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The King of Fighters finds new success in the West

The King of Fighters XV is seeing success as the series has never witnessed before here in the United States. Tournaments are happening every other day, online matchmaking is lively, and fans are still singing its praises daily over social media. For once, the whole world is competing to be a king of the fighters, rather than a few key hotspots.

One of the big tournaments to emerge around the game comes from esports production company Wisdom Gaming with its new Fight Night: Lights Out series. It’s a competitive event in which four teams featuring big players like Justin Wong, Coach Steve, Reynald, and more battle it out for a $10,000 prize pool. Such a well-funded event isn’t foreign to the fighting game community, but one coming from outside the usual scene is rare, especially for a series like The King of Fighters.

Step into the ring with Fight Night: Lights Out! 🥊

Over the next four weeks, @JWonggg, @Kizzie_Kay, @FightCoachFight, @crofts & their teammates will duke it out in King of Fighters XV for a piece of the $10,000 prize pool.

Full #FNLO details here: https://t.co/TjJhZ2WjpH pic.twitter.com/bAXLEFvWFk

— Wisdom Gaming (@WSDMGG) March 10, 2022

“The team at Wisdom has always been big fans of the fighting game community (FGC), and have long been influenced by fighting game esports,” Jaycie Gluck, SVP of Wisdom Gaming tells Digital Trends. “Fight Night: Lights Out, is our start to giving back to a community that helped mold who we are today.”

In an interview, Gluck told me that Wisdom was drawn to King of Fighters XV because of its hype and felt it was the perfect game to kick off the new tournament series. She states that Wisdom Gaming hopes to keep a presence in the FGC with future fighting games like Riot’s upcoming Project L and hopes to offer an exciting, entertaining experience for the community, as well as a unique competitive space for all players and competitors.

With FGC legend Justin Wong, a top player in the fighting scene who has won more EVO titles than anyone else, set to lead a team into the Fight Night foray, I got the chance to talk with him about KOF’s new success in the West, the past popularity of the series in the States’ arcade era, and what he’d like to see from it in the future.

What is your history with the King of Fighters series?

I played on a casual level since KOF95, so I played the series all the way up to KOF2002 as they released in arcades and even 11 in 2003. I played a bit of 13 when tournaments finally started happening for the series in the U.S. but then I dropped it when some new fighters came out since I’m a huge fan of trying fresh games.

Photo of Chinatown Fair after dark.
Chinatown Fair in 2011. Photo by Nick Carr/Scouting New York

How popular would you say KOF was in arcades?

At my arcade, Chinatown Fair, it was more Capcom-ish. SNK games and even things like Tekken were very niche. I’d say the most popular KOF game there was 98 and I played it there a lot.

Funny story about that: I was 14 years old playing it there as the grappler, Clark, and I beat this guy really bad. The guy was so mad that he tased me in the back. So yeah there’s my experience with playing KOF98 in the arcade.

What do you think is so different about KOFXV that has so many in the West playing?

With KOF in general, I think since it’s a 3-on-3 fighter, it gets hard for the casual crowd because you’re learning three characters. But XV does a lot that’s getting people interested that may not have been before starting with good rollback netcode, which the series never really had besides recently implementing it in older titles. Fighting games have to have that for the precise inputs required to play. If you don’t have good netcode, I’m personally not gonna play no matter what.

Another reason more are playing is that it’s actually easy to learn despite the 3-v-3 aspect. A lot of characters have a really easy flowchart. Nine out of 10 times, you can combo a good low normal into an EX special or command normal. So once you learn that, you can take that same formula to other characters.

“If you don’t have good netcode, I’m personally not gonna play no matter what.”

The single-player experience is also great. You can choose to play 1-v-1 matches, go unlock content like music and gallery art, play through trial challenges, and play the underrated party mode where you play with other players on a single team.

Do you think this “golden age” of fighting games is helping more people try KOF and other new fighters?

I think it’s that and the pandemic. Guilty Gear Strive is the game that saved the FGC from that with its amazing netcode. That game basically told all the fighting game devs, “If you don’t have good netcode your game won’t do well.” So now everyone is following that Strive standard and that’s really strong in an era where everyone is staying home and on Discord playing games.

I’ve played people across states and in South America and the connection’s great, which keeps me motivated and probably keeps other people in the same spirits.

B. Jenet doing her kick super attack in King of Fighters XV.

Is there anything particular that has you more infatuated with KOF than other recent fighters?

I’m a fan of SNK games in general and my history with anime fighters just isn’t as strong. I really like the characters and lore. I have figures, and all that is just really important to me.

Plus, the game is super fun and I just want to keep getting better. There are so many good KOF masters from previous games with legacy skill, and trying to conquer that mountain is so fun for me. That’s probably another reason since normally with other new fighters I’m already at the top, so being under stronger players is very exciting.

What do you think needs to happen to keep the momentum of the game going?

Obviously, there’s going to be a point where the player base averages out. But some things that can keep the scene alive are consistent streaming, content creation, guides and matches being posted, more tournaments like the four-week Fight Nights: Lights Out.

Yuri giving a thumbs up in King of Fighters XV.

If there was anything you could change about the game what would it be?

I don’t think I’d change anything in terms of mechanics or gameplay. It’d just come down to quality of life stuff. I do have an issue with matchmaking searches taking forever. I also think we should be able to change our order during online matches after matches. But overall I think everything is perfect. Basically, its lifetime is up to us in terms of content creators, esports production companies, and competitors.

The King of Fighters XV is enjoying a lot of time in the limelight and will hopefully continue to do so. The game hit the ground running and thanks to players, production, viewers, netcode, tournament organizers, and more it’s looking to keep the momentum going into the future.

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