Since we've already discussed barriers for improvement, why not talk about why improvement is worth it? What is left to play for?
In my previous article, I have explored some of the barriers we meet when learning fighting games and focused particularly on the social ones.
Taking on a more competitive approach with those barriers in mind, I have asked myself: Is getting to the top really worth it? My generation more or less played for glory and to demonstrate that they were the best, but is that really still the environment? Is a “glory only” approach really sustainable? Especially for the new guard that may be looking at other genres in esports?
Analyzing some of the highest public pay-outs in fighting games, we have:
While certainly, these are more than decent money, we have to keep in mind a few things: The highest paying events are usually events only open to players that have qualified in qualifying events, that said qualifying events do not cover every region, that traveling, playing and competing costs money in itself and that these qualifiers are currently happening online. Many (if not the majority) of these games feature online environments that aren’t reliable for high-stakes competition.
Facing the harsh reality of a genre that not only doesn’t reward players as much as they’d deserve (yes, I think even the highest-earning players are under-rewarded compared to other genres or in general compared to sports) but also expects them to compete in unreliable and frustrating environments is hard and demotivating.
Certainly, we have come miles from the origin, where a meal at the closest fast food was all that players could hope for at the end of a raucous grand finals set, but these are contexts and memories that only the old guard really looks back to, understands and remembers.
For a genre to be attractive there must be something to play or strive for and let’s face it, fighting games may be one of the genres with the lowest reward, at least when it comes to esports, with no fighting games in the highest paying esports games of all times.
The recent covid pandemic has exasperated this by effectively removing offline events from the competitive horizon for more than 2 years and only recently are events coming back, albeit scattered.
Well, not all is lost, right? Maybe you have talent and dedication on the microphone to intelligently craft a story for viewers to understand the action and get on board of the hype train? Maybe your production skills are swift and precise to deliver those smooth transitions and invaluable data? Maybe you can organize events that run smooth like butter as well as have an exciting environment for non-players offering market stalls space, entertainment, and a creator space? These are certainly all highly sought-after skills that will come with a considerable reward, right?
Uhm… not that fast amigo.
The reality is, being a community-driven, shaped, and pushed forward reality can be a double-edged sword.
While most, if not all, other genres are corporate-driven and organized, with plenty of events that aren’t run by the community, fighting games have historically been community-based and driven, and most likely one of the oldest forms of player vs. player gaming-based competition.
If you have been doing it from the start and you have been working with publishers and fighting game companies (which have only somewhat recently started organizing their own world tours), it is likely that you have built a relationship that is a few decades-long, and you are held in considerable regard and given trust when it comes to being entrusted the expertise to produce, commentate and organize the companies’ events.
With a very scarce number of companies driven events and with a limited revenue source outside of those, the chances of making much out of these positions, at least when it comes to fighting games, are very limited.
While games like Overwatch, Valorant, League Of Legends, and company all have a pretty much open pipeline to professional positions ( with regular job ads, selection processes, and CV / skill-based recruitment), fighting games are more or less a “who knows who” business, so even on this angle your possibilities are limited.
This is not to say that hard work and a positive and friendly attitude aren’t appreciated in the scene, but there are a lot of people fighting for the crumbs of the proverbial pie, and the pie isn’t even big, to begin with.
Recently, with the release of Guilty Gear Strive and the problems related to its heavy input lag (even offline) on PS4 and PS5 compared to PCs, the community started talking about the old dilemma of not being able to easily set up events with personal computers to reduce the input lag (which largely impacts on how the meta of fighting games changes) due to controller incompatibility, reduced portability of desktop computers and in general problems to standardize the playing environment.
Making PCs viable
Aside from the challenge to making PCs viable to improve the playing environment, an alternative reality in which fighting games would always have been corporate-based. With that the possibility of big hardware pc companies investing in the development of their esports presence, not only could help in increasing pay-outs and consequently giving value to “the grind,” but also help in normalizing actual sponsorships to allow dedicated players to travel and compete around the world for a much more viable (and stable) esports career as pro players.
A lot of people (including the player writing this article) make the mistake of using their own experience to justify some shortcomings of the genre. Still, the reality is, for a younger generation, competing in fighting games, with their inherent complexity, heavy workload and low reward simply isn’t attractive.
Sure, there is a lot of value in “the glory” and in just striving to be the best, but the lack of that something more is easily felt, even by someone from the old guard like me, and that pat on the back seems not to be cutting it anymore.
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