In the past few days, a discussion on Fighting Game Community content was started up on Twitter, which is a pretty cyclical topic that usually makes the rounds every few months. This time it was started by Japan-based commentator and streamer MajinObama:
The discussion was pushed even further out into the FGC ether by Stephen “Sajam” Lyon, who had a discussion on his stream about it that he later turned into a video for his YouTube channel:
Now before I get to what I want to say, I do think that Sajam makes a lot of salient points. I do agree that a lot of FGC “content” is kind of, well, crap; either it’s a stream of netplay with very little interaction aside from that or a tutorial that is long and arduous. He didn’t get into it much, but one of the other really big problems is content thievery. So many channels on YouTube exist just by compiling stream footage from either tournaments or players’ streams and putting them together in mass quantities without giving any credit to the original streamers. Even the original content that does exist is usually derivative of what came before, and rarely does it expand past match analyses or anything involving past tournament VODs or stream VODs. These are all valid criticisms of FGC content and come from a well-observed point of view that I understand and respect.
That said, I think that the type of content that is being suggested isn’t the right move. Well, I should first explain that in my view, the term “content,” a word which here typically means the events, physical detail, and information in a work of art, has kind of changed meaning in the current stage of late-capitalism. Now, “content” is a body of work one creates so as to raise awareness of their own personal brand in the hopes that it will lead to greater opportunities in a chosen field. Whether that be a YouTube channel peppered with easy crowd-pleasers like reaction videos that have a fun thumbnail or a deceivingly-named video that appears to take a stance on a hot topic, or a carefully curated Twitter account that is meme-tastic, informational, and full of well-meaning but vague positivity, or by re-posting those other kinds of content on your own website and typing up a quick article that explains what those are.
The quality of this content doesn’t matter, so long as it’s out there and people are subscribing or liking or otherwise having an engagement with the content and sharing it. This may sound cynical, but it’s not meant to be: a lot of creative folks are finding outlets to make a comfortable living doing what they like without being behold to a corporate overlord or employer who would hamstring them. At the same time, this is a largely unregulated field, which means there are no guarantees of financial windfall. Plenty of YouTubers have posted an emo video where they explain that YouTube or Twitch’s bizarre monetization rules have forced them into near poverty as they continue to try and make content in the hopes that it will bring in enough views to earn them grocery money. Add to that the issue of thievery and uncredited hosts as I mentioned above, and you have what is an unstable market that relies on the whims of a fickle audience and the ability to grit your teeth and push out “content” that will hopefully feed into the site’s algorhythm so it can be a recommended video on any unsuspecting rube’s feed.
This instability and lack of quality control is why I can’t get behind the argument that the FGC needs more content of that sort. MajinObama and Sajam’s suggestions (and content!) come from a good place: seeing the FGC get bigger and bigger. Numbers are way up but still fall far short of what the average big E-Sports titles get both in viewers and playerbase (Street Fighter V failing to really make an impact can probably take some blame), so everyone wants a solution as to how to fix that. And right now, the talk seems to be that if the FGC falls in line with what most gaming communities are doing with regards to content, like live interviews and podcasts, then we might see not only more players get involved with tournaments, but also attract sponsors and others who will want a piece of those sweet, sweet engagements.
See, Julia’s got it!
I still think that’s a fundamentally flawed approach. I’ve talked about this before, but I think one of the core problems with the current E-Sports method of business is that it leaves room for only a few on the top, much as our economic system works today. Content creation plays into that, too; everyone is killing themselves making video after video, article after article in the hopes that they will get into that influencer circle at the top when the system is rigged to begin with. We already know that unless you live in certain parts of the country, it’s very difficult to get opportunities or experience in any field in the FGC, whether that be commentating or playing in tournaments. It’s also expensive; the biggest tournaments are usually 80 bucks just to get into the door before you add in flight, lodging, and food expenses. Then there’s the matter of exposure and choosing the “right” game to play, which is hard you’re, say, a really good Dead or Alive or Soul Calibur player. You can create all the content you want, but if a tournament isn’t streaming your game, that’s a huge audience you will miss out on because streams often prioritize based on entrant numbers. And God forbid a high-level influencer thinks your game sucks.
