photo c/o Travis Ing

The fighting game community has never been as expansive as it is right now. Just a few years ago, it would have been impossible for players from regions like the Caribbean and the Middle East, for instance, to make a name for themselves on the global stage. Despite the explosion of popularity driven by the release of Street Fighter IV in 2008, however, there are still pockets of the world that are still in the process of cultivating a competitive scene, even in the United States. In Hawaii, a group of passionate fighting game fans have recently started a campaign to develop a competitive community on the archipelago’s “Big Island,” also known as Hawaii.

Although its fellow Hawaiian islands Oahu and Maui have thriving fighting game communities, the Big Island is segregated from the rest of the state by prohibitive travel expenses. And its distance from the mainland means competitors are unable to find many suitable opponents through online play. It became clear to Hawaii resident Travis Ing that the Big Island’s only opportunity to develop would be through organizing local gatherings.

“Part of what makes fighting games so great is seeing your opponent, sitting right next to them, and after the match, being able to talk to them,” Ing explained to Compete. “When consoles took over and arcades went away, our local community for playing together pretty much went with it. I’ve always dreamt of [the Big Island] having a local fighting game community, and for nearly twenty years I wondered why we didn’t. You would see a Facebook page or two pop up every few years but they never had any kind of event where people could go to play.”

After a visit to California for Capcom Cup in 2017, Ing decided to take matters into his own hands and put together his own gatherings. This meant collecting consoles for players to use, finding an event space that wouldn’t require huge a huge rental fee, and getting the word out to his fellow competitors. Ing’s hard work materialized last month with the Big Island’s first fighting game gathering, a free-entry event focused on playing casually and meeting other local players.

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Peaking at 40 attendees, Ing feels his first event was a success. Feedback was “overwhelmingly positive,” and a few complete rookies showed up and try fighting games for the first time, including a pair of 9-year-olds with an interest in Dragon Ball FighterZ and Marvel vs. Capcom. One player even went out and purchased a PlayStation 4, a copy of Street Fighter V, and an arcade stick after attending. The second meetup this past Tuesday drew even more attention, and Ing is looking to expand to bimonthly events before running full-scale tournaments this summer.

Like any competitive endeavor, entering a fighting game tournament can be daunting, especially if you’re new to the genre. As such, Ing is looking into the idea of using Street Fighter V’s Team Battle mode to bring in beginners, allowing them to group up with friends instead of or in addition to competing in singles. He feels this format will help acclimate newcomers to the environment and make them more comfortable with solo competition.

“Going forward, I’m hopeful that we will finally build up Hawaii Island’s fighting game community to the point where we have people that will go to major tournaments and represent us,” Ing said. “Our community should be one where people come to play, to compete, but also learn and teach new players. Hawaii’s Aloha Spirit will carry into its fighting game community.”

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Compete is Deadspin and Kotaku’s joint site dedicated to competitive gaming.

Ian Walker loves fighting games and writing about them. You can find him on Twitter at @iantothemax.