UltraDavid: Non-Endemic Partners in the FGC: Welcome, But Verify

Dec 04 2020 5 min read

When WePlay asked me to do this monthly article series, I consulted friends of mine in the larger world of esports. Were they aware of WePlay ever not paying out? Or running bad tournaments? And I’m happy to report that none of them were.

When I first entered the fighting game community in 2002, I was joining a group that already had a long history. The FGC began with the launch of Street Fighter II in 1991, and in the 11 years between then and when I came in, the community had seen the creation of grassroots tournaments, the development of homegrown infrastructure... and very little interest from anyone else. 

 

UltraDavid at VTyme 2 in Virginia in 2005

And for the first several years of my time in the North American FGC, not much changed about that. The few outside organizations that came into the FGC rarely inspired much confidence. Organizations like Championship Gaming Series, Major League Gaming, and others got involved, but many in the FGC felt that they didn’t work with our scene very well. We also had run-ins with outright scammers, folks who came into the scene, promised big money, ran bad tournaments, and never paid out.

If you’d like to read more about why much of the FGC was hesitant to work with outside organizations, check out a piece I wrote back in 2011 called “Momentum Matters: A Historical Perspective on the FGC and Esports Communities," in which I tried to explain it in more detail. I would phrase parts of it differently nowadays, and I don’t think I was right about all of it, but this is still a good look at how many of us felt back in the day. 

In any case, the result of all this was a long-running skepticism of outside organizations in the FGC. In short, we wanted to do things our way, and it felt like all the outsiders who came into the scene wanted to change things up or take advantage of us.

Times change

Conquest 2019 Champions

But just as 2002 was a long time after 1991, so too is 2020 a long time after I wrote the article above in 2011. In the last nine years, we in the FGC have solidified our grassroots tournaments, developed endemic professionals of all types, and worked well with non-endemic businesses.

Over the last decade, Evo went from being the biggest fighting game event to being the biggest open video game tournament in the world. Before covid, we had multiple grassroots majors every month and dozens of strong locals every week across the globe. Our streamers and content creators were some of the original pioneers in the rise of video game streaming and have built their own professional expertise and businesses to the extent that some are now routinely hired out by other esports and other industries.

We’ve also seen great contributions from non-endemic esports organizations. ESL, Red Bull, DreamHack, and more have made great inroads into the FGC without displacing our grassroots events or unique event feel. In fact, they’ve given us additional ways to find new community members, to express ourselves, and to increase prize pools even further. Importantly, just as we’ve welcomed them, they’ve also welcomed us into their own ranks. They’ve taken on FGC event organizers, support staff, broadcasters, writers, commentators, and more, some of whom were hired as long term employees responsible for major decision making. When done right, the FGC/esports partnership has helped both sides without serving as a drag on either.

The FGC still has lots of work to do in many ways, as we were reminded this year with the news of too many awful actions by too many of our members. And we should continue to do our best to retain what is most vital and compelling about our culture; we should professionalize ourselves to some degree, but always in our own way. So far, in my personal view, we’ve managed to do just that.

Here comes a new challenger

WePlay Dragon Temple dates

The next established esports organization to enter the FGC is WePlay, which has been running tournaments for various games for most of a decade and just announced in November that it’ll be running the Dragon Temple event for Mortal Kombat 11 later this month. WePlay is also paying me to write this article. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re on WePlay’s website right now.

A decade ago, I would have been skeptical about this. These days, after the last decade of FGC expansion and cooperation with esports, I... well, to be honest, I remain skeptical. But I’m no longer skeptical in the sense of feeling pessimistic. Instead, I’m merely skeptical in the sense of doing my due diligence before agreeing to work with them.

When WePlay asked me to do this monthly article series, I consulted friends of mine in the larger world of esports. Were they aware of WePlay ever not paying out? Or running bad tournaments? Or disrespecting the communities they organized in? And I’m happy to report that none of them were.

In fact, part of the reason I agreed to write this column is that WePlay demanded that I be truthful. They didn’t want me to write puff pieces, they wanted me to be honest about what they’re doing right, what they’re doing wrong, and what they can do better. And when it comes to this month’s Dragon Temple event, I plan to give them that feedback, with no sugarcoating, in public, in my article next month. Even on top of their positive reputation and tournament plans, the fact that they want me to be honest like this is a sign to me that WePlay intends to do right by our community.

Good partners welcome

Personally, I’ve come to welcome organizations with good reputations and good intentions into the FGC. Our community has grown tremendously on its own, but to be frank, we couldn’t have done all that we’ve done without the extra resources and assistance from groups that first sprung up elsewhere. I don’t think I would have written this in earlier times; nine years ago, I just about wrote the opposite. But I’ve grown up, and many of my friends in the FGC have grown up, and I feel we’ve managed to do so without giving up our unique FGC culture.

To the extent that our homegrown set of event organizers, broadcasters, commentators, merchandisers, content creators, players, and other talent conflict with some newcomers, I think I’ll always want to prioritize the grassroots FGC. But I don’t see any reason why there needs to be such a conflict. Instead, I feel that the last decade has shown that there’s plenty of room in the FGC for everyone.

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