I think everyone who has ever been involved with the Fighting Game Community can remember their first time. No, get your head out of the gutter, I’m talking about something else! What I’m talking about is that first time that you feel, whether it’s during a late-night meal after a practice session or in a packed hotel room after a major event, the almost mystical feeling of this is where I belong. I still remember mine: Final Round 2012 in Atlanta, GA. The tournament itself wasn’t very good, but on the Saturday of that weekend, a 5 on 5 exhibition was held that involved ten pillars of the then-fledgling community who almost exclusively played Mortal Kombat and other fighters from Netherrealm Studios. Some of my training partners played in it, and although they got their ass kicked, the elation and fun of being in that room with all that energy powered me through the disappointment of seeing my friends lose and being packed in like a sardine. 3 years of competing in tournaments and I was finally home. I’ve been a lifer ever since, having played every NRS game competitively in some fashion and creating content exclusively tailored to that community.
I bring all that up because I don’t want anyone reading this article to get the impression that I hold some kind of grudge against the community or think that I’m a Johnny-Come-Lately just slinging hot takes around. I have a special place in my heart for the NRS scene, have for a long time, and I love it enough to point out its flaws and more pernicious elements. That’s why this blog exists, and that’s why I feel the need to write this particular piece.
Recently, there was a flare up on NRS Twitter when the organization Beyond The Summit announced they were bringing NRS games to their popular format. This is a big deal; the Summit is one of the top invitational-type events in competitive gaming period, and to get featured on it is to be watched by thousands of viewers and a production that will make you look like a million bucks. At the time, the only announcement was that the event was happening, and further details were going to be coming later. Of course, it took less than 24 hour for all that to blow up, because it very quickly became business as usual for the NRS community.
Tommy Tweedy, a top level NRS competitor, tweeted out that he was concerned that players not traditionally seen as “NRS players” were going to be invited to the Summit. Not too long after that, he just posted the whole list of players going, presumably leaked from an inside source. This turned into a massive hullabaloo that took over NRS Twitter for a couple of days, and reached its zenith when Tweedy blew up harshly on commentator Evan “Wonder Chef” Hashimoto and mocked his public tweets about financially supporting his family.
Suffice to say, a nasty bit of business that resulted in some real harsh consequences: Tweedy was hastily released from his sponsor, putting his tournament presence for 2019 into extreme jeopardy. Now, there’s a lot to be said about the substance of what Tweedy was talking about with regards to the visibility of the greater NRS community, but that’s not what I’m interested in addressing. In the aftermath of all the drama, Chris Gonzalez, one of the targets of Tweedy’s tirade and one of the players on the leaked list, did a stream where he announced that he would no longer be attending The Summit after a talk with their reps, and he had some pretty nasty words for the whole of the NRS community as well. One of the pieces of “evidence” Gonzalez used was a tweet from Raptor, a longtime player and content maker for NRS games, in which Raptor described his reasons for not competing anymore, which included some bullying from known and respected community members regarding his introversion.
While Gonzalez’s stream eventually took a turn for the worst, his points about the community at large, were, in my opinion, pretty valid. The entire situation was a boiling over of some long-simmering problems from how the scene tends to act not just with outsiders, but internally as well. Behaviors that are far more isolationist, antagonistic, and toxic than intended have plagued the scene since its inception, and the worst part is that the community has had its influential members encourage and participate in that behavior instead of directly challenge it.
To start, I think it’s important to look at the origins of how the community came together, as I think it helps explain a lot of the current problems. While there were certainly small offline meetups of people playing at least the 2D era MK games, a few of who would come to be the major players in the modern-day NRS scene came from the dedicated communities who played the Mortal Kombat games of the 00’s like Mortal Kombat: Deception and Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. If there were offline meetups they weren’t really talked about, so most of the community seemed satisfied with playing the game online and communicating in online message boards.
