A lot of people playing fighting games for many different reasons: they may enjoy the complicated execution they require, or like the back-and-forth that can only be achieved when dancing for position, or maybe they just plain think the characters/storyline overall is cool. But to consider yourself a member of the overall fighting game community is something done because most people truly do love that communal aspect of the genre. Whether it be the local scene, finding people online, or meeting people from across the country and even the world at national tournaments, I doubt there’s anyone in the FGC who hasn’t earned at least a few longtime, if not lifetime, friends from it. Like any slice of fandom, those within it are ruthlessly loyal, and pretty quick to suss out any individual looking to harm the community or harvest their work without giving back. This is a great thing, IMO; a lot of people find solace from a tough life in this hobby, and they can recognize the traits of abusers and ne’er-do-wells because they deal with it already.
And, also like any slice of fandom, the FGC still has its problems dealing with people who try to take advantage of a community largely made up of young men and women who may not know any better. And even though there are telltale signs everytime, the FGC leadership rarely steps in if it means stepping on the toes of big money.
Now like I said at the start, it’s important to understand why people have their defenses up. When something is a big part of your life, you will defend it through thick and thin, because you see it as a space where you can safely be yourself. Unfortunately, this particular brand of E-Sports is the Wild West: unregulated, open territory that is prey to charlatans and opportunists. The FGC has made itself a niche for people from all walks of life, of every color and creed, but that doesn’t mean that it is perfect or suddenly free from the influences of the aforementioned no-goodniks; like any community, it has its less than reputable elements that can cause harm if gone unchecked.
Unfortunately, a lot of people seem to think that because the FGC is familial and loyal, that protects them from criticism of their brand and its offerings because they “do it for the FGC.” ‘We’re trying to help you guys grow,’ they’ll say! ‘Without us, you’ll be stuck in hotel ballrooms playing for peanuts!’ They always say things like that, too, because they feel as if they represent the FGC’s only chance at legitimacy, which is ludicrous.
Case in point, this recent Dragonball FighterZ tournament that paid out half its winnings in a cryptocurrency that rapidly depreciated not too long after the event.
Because of course it did.
Some context: back in April, the Canadian-based Millennial Esports announced they had partnered with longtime FGC stalwart Team Spooky and a cryptocurrency group called Fantasy Gold Coins to run a Dragonball FighterZ tournament at their Las Vegas arena. Apparently Fantasy Gold Coin is big into E-Sports throuhg its FGC (acronym for the company, not the fighting game community) Arena and is totally on the up and up.
I’ll bet that’s totally legit!
Now in the initial tweet, which was a couple months ago, you’ll see that the second tweet clearly lays out that the prize pool, which equals (this will be the sticking point) ten thousand dollars, is made up of $5,000 through the crowd-sourcing website Matcherino, and the other $5,000 is distributed in this cryptocurrency. But since then, notice that every tweet that promoted the event, including the tweet above, listed it as a “$10,000” tournament. One could argue that unless you specifically saw the one tweet back in April, it wasn’t very clear that half of that very large prize pool was going to be in cryptocurrency, which is a problem all unto its own.
Cryptocurrency, as John Oliver put it in his breakdown of the commodity on HBO’s Last Week Tonight, is a very complicated thing, with almost no regulation and no sense of where it will go. It no doubt has real potential and the ideas behind are pretty brilliant, but it’s a tough thing to just leap into. Even the most successful cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, have been having terrible market fluctuations as the world is still trying to make sense of the whole thing; if E-Sports is the Wild West, then crypto is the Lewis and Clark expedition, hurdling ever more towards the unknown. That fluctuation, by the way, happens all the time, as the market is extremely volatile. Because of the lack of regulation, the market is prone to the “pump and dump” strategy, that was popular in Wall Street during the 90’s, where promoters upplay the validity and worth of cheap stock and then sell when investor fever is at its highest, leaving many of those investors out of money and the promoters with accusations of insider trading (Go see The Wolf of Wall Street, it’s all about it!).
Having said all that, I think it’s more than a bit disingenuous to advertise the prize pool as a guaranteed 10k because that crypto may not be worth the full other 5k in as much as a few hours. And what if you don’t know how to use it? The FGC Arena guys noted that there was a “crypto ATM” on site in order for people to deposit their coin, but what if that value had already gone down?