People probably don’t consciously try to, but E-Sports right now is a very ruthlessly capitalistic dog-eat-dog world, and a lot of times that means you’ve got to put yourself and your brand above everything else if you want to succeed. After all, if there’s limited room up top, that means you’ve got to fit in with the rest unless you want to get pushed off. Not to say that these people are soulless husks out to exploit a community; I don’t think people would slave over content for hours if they didn’t like it. But at the end of the day, content is business, and content tends to raise the profile of the creator, which does a lot of good for them, but not so much for the rest of the community. Solely creating content about fighting games being cool, while helpful to people trying to learn the games, seems like more of a band-aid solution to growth and only part of the problem.
I’m not even saying things things like combo videos and match analyses and interviews and reaction videos (shudder) are bad, I just don’t think that more content about the FGC being amazing and awesome is what’s failing to reach the masses, because there is already so much of that. Would a vlog or floor interviews that are carefully edited really speak to people who have already made up their minds to not go to tournaments? To me, there are certain things holding people back from going out to local or major tournaments that we just can’t help: economic reasons, mental/physical health reasons, etc. But I think the FGC as a whole gets so damn focused on making the games look cool and awesome and making sure people understand how and why they should play them that they forget that for as much as the FGC is about playing fighting games, it’s also about peer-to-peer interaction.
Looking at the sales of the biggest fighting games, there are clearly millions of people out there who at least have the equipment to start playing in a tournament setting. So why don’t they? While I agree that fighting games have a hard barrier of entry and that the games could be a lot better about incentivising playing after getting beaten all the time, the other part is maybe some people just…don’t want to engage with tournament-going types. But where are the people talking about this?
One of the main reasons I started writing this blog was because I didn’t see anyone else doing what I was doing. I’m not uniquely qualified in any way other than having been involved in the FGC for the better part of ten years, but I still felt it was a niche that I felt needed to be covered. I don’t get great views; my view record was just passed in February with over 6k views, which as far as I know is laughable. And yet, sharing this blog on social media has increased my Twitter count from somewhere in the low 80’s to 780, a some 800% increase in the past year and change. Further, I’ve seen influential people talk about this blog or at least the ideas from it, which is how any conversation gets started. I’m a nobody, and I don’t rush out content, but even I have seen an exponential growth in my own “brand” (if you can call it that), and I’m nobody! Imagine if someone with the reach of Sajam was willing to tweak their comment to talk about the communal and political issues that can keep a community from growing, and not just for the FGC’s slice of gaming, but E-Sports period! It’d be a dream!
But a dream is all it will remain, because as much as there appears to be a calling for this kind of content, it is, in essence, too risky. After all, if you are chasing the content dream, you can’t risk alienating that audience, right? And calling attention to and having an opinion on certain bad behavior and worrying trends is, to some people, anathema to a large audience that “doesn’t care” about those kinds of issues. Instead, the safe thing to do would be to cast out as wide a net as possible by downcrying the most extreme of behaviors but otherwise choosing not to have an opinion about some possible communal issue unless it falls into the FGC optimism industry IE everything’s getting better, so nothing needs to change, we just need to work harder!
I’m not going to say I’m the best writer or even the only one who cares, but I do find it worrying that it’s 2019 and some of the top people in the community are still making transphobic “I identify as (blank)” jokes on Twitter or yelling at women of color on his stream for not forgiving him for saying sexist and racist things, and no one of influence is taking this to their audience and saying “This is a bad thing, don’t do it, we’re trying to make the FGC inclusive.” There’s a slant to the content talk that seems to think that it’s not the community’s fault that the games haven’t hit a big time tournament audience, but just that people don’t understand how good they are. I would argue that while the games being esoteric and difficult to really understand at a high level is definitely a factor, the fact that no one wants to discuss why people might not want to participate in a space like a tournament in the first place is an equally important topic. Could it possibly be that some groups feel alienated because top people in the community set bad examples? Who knows, here’s my analysis of the latest NCR grand finals, and don’t forget to subscribe!
It’s not entirely fair to blame it all on a lack of fortitude; the way the content factory works has to do with it too. Unless you’re a really big name, your content probably won’t get much engagement until its get into the eyes and ears of someone more well-known than you, who will share it to their large amounts of followers, who will share it again, and on and on it goes. In order to do that, people who fancy themselves journalists or interviewers need that access to the players, so the smart thing to do for them is to, again, not rock the boat, don’t write or ask any questions that could be seen as threatening or difficult, and you will get access to that person for future content. If you’re trying to do this as a career with very little to fall back on, you can’t run the risk of alienating the very people you need to help spread your content! Only those with real backing like Kotaku or ESPN have done interviews that come even close to breaking the general FGC optimism complex, and that’s because they have the backing and power to do so.