If you’ve been on the internet in the past 6 years or so, you’ll probably know that there’s been a lot of introspection into how most folks who operate primarily online tend to act with the guise of anonymity. These early MK message boards weren’t much different, sadly. In between the usual shit talk that comes with playing any online game, ruthless in-fighting and elitism between mods and users were frequent and cataclysmic. As detailed by an old webmaster, it was typically the same group of people that would go to every site and eventually enact some schism until the next site popped up. Worth noting that the old webmaster is himself a huge shitbird, and that those posts are only noteworthy for their history, of which a huge chunk is greatly self-serving.
With TestYourMight.com, the current central hub of competitive NRS titles, the loop of boards dying due to constant in-fighting and drama appears to have stopped, but a lot of that old behavior never actually got corrected. MK9 being a real competitive game with more eyeballs on it from the FGC definitely helped to scare off a lot of the really toxic members of the community and scare straight the others. Still, it’s hard to get people to completely change, and the core of that extremely-online behavior never really went away, even as more and more of the scene became rooted in offline play.
An example of this would be who the most popular, and therefore the most influential, players were in the MK9 era. Players like Carl “Perfect Legend” White, Bill “Tom Brady” Menoutis, Brant “Pig of the Hut” McCaskill, Steve “16 Bit” Brownback, and Mani “CD Jr.” Brito were all some of the absolute top players, but they also had a recurring dominant personality trait: loud reactionaries with immature, myopic points of view. It is not the top players’ burden necessarily to be “leaders” for the scene, but whether they would admit it or not, their influence, particularly on a young and growing scene, was huge. And a lot of times not entirely for the better.
A good chunk of those guys were massively competitive, and with that came a sort of natural elitism. Not placing was tantamount to being a piece of shit loser, and if you were going to even begin to claim to be good you better beat one of them or place at the right offline tournament. Locals? Hah! Going to local events was a waste of time and money because the players weren’t good and you would get a lot better experience through the then-subpar netplay then play with the local jagoffs. If it’s not very elitist tournament players, then you’re dealing with players who are hilariously stuck in the past and use their past accomplishments as a cudgel to explain why their opinion is far better and informed than yours, no matter how inane or exceptionally wrong it may be. Even the people expected to be adults in these situations suffered from the exact same immaturity and reactionary behavior.
It is probably not surprising to see that this elitism in gameplay also turns to fanaticism and snobbery when players from “other communities” want to see what the fuss is all about with the new NRS games. Now, some of the things Tweedy said about certain players not planning to enter any tournaments past a couple of months is probably true, to be fair. I don’t expect Chris G or Justin Wong to be entering tournaments past the first DLC release, let alone the end of the game’s lifespan, but that also actually doesn’t matter. Not entering a game at a tournament is not indicative of hating the game or not wanting it to get support, yet it is so for the NRS scene’s rabble. After all, what’s the point if you’re trying to learn how to play a game and no matter how you do, an obnoxious amount of people will say that you’re going to just not play in a month so who cares or make fun of you for losing? I understand that this isn’t a prevalent school of thought at the top player level, but I think it’s also wrong to ignore how frustrating it can be when every Tom, Dick, and Harry with a Twitter account is constantly bugging you about it. It’s either all-in or nothing, and that extreme just isn’t very attractive to players who primarily play other games. No tournament ever filled out its brackets with absolute die-hards, so I’m not sure why the majority of the online NRS community seems so intent on enforcing this. Perhaps it’s bad habits learned from the elitism of its most influential players?
You can imagine that it doesn’t feel very good to be a new-ish player or one who is more well-known for other fighters who may have done well at your first or second offline event, maybe placing, say, 9th out of 60-70 people, and immediately hearing that not only does it not actually count because the event wasn’t “stacked,” but that you’re delusional if you think you’re any good at all. Let’s say, too, that you got better by going to local offline meetups; turns out you’re wasting your time there because the real competition is online and you should stop that. Worse still, let’s say you do overcome the odds and maybe upset one of these top players in tournaments, they will immediately start telling anyone and everyone around that you are guaranteed to win or place at big tournaments in the future, and the second that you don’t, you’re now “washed up,” a failed “Rebelo” (A cute term that meant that a certain player was pumping you up because you beat him online) that will forever just be a coulda-been. Or, better yet, you could play the game long after the height of its competition, have the gall to think you’re good, and get labeled a “necro” who is only good because no one plays and then be expected to go to offline meetups to prove your worth.
