. And we noticed that the top placing players tended to be the same group of people. This all comes from that! (Laughs)
Is there something different about the Mexican player community?
(Dune) Yes. They have strong relationships with each other and it’s not easy as easy for them to travel, so they’re really on another level as a community.
So then would you say that being on the EVO main stage was a big factor in coming to know how popular the game was overseas?
(Dune) Yeah. Because of that KOF XIII got popular in Europe as well, not just North and South America.
It was a time in which the game was supported not just within Asia but world-wide, all due to being featured in a global tournament.
(Dune) At the time I recall thinking it was particularly well supported in Central and South America. If the series had spread to and was connected to East Asia in the 2000s, the 2010s saw it suddenly spread to the entire world.
So a Japanese pro gamer participating in overseas KOF XIII tournaments, and the scene became known to the Japanese player-base. Through doing that, Tokido entering those tournaments had a huge impact on things.
(Dune) Actually, Tokido is an old friend. As soon as KOF XIII was announced for the EVO mainstage, he contacted me and said he wanted me to teach him the game! (Laughs) Thinking that it would be a plus for the KOF world if he started playing, I began having sessions with him once per week like I was his tutor. And through him I was able to learn a lot about the scene and the game itself through meeting a lot of other fighting game fans.
The Later 2010s: KOF XIV
With the release of 2016’s KOF XIV, SNK held their own official global tournament: The KOF XIV World Championship. It was the game’s first large tournament with the finals held in Japan in February 2017. And beginning with EVO later that same year, more and more tournaments were held world-wide for the title. This spurred on the competitive mindset of fighting game fans not just in Japan, but all over the globe.
After KOV XIV came out, the KOF XIV World Championship was the first official tournament to be held in 2017.
(Score) That’s right. The qualifiers from all over the world and other players who were specially invited participated in that tournament. I believe it was the first global tournament to be held after the game’s release.
The Japanese player named M’ won that tournament.
(Score) The winner was M’, second place was Gxbridget (also known as Ekoshou, Taiwan), and third place was Xiaohai (China). I have a vague memory of feeling very motivated at the time, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to participate in the tournament (Laughs)
And KOF XIV was on the EVO main stage that same year.
(Score) It was there in 2016 as a side tournament, but that was still before it had released. Then it was finally a main game in 2017. Of course, I played in that tournament, but I came in 9th. I have vague memories of it…
The winner was ET (Taiwan), second place was Xiaohai (China), third place was Luis Cha (Mexico), fourth place was Ekoshou (Taiwan) and fifth place was a tie between White-AshX (UAE) and Pako (Mexico). The highest placing Japanese player was M’ in 7th place. Looking at those results, would you say overseas players were better than you’d imagined?
(Score) I think this is true for other games as well, but the characters that non-Asian players think of as being strong are often completely different from the ones we think of. When Japanese players go up against them, they end up playing characters that we don’t know very well, and we get beaten…we just don’t have a strategy against those characters. That’s what was happening.
So, they had a tendency to choose characters that people didn’t play in Japan very much?
(Score) Yeah, that’s right. To put it simply, their KOF skill level is absolutely high. But there are a lot of people who go beyond that and whose style is getting really into their favorite characters to elevate their chances. And so, there are these cases where players will use characters that are barely played in Japan, and we fall behind because we have no plan to counter them.
There were some wonderful things happening at tournaments in Central and South America at that time.
(Score) I believe a lot of Mexican players tend to have styles where they get really good with their favorite characters. And it felt like they had completely different ways of fighting.
What exactly do you mean by “different ways of fighting”?
(Score) A lot of Japanese players tend to save their gauge and bring it into the next round, putting an emphasis on defense. But Mexican players tend to use the gauge that they have available immediately to defeat the opponent they’re facing at that moment. I got the impression that their way of fighting was much more geared toward defeating their opponent sooner.
What did you feel when you fought against overseas players on the big stage?
(Score) I was very excited to be playing matches against people who used different characters than and had developed their own individual styles that were so completely different from those of Japanese players! (Laughs) The details are probably different depending on the country and region, but my curiosity as a player was swelling up and I wanted to know more about these opponents.