Most frustratingly, there is still a large part of the culture that truly believes that being respected in the community is just about being good, and that nothing else about you matters, despite that being proven wrong time and time again. This thinking is quick to dismiss a very true sentiment: for a lot of people, the FGC is a space for them to truly be themselves outside of their home life where they may be more restricted. Whether it be that they think their family is embarrassed of them, or outright hateful, I’ve known plenty of people who tend to have a bit of social anxiety really come out of their shell when they find people who engage with the type of games they like. And maybe they can’t make it to local tournaments so they play online or engage with the community via social networks like Twitter and Facebook and Reddit. Another true sentiment is that, as we’ve come to see in the past decade or so, those spaces are not perfect, and are often times exclusionary in ways that were never intended but nevertheless ignored. Particularly online, which is a wild west hellscape all to its own.
Ignoring the toxicity that exists at a base level in both the offline and online spaces does a great disservice to people who would otherwise feel like the FGC is the perfect family to be a part of. Seriously, if you see a guy say this on Twitter and face no real backlash from his community for it, and in fact get rewarded with a trip to Beyond the Summit, what does that say about the community? And wouldn’t you want to know that this is the kind of thing that exists before you got involved in the community?
You know what I’d like to see? An interview with Joey “Mr. Cuellar” Wizard that asks if he thinks that Saudi Arabia’s encroachment on E-Sports could be upsetting to LGBT+ folks in the community. Or maybe an interview with anyone of the folks running the Michigan Masters tournament who had to ban a longtime FGC personality from attending the tournament due to threats of physical violence. In addition to yet another thinkpiece about how SFV sucks because there hasn’t been any news about their 4th season of DLC, how about running an op-ed alongside that questioning Seon-Woo “Inflitration” Lee’s Twitter rants against his wife? The human interest in these stories is undeniable, and I think if more people who play fighters and engage online were aware that the top heads were at least taking these communal issues seriously via thoughtful content, we might have more people willing to engage. The truth is these issues are very complicated and there is no catch-all solution, but creating awareness about them sends a strong message that it won’t be tolerated, which everyone agrees with but is often not willing to say in public. Instead, we get milquetoast content that touches on these kind of communal issues but rarely offer up an opinion but “Lol, another day in the wacky FGC! Please share!”
There’s a ton of FGC folks whose content I love. David “UltraDavid” Graham and James Chen have done great work for years via their UltraChen YouTube channel. Bryant “Smug” Huggin is one of the most consistently entertaining players on the planet. Channels like Luxium and TEN do an amazing job of compiling match videos in good quality from online. I think Patrick Miller writes really good personal essays about fighters. Ian Walker does the Lord’s work over at Kotaku. And these are all righteous people who do tend to talk seriously about communal issues and bring attention to them. But I would argue that for as much good as these folks do, we could always use more!
To be fair, I totally get why people can be hesitant to be critical of the community. If it has been a very important part of your life, it doesn’t feel very good to acknowledge there are others who the community have completely failed. But it needs to happen, because we’ve spent ten years telling people that fighting games are awesome, but we still have to put up with the juvenile, toxic behavior that reminds a lot of people why they stopped playing fighters in the first place. If that behavior isn’t talked about, then it can be seen as the top community content creators being complicit in the actions of those select few jerks, and I know that’s certainly not the case for the vast majority. It’s tough also to speak out against people you consider friends or valuable sources, but friends or not, we’re all responsible for pointing out negative community contributions, and I’d like to think that the positivity that comes from that is worth more than an awkward conversation with a friend.
This isn’t going to change anytime soon, but I do think the type of content in the FGC is the thing needing a switch. Everyone and their mother can post up footage of people playing or use their cell phone to record something at a tournament, as Sajam says, but inspecting the roots of the tournament scene, which are the players and the communities they make up, is something that I think a lot of people are aching for that there just isn’t enough of. The first person to really crack that code will be a huge success in my mind…now if only I could figure out how to make a compelling YouTube video!