Last year a group of friends and I got together to watch the finals of the Evo fighting game tournament online. The Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 finals were about to wrap up and they were getting close to starting the main event, the Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition ver. 2012 (best name ever) finals. We both had different guesses on what would happen to the viewer count when Street Fighter started, my friends expected the count to go down while I expected that—because Street Fighter was the main event— the count would go up. I then watched viewer count of roughly 100,000 drop to about 70,000.
I had previously written on why I believed that Street Fighter—still probably the most popular fighting game currently—would remain the best at creating enjoyable matches in fighting games. However viewer counts on Twitch streams over the past year have shown that UMvC3 is more popular in the amount of viewers it attracts. A large reason that UMvC3 attracts so many viewers is that amount of uncertainty that exists in each match. During a GDC presentation on designing for e-sports, Blizzard’s Dustin Browder explained why they kept the Zerg Rush in the game: “This creates the total uncertainty that anytime you sit down to watch you don't know what you're gonna see, what kind of game this is gonna be, and it also means for the first few minutes of the game, anything is possible.” UMvC3 has several elements in its gameplay that lead to creating this uncertainty in matches.
Phoenix The Wild Card
If any character in UMvC3 constitute a wild card, it’s Phoenix. On top of having the highest damage output in the game, she can be resurrected at the cost of five super bars to become the even more powerful Dark Phoenix. Different tactics come into play from both players when Phoenix is around, the Phoenix player is usually conservative when using supers so they can save up five bars and the other player will often try to force her into combat to finish her before that can happen. Phoenix however is a glass cannon, so while she can be a nightmare to fight against, she’s also frail enough to get beaten in one combo. The tactics that occur while she’s in reserve and her ability to make the match quickly sway in either direction once she’s in combat ensures that any match with Phoenix is an interesting one.
No Two Teams Are Alike
UMvC3 is a 3v3 fighting game in contrast to the 1v1 nature of Street Fighter. With 48 characters to choose from and improved balance across them compared to MvC2 and MvC3, the teams created in UMvC3 seldom result in mirror matches. Even when a handful of characters become top tier—as is usually the case in any fighting game—each potential team formation opens up so many strategic possibilities that the teams selected still end up remaining diverse. To put another way, a few strong cards won’t define the player’s deck. Having diverse teams and the myriad of outcomes that each can potentially create keeps each match feeling fresh.
The X-Factor bares some resemblance to Street Fighter IV’s Ultra combos in that it is a one-time use feature that can be used as a comeback mechanic, especially since the mode becomes more powerful as you take damage. X-Factor is usable at any time and can be used to quickly end matches. Unlike Ultra combos which have very limited uses, X-factor can be used to deal damage, cancel a poorly timed attack, or heal damage taken. Having this mode available at the start of the match and giving it many uses keeps the audience guessing as they’re never sure how it is going to be used.
When you call one of your reserve characters in for an assist, they are vulnerable and will take increased damage if attacked. If a player manages to attack both the the active character and the assist character at the same time, they can deal a lot of damage to both. Players have dubbed this a Happy Birthday, since the attacker now has the gift of double damage dealt from one combo. With X-factor always at the ready, they can easily finish off two characters with a Happy Birthday. Having this potential for high damage output at any point in the game is what makes each mach an uncertainty, as they can potentially end in under 20 seconds.
So that’s some of what UMvC3 has going for it, on top of being a fast-paced flashy showdown between iconic characters, it also has the right mechanics for creating enjoyable matches. Street Fighter remains as the more popular fighter internationally, attracting the more diverse group of players at tournaments, but it’s clear to see what the audience is really looking forward to when they log on to Twitch streams.