Everywhere you look in the FGC, you can see widespread acceptance of our new way of life. This new esports existence is overtaking communities, and at times it feels as if we are choosing to ignore the damage that could be and already has been done, which is harmful to all of our long-term growth.
The most easily observable example of the threat esports poses is in the growing division between “esports games” and “poverty games.” In a community that is supposed to be united as “the FGC,” this is a divide that does not sit right no matter how much glitz and glamour is attached to our new esports stage. If we don’t pay attention to the warning signs, what are seeing the beginning of a growing chasm between the players, the companies, the tournaments, and the community.
We are already seeing games that don’t have esports-level fame or corporate investment being dismissed as “dead games that no one plays,” and this mentality is so toxic and infectious that it even convinces players that their own game isn’t worth playing. Take a look at The King of Fighters XIV: despite having a massive game with a robust cast, and even continued support from SNK and its community, many are treating it like it’s dead, or close to dying already simply because there are no massive pot bonuses or large-scale tours. Games and communities are being compared to esports fighters more often each day, and this is actively causing harm to everyone’s growth.
This negative mind-state isn’t strictly impacting smaller games, either: Mortal Kombat X and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 players got trapped in this same mindset, for a time. MKX players became accustomed to the ESL prestige they had for 3 seasons, and players started to panic when that level of support was pulled. We’ve talked about Marvel 3 before, and how the combination of no support from Capcom and a small decrease in numbers spiraled community attitude down to the point where people really did almost give up on it. Seeing these two communities, it almost feels like players get addicted to the grand scale and level they achieve, and panic if it fluctuates. Some of us are starting to lose our sense of self, making it harder to enjoy our scene for what it is, instead of focusing on what it isn’t.
Many dismiss the thought of trying to improve the toxic attitude by telling players to suck it up, or claiming that if people can’t handle this kind of antagonism then they don’t belong here in the first place, but this is a serious problem. This doesn’t only impact existing players by creating a oppressive atmosphere, it also impacts newcomers. New players heavily rely on the groundwork that we lay–be it tutorials and guides, to our advice and suggestions about games–to learn where they can fit in. If someone new to the community comes in and sees everyone saying that select games are dead, that no one plays them, they’ll avoid ever even picking the game up and trying it for themselves. This is especially bad now that we’re getting more new players than ever before: we need to support each other to continue growing, but the bigger one of us gets, the harder it seems for us to move forward together.
As a Fighting Game Community, we are entirely too concerned about just fighting for the corners of our own games. When one of our bigger games gets a stage, when a community leader finds a niche that their game can fill, it does little for the rest of the games in the community. This can be seen simply by looking at big esports news sites; what are the fighting games they’re looking at for their FGC coverage? It’s Street Fighter V and Smash, that’s all. There’s no Guilty Gear, no BlazBlue, no Killer Instinct, no Mortal Kombat after ESL, very little King of Fighters if any, and many of those are our most recent fighters. I am happy that we have made it to esports sites at all, but we need to not grow complacent in this. While the players of a specific game looking out for their game is nothing shameful, if we can push past that we can eventually get to the point where the rest of the esports community will want to hear about more than one or two games a year.
If we aren’t actively trying to pull each other up, the issues I’ve described are going to continue happening. An entire community helping multiple games already has precedence, which is important to take note of. The Smash scene, which is larger, more organized, and higher paid than any individual fighting game community, accomplishes this in part thanks to their ability to support all of their Smash titles simultaneously. Smash is by no means perfect, as their community does struggle with elitism and toxicity. Primarily, this revolves around some members trying to tear each other down for their particular flavor of Smash game.
While this behavior in Smash didn’t come about from esports, the parallels can be made to a community that through growth and seniority treats one section better than the rest. The fact that the Smash scene is so large and exhibits both large-scale unity and dissonance is important: no community can ever be perfect, but learning from Smash’s structure in both how to come together and how to avoid community fissures is important.
The issues we’ve talked about here could eventually widen the divide between esports games and “poverty games” even further, to the point where the FGC eventually fractures into two distinct communities that have little crossover. Such a divide would allow the esports games to have a sleeker experience, further optimizing performance, so who knows, maybe that’s the most logical choice for both the community of the popular game and the tournaments that run it. After all, NFL doesn’t promote NBA, and Overwatch doesn’t promote League of Legends, so what reason does Street Fighter have to assist Guilty Gear? I think we can do better, but I understand why people aren’t inclined to pull other communities up.
I think one great way to help ensure that multiple games get noticed is by getting news outlets to cover more games. This works for normal Sports, through ESPN; if a viewer wouldn’t normally be exposed to Hockey due to being a Football fan, just watching ESPN can introduce them to new areas in the community. Make it known to your news outlets of choice that you’d like to see wider game coverage, let them know what games you want them to cover–they take notice of that kind of thing.
Being aware the scene is growing is the most important thing each of us can do. It’s one thing to know that there are more players, one thing to know that we’re getting more attention and money, but it’s another to understand what it all means. All of us are doing what we can to improve our scene in the ways we know how, but it is our responsibility to be conscious of the impact our actions have on our growth as a whole. None of us are perfect, no community is or can be perfect, but what we can do is ensure we maintain all the things that make us special, unique, and distinct as we move forward and continue to grow.