Fighting game tournaments are evolving. As the scene moves out of the basement, a plethora of opportunities have been presented. The world discovered there’s a market and dedicated audience that not only loves the games themselves but follows each top players tournament performances.
Enter the new era of fighting games. An era where potentially new players would rather sit back and watch the best players than invest the time into becoming a strong player themselves. Welcome to the age of fighting games as a spectator sport.
In the Joseph “Mango” Marquez Cloud9 Melee documentary, he mentioned the fact that the growth of Melee’s player base has stalled but that viewership has risen considerably in the last three years. Yes, the Melee renaissance brought in plenty of new players but it also exposed the scene to potential investors and showed that there’s money to be made here.
Consider this: five years ago a tournament like the Smash Summit would have been nearly inconceivable to the Melee or fighting game community. Today, it’s accepted as one of the premiere events and most of the audience could care less because the Summit puts on an entertaining show for fans.
A tournament with no open bracket has been accepted by a community founded and based on the ability for anyone to compete. It’s a dramatic switch in philosophy.
Open tournaments are what separate fighting games from other esport titles. The fact that any random fighting game player can enter a major tournament, face the world’s best players, lose, and still get that entire tournament feel is unique and special. Most players, at the end of the day, could care less about their record. It’s more about the culture and tournament atmosphere that keeps bringing people out.
However, invitationals are going to have a strong presence moving forward. The benefits are the fact that payouts are typically higher at these events ($250k ELEAGUE prize pool, $100k for Smash Summit) and top players themselves love the events. The viewers still tune in despite the lack of a real tournament feel. Numbers don’t exceed the Evo’s and Genesis tournaments but get enough attention to justify these events to the community.
Regardless of how players feel about invitationals, they still watch to see the best players play the best players. Investors see a studio product like ELEAGUE as the next step and a chance to profit off the fighting game community. The actual community is not prepared to move away from open tournaments as some top players have projected.
Despite what top players might say, open tournaments aren’t going anywhere. Without them, it’s no longer the fighting game COMMUNITY anymore. As invitationals become more prevalent, it should, in turn, strengthen open tournaments as well. It’s not a situation where we, as a community, have to decide between the two. Both can coexist and strengthen the other.
Finally, invitationals are the only viable way to present fighting games to a national audience. Of course, Turner decided to display 32 of the best players rather than invest in actual tournaments. Studio tournaments are the only possible way for these networks taking an interest in fighting games to control their product and squeeze as much profit out as possible. But this will help legitimize the scene as a whole and if the two can coexist, it can create a better future for all fighting game players.