I know this might sound odd to the community, but a lot of people don’t exactly feel comfortable with having all of that pressure placed on them, because it’s not natural. If someone wants to play and become the best then they are probably not going to think much of this pressure, but for every one of those types there are probably 3 or 4 more that just think it’s fun to play and don’t have aspirations of being a huge threat at offline tournaments. To suddenly have this massive communal pressure to do well just because another player’s ego couldn’t handle that they may have lost to someone not befitting their skill level is something that I’m sure turns off a lot of people, but that’s just how it went in the NRS scene for years. Even if you ignore it, you’ll have to deal with a ton of streamed Skype calls were a bunch of community members argue about whether or not you’re ducking, if you’re actually any good, and then eventually them trying to get you on there to argue some more. It’s very intense peer pressure, and while it doesn’t happen so much anymore, it did for so long that I don’t blame someone for just snapping at some point.
This kind of mentality was endemic, in my view, of a small scene being primarily online. If you are cartoonishly devoted to doing well at majors as almost your sole personality trait, then I imagine it’s hard to see faceless internet avatars as anything but a similar cartoon character and not an actual human being who you might be negatively affecting with your words and actions. If your goal is not to make friends or really care about the social interaction element of tournaments that’s fine, but maybe it’s not the best idea, especially when you’re a very influential community member, to tell people that going to local events and hanging out with people is a “waste of time,” or that only certain events are worth attending or “count” towards skill. It might just make the rest of the scene begin to mimic you and eventually severely hurt the local turnout for the game, which is often tantamount to getting players to the bigger major tournaments. Fuudo for thought.
That view of seeing actual people as cartoon characters has a pretty nasty side, too. The NRS scene has had, at times, what I could only generously call “mascot” players, players who may not necessarily be a hit at tournaments but have some funny personality quirk that endears them to the community. Sadly, those “quirks” tend to be things like serious depressive mood swings and the way they talk instead of, I dunno, anything else. Bill Menoutis is one of those mascots, who despite showing signs of some sort of serious issues like yelling at his screaming baby while he’s playing online or constantly deleting everything off his YouTube or just plain lifting money from the community, Menoutis is constantly hugboxed and touted as a pillar of the scene, even when he’s invited into Skype calls that are recorded and sad music is played over his monologues.
The worst of these was with an Atlanta player known as Glass Sword. Sword was a mid-level player who, in the eyes of a few people, was a bit odd, which naturally made him a frequent gag whenever he showed up on streams. Much to do was made of his eccentricities and strange quotes, which were giddily recounted in private chats and even in public by people that weren’t him. This is another frequent problem: nothing is ever sacred in the NRS scene. I’m sure many other scenes frequently share leaks and other things amongst their private forums, but I’ve never seen it done so brazenly as it is in this scene. Full YouTube videos of private conversations have come out, leaked lists for any little thing, and now this Summit list, which I’m sure is a first for them too. Hell, I had the leaked list for the Summit shown to me via Twitter telephone and I’m nobody! God forbid if you tell someone an embarrassing story in confidence.
The high (well, low, really) point came when he was invited onto the premiere podcast of the time, The Kombat Tomb Podcast, to just…get made fun of, I guess. While I’m sure the intention was that this weird guy just wants to be heard and loved, the podcast is very mean spirited and is essentially two hours of “Let’s laugh at the goofball.”
This sort of plays into the situation that Raptor talked about in his tweet. Because this has just been the way in the NRS community, to be recruited into the discords and private DM threads of the group of top players is to essentially sign off to endless hazing. Now a lot of it is kind of good-natured ribs at people saying that they suck or whatever, and that’s cool, but there is also the weirdly invasive element of it where someone will haunt your Facebook or Twitter for photos of you and just photoshop you into memes constantly or, like the above, you have a personality quirk that is just endlessly ripped into. For Raptor, this was, as he stated, his introverted nature.
The entire reason he made the tweet in the first place was because it was again brought up as something to be laughed at when he had spent years explaining to people that it really bothered him.
