I don't remember when my son started eating solid foods. I'm not entirely sure when it was that my son took his first steps. And sure, I guess I remember his first day at preschool. But by far, the most memorable milestone he's had so far was throwing his first Hadoken.
Look. Every kid eats food. Every kid walks. And my son's got at least 12 more years of school. A lot of the milestones we track and obsess over as parents... well, they don't mean much, and all they do is stress us out. But this last weekend, my 5-year-old son started his journey toward total Street Fighter domination, and I will remember Saturday, July 12, 2014 -- the day he threw his first Hadoken forever.
In case you didn't hear me trying to scream over all of the World Cup noise, the Evolution Championship Series -- or EVO -- was streaming online all weekend long. I was glued to any device that could load Twitch.tv, and there were times when I'd have multiple streams open at once on multiple devices.
Brief background: EVO started as "Battle of the Bay" with 40 competitors in 1996. It grew in popularity and bounced around the country until settling in Las Vegas and becoming the Evolution Championship Series in 2002. Zoom ahead to 2014 and more than 5,000 fighting game enthusiasts gathered to compete in games like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Killer Instinct and yes, Ultra Street Fighter IV. The top eight winners receive cash prizes as well as medals and gaming accessories from sponsors. Yeah dude, it's like that.
In my household, having my laptop streaming Ultra Street Fighter IV in the living room all weekend was the catalyst. My son had watched me lay waste to opponents before on our PC, Xbox 360 and Nintendo 3DS (don't judge). I'd tried to give him a primer on Hadokens before -- "just roll your thumb from down to forward and then press punch." I'd even told him my favorite Street Fighter-based joke: "You know why people call me Hadoken? Because I'm Down Right Fierce." Get it? Because the hard punch button in the arcade was labeled "fierce," so to throw a Hadoken, you... OK, you get it.
But then, it happened sometime midday Saturday, July 12. I was watching the EVO tournament, and my son was playing Ultra Street Fighter IV on the Xbox, button-mashing away. Suddenly, it rang out like a bell; the unmistakable yell of "HADOKEN!" The blast of light and the fireball ripping across the screen, hitting his opponent directly in the chest. His first Hadoken. I yelled "BUDDY, YOU DID IT" and startled him. High-fives were had. I got tears in my eyes and pretended it was allergies.
He was so proud.
(For the record, the above photo wasn't when he threw his first Hadoken. But it was his first time on a joystick in Street Fighter IV. Even before I made the upgrade to Ultra!)
I'd been a fan of fighting games, especially the Street Fighter franchise, my whole life. I spent a ton of time at the arcades when I was younger, and bought all of the games for my consoles. I knew my son would eventually play them with me; when he was even younger than he is now, I hooked up an old arcade joystick to my computer and fired up the original Street Fighter II. He loved it. Fatherhood was going to be a piece of cake from here on out, I just knew it.
But for a long time, the only fighting game my son would play was Super Smash Bros. Melee. And I was OK with that. I knew that my blood flowed through him, and fighting games are part of my DNA. I knew that eventually, he'd get the fighting game itch.
I have to be honest -- I don't envy my son. Here comes a serious GET OFF MY LAWN moment: My first Hadoken was at the Northridge Mall "Space Station" arcade sometime in 1992. I pumped quarter after quarter into the machines in that dark corner. I remember, I'd park myself in front of the Street Fighter II -- The World Warrior machine while the older kids would crowd around the newly-released Street Fighter II' Championship Edition. This was about a year before the Street Fighter series saw a proper console release, so if you wanted to master Street Fighter II, you had to head to the mall and pay to play. I don't remember my first Hadoken, but I remember that time period. Everything was so exciting... you had to earn the quarters and then ask your parents if they could take you to the mall. Then you had to find an unoccupied machine. Then, you had to pray that the machine wasn't set to some brutal difficulty, or that one of the arcade-scene Street Fighter pros wouldn't smell fresh blood and join your game just to annihilate you (or to possibly freeze the machine with the Guile handcuff glitch). And for years to come, I'd get my a** handed to me in arcades and homes. I'd win matches here and there, but the struggle to even just beat fighting games on single player arcade mode (without cranking the game down to Easy) is still with me.
I started playing Street Fighter when I was 12. My hope is that since my son is only 5, he will build up his skills and become a challenging opponent for me. I'd love to sit in the living room with him and spar with our favorite characters. I can imagine years from now, us playing a best-of-three series to see who's buying our comics that night at the comic store.
But until then, Saturday, July 12, 2014 is a day I will hold close in my heart...
If you missed the EVO action last weekend, I highly recommend at least watching the last five minutes of the Ultra Street Fighter IV finals, Killer Instinct finals, and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 finals. Those links are the Top 8 matches, but slide ahead toward to end of the videos. If you don't get swept up in the emotion of it all (especially in that Killer Instinct final when CDjr starts crying), then I've got nothing for else you here.