Fighting games are often left out of the esports discussion. When talking about competitive video games, people talk about esports, and then they talk about the fighting game community.
Fighting games are popular, they’re easy to understand, and there are tournaments going on all the time. However the viewership and prize money just doesn’t match up to the bigger esports in most cases.
There has been plenty of discussion on what needs to change. Does the FGC need to become more like esports to grow? Will making fighting game tournaments more professional destroy the essence of what the FGC actually is?
The FGC needs to change, but members don’t want esports to be too restrictive on the scene
I spoke to Justin Nelson, aka King Jae, a British Tekken and Street Fighter player, streamer, and YouTuber.
We were at the Red Bull Gaming Sphere in London, where in another room, dozens of people were taking part in the Winner Stays On Open fighting game tournament. It’s one of the biggest FGC events in the UK, attended by the likes of F-Word, Ketchup, Mustard, Damascus, and Tyrant.
It’s a great community venue, but with upcoming UK esports events taking place at venues like the Copper Box Arena, Arena Birmingham, Twickenham Stadium, and the Wembley SSE Arena, it’s easy to see the current disparity between the FGC and other esports games.
King Jae wants to see growth for the FGC
Does the FGC have the capacity to change and catch up? Does it need to? Does it even want to?
‘I’ve had this debate so many times,’ said King Jae with an almost pained smile on his face.
He’s built a reputation over the past decade as both a skilled player and a popular content creator. King Jae is keen to keep tournaments open to everyone, and is always looking for ways to get more people involved. He said that’s the main reason he does what he does.
But there are some who would argue that for fighting games to progress as esports, they need to sort the wheat from the chaff. Having huge open tournaments where everyone is welcome is great for the community aspect.
However, would having a more structured format where top players are guaranteed screen time be better for those who are actually trying to make a living from being the very best?
It’s such a bummer. If teams had more guarantees that top players would get stream time, like at E League, instead of worried that they could get knocked out by a fluke in open brackets, the pros could make more money.
— MonteCristo (@MonteCristo) May 4, 2018
I could see the internal struggles within King Jae as he tried to explain both sides of the argument.
‘I come from a time when we were playing at tournaments in the UK for £30,’ he said. ‘Now there’s tournaments like CS:GO, Dota, their prize pool is ridiculous money, life changing money.
‘With fighting games, some of the members of the community are stuck in their old ways. They’re like “no we don’t need esports, we don’t wanna change, we don’t need things censored, we don’t wanna be controlled.” That’s their way.
‘To some degree I understand, but if you want proper money, you have to do things professionally.’
There are some big tournaments for fighting games, but most are smaller, community events
King Jae said he would love fighting games to become more like esports, but only if the organisers can do things in an authentic way that appeals to the existing community.
‘In America they did the ELEAGUE The Challenger, but it was like a forced TV show, none of the rivalries felt natural.
‘Esports can come in and change a couple of things but make sure it still has the FGC aura that it’s had since before the time of esports. Removing Open tournaments would alienate a lot of people. Fighting games are niche, so if you alienate people…
‘There’s people here that have come from Newcastle or however far. They know they’re not gonna win, but they just want to be part of the community. If there’s an esports fighting game competition with only elite players, you might think “forget about this, let me go and get a 9 to 5 instead.”
‘Esports can come and get the elite players and do stuff like that every so often. But also include everyone else, because fighting games are still growing. People are still discovering tournaments nowadays.’
The Gfinity Elite Series is one UK based tournament where the organisers are trying to make fighting games more professional. King Jae says it’s been good so far, but it’s still making a few mistakes.
‘A lot more of that stuff needs to happen in the FGC, because fighting games have been around for ages, we just haven’t got that spotlight yet.
‘With Gfinity they did the backgrounds of the players, that was amazing. How they put it together was pretty cool. The first to one format maybe isn’t great, maybe if they did first to two it would be better.
‘I also saw on social media people complaining about the classic “esports folding their arm pictures.” Some people are saying they should allow the players to have their own pose so they have more personality.’
Gfinity has tried to bring professionalism to the FGC with Street Fighter V in the Elite Series
Personality is certainly one of the things the FGC has going for it, particularly when compared to other competitive games. It’s particularly known for the trash talk, with players creating call out videos and making comments on social media. King Jae assured me that there’s no hostility though.
‘The FGC is very close. Everyone knows everyone. People who came to the last Winner Stays On have come to this one, they’ll go to the next one. The trash talk is popular because it builds hype. If people just came and said “good games” and then went home it’s like “what am I trying to get good for?”
‘I feel like I’ve grown up, but back when I was younger I would do trash talk videos saying like “you’re rubbish.” Then people would want to come out and see the match. It builds energy, that’s how things grow.’
The problem is, the reserved attitude that King Jae wants to avoid is exactly the way esports professionals in the top games behave. There are occasional Twitter spats, but in general, it’s a polite handshake and a comment about how the better team won in the post-match interview.
‘The top esports have the numbers and viewers already,’ King Jae countered. ‘Fighting games are nowhere near that. Call out videos and stuff makes it more exciting and accessible.’
Everyone has heard of the likes of Street Fighter, Tekken, and so on. Whenever a new game in a big series comes out, it always sells well. But if you have a search on Twitch, unless there’s a big tournament like Evo or the Capcom Pro Tour live, it’s tough to find anyone streaming fighting games.
King Jae thinks that’s a problem, and is part of the reason why the FGC is struggling to blow up like certain other competitive games are. He points to the likes of Fortnite and PUBG which have become hugely popular on Twitch, and how they’re having an esports scene grow around them, despite their infancy.
‘There are so many personalities that could do it, but they just don’t, I don’t know why. I’ve never really seen anyone in the UK or Europe make content creating a massive success for fighting games. I really wanted that to be my goal.’
His current big project is a sort of theme song and video, in a similar vein to the entrance music found in the WWE. He got fellow FGC member Confz to rap fighting game related lyrics over it, and has been spending every free moment editing together the video, which goes live on May 20.
King Jay says that ‘if you want proper money [in the FGC] you have to do things professionally.’
It appears there’s an internal rivalry within the fighting game community about how to move forward. There are those who want to become more professional, which would mean leaving some aspects of the lifestyle behind.
There are good arguments for both sides, and until the debate is resolved, the FGC and the esports communities are going to remain separated, which is a real shame as they both have great things to offer each other.
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