WePlay can be a helpful part of the greater FGC whole

In my last column on this website, I wrote about WePlay entering the fighting game community. I mentioned that although the FGC had had poor experiences with some outside esports organizations in the past, we've developed great partnerships with others in recent years, and I felt that WePlay could be the latest in that line. And I said that while I was looking forward to WePlay's initial fighting game event, I'd review it in my next column in an honest, up-front way.

That event, Dragon Temple, has now come and gone. So, how did it go? Here's my review.

WePlay Dragon Temple trophy
WePlay Dragon Temple trophy

Safe and strong

First off, it was fancy. REALLY fancy. Its production was as strong as anything I've ever seen in esports. The custom-built Mortal Kombat-themed sets were amazing. The augmented reality backgrounds, singing Sub-Zero, game feed, and commentator feeds were incredible. The trophy was beautiful. The event was a one of a kind blast. A couple of attendees I discussed it with even called it the best event they'd ever attended.

 And I loved the list of players invited! There were longtime top players, high-level players who've long threatened to win big events, and up and coming players, including one who had never played in an offline tournament before. Invitational events like Dragon Temple too often pick predictable lists of players, which can entrench the idea that other players can't get or don't deserve their own chances. Dragon Temple invited a unique list of players while still making sure that everyone invited deserved to be there.

The commentators were great picks too. Just like with the players, some of them have been commentating for many years, but others are on the upward arc of their commentary careers. And I was really happy to see that a couple were allowed to commentate from home as well.

Importantly, everyone who attended was allowed to be themselves on stream. Some esports events require or foster a more boring, sedated style on their broadcasts, but for Dragon Temple, the players and commentators showed up loud and proud with their unique personalities and the fighting game community's fun flavor. The incredible production of the event didn't clash with this FGC flair; instead, it felt to me like a natural and compelling mix. 

But what mattered most to me was the health and safety of my friends who attended. And thankfully, that mattered to WePlay as well. Each attendee was tested for covid-19 before they flew to the event. As soon as they arrived in Kiev, they were tested again and then immediately ushered into quarantine in their own hotel rooms until the results came back negative. Only then were they allowed to gather together to start training. All the equipment was sanitized before and after each use. The WePlay staff were tested to ensure that they weren't infected either. And the attendees were tested one last time before they departed for home too. This represents a substantial procedural and financial burden, and WePlay footed the bill for all of it. Thanks in part to these strict measures, no one who attended got sick.

WePlay Dragon Temple kombatants take the stage
WePlay Dragon Temple kombatants take the stage

What could have gone better? 

Honestly, I think the biggest criticism of Dragon Temple event is that it took place at all. Although the organizers took health and safety seriously and no one got sick, this was still a risky time to hold an event. Of course, having just a couple dozen attendees made this less risky than if it were a full open bracket tournament, but there was risk in it nevertheless.

Additionally, I felt that WePlay's communication with the community before the event was lacking. The event's format and start times were unknown until just a few days before the event, making publicity difficult to spread even for dedicated members of the community. I was also told by a couple of attendees that some aspects of the production and tournament structure didn't fit their expectations. But in both of these cases, WePlay quickly fixed some of the issues and took feedback graciously on the others.

Lastly, I don't know how expensive Dragon Temple was, but the answer is surely somewhere deep into six figures USD. Is that kind of cost sustainable? I assume that the folks behind the event have figured that all out, but for me, it's difficult to imagine that this could be replicated with any significant frequency.

F0xyGrampa and Asodimazze leaving the stage
F0xyGrampa and Asodimazze leaving the stage

Part of the whole

In the end, I really enjoyed watching Dragon Temple and I was excited that my friends who were there enjoyed it so much too. And concerns about sustainability aside, I'm looking forward to seeing what else WePlay does in our scene. They've already announced the WePlay Ultimate Fighting League, which will provide more fighting game events and content this year. I hope that in doing so, they'll continue the parts of Dragon Temple that mattered to me most: letting the unique voice of the FGC shine through and maintaining the health and safety of everyone involved.

I wrote last month that WePlay could give our top players and commentators more chances to make more money, give our viewers more great events to watch, and help us expand our player and viewer base overall. After Dragon Temple, I believe that more than ever before.

I'll always feel that the heart of the fighting game community lies in our homegrown open tournaments and our grassroots organizations. And although these pandemic times are tough for everyone, I'm sure our endemic strength will persevere. But at the same time, WePlay can be a helpful part of the greater FGC whole. I'm happy to have them involved!

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Columnist

David “UltraDavid” Graham

Top level fighting game commentator since 2010.

David “UltraDavid” Graham has been a member of the FGC since 2002, a top level fighting game commentator for many different games since 2010, and a pioneering attorney in esports and online media since 2011.

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