The Fighting Game Community is one of those grassroots scenes that has become quite popular for various reasons. From legendary comebacks, incredible stories of players that fight against the odds to play how they want, and even the way some fighting game players have done what they could to help communities in need.
Indeed, the FGC has been considered a tightly-knit community that has been proud of being welcoming and clean. Unfortunately, even this kind of community isn't without its setbacks, from corrupt tournament organizers and troublesome players that have muddled the community's perception to the subject of today's article: incredibly unsustainable economic schemes.
Here's the thing: whether we want to or not, money talks. Unfortunately, this also means that the FGC can't really sustain itself with just its goodwill. For these events to happen, Tournament Organizers and Players have to invest a lot of money to make things work. Players have to pay for their travel expenses and accommodations, while TOs have to work with venues, setups, and other factors.
The reality is that the Fighting Game Community has always been known to support each other. Players bring their own consoles to help TOs ease off with investments; TOs often have dedicated their resources to high production values and welcoming community environments, etcetera. The problem is that this is not a sustainable concept which, in turn, leaves prize pools with barely anything to speak of for the best of players.
A year ago, I (alongside fledgling journalist Christopher Falcon) uncovered the shady dealings behind an eSports organization that was trying to grasp the Fighting Game Community. They did this under the pretense of having higher payouts and even better prize pools. Of course, the FGC was gleeful to see this until the murkier facts came along about how the organization (known as 1xBET) was the leader of a criminal gambling ring operating from the Republic of Cyprus.
That's a lot of baggage for the FGC to want to deal with. We certainly did get that impression, considering the pushback the FGC did on 1xBET (and, by extension, its partner company WePlay) at the time. Heck, even NetherRealm Studios and Bandai Namco disavowed them. So, imagine my shock when I saw that some players wished this partnership did happen.
Getting into top 8 in such stacked and sweaty tournament will grant you with free meal at McDonald's at best. Shit makes me salty af! Those players deserve better than this. You become a COMBO BREAKER CHAMPION - ONE OF THE BIGGEST FG TOURNAMENTS IN PLANET AND GET A FUCKIN $600???
— Hamid (@MKAzerbaijan) May 30, 2022
Here's the problem that's been kept under wraps by the Fighting Game Community for so long. There are a lot of financial issues within it for a myriad of reasons. Saying that this is the fault of a particular entity is not only disingenuous but also ignores the bigger picture. Some uninformed journalists can just go and say, "Hey, it's the fault of the TOs" or "It's because of a lack of sponsors". But in reality, the problem is bigger than that.
Of course, that isn't to say that TOs and Sponsors aren't involved in this. When interviewing Eli "John Xuandou" Jackson (Ex-Hit Box Arcade), he gave me some insight about what he thinks regarding this issue with some information from the sponsor side of things.
I've talked with a few people from these organizations that have either handled these deals or were around as they were happening and it's basically several major things to my understanding. The first is that fighting games historically always have been a lower tier of eSport and they're treated as such.
There was a period of time where it was seen as a flex to have a fighting game team because it was a waste of money, in that your FG team was not going to bring in the merch sales and ad dollars that other factions of your org did and keeping that team operational might just end up breaking even as a best-case scenario.
Of course, players don't necessarily care about that. They would rather have the big payouts and all expensed paid trips. Why not, right? I mean, many of the players in highly competitive events for games like CS:GO and Fortnite compete for life-changing prize pools while continuing to grow.
If the FGC has high-end tournaments such as EVO (which recently partnered with PlayStation) and Combo Breaker with high production values, why can't they deliver higher prize pools? Josh "Icege" McWorther, a highly influential TO and commentator who spoke to me for my previous 1xBET coverage, said:
I think that a lot of players look at the bright lights and production value as a sign that fighting games have "arrived." There's also the idea that if there is money for all of those sparkles, there is money for players.
That isn't always the case, because in the end these are businesses seeking to make a profit. It will also lead to increased opportunities for top/networked players/content creators. That money won't spread throughout the community.
The irony of this situation is that the FGC's community spirit also doesn't open itself well for sponsorships. While some might say that this has kept its integrity, some others might also think that this is something that kept the FGC isolated from other eSports. John gave me some more insight regarding this very problem:
[The FGC] has a bad reputation to many sponsors, there's the idea that the FGC hates eSports and just doesn't want to work with anyone. Because the FGC has notoriety for being a bad business partner, many don't want to take the chance to begin with, and when you see how many orgs get (rightfully) mocked or pushed out of the scene, it's easy to see why they have that impression.
