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The Fighting Game Community Is Entering A New Golden Era — Here’s Why

Ben Goldhaber
9 min

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The Fighting Game Community Is Entering A New Golden Era — Here’s Why
Images courtesy of Evo, Photo by Vexanie
The FGC golden era is upon us, and we cannot wait to see how it turns out

My background in competitive gaming is not in fighting games.

Actually, it was just about the opposite: I cut my teeth competing in first person shooters like TRIBES, and first discovered my love of esports following Quake Live and attending my first QuakeCon.

But for some reason, fighting games (and the fighting game community in general) have always been among my very favorite esports events to watch and attend.

I first started following the FGC seriously with the launch Street Fighter 4 (an “09-er” as it were).

Not only was SF4 selling like hot cakes, it also coincided with live streaming platforms like Ustream and Justin.tv gaining popularity, making esports broadcasts accessible to the masses for the first time. It was the beginning of a golden era for the FGC (and esports in general).

Around this time I had become completely obsessed with watching every esports stream I could find, whether it be Quake, Heroes of Newerth, CS 1.6, or Street Fighter.

One weekend, I stumbled across the Evo 2009 broadcast, which had peaked at a massive viewership number of… 20,000 concurrent viewers. This was the highest peak viewership I had seen at the time. The matches were incredible (still one of the greatest Evo finals imo), and the hype was palpable. And oh man, that viewership blew my mind. My interest was piqued.

A breathtakingly amazing final

Despite never playing a fighting game seriously, I decided to grab my laptop and head to my first FGC major the next year — NorCal Regionals 2010.

I volunteered to help the iplaywinner team with Ustream chat moderation and stream promotion and despite some very real “FGC vs. Esports”, erm, friction shall we say (there was a lot of friendly and not so friendly banter, but I digress), I was welcomed into the scene. More importantly, the energy in that room when FChamp (a NorCal native) took out Daigo was unlike anything I had experienced before. It was an incredible experience. I was hooked.

Over the course of the next decade I had the opportunity to support the FGC via my roles at Twitch in ways I never imagined possible, attending a dozen FGC majors and 10 Evos, loving each more than the last.

This is why I could not be more excited to see the FGC entering a new, unprecedented golden era.

The FGC’s new golden era is upon us.

If you know me, you know that I’m pretty much the biggest cheerleader in all of esports. I was the guy who was bullish on the Overwatch League and told everyone BRINK was the next big shooter after all.

But this time, it’s an undeniable truth: it’s the best time ever to be a fighting game fan.

Here are my top 4 reasons why:

1. Street Fighter 6’s launch has been excellent

If the last golden era for the FGC was kicked off by the launch of Street Fighter 4, it’s slump may have been because of Street Fighter 5. It was not a good game at launch. It sucked the air out of the room.

In contrast, SF6 has been amazing from the getgo. The graphics, the new mechanics, the marketing, the sales figures, the hype have all been there.

This is exemplified in no better way than SF6’s Evo presence.

7,061 players signed up to play in the tournament. It is impossible to overemphasize just how incredible that number is. Not only was it the biggest esports tournament ever by entrants, it isn’t even close. This beat out the previous record of 5,107 competitors from Evo 2016 by a huge margin.

Viewership for the Evo 2023’s Top 6 was also record-breaking by my estimation, with well over 400,000 viewers watching simultaneously on Twitch and YouTube.

Which leads me to my next point…

2. Evo is thriving under new management

In 2021 it was announced that Evo had been acquired in a joint venture by Sony and RTS.

This came out of left field, after all, Evo was a community event through and through all these years. Many were concerned that Evo might become more corporate and lose its feel.

Two years in, that fear has officially been put to bed. Evo under Sony and RTS’s management hasn’t lost an iota of it’s charm. It has, however, improved in several notable ways…

  • Improved production value all around
  • Larger show floor size with more vendors
  • More endemic and non-endemic corporate sponsors (shoutout to Chipotle)
  • Adding a 3rd Evo annually in a TBA location

Arguably most importantly, it has a new front man at it’s helm, one of the most respected and renowned tournament organizers in the FGC: Rick “TheHadou” Thiher.

3. Rollback netcode makes online FGC viable for the first time

The FGC has always been about meeting up — in person, at your local, at the arcade, and at majors. But that doesn’t mean that the online play can’t work for fighting games, it just hasn’t worked in the past.

Substantial lag in fighting games or Smash essentially make kill the fun and competitive integrity. Of course, this is also true to in any game, but to a much lesser degree than in fighting games.

Enter… rollback netcode.

I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty, but essentially rollback makes playing west coast to east coast viable… or even cross-continent.

The FGC and Smash communities were hurt more by COVID than any other gaming community. It was a dark, dark period. But with rollback, FGC tournaments can happen online legitimately today in essentially all modern games. This widens the pool of potential competitors by a mile.

Online play has been a staple of esports for decades, and now is finally viable in the FGC too.

4. More big game releases are on the horizon — including Project L

Street Fighter 6 is still hot off the shelves, and will surely be around for years to come with updates, new characters, and new abilities coming soon. Guilty Gear Strive has plenty of content releasing regularly.

Arguably the next two most important FG franchises, Tekken and Mortal Kombat, also have mainline releases coming in the near future. By all accounts from Evo, Tekken 8 and MK1 are looking good.

But potentially the most impactful of all, Project L, is on the horizon.

I shouldn’t have to expound on just how influential Riot’s free to play model has been to the esports space. The free to play business model means everyone and their mothers can and will play your game. League of Legends is still the #1 esports in the world, and Riot has done what they did to MOBAs now what they did with tactical shooters (VALORANT) and auto chess (TFT). I’m betting they’re going to do it again with fighting games.

There has never been a truly great F2P fighting game, but that’s likely to change. Project L looks beautiful and is building off the amazing LoL IP. Project L’s dev team is full game designers pulled directly out of the FGC, including of course Tom and Tony Cannon (Evo’s original founders, and the creators of GGPO netcode — aka rollback netcode), MvC2 legend Clockw0rk, and many others.

Riot also invests in esports like no other developer, it’s not hard to imagine that there will be more prize money, more tournaments, more sponsors, more competitors, and more interest in Project L than potentially any fighting game before it. Let’s go.

In conclusion

Snarky tweets aside, it breaks my heart to see the esports industry hit so hard by the economic downturn. The sponsors, developers, sports billionaires, and venture capitalists that propped up esports’ exponential growth over the past decade are beginning to pull back, causing major teams to shutter and even franchised leagues to be in serious jeopardy.

Meanwhile, the FGC, built upon a strong grassroots foundation and saddled with several strong tailwinds, is primed for it’s best era ever.

Of course, only time will tell if the upcoming slate of new games will live up to our lofty expectations and if the trends we saw at Evo 2023 will continue. But I’ve never been more optimistic on the future of fighting games, as a community and as an esports.

Let’s get hype for the new golden era for the FGC.

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