I’ll be quite honest in that I can’t help but be biased in this situation – Raptor has done a lot of things for me and wanted nothing back in return, and it stuns me to see that someone like him, who has always been kind and giving even if a little quiet, would get repaid like this from some people in the community. I’m not painting the entire community by saying that it was a collective fault, but when the most influential people are making light of the situation, you’d better believe that the bandwagon is going to get full of hanger-ons and fans who can’t help but put their two cents in, which is exactly what Raptor didn’t want. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to open up about the situation, and I’m mad as hell that he had to in the first place because of people who couldn’t even give him the common courtesy of respecting his wishes, only for it to, as he feared, become the source of jokes.
But hey, when it’s just an online beef and nothing really matters, I guess it doesn’t matter that he has feelings? To me, this is how a situation like what happened with Tweedy came to be; he was just talking shit online like he does to the rest of the community, and combine that with a seemingly hair trigger temper, it went to a place that was really dark. Maybe being online all the time leads you to treat a lot of situations similarly, and that’s not a good thing?
Lastly, the main problem I had with a lot of the rebuttals from dedicated community members during this whole debacle was the defense that “Look, you have to just ignore the Twitter eggs, we’re good people!” I’m not saying that most of the top players aren’t nice fellas (they are, I’ve met a lot of them!), but I think there’s a couple things wrong with that as the sole line of defense. Number one, and this is something I’ve argued forever, is that even if its randos in Twitch chat or Twitter eggs (A phrase which here means someone who has a Twitter account but hasn’t bothered to put up an avatar, which leaves you with the default egg avatar) or people who don’t go to tournaments, they are part of the community because they’re indelibly tied into people’s experience. Sure it’s not just the NRS community that has a bunch of dipshits in it, but when there’s a TYM thread right now that is all about talking about how SJW NRS has gotten, I think it’s fine to admit that the community may include a good deal of the worst the internet has to offer, and that’s got to change.
As for number two, I think that the problem is it’s not just randos causing the community to be painted with a scarlet letter. Remember the loud, reactionary types I mentioned before? They were the figureheads back in the day, and I’m sure it gave a lot of people a bad taste of what the community was like that has yet to go away, much like other stigmas about NRS games. Trust me, when these guys are so desperate for wins and policing who and what is good that they’re just spamming the feedback button at Evo time to (literally and figuratively) fix the brackets or just in general ranting and raving to any TO for big majors about how and why their brackets are terrible, do you wonder why some people don’t want to deal with it anymore? That hysteria and obsession with telling everyone “nope, nope, nope, we got this, you did it wrong, we’re not the problem, etc.” has yet to truly die out, and this is something that doesn’t actually come from randos, but respected community figureheads.
As I’m wrapping this up, I should mention that I don’t think any of the people I’ve mentioned are bad people. Morality is a weird thing, and people have to have a shot at grace and redemption. What Tweedy did was rough, but it’s certainly not irredeemable, and I think he’s paid a mighty price. But I think sometimes it takes looking at how that situation came to be, . This is not meant to invalidate anyone’s life-changing experiences with the community, because I’m sure there are tons of people who have similar stories to what I relayed at the beginning of this blog. One of the reactionary types I mentioned earlier, Steve Brownback, is probably my closest friend, and I know he’s gone through a lot of changes since then for the better and has let go of a lot of that toxicity. I’m sure in some ways Mr. McCaskill has as well since he’s quit competing. And that’s not even to say that everything they did was negative; if McCaskill hadn’t called Dominique “SonicFox” McLean’s mother and asked her permission for him to attend offline tournaments all those years ago, who knows what might have happened? There are certainly lots of people who were very entertained by all those live streams and blowups and whatnot, and it probably endeared them to the community even more. And that’s totally fine!
You can have those good experiences and have met great people and acknowledge that sometimes the way the community has been brought up to be doesn’t jive with a lot of people. We can all work together to change that (and have been!), but that takes being aware that it’s a problem first. In the past, acknowledging the community’s toxicity has, frequently and repeatedly over time, been done in bad faith on both sides because they lacked the maturity to reach a consensus about what was causing the problems. I truly believe that the community is in a better spot now, more than ever, to finally start doing it the right way. I hope this helps!