The FGC is a little sub-group of gaming fans with a particular fascination with the tech used to compete. From deliberately broken GameCube Controllers for Melee tournaments to painstakingly constructed fight sticks, controllers are a hot topic for the community.
The fightstick has been a central part of the fighting game experience for as long as competitive Street Fighter has existed. New tech occasionally comes along and completely changes up the scene. Though it's far from new, the all-button fight pad has been causing something of a stir throughout the community, prompting accusations of cheating from some.
The history of the Hitbox in the FGC
Early game consoles didn't have the power to faithfully recreate the experience of playing at the arcade. This issue gradually led to the development of home-use joysticks for various home systems.
One of the most notable moments was SNK's Neo-Geo in the early 90s. As an SNK console, that system was dominated by games like King of Fighters and Fatal Fury.
The most significant leap forward came in 2008, when Mad Cats created the Street Fighter IV FightStick Tournament Edition. This was the first fightstick available in North America to feature real arcade parts.
Two years later, Dustin and Shawn Huffer formed a company called HitBoxArcade. Their central products were the HitBox and the SmashBox, designed for the Smash Bros. community.
The USP of both controllers is that they feature no joystick. Directional inputs are achieved with buttons. This allows for specific unique techniques that would otherwise be impossible.
FGC reaction to the HitBox
In May 2019, Daigo Umehara, one of the best-known FGC players, courted controversy using a HitBox-style controller. Borrowing a design from fellow Street Fighter pro Gafro, Daigo raised concerns when he picked up the new method.
The issue, as discussed by various FGC figures, is that the HitBox layout is fully customizable. It can be carefully crafted to allow for otherwise impossible techniques and instantaneous inputs.
Big events such as Combo Breaker have struggled to build policy around HitBoxes. Alternative control methods are tricky to regulate because some players require additional accommodations due to various physical limitations.
Disgraced Melee player Aziz “Hax” Al-Yami was once considered the lynchpin of the HitBox stick's tournament presence. Hax was once considered a valuable community member who needed HitBox to compete.
Custom inputs and mods get into a new world of illegality. So many small changes can be made to a HitBox controller to give the user an edge.
As a result, FGC events have had to write novel-length lists of rules to regulate individual fightsticks and setups. The future of fighting game events could require very long application processes to get any unique controller into the competition.
Tournaments could ban HitBoxes and similar controllers, regulate them heavily, or allow the community to become the wild west. Fans will have to keep an eye on the rules of any tournament and watch the scene evolve to find out where this story goes.