Each year, various versions of Street Fighter still hold the place of honor at Evo. The game's near-faultless balance is proven by the range of different characters the tournament winners employ, in marked contrast to (say) Marvel vs. Capcom, where you play Magneto and Storm or you go home early.

In fact, outside the SF series, not many fighting games, and certainly few recent releases, are popular at Evo - or anywhere else. Virtua Fighter, Tekken, Soul Caliber, Super Smash Bros., Capcom vs. SNK - hello, what decade is this? Even Capcom's own Rival Schools went nowhere. The most recent entrant to find a modicum of favor is the Guilty Gear series, which has at least produced new installments this century.

Beyond these aged champions, there's little to talk about. There hasn't been a new hit property in years. Commercial fighting games have gone stagnant.

"The only way a true fighter can suffer is by not fighting."
Is it bad that we can't do better than Street Fighter? It probably doesn't matter, business-wise; publishers nowadays usually won't fund fighting games. To a publisher, they're just another genre with a substantial yet insufficiently profitable niche. The market for cooperative games is larger. It's also hard to make fighters work online, because precision timing is crucial to their gameplay. The clearest sign of publisher apathy came in 2004: Capcom Japan passed the Street Fighter rights to its USA division, saying the game had run its course in Japan.

But, commerce aside, it's baffling and irritating that it's so hard to improve on a 2-D sprite-based game two decades old. Clearly, fighters are a royal pain to balance - but so are lots of genres, yet they have evolved. Why not fighters, too?

In December 2006, fighter fan Daniel "RedSwirl" Sims offered insight in a 1UP.com blog entry, "Are Fighters Dying in America?":

"When I first picked up [Soul Caliber III] last year, I'd noticed, for instance, that Kilik's 2-1-4 Tribute stance (which I thought was really cool) had been taken out in favor of a stance that led to slightly weaker combos. On the other end, though, his classic 2-3-6 Monument Stance had a whole extra combo string added to it. The kick in his 2-3-6-K could be preceded with A and B attacks in any order. Mitsurugi's old B+G Koreifuji throw now had to be performed in his 6+B+K Mist stance in order to make room for all his new throws. Now how many of you reading this understood all that? Fighting games actually do make significant improvements from game to game; it's just that the only people who notice them enough to care are the hardcore players."

Sims is talking about grognard capture. "Grognards" are a genre's most passionate devotees, the ones who know the field down to their DNA, who order their own custom controllers. "Grognard capture" describes a development process entirely dominated by this hardcore elite.

Fighting games were captured long ago. Fighting grognards passionately seek victory, through total, personal domination of the opponent. See David Serlin's self-published treatise Playing to Win: Becoming the Champion, an expansion of articles from his blog, Serlin.net. Serlin, a fighting game tournament champion, describes a regimen of mental training for videogame dominance: "Those who try to win are wildly misunderstood by the masses, and all sorts of negative things are ascribed to them. In fact, the journey of continual self-improvement that a winner must walk is good, and right, and true ... but it's not for everyone, nor should it be." The book includes close analysis of Sun Tzu's Art of War.

Comments on