Learning fighting games is hard enough, even with YouTube tutorials, commentators' insight during pro tournaments, and local meet-ups. But what if you literally could not hear any of those things?
Gif via DeafGamersTV on Twitch
That's the case for Chris "Phoenix" Robinson, a deaf fighting game player whose most recent Twitch streams feature him fighting opponents online at Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator and Skullgirls. Last week, Phoenix announced his intention to build a fighting game league of other deaf players so that he can share his own resources and tips, as well as build a community for other deaf players. So far, the league consists of himself and Kev Bones, a fellow deaf gamer. Phoenix knows that there are other deaf gamers out there. It's just a matter of finding them.
Phoenix's Twitch channel, Deaf Gamers TV, has already amassed 1.5K followers who watch Phoenix play competitive games like Destiny and Overwatch. Now that Phoenix has kicked off a serious foray into fighting games, he's noticed that there's a significant lack of resources for deaf players who hope to learn the ropes.
Although many fighting games offer subtitles for tutorial modes, not all fighting game dialogue gets included. For example, Mortal Kombat X lacks subtitles for the introductory quips that the characters make to one another before a match, even though subtitles do exist for many other aspects of the game.
Even more disappointing, however, is the lack of subtitles for the videos and streams enjoyed by the rest of the fighting game community — especially subtitles for pro tournament commentators. Some tournament streams, like the Capcom Fighters YouTube channel, include auto-generated subtitles, which gives deaf viewers a glimpse at what they're missing. Most tournament streams don't include this option. Phoenix told us, "I would love to know what IFC Yipes is saying most of the time when I'm watching Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, or the amazing duo James Chen and Ultra David when I'm watching Street Fighter 5 and Ultra Street Fighter 4. We could really learn a lot of things from commentary. It's always so informative."
Many fighting game players take advantage of local meet-ups at game stores and arcades to play against others and learn more. Since most people don't know sign language, though, it just isn't the same for Phoenix, who told us: "It's tough for me as a deaf gamer trying to learn fighting games in person." Instead, he sticks with online resources: "I try to watch a lot of combo videos on YouTube, read up a character info guide and read about their frame data, and practise." As stated, though, many of these YouTube tutorials don't contain subtitles, so Phoenix has to glean what he can from what's available.
Controller settings also play a key role in Phoenix's learning process for competitive gaming. He always turns on the vibrating options, and he also uses a SUBPAC subwoofer that straps to a chair and vibrates according to in-game cues. "I can feel when I'm being actually being hit," he explains. It helps him "feel the game through vibration", since he "can't hear it, and I'd have to watch everything". However, like most aspiring competitive fighting game players, Phoenix doesn't use a classic controller to play. Instead, he prefers an arcade stick. The big problem? Arcade sticks don't tend to include vibration options. Phoenix still uses the SUBPAC when he plays fighting games to make up for the deficit, but he would also love to see fight stick manufacturers introduce more vibration options for players who prefer the additional haptic feedback.
Phoenix has several goals for his Deaf Gamers league. One is to raise awareness of players like him who want to see more subtitles and more controller vibration options. He also hopes to build up a stockpile of tutorials and communal resources, so as to "make more deaf-friendly contents for people wanting to learn how to play fighting games or preparing for a tournament. That's something we're not seeing right now."
Above all, Phoenix wants "to show that competitors with disabilities can also participate in a big community as the fighting game community as well as esports with proper practise of the game. So I really hope to see more gamers with disabilities of any kind to get more involved into esports."
If you're a deaf or hard-of-hearing player, hit up Deaf Gamers TV on Twitch and Twitter in order to join Phoenix and Kev's new league. If you're fighting game player who can hear, you can still help out this subsection of players by encouraging game companies and game streamers to include subtitles whenever possible. You can also volunteer to transcribe tutorials and tournaments for your favourite channels and streams. The Deaf Gamers fighting league will thank you someday by defeating you on the virtual battlefield.