Well, a couple weeks after the event was finished, Millennial E-Sports was back in the FGC news cycle again, this time with news that they were hosting an event for King of Fighters XIV that would be sponsored by Cross Counter TV, which is an extremely popular FGC content creator started by none other than Ryan “Gootecks” Gutierrez (also known as Ryan “Being poor is a mindset” Gutierrez). Only difference was that some players from the DBFZ tournament run at the Millennial E-Sports arena had something to say.
And just like that, we got our first mention that this cryptocurrency wasn’t holding up in the volatile, unpredictable market. Naturally, this got a lot of people talking, and some of the other players from that tournament gave out the information on what their crypto was currently worth.
A few people in the comments, including Gootecks himself, were quick to point out that Millennial just hosted the event, and for any actual problems with payout, people should consult Fantasy Gold for problems with the payments. Of course, there are problems with that too. Take a look at this weird, grammatically incorrect and barely coherent tweet from the main(!) account for this FGC Arena group:
Somewhere in that rambling, incoherent response we can see that they promised a guaranteed cash payout. But unfortunately, that version doesn’t jive with what we were told. Also involved in this Twitter shitfest was the General Manager for Millennial’s arena. He, too, was weird and defensive, and then this came out:
So the 5th place guy in a 10k pool, half of which was crypto and half of which was cash, only got crypto? When the coin running the event GUARANTEED cash prizes? Something stinks here. The defense for this was…not great.
So we have two conflicting accounts, and neither side seems to be willing to admit fault. Where in any of the promotion leading up did they say that only the top 4 would be paid in actual cash? It’s definitely possible that the people who feel slighted may not have paid all that much attention, but it still seems weird to me that none of the promotional material seemed to include this fact, and just touted that $10,000 prize. Guaranteed cash, remember!
This general manager is a piece of work, by the way; he’s on the main subreddit of the FGC, r/kappa, being, again, weird and defensive too. R/kappa is a pretty negative place on any given day, but this guy was doing himself no favors:
Didn’t end there, either!
But I wonder, would this guy, as a general manager and all, whom is surely a professional, just ignore obvious trolls and go along his day?
All this makes me wonder, just how much is Millennial working with Fantasy Gold? Clearly they are big believers in it, but the whole thing just seems amiss. Another user on Twitter was kind enough to ask some other pertinent questions regarding this rapidly growing cryptocurrency when one of the top placers at the tournament adamantly defended it:
Oh, and don’t worry, Mr. general manager was back with more snark!
Yes, of course, the salt one feels when paid in a highly volatile, month-old currency that barely makes any sense to begin with…
In the interest of fairness, Fantasy Gold did end up supplying the players that felt they were ripped off with a payment that was to make up what they should have earned…a payment that was issued in Fantasy Gold Coin, of course!
While this all sounds completely nuts, I’m kind of used to it, by now. As long as I can remember being around the FGC, these kind of wheeler-dealers have been there too, trying to hustle people into embracing a new, shaky future in order to help line their pockets. These guys also hardly sounded like the worst ever; sure they may have not been clear on the whole prize pool thing, but at least they actually paid the staff they brought in and some of the players.
No, I think what disappointed me the most about this one was that we did have a very legitimate person backing it in Victor “Spooky” Fontanez, and it still turned out to be a bit of a shit show with regards to pay (by all counts, the actual event ran smoothly).
Spooky has been streaming fighting games for 10+ years now, and is arguably one of the most beloved figures in the entire community. He worked tirelessly for a long time streaming events, no matter how small, and now has a job at XSplit, which is one of the premiere internet broadcasting programs in the world. I have always been super happy for his success, but I was a little dismayed by his response to this whole thing.
My first red flag was when he was suddenly harsh toward Ian Walker, a freelance journalist who specializes on FGC content and has for many years. Walker is not exactly a master of tact, but his heart has always been in trying to protect the FGC from outside mountebanks. Look how quickly he gets shut down:
My best guess as to the nature of the response is probably that Walker writes on occasion for Kotaku, which is a gaming culture website that has a contentious history with the FGC. That’s a whole other can of worms, but I will say that I genuinely think Kotaku has done a lot to change their FGC content for the better, and blowing off Ian like this, to me, wasn’t a very mature response to a pretty important question.