You had a positive stance on it, just as I’d expect.
(Score) It’s not because I fee Japanese players must dominate due to it being a Japanese made game, it’s because I find it fun as an individual player to complete against players from different countries. Even if I lose, there’s motivation in thinking “Next time I’ll win for sure” about the next big tournament. There were good players overseas in KOF XIII too, but I don’t think they rose to the surface as much.
It seems to me that pro gamer M’ has really stuck out in KOF XIV tournaments, but what sort of player is he from your perspective?
(Score) He’s very stoic. Even at the victory parties after tournaments, he’s the type to always just be going back to the arcade to play more matches! (Laughs)
That’s amazing. Would you say that your matches with him stand out above the others?
(Score) I wouldn’t put it that way. If anything, he lost most of our casual matches. But the thing is, he’s very strong in tournaments. In other words, he’s a player that’s knows how to fight to win single round matches. He finds those moments that he needs to take the victory. He’s the most efficient type of player that I know! (Laughs)
Where do you think his strength lies in those matches?
(Score) Of course he’s very strong mentally, but he’s very good at moving like he’s going to attack but actually is still just waiting. He’s not taking unnecessary damage, and he’s able to punish his opponent immediately. It also seems like he looks at different things than other players do, and it feels like he has his own logic. But if you ask him about it, he’ll tell you he can’t really explain that logic himself! (Laughs)
The young players are particularly standing out these days. And perhaps the top of the heap is Laggia. He’s always placing at the top of tournaments, alongside M’.
(Score) Unlike M’, I get the impression that Laggia has a very stable style of play. And that’s why he’s constantly winning matches. It’s amazing that he can perform so consistently in tournaments.
In a way, that could make him the most annoying player to face! (Laughs) I feel that Laggia’s rise to prominence in KOF XIV stands out most amongst the activities of newer players.
(Score) Laggia doesn’t have much experience with fighting games yet, I’ve heard that KOF XIV is the first game he’s played seriously. He’s also a very serious and stoic player. He doesn’t play by intuition, but rather he’s a very thoughtful type of player. Constantly winning is most likely the reason for that. He has no gaps in his play.
The rise of new players has been very exciting. And to change the subject, SNK supported players themselves in KOF XIV via the “SNK e-Sports Support Program for Top Players”. You placed very well in tournaments and have earned your right to be a part of that which has resulted in you participating in tournaments overseas. Can we ask you about how things have been going there?
(Score) It’s been M’ (Japan), ET (Taiwan) and me. That program offers aid for attending overseas tournaments, but that aid isn’t what’s benefited me the most. I’m very glad that I’ve been able to see what’s happening for myself in KOF with overseas players and in different countries due to that program. I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to participate in overseas tournaments that I’ve wanted to attend. And I’m very happy that that’s lead to SNK being happy with my performance, I have the best sponsor that I could have asked for.
2022’s Upcoming KOF XV
And finally, we’re drawing nearer to the release of KOF XV. How was the beta test?
(Score) The feeling I got from the beta was it’s a game that those who played KOF 98 and KOF 2002 could get into without much trouble. I feel like they might be able to recapture the same feeling they had when playing those games.
How did your matches feel?
(Score) They felt very good. Since it’s using rollback net code, those who weren’t able to have matches with others overseas due to connections should be able to now do that relatively smoothly. And because of that, I expect the player-base to increase. And of course, that means there’s a big possibility of seeing some brand new strong players that we’ve never seen before. I have big expectations.
It looks like players all over the world will be leveling up again. I can’t wait to see global tournaments for this game.
(Score) I absolutely agree. Personally, I’d love to see the amount of South American player turnout to a global tournament go up even further (Laughs) South America will definitely be great at this game! I also believe that more young players, like Laggia, will turn out. I’m anticipating older and newer players all coming together.
Article, Editing: Toyoman
Support: Yae Ooseko, Dune, Gosyo, Score, Oep
(The original article can be found here)