And here's the kicker. While the Fighting Game Community has tried to keep that positive reputation, it doesn't mean it's succeeded, especially considering that several fighting game developers still have a murky relationship with their communities. And yes, the FGC has pushed several organizations away in the past, albeit not without cause, as several of those organizations have either been showing a history of corruption or just didn't understand how the community works.
Let's also say that, while the community is heavily known for its raw spirit and unfiltered emotion, it isn't necessarily something sponsors would like to see. Sure, we have the magnificent stories of FGC heroes and villains duking it out on the field alongside legendary sagas where two fierce rivals fight one another in an FT10 set. But for someone on the outside, more often than not, it can look like entertainment but not the kind the FGC wants.
Is the solution partnering with a company like 1xBET? A company that would not even care about any of these factors? Obviously not, as it would cause a lot more issues with the FGC's image. Not only that, but it could also open floodgates for cheating scandals and such. John certainly believes that doing something of the sort would cause irreparable damage to the community on a bigger scale:
To me, the actual threat of allowing shady online gambling organizations to exist is the potential for money laundering. It would be comparatively trivial for an organization that was so inclined to fudge the numbers and work the books to facilitate that sort of higher-level criminal activity, and if that were to happen the FGC would suddenly be a hotbed for people trying to clean their dirty money.
Eventually, you'd have phony esports orgs that are just fronts for whatever nefarious groups that run their own events for the explicit purpose of this type of gambling and money laundering. If those groups then decided they were going to go after grassroots events and strongarm them out of the competition, promise the top players with a big payday, -which some are eager to get regardless of the source- they could start drawing talent, viewers, sponsors, and money from community events and eventually just stamp out the original community.
It's incredible, but really, it should be expected. I'm sure this isn't the first time you heard this, but the larger eSports communities also have their fair share of scam organizations. Below, you can watch a documentary surrounding only one of those fake orgs called Regal Reserve which constantly tried to string players along for the promise of big payouts and even a mansion.
The problem is still that FGC payouts are low and players want to naturally be paid more because they are competing to be the best in international events with high production values. We certainly don't want to lose the production values; unfortunately, sponsors are certainly not interested in joining the tournament organizers.
We established that partners like 1xBET are not the solution. But the answer would be to have more audiences shell out money. After all, the FGC is a community that supports one another; as such, players would be more interested in helping the tournaments if given a chance. And no, this isn't achieved by increasing venue fees. This is done through one of the marvels of the internet, crowdfunding.
As John puts it:
There's been a push from people in the scene to start adopting services like Matcherino, where viewers can kick money into the pot through crowdfunding, which has seen a lot of success at local events like Next Level Battle Circuit.
Another solution would be to increase tournament entries. Sure, fighting game tournaments are widely popular and see hundreds, if not thousands of players. But at the same time, not many players know that there are ways to get involved in competitive circuits. Epic Games certainly knows how to keep their eSports circuits known to all players, so it would be good for developers like Capcom and Arc System Works to keep players up to speed about competitive leagues. Granted, they've become much better at promoting themselves. But they still got some ways to go.
Living off playing video games (competitively or otherwise) is the ultimate dream for many players, within the Fighting Game Community or not. The concept of making a sustainable income from doing things you're passionate about is one of the things many people strive for. Unfortunately, the FGC still doesn't have the ways to make this dream come true.
In a perfect world, this wouldn't even be an issue. Fighting game developers would create events like The International to help make incredibly welcoming prize pools; sponsors would be happy to work together with Fighting game developers and community figures, and the players would essentially have no issues getting to the spot they want to reach.
Unfortunately, the grim reality is that the Fighting Game Community still has a long way to go to be recognized as a legitimate eSports. This doesn't just mean having tournaments with high production values and streams. It involves a higher number of players who are not just willing to watch but also participate as supporters of the scene.
Will this ever be accomplished? It depends on a variety of factors. But at the very least, I hope that players, TOs, and even developers realize that partnering with corrupt organizations such as 1xBET is not the way to go. I certainly don't want to see a new wave of scammers and money laundering schemes being created by what could be a very short-term solution that, yes, would help top players but also completely consume the FGC's integrity and image.
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