CW: Lots of racial slurs and language that is offensive to LGBT folks.
As gaming has progressed further and further into E-Sports presentation, there are still a few aspects of it that, for better or worse, have stuck with it in the big leagues. Some of the better ones are a more relaxed presentation–you certainly won’t get golf commentary at an FGC or Dota event–and embracing their online roots by using platforms like streaming megapower Twitch to host their broadcasts instead of dedicated spots on television.
Then there’s the worse aspects, like the rampant use of racial slurs and other pejoratives. Y’know, small stuff like that. People will deny that it’s just a problem, that it’s mostly edgelords being edgelords, but the truth is a little harsher than that. The culture that allows that type of stuff to become normal has undeniable ties to the rise of the “Alt-Right,” which is a kind euphemism to refer to hate groups online that try to silence and hurt many marginalized groups. The same type of gamers that will use racially tinged memes and sexist language are a huge part of what made that group become so visible, and I’m going to take a look at that in another installment of Politically Incorrect.
When I started this blog, one of my goals was to talk about why “E-Sports” (Which here means globalized, professional competition using video games) was often incongruous with the style and principles of the greater fighting game community. The money was nice, sure, but it always came with strings attached and a sense of homogeneity that I didn’t think would be accepted very well by the fairly diverse FGC. Flash forward about a year, and now I see that perhaps I was looking at it the wrong way. E-Sports is not a frightening concept on its own at all – large payouts for winning tournaments that are broadcast in arenas worldwide and streamed to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, at home? That’s rad! Paying people to help run a professional broadcast and commentate the action? Tubular!
I am nobody to a lot of people. I’m just a fat dude from Arizona who has spent years considering myself a member of the larger “Fighting Game Community,” which has lead to–I would argue–immensely positive personal growth. I knew a long time ago that I was never going to be a national sensation at these games, but I never lost the love I had for playing and talking about them with the fine folks of the community.
The biggest problem with existing as a nobody in any growing community is being a bystander to a lot of bad behavior, behavior that is, whether folks believe it or not, actively pushing people away from the community. I sympathize greatly with those who don’t feel comfortable engaging with the FGC, which is why I started this blog in the first place. Sometimes all it takes is one bad tournament or run-in with the community to dissuade people from ever trying again, so I figured if I pointed out these frequent problem areas, perhaps it would help dispel the false notion that the FGC is free of the very same things that plague our society right now: homophobia, transphobia, sexual harassment, racism, etc. Would it work? No idea, but I knew that I had been silent for a long time, and even if I was shouting into the wind, at least I was saying something.
Unfortunately, part of being a nobody taking a stand is that you get accused of wanting “clout.”
A couple weeks ago, I was reading through my local FGC’s Facebook group in the aftermath of a big local event that was sponsored by the Talking Stick Resort and Casino in Scottsdale, AZ. Two non-Arizona players were in the grand finals of the Street Fighter V tournament, which sparked some discussion in the FB group that perhaps the local scene was actually not very good. This lead to an even greater discussion of why there seemed to be less of an interest in SFV locally, and I was surprised when someone spoke up and said that they had heard plenty of people at this casino event saying they would play SFV if it weren’t for “the egos and the abrasiveness” they felt coming from that particular community.
Now, naturally, there was a bit of pushback, people arguing that just because they talked tough and blew smoke on occasion didn’t mean they were trying to scare people away, and they actually wanted the opposite. Having been a part of the scene for awhile, I can attest that the players aren’t jerks by any means, but I think the problem stemmed from how they, particularly the top players, interacted in the FB group, which could be abrasive and off-putting. If I were a new player, unaware of how most of these guys interacted, I would also probably figure that everyone had a bit of resentment or other form of lingering distaste toward each other, which kind of takes the fun out of non-tournament get-togethers. After all, why would you want to come together and play if the atmosphere never ceases to be tense and uncomfortable?
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.
So I should probably apologize for the lateness of this follow-up. I’ve been distracted for a while with some new ventures, including a less FGC-centric series of articles that I have been trying to get up and running. But I’m back, and I want to continue talking about my experience with MK9 and how it helped contribute to the player I am (or was).
Now where we…
Ah, yes! It’s 2012, and I’ve spent the better part of the last six months hunkering down and learning MK9 to the best of my knowledge. With the help of a great scene, I’m a lot better than I was back at the Devastation tournament in September, and I’ve learned a new character who was helping me make substantial progress in learning how to play the game at a high level. To further help, two of my scene’s players went to the NEC tournament in Philly and cleaned up, winning the tournament and taking a ton of heads with them. I couldn’t have been more pumped to continue my training, and already had my next big tournament in mind: Final Round.
