The Mortal Kombat scene is unusual among current fighting games. Their scene persevered without developer support for years, but recently the ESL Leagues got a lot of attention very quickly. With NeatherRealm backing away from the scene and focusing on Injustice 2, some fans are left in a bit of a daze from the esports stature seemingly being given–and then stripped away.
To get better insight into the scene and the future of the community, I contacted one of the top players for some input. Bryan “KitanaPrime” Benzing sat down with us and discussed the scene, as well as his sudden loss of sponsorship [due to the shutdown of EVB Gaming – Editor] and his own future with the game.
John “Zidiane” Silvia: Alright. So, to start off, would you mind just introducing yourself for people who may not know you? Your name, games you play, achievements, etc.
Bryant “KitanaPrime” Benzing: Well for starters, I am Bryant Benzing, known to the FGC as KitanaPrime. If you’ve seen anything that involves me, you’d know I’m an NeatherRealm Studios guy through and through as far as the games I play competitively. Top Kitana player, top commentator, and I also run the NRS games portion of most of the majors. I’m also a crowd hype monster, so take a look anywhere near a Mortal Kombat X setup (or any game on finals day!) and you can usually find me.
Zidiane: How long have you been playing games competitively?
KitanaPrime: I play a lot of games, mostly single player, but only have the drive and passion to play fighting games competitively. I look at the clock and it’s been a little over 4 years. My first tournament was CEO 2012, a year after Mortal Kombat 9 was released, as I stumbled onto the FGC by a pure stroke of luck.
Believe it or not, I don’t remember how or where, but I stumbled across Justin vs. Daigo EVO  Grand Finals for Street Fighter IV and as I was watching the YouTube comments (I know, worst on the internet) talk about how the fireball game was “just spam” and how “my friend could beat them” I thought two things: what makes this so effective? If these guys are in finals, something HAS to be, right? …and two, do they have anything like this for Mortal Kombat? That’s the fighting game franchise I’ve loved my entire life.
I immediately started searching for anything MK and came across Tom Brady vs. Perfect Legend Power 2011 Grand Finals and I was HOOKED.
I could go on forever about how this changed everything, but I’m here now, and maybe those stories are for another time.
Zidiane: Do you ever think about how there might be someone just starting out, looking at your matches like you looked at Tom Brady vs. Perfect Legend?
KitanaPrime: I do. Getting a little more personal here, but anyone out there who follows me knows I’m a depressed person. I vent through social media to not keep it bottled up. The ONE thing, no matter what, that will always make me chill and drift back into calm are the message I receive from new players. The “you’re my inspiration,” “I play this game and pick Kitana because of you,” etc., so much support, it’s crazy. I do this because I love it, and the people give back. I always encourage new players/viewers/whoever to get involved. It happens more often than I ever expected.
Zidiane: I’m glad you have that positive feedback. Speaking on your social media, I do follow your Twitter. That was actually how I learned about you losing your EVB sponsor. If you don’t mind me asking, what does it mean for a player to suddenly become a free agent like this?
KitanaPrime: It’s surprising, because it was so sudden and without warning. I just woke up one morning and there it was, I was no longer sponsored. It’d been 18 months, and here I am, without a team or… I don’t know, man. It just is what it is. So I have to carry on, the same way I did before and hopefully I can find a home somewhere else in the near future.
Zidiane: Has this had any kind of impact has this had on your ability to play games, or your ability to make it out to events?
KitanaPrime: Absolutely. With NEC, KiT and Frosty Faustings being my personal upcoming tournament calendar, currently there’s a strong chance I now miss one, if not all of these events.
Zidiane: Are there any plans in the works for moving forward? I’m just curious what the next step is, both professionally and competitively for you?
KitanaPrime: At the end of the day, the scene carries on. It was here before me and will be after I’m gone, whenever that day comes. If I don’t get picked up, I’m still going to try to make the events either way. I love this scene and will not stop playing, commentating, directing tournaments, doing interviews, whatever–until I’m unable to, by whatever definition. Injustice 2 is on the way, MKX just got it’s second wind, not to mention the general march towards overall FGC esports… and there’s plenty of new players who need ushering in. I am still the man to do it all.
Zidiane: You obviously care a lot about your scene, which is another thing I see you post on your Twitter. What are your thoughts on the current state of the MKX/NRS community?
KitanaPrime: Community is where it starts. You can show up, remain quiet, do your own thing and that’s cool. However, if you’re gonna see all of these people multiple times a year, over the years, I encourage you to get to know people or at least make acquaintance. Our guys are super welcoming and I guarantee you it doesn’t mirror the toxicity you see in the online world! Nothing is perfect, of course there’s people who may not get along, or there’s a bad seed here and there, but it’s definitely a family atmosphere. I mean, it’s not the Skullgirls community (which is a ridiculous btw, that’s family), but nothing like what people may perceive from what you may see on the online side of things. So many players/spectators meet the guys and girls for the first time, and the scene almost certainly will collectively make you feel like you’ve been there for a while.
Zidiane: I have occasionally seen you make some comments about frustrations you have about the community. Something to the effect of focusing too heavily on developer tournament support, I believe. Do you think there are any ways that the competitive community can improve as a collective?
KitanaPrime: Yeah, I wasn’t mad with the community, per se, it was more of a “hold that” for those prepared to end it after what was our usual cycle for NRS games. MKX has outlasted both MK9 and Injustice in dev support in every category. Those who either wished “death” or assumed MKX was done after the second EVO can take that negativity somewhere else. NRS has proven it’s a different ball game. With the success of the ESL Proleague + grassroots events still garnering the support, I have no doubt that NRS wants to help the community continue to play MKX alongside Injustice 2 which is sitting right there on the horizon. 2017 isn’t too far off!
Zidiane: So, the tweets were more to encourage people to not give up on the game and stick with it more than anything, correct?
KitanaPrime: Yes sir. If you’re a part of a scene, no matter the game, no one should tell you it’s done. Keep rocking if you want to, regardless, especially when a lot of the nay-saying comes from people not involved in the scene in any capacity.
Zidiane: So, MKX of course is still running strong, especially with that latest balance patch. What do you see in the future for MKX, in 2017 and perhaps beyond?
KitanaPrime: No idea, but we’ll see where it goes. It’s still here and it’s a clean start so far. I’m hoping to continue playing competitively alongside Injustice 2 within the scene. NRS has spoken, now the ball is in our court. Another ESL season wouldn’t hurt either.
Zidiane: Were there any final words you wanted to say to the MKX community, or anyone else who may be listening?
KitanaPrime: Short and sweet. If any part of the FGC interests you, any game, I ask you plan ahead and attend at least one major. Worth it! Say what up and welcome to extended family.
KitanaPrime’s schedule of Major events is currently KiT, NEC, and Frosty Faustings, if you’d like to meet him. He isn’t shy when it comes to the community, but with his unfortunate sponsorship situation you may instead need to just catch up with him online. He’s active on Twitter and Facebook, and he occasionally streams his favorite games on Twitch.
Additional Source: EVB Gaming (Twitter)