“Bring back Halo 2.” “MLG is full of elitest money-grubbers.” “Atari 2600 was the only competitive console.”
At times, we’ve all heard a professional gamer gripe about the current installment of one game or another. But, often, pros are quick to admit they have adapted and have found the good in the game they play. If they didn’t adapt, they wouldn’t retain the title of “professional.” So why is it so hard for fans to do the same? Fans, far more than the players they idolize, tend to live in the past. Normally, I’d say to each his own, but this behavior is unhealthy, both for the fan and the community.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle for fans (and some pros) to get over is when a new game is released in their favorite competitive series. Every scene has had growing pains when this has happened, from Halo to Starcraft to Smash Bros. Everyone asks, “Why can’t it be as good as the last one?”
Allow me to take the time, here and now, before I go any further, to say this: I feel you. I completely, 100% understand that a title sometimes doesn’t live up to everything we want it to be.
But we all need to also remember the fact that leagues are companies, and if we want them to survive, they must make money. How do the leagues make money? Well, through us, the fans, the spectators. This would be the perfect opportunity to raise the point, “But the customer is always right!” Except, in this case, we’re not.
eSports is new, and it’s expanding fast. This means that more and more gamers are coming around to the eSports scene, regardless of which genre they love. But it would be almost impossible for leagues to attract new fans if they were running outdated and unfamiliar games. The only people who want to watch matches between players in a game ten-years-old are those people who were around when it was current.
Leagues are involved in a dangerous balancing act. On the one hand, they must keep things consistent enough to maintain a stable fan base. On the other, they need to bring in the newest installments within a series to keep the mass appeal and continue bringing in new fans.
We fans don’t have to like it, but if we want to stay part of the eSport communities we love so much, we need to welcome new games into the fray. Even if the newest iteration isn’t what we’ve become accustomed to.
Elitism in SC2 and Beyond
New installments aren’t the only times when fans seem to have difficulty welcoming new games onto the scene. Those from the MLG community know first-hand how rivalries can quickly become ugly and unsettling between different competitive titles. When SC2 came to MLG, everyone was happy. We had landed the biggest competitive title on the planet! MLG is going places!
And then SC2 moved onto the main stage. Halo fans cried, “Betrayl! MLG has abandoned us!” SC2 responded in turn by pointing out how pathetic Halo’s following was in comparison to SC2’s. Halo dragged CoD into the dispute by pointing out CoD, quite obviously, sucked in all ways compared to other shooters and deserved a spot on the circuit less than any title thus far.
Needless to say, things got ugly.
But everyone involved in the in-fighting—and it wasn’t everyone who was fighting—weren’t aware of some very key facts. Dmaq stated on a very early episode of The Halo Council or The Great Debate (I forget which) that MLG wasn’t even sure if they were going to have another season before SC2 came onto the scene. Halo was popular, sure, but it didn’t have the world-wide and mass appeal that SC2 had; the appeal investors were looking for.
Without Starcraft, MLG might not even be here today.
But guess what, Starcraft fans: Without Halo, MLG definitely wouldn’t be here. In its prime, Halo launched MLG to such successful heights it became untouchable by other leagues within North America. Now, it’s SC2’s turn to carry the torch. And, one day, SC2 will be dethroned, continuing the cycle. Each of these steps is necessary for MLG to stay existent, for any league to stay existent. We can all sit, gripe, and yearn for the days of old; but wouldn’t it be a lot more fun if we allowed ourselves to enjoy the here and now?
While I took quite a few shots at the Starcraft community up until this point, it doesn’t have a monopoly on elitism. The Fight Game Community (FGC) has been slow to embrace MLG’s courting attempts, despite generous prize pools and promises to continue supporting grassroots competitions. The FGC seems to fear that MLG will somehow obliterate the entire scene, leaving it with an IV controlled by MLG, an IV that could be pulled at any time. But the FGC isn’t nearly that frail. So why does it respond as though it is?
Here’s the great thing about the FGC: It is, to me, one of the most varied and stable scenes in eSports. The FGC has an impressive variety in titles, the vast majority of which have survived numerous ups and downs and, yet, remain here to be played today. Fighting games have shown a sort of tenacity not found in any other genre.
I might be being a tad unfair here and generalizing a bit, but it seems that the FGC more readily embraces other games within its scene than the FPS community does within its own scene. This could be for any number of reasons. Perhaps it’s because fighting games share more similarities between the various titles than shooters; or, perhaps, because the community seems to be largely cut off from the rest of the eSports world and has historically been in a position of “us vs. them.” Whatever the reason, fans in the FGC have numerous titles to rally behind. And the reason this is important is because MLG can only support so many titles. Their current philosophy seems to be one of taking a well-rounded approach involving shooters, an RTS, and fighters, which limits their selection of fighters.
Taking one or two games from a pool of six or seven hardly seems like a threat. Whatever MLG offers the FGC, it will be in addition to what the FGC already provides for itself.
Even if we were to focus on one single game, fans should rejoice in finding a spot on MLG’s Pro Circuit. (Or any other circuit, for that matter.) Part of Halo’s predicament was that its only home was MLG. Where else could the pros go? This limited Halo’s competitive exposure and has hindered the competitive scene. Conversely, look at SC2 and LoL. Much of the reason these games are so successful is that they’ve received impressive support from numerous competitive leagues on three separate continents. The constant stream of action allows players and teams to gain far greater exposure (along with win more prize monies), which, more importantly, creates more opportunities for sponsors to show themselves. The entire eSports scene goes around for one reason: sponsorship dollars. Without those dollars, not one league on this planet would make it. If a fighting game was featured at major events in Europe, Asia, and North America on a regular basis, wouldn’t this help the FGC’s own tournaments attract greater endorsements?
So, FGC. Wouldn’t you rather your favorite game receive wide-spread exposure which, in turn, brings in more money for your favorite teams and players and, additionally, brings in greater sponsorship dollars for leagues to support your game? Or would you rather seal yourself off from the world, hoping to survive off of what you already have? Because I don’t think the latter will work out how you want it to.
Allow me to close by saying: I realize I have generalized an obstinate amount. Not all fans are as I described them above, and no community can be reduced to as simple a description as the ones I’ve worked with here. But I have seen these elements in their respective communities, and those who perpetuate these ideas are whom I am directing my soap-box advice toward.
[Gilean is a former member of the MLG Cohttp://hitatojump.wordpress.com/ntent Team who is begging for your attention! Every follower he gains @HHGilean is another incentive to bring you more interviews, articles, and features.]