Depending on who you ask, we’re either living in the golden age of fighting games right now or in a dry spell. From late 2020 to now, fans had no shortage of games to keep them occupied, but many of the genre’s big developments have been supplemental. In recent years, we’ve seen a stream of final updates for Street Fighter 5, two betas for Street Fighter 6, and the release of King of Fighters XV, Guilty Gear Strive, Melty Blood Type Lumina, and more.
It’s a hefty list, but you might notice that it’s lacking massive new releases from franchises like Mortal Kombat or Tekken. That left diehard fans of the genre in an awkward spot in 2022, as they looked for a new competitive game to fill their time while waiting for the next genre-changing heavy hitter. Fortunately, relief is on the horizon in 2023, which is shaping up to be one of the biggest years for fighters in quite some time. In that context, 2022 has been a much-needed breather for a genre that’s about to demand a lot of attention from here on out.
A quick breather
At the start of 2022, it was common to hear the words “golden age” used to describe the fighting game landscape. Several games dropped, each stocked with multiple game modes and stable online play thanks to rollback netcode. That online infrastructure trend proved to be most crucial, as netplay competition became feasible for more than just a handful of established titles. There was a sense that the fighting scene was much wider than it had been in previous years, with more viable competitive games to choose from.
That momentum quickly slowed as 2022 went on. While the genre looked healthy from an outside perspective, hardcore fans were feeling a drought of excitement. Games like DNF Duel, Melty Blood Type Lumina, and The King of Fighters XV, arguably the best fighter of 2022, were plagued with mechanical design and balancing flaws that hurt their long-term potential. Dragon Ball FighterZ announced a rollback update to make online matches feel better, but fans have heard nothing but radio silence on when that’s coming since. Underwhelming developments like that were made worse as fans looked ahead to titles like Street Fighter 6 and Tekken 8, both scheduled to launch in 2023. Even with so much to play on paper, there was a sense of boredom among a core player base that couldn’t sink their hooks into one great game.
That feeling isn’t a cause for alarm, though. In fact, 2022 finds itself in a common pattern that the fighting genre is no stranger to. Fighting game tournament organizer Bum1Six3 tweeted out some important historical context last month that puts the current lull into perspective. “I feel like we in the before [Street Fighter 4] era where fighting games were real dry,” he tweeted. “Then we going to get a crazy surge of content that will bring in major hype.”
That period is a meaningful one for fans of the genre, as it’s what happened just before Capcom put itself back on the map with Street Fighter 4 in 2008 and ushered in a new age for the genre as a whole. In the lull before that key moment, players found themselves similarly diddling around with titles like Street Fighter 3 Third Strike, Marvel vs Capcom 2, and other now-retro titles. Those years before Street Fighter 4‘s mirrors the early 2020s, especially as we build to what may be a massively successful launch for Street Fighter 6.
As was the case in 2008, 2023 has the potential to be a landmark year for the genre. More characters and updates for KOF15, DNF Duel, Melty Blood, and Guilty Gear Strive are on the way, which will help grow those titles, though it’s the influx of high-profile new titles that’ll make the biggest impact. With releases like Street Fighter 6 and Tekken 8 coming soon and rumblings of a new title from NetherRealm Studios coming, the recent dry spell could end up being a bit of a blessing. Despite the burnout some fans faced this year, fighting games are in an incredible position for competitive, community, and educational accessibility. If Street Fighter 6‘s fantastic beta is anything to go off of, we’re in good hands going into 2023.