Are we there yet? Things in the North American Fighting game scene have come a long way but they are far from what some might call “there”. Where is “there”? How do we arrive? The fighting game pillar of esports is in the midst of a renaissance, with the introduction of Street Fighter IV and its predecessors, the fighting game competitive scene has seen unprecedented growth. This growth comes with it new faces who have entered the arena bringing with them all new forms of contributions . Some with ideas, some of with skills, new ways of play, and some with visions of where they want to see the scene grow as a whole. The fighting game scene has done well so far but what is next? What areas need to be focused on to step forth into the next frontier? Well lets take a closer look at some of the crucial members of the ecosystem. The players, audience, and sponsors.
The Players: “Don’t get bodied”
Players have begun doing something unfounded in fighting games, they are beginning to form into “teams”. Fighting games being a solo esport, these teams are more of an economical and social support system then a match defining strategy. Teams such as Hori, Madcatz, and Evil Geniuses have scooped up prime players and placed them at the forefront of the exposure during events. How soon before a Team ROG (Asus’s Republic of gamers) enter the ring? That answer is unknown, but what I do know is that more teams with sound backing is definitely a vital piece of the puzzle. These teams will bring consistency in player attendance but also an increase in standards for a player’s public image; ergo having a ripple effect on the overall fighting game scene’s image as a whole.
The Audience or Fans: “will you sign my arcade stick?”
The audience, who in my opinion, is the most under served member in fighting game esports ecosystem, has never the less grown tremendously thanks to the advent of the live stream. However, what about the live audience? The people who physically attend the venue? Though there are still signs of growth, made apparent from american major events, however the incline in growth is far less steep in comparison to online viewership. I believe this be due to the lack of spectator experience development on the organizers’ part coupled with a lack of dedicated venues. The latter will appear over time but the former can be tackled with a shift in paradigm. The current thought process is that the spectators attending events are also the competitors participating, and though this held true more than 5 years ago, there has been a significant increase in exposure. This exposure has led a dilution of the player to spectator ratio. More and more people who don’t play but enjoy watching are making their debut at events , and it will then be up to organizers to cater experience for these “true spectators”. For being forced to stand or sit on the floor for 4-10 hours will only sit well with spectators for so long
The sponsors: “that’s good to know but how many unique viewers do you have?”
The number of sponsors in the fighting game scene has also begun to see an increase in growth. Other disciplines of esports (first person shooters, real-time strategy, etc) are no stranger to sponsors or the monetary accolades that come with them being associated to an event. However fighting games in the past have always been lacking in that department until recently. Companies such as Madcatz, Hori and recently NOS energy has taken a notice to the growth in the FG scene and have begun placing wise investments to solidify their brands positioning in the new frontier. But will their actions yield a favorable ROI (return on investment) ? Evidence supports that it has so far. Madcat, being the first to throw
their clout into the ring, has already unofficially become the arcade stick of choice for players. Propelling their brand, once perceived as makers of 3rd party cheap accessories, to a brand associated with quality and performance. Ranking them in the same league of professional gaming equipment manufactures such as Razer & Steel series, who have enjoyed their own level of success in the PC esport market. However to see exponential growth, a proposition of appealing ROI needs to be made to lifestyle brands who don’t necessary gain benefit directly from the players. Instead standing to gain from their fans and engaged audiences. The key is in my previous sentence, “Appealing ROI” because make no mistake, a sponsorship is a form of investment and not to be confused with charity. I will probably discuss my own experiences with sponsorship in another post.
So in conclusion, though improvements have been made, and the future seems bright. The future of fighting game esports is not assured by being complacent, but by habitual improvement in key areas of our ecosystem.