Before I begin, I’d like to thank each and every person who contributed to the stunning view count for my last article, “What We Keep Getting Wrong about Women in the FGC.” I was completely overwhelmed by the traffic, and I have to thank Kayane, the Combo Queens Facebook, and Tom Cannon for sharing it so it could reach the widest possible audience. I hope you stick around, and I’ll do my best to keep putting out quality stuff.
Now, onto the main event.
So I’m at Midway Airport a couple weeks ago, all ready to start drafting the second half of my look back at my career through Mortal Kombat 9, when I suddenly see Twitter is aflame with constant chatter about ELeague. ELeague, for the folks at home, is a professional e-sports league that actually has big money behind it in the form of Turner Broadcasting. They’ve been running for a couple years now, with mega hit Counter-Strike: Global Offensive as the basis of its league format. Recently, they’ve added fighting games to their repertoire, running invitational-style league events for Street Fighter V and Tekken 7, as well as hosting the finals of the Injustice 2 Championship Series. The prize pools are huge, with the SFV season reaching $250,000, and the events have top notch production from the Turner studios in Atlanta, which broadcast the events on TBS, Turner’s basic cable channel. Sounds awesome, right?
To preface this article, let me wind back the clock: it’s Devastation 2010 and I am standing in the ballroom of the Phoenix Convention Center. I’m playing casual matches of Super Street Fighter IV, long after my tournament run has ended. As I move to the peanut gallery after losing my set, I notice there is a girl standing amidst the players. Much like me, she has a fancy arcade-style controller and is waiting in line to get her chance to play. We catch eyes for a moment, offer a polite smile of greeting, and make a little small talk.
“Playing Street Fighter?” I ask.
“Yeah. Trying anyways,” she answers back.
“Did you play in the tournament?” I respond, unsure of the answer despite the expensive, very specific controller she’s holding.
“Yeah, yeah I did,” she says, “I won my first match, lost the next, then I got scrubbed out in losers by this Honda.”
As she finishes saying this, she’s up to play. We exchange goodbyes, and I’m laughing to myself. Scrubbed out, she says? That’s the word we use, I think. Y’know, us fighting game players. And here’s this girl saying it too! Isn’t that wacky?! And she knows that E. Honda is one of the better characters in the game! I acted like it was a conversation with a talking dog, something that you would never expect in a million years.
Yes, I was doing the exact thing I shouldn’t have: I assumed she wasn’t a serious player just…because. Clearly I had a lot to learn.
Ever since I was a kid, I have always found great joy in solving problems. Whether it be a math word problem, a puzzling new word that I couldn’t decipher, or a particularly challenging video game, I yearned for the chance to solve it, to overcome what seemed exceptionally difficult. Cut to today, and I have a new problem: the articles I’ve written for this site have been fun enough as a means of looking at dumb things outside fighters, but what am I contributing in a positive sense?
When I first started this blog, I intended to have one major goal: using my experiences to bring light to different issues in the fighting game community. But the more I write, and the more hits I see the blog get, the more I realize that perhaps I can also educate total newcomers to certain fighting games as to why some of the games I played in the past had the appeal that they did. In my prevailing need to point out the injustices (no pun intended) and foibles of the community, it can become easy to lose sight of why I love it in the first place, so I want to look back at the games that made me a part of this wild community at all with a new series called Run It Back. My goal is to hopefully try and capture even a small part of what made it fun to play these games using actual memories from my time playing.
I’m not a huge fan of most professional sports – not for any particular reason, it’s just not something I’m truly captivated by. However, as one of my main hobbies, video games, begins to circle more and more toward partly being a professional sport with big money players pouring in a bunch of time and cash, I can’t help but make comparisons. One of the things I’m most interested in is the idea of how pro sports determine what is considered “skillfull” in their particular game, because it’s a mess in fighting games.
Like most sports, the competitive scene for fighters has greatly evolved, largely due to external factors. Players can communicate in many more ways than before, and the tools we use to communicate are also vastly improved: we can now easily use our consoles to upload video in order to show off concepts, we can use voice chatting apps on our phones to talk with large groups of other players in order to share strategies, and best of all, that information is all publicly available. With all of those different avenues opening up, it is certainly not a hot take to say that the average player in today’s FGC is probably much more skillful than the average player ten years ago and that the games themselves reach their competitive peak much, much earlier.
Or so you’d think, because I still run into tweets like this all the time: