GameTech: Conor McGregor steps into games arena in UFC 2

JUST like Conor McGregor, a good newspaper column should always open with a nice hook. 

GameTech: Conor McGregor steps into games arena in UFC 2

Unlike Conor McGregor, this hook won’t put you to sleep in 13 seconds. Unless, of course, you think video games are that boring.

When McGregor knocked out José Aldo with a beautiful counter-left at the weekend, he didn’t just win the UFC’s featherweight title — he also won the so-called ‘fight for the cover’ to become the face of the EA Sports UFC 2 video game (surely the greatest of all prizes).

It raises an interesting question: Would McGregor, who prides himself on his unpredictability inside the octagon, approve of his digital self? After all, the video game could hardly reproduce a moment like Saturday’s stunning 13-second knockout, could it?

In 2009, I interviewed UFC president Dana White on the launch of the first UFC game, at UFC 93 in Dublin, an event that McGregor attended as a fan. At the time, gamers were impressed by how technical and realistic the video game was, and White confirmed to me that the reason for this was to encourage younger gamers to learn about the rules and nuances of MMA.

I mentioned how the lack of MMA gyms at the time would make it difficult for children to connect with the sport and he smiled wryly back at me. “Every kid in America owns a console,” he said. “This is another way for us to get them thinking about MMA — to think, ‘Maybe I could do that’.”

One thing’s for certain — Conor McGregor didn’t learn his trade that way. He was in the crowd at UFC 93, roaring as Rich Franklin and Dan Henderson beat the living daylights out of each other. All sports games do a bad job of recreating the unpredictable nature of their subject matter, but combat games are worse than most.

When McGregor knocked out Aldo with that flash KO in Las Vegas, it was a moment that a video game could certainly reproduce, but never in a fair manner. In McGregor’s case, it was a moment of skill and opportunity, his opponent rushing his punches out of tension. In a video game, limited by today’s technology at least, it would need to be random luck.

If McGregor ever needs reminding as to the fickle and unpredictable nature of MMA, he need look no further than the person with whom he shares the cover of EA Sports’ UFC 2. Two weeks ago, Ronda Rousey was ‘invincible’ and a 20/1 favourite over Holly Holm. In a video game, those odds would only ever let Rousey win. In reality, she was thoroughly outclassed. That’s what makes sport so fascinating.

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hat’s not to say video games don’t have their own amazing combat games, worthy of spectatorship and jaw-dropping moments. They just aren’t designed around real-world sports. The most famous of those games is probably Street Fighter, a series that has often ‘crossed over’ with other franchises as a kind of gift for fans. In another example of this, the Street Fighter character Akuma has been announced for the roster of Tekken 7. The Tekken series plays very differently to Street Fighter, so this is an interesting collaboration. Meanwhile, Akuma hasn’t even been announced for 2016’s Street Fighter V yet.

Street Fighter has given us one McGregor-like moment in its competitive history. In 2004, one of the world’s greatest players, Daigo, parried a 17-hit attack from his opponent in an EVO tournament final, before finishing that same opponent with a super attack of his own. The crowd in attendance goes wild. The video is available on YouTube and well worth watching.

Finally, if you’re sick of seeing Conor McGregor’s face everywhere, why not replace it with your own? Professional wrestling may not be as dangerous as MMA, but the banter isn’t so far off. A new app has launched for WWE 2K16 that allows you to take a selfie with your phone and upload it to the game for your custom character. It’s a brilliant, brilliant idea — one that this writer has yet to test out. If it does work, however, then perhaps the UFC and other sports will follow suit. Then you, too, can be knocked out by McGregor.

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