The pandemic and quarantine that followed hit us all hard, in every imaginable way: from personal, emotional, and even financial. There was a time in 2020 when it felt like everything would never go back to normal. Even now things are still not 100% what they were before March 2020, but it is starting to look similar. With vaccines and boosters widely available, many major offline gaming events have returned this year. For the fighting game community (FGC), the most notable events this year were Combo Breaker 2022 and CEO 2022.
Perhaps no other gaming community has been hit as hard by the lack of offline events as the FGC. Offline events are the lifeblood of the community and, at least in 2020, most games didn’t have the netcode to replicate the offline experience. Fortunately, that has changed, with most modern games implementing rollback netcode to some degree. Moreover, services like Parsec have allowed players from all over the world to enjoy even bad online play games. Earlier this year, Combo Breaker took place in Chicago as the first major “return” for the FGC. From all accounts, the event went very well.
Full Disclaimer: The author of this post volunteered during CEO 2022 and helped run a brace in Guilty Gear Strive.
The three pillars
In the FGC, there are three offline gaming events that most players consider to be the pillars of the community. EVO, Combo Breaker, and today’s topic, CEO, are among the most important events for champions. Hosted by Alex Jebailey, CEO combines the elements of a tournament, convention and wrestling show to produce one of the most exciting events of the year. I’m happy to report that this year was no different and the CEO came back with a bang.
It was clear that the safety of the participants was the number one priority for the event. Vaccine cards or negative rapid tests had to be provided within 72 hours of entry and masks were required to enter. While a small percentage of the community was likely knocked out by this, for the most part, no one made a fuss. CEO had a smaller event in Orlando last year, and the results were much the same. Only a few had to be turned away and masks were provided on site for anyone who needed them.
CEO 2021 was a great comeback leading to Daytona
The tournament itself ran incredibly smoothly. All the big games like Street Fighter V and Tekken 7 returned. The latter had its first world tour stop at CEO 2022. It was also great to see newer games like The King of Fighters XV and Guilty Gear Endeavor at the main stadium for their respective top-8 matches.
There were also plenty of vendors on the artist street selling quality art and merch. I certainly spent a lot more money than I should have. This year there was even a trading card game (TCG) where players could bring decks of their favorite games to set up matches with others. It was a very welcome addition to the event as the Venn diagram of TCG players and the FGC is practically a circle. Jebailey noted how much players appreciated the venue and promised it would return in future events. Solis Studios even had a setup to show off its game Pocket Paragonsbut unfortunately I was not able to win a mate.
Who wants to play miracle At 3 o’clock?
The 24-hour arcade area, Jebaileyland, also returned in spectacular fashion with arcade cabinets, racing machines and rhythm games. The addition of a punching machine was a huge success and there was always a crowd of people around. Jebaileyland also had a smaller stage for some of the side tournaments, such as Street Fighter III: Third Strike and Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown† Also, a BYOC (bring your own controller) area gave players the space to set up and play every game imaginable. Whereas in previous years I missed some of the more obscure titles from Jebaileyland such as: Fist of the North Starit was hard to call the area anything but a success.
Probably the best thing I can say about CEO 2022 is that it felt like nothing had changed at all. Except everyone was wearing masks, everything felt exactly the same. People were generally just happy to play games there, play at a high level and enjoy the camaraderie that makes the FGC the best gaming community (in my opinion anyway). Look no further than the incredibly exciting Rock Paper Scissors tournament (aptly titled “Janken Ashura”) to prove it. This was felt not only by those present, but also by high-level players.
What did the pros have to say?
fighting game pro NYChrisG said, right after winning the Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 event, which the past few years have been difficult for everyone. He went on to say that CEO 2022 had been great and that he was happy to see people wanting to connect and communicate with each other again. CEO, he said, is where he made his name, and he will always be there to support the event — it’s come a long way. But winning doesn’t hurt either (and he’s not wrong), he said.
Kizzie Kay from Panda Global echoed many of the same sentiments. Offline is very important to the FGC, and he was delighted that events such as CEO are on their way back. He also noted that offline events should be the default for the FGC. It is a statement shared by sorry manwhoever we spoke to fresh off his new sponsorship with Red Bull, what started that same weekend† He stated that, despite the huge improvements that have been made in playing online fighting games recently, online can never capture the same competitive energy as offline. He does appreciate that rollback netcode allows players to practice better than ever. According to him, the strongest players, online or offline, will always rise above the rest.
Apologies Man ended his statement by saying that the future of fighting games looks bright.
Farewell words from the CEO of CEO
Last but certainly not the least, after the event was over and the wrestling ring was about to be torn down, we got to speak to the man of the hour himself, Alex Jebailey† While the rules are different in a post-quarantine reality, Jebailey stated that he and his team were on the cusp of leading the event just fine. He said decisions about masks and vaccine requirements may have divided some attendees, but the most important thing was to keep everyone safe. Jebailey was confident that sooner or later things will go back to the way they were, and that fighting games are coming back in a big way.
With exciting titles on the horizon, such as Street Fighter 6, it looks really good for fighting games and the community behind it. Jebailey’s next major venture is CEOtaku in September, returning after a three-year hiatus. I’ll be there, and I definitely recommend giving it a try if you’re in the Orlando area or willing to travel.