Of course just minutes later, Spooky does end up giving some sort of statement:
He then clarified his thoughts on the matter the next day, which was my second red flag:
While this is a pretty classy move, and definitely better than 99% of people who have been caught up in very similar scenarios, I just can’t help but wonder something: why do it in the first place if you felt uncomfortable with it from the start? And he also says that he knew the crypto would cause a misunderstanding, but earlier he said that even he was misinformed on how it would work! It seems to me that if you’re not comfortable with the way an event is paying people, you shouldn’t put yourself in a position to be misinformed, months after you’ve already confirmed to be working with them.
The problem here, and I can certainly empathize with Spooky here, is that as the FGC continues to grow, big opportunities like this one are going to come roaring in and demand that they be taken seriously and have plenty of money to spare. Standing in the way of that is always written off as being entitled, selfish, and actively toxic to the community, because who are you to stand in the way of players getting their dream of being a pro player just because you don’t like the way something works? It’s a very damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t scenario, and I don’t mean to imply that Fontanez had ill intentions at all, but I do think he may have been better off voicing his opinions and concerns sooner rather than later, when the damage was done.
I don’t even mean to say that the Millennial E-Sports guys are crooks, but I am curious as to why their response was so harsh when, if they are truly as into the FGC as they claim, they should know why people would ask these questions. Time and time again, guys have cheated players out of potential money, or players have been involved in lucrative ponzi schemes that they rope other players into. Hell, I’ve even written about two scenarios when that kind of thing happened at tournaments! And it’s always the same kind of responses: vague about what the tournament actually is, incredulity when confronted with the idea that they are less than honest, then a solemn promise that they’ll “do better next time.”
When people within the community start seeing such recognizable patterns, we should start asking questions until we find out how legitimate a tournament or organizer is. And for organizers who truly are on the up-and-up, there really shouldn’t be any cause for this defensive and aggressive discourse. When these organizers rush to defend a fairly shady enterprise while not offering much explanation itself, it makes me wonder if they truly want to help the FGC grow, or just care about lining their pockets, no matter how sordid the source. And my reasoning for that is because, again, this happens all the time.
When confronted with weird situations like this, its natural for any community to want to look to its top players or anyone with enough clout to say something so we can get these kinds of guys to give us a straight answer. But instead, we have seen the same top players openly shill for events that people could tell were not totally legit, but used their brand to help promote it anyways. Look at ReveLAations 2012, which was run by known crook John Nelson and was promoted to hell and back by guys like Ryan “FillipinoChamp” Ramirez, Maximilian “Maximilian Dood” Christiansen, and Justin Wong. Video x Games 2013 was much the same way, where we had players like Gootecks and Michael “Yipes” Mendoza attending the event and pushing it hard even though it was run by an actual criminal. That’s not to say these players are bad people, but I think that it kinda sucks when you have the potential to say an event is run by guys with a bad history and then don’t, either because of the promise of money or unearned goodwill.
I truly hope that, one day, the FGC can get to a point where it has the E-Sports production values that will greatly enhance the viewer and player experience while not having to deal with swindlers and disreputable organizations/people. I do believe that state is attainable, too, but I think some of the scene leaders could do a better job of vetting the moneymen, especially since most of them have been involved with some of the biggest con artists in the scene at some point or another (one of whom is involved in the crypto game, because of course). Obviously everyone wants the scene and its players to have a go at actual careers and real money, but it needs to be done in a way that truly benefits everyone, and not just a few people who stand to make some cash off the event.
Anywhoodles, that about does her, wraps ‘er all up. I apologize for the long absence on the blog, but I was getting something started up that I’m very excited to share with you all, which is my new podcast with Tekken legend Brad “Slips” Vitale! We’re calling it the Slips and Hippo show, and we are trying to have in-depth discussions that largely revolve around the NRS side of the FGC. New episodes are coming out pretty quickly, and we’re looking to incorporate a lot of cool visual stuff, so please stay tuned to that by subscribing to my YouTube channel linked above or following me on Twitter @KingHippo42 for updates. Thanks again to all who read these small epics, and until we meet again, I’m out of here!