Capcom has announced that their annual Capcom Pro Tour circuit will grant a $1,000,000 prize for 1st place in 2023, and that curdling squelch you hear is the sound of blood rushing to the skulls of fighting game players as they collectively blow their top. Street Fighter 6 will have, merely by existing, the largest prize pool for a fighting game that there ever has been. After the uncertainty and logistical devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, fighting games appear to have shuddered off the last remaining bits of ash, fully emerging as a glorious, blazing phoenix. Having crushed delay-based netcode into a long-awaited grave, a truly equitable cash prize for a year-long circuit is yet another victorious notch on these communities’ belts.
Quite possibly forgotten in the shadows of that truly stunning announcement was another miracle: Capcom ran the week-long CPT finals on PC’s displaying at 144hz. For the folks at home who prefer brevity, this is a substantial hardware upgrade for tournament players , reducing input latency and allowing them to take full advantage of their twitch reactions and polished execution. The concept had long been considered not only logistically but financially insolvable, and yet is now slowly worming its way into reality due to the innovations and agitations of a few true believers.
And yet, merely a month ago, there was a chance that the primary agitator and innovator for this hardware improvement would have been run out of these communities, full stop, with a “community” sitting on its hands while it happened.
I’ve been thinking about what lessons I could take away from the situation involving Arturo Sanchez and Matcherino ever since I posted my blog about it. While I don’t disagree that the vast majority of it could just be boiled down to horrible communication and management, and while Arturo was innocent of the worst accusations but absolutely screwed up big time, I think that does a disservice to what I witnessed in the margins: the barking wolves who immediately sought out to tear someone limb-from-limb, the major community figures who condoned it or stood silent as it happened, and the sheepish push to write it off as ‘drama’ after the fact.
What persists isn’t that this was abnormal, but how normal it has become.
“Statements,” a breathless, loaded term given to .jpgs with montserrat font and screenshots of the Notes iPhone app, are perceived to be the truth of the matter, any further discussion, debate, or deliberation shunted to the gutters. It is then the responsibility of communal leaders to “act” – whether that be an additional .jpg or immediate banishment – against the “harm” that is happening, as fast as they can. These, you see, are often matters so “harmful” to the entire fabric of these fighting game communities that prolonging action beyond even a couple of hours is, in fact, a perpetuation of that “harm.” Critically important, too, is there must be no contact or discussion with the purveyor of said “harm”, as doing so is actually “harmful” to the aggrieved parties. Like a tumor, it must be “excised” before it grows into an aggressive cancer that would infect the moral fiber of every member of these communities. In fact, every facet of the existence of his “harm” inflictor was, at best, a disingenuous appeal for social power and at worst a sociopathic need to “harm” as much as possible.
We watch these soap operas play out all the time, everywhere, so much so that I don’t believe it even registers consciously anymore. But that’s the trick of it – that detachment and dissociation can lull the biggest bleeding hearts to a deep slumber, seemingly unaware or uncaring of the predictable consequences that comes from taking such extreme measures. Nor do I believe it is interpreted as anti-community as it ends up being.
This is from HonzoGonzo, a producer for ten/0 Media, one of the largest production companies in the fighting game communities, responding to the aftermath of Arturo’s disastrous explainer stream. Given how that went down I understand the pessimism, but again, it belies a cruelty that I find baffling. “Excised,” like tissue from a gastrointestinal tract, a person who has spent 25 years playing in and supporting these communities, over allegations that had yet to be proven. Not only that, those 25 years of loyalty and giving back means nothing – after all, “there’s a lot of people” who can provide the same thing.
Being fair, the sentiment rings true in some ways – I don’t think any community would suddenly sink without one person, and no person can, or should, ever be bigger than the entire scene itself. At the same time however, I believe it can also be true that there are individuals who go above and beyond to provide services, advice, and expertise that makes them an invaluable asset to any community. No one should be above reproach, but ignoring history and context when making judgements of someone’s character for the purpose of total expulsion seems very ill-advised.
I don’t think that is hard to conceptualize. East Coast Throwdown was one of the first to publicly ban Arturo from their event, literally within minutes of the allegations dropping, but the organizers of that tournament know full well the power of community grace. After all, in 2014, they did something unbelievably foolish and fixed the brackets of their tournament, an event on the CPT, in order to favor sponsored players. This was a slap in the face to players who paid their hard-earned money to attend and compete, and it came with Capcom revoking their status on the CPT for a year. In spite of that, there was no mass boycott or calls to banish the organizers, also longtime FGC figures who spent years contributing, participating, and organizing. And, importantly, doing so during a time where something like bracket floating was culturally acceptable to leaders in the community.But in the end, their contributions to these communities and firm assertion they made a mistake was weighed against the harm, and one won out against the other. To this day, ECT has never repeated that mistake once given that 2nd chance.
I laid the story out in more detail in my original blog post, but Bum, one of the main firebrands calling for Arturo’s “excision”, also knows about community grace. When accused of contributing to the sexual harassment and abuse of a woman in his local scene, he pled for time to make his case. While he did clear up the allegations, at no point did anyone rush to ban him from any tournaments or “excise” him from a community. He got the benefit of the doubt, and he was given time and grace to explain his actions, defend his community, and has once again never had that issue come up again. I don’t believe there is a soul alive who wouldn’t argue that a big contributor to that grace was the fact that Bum’s time and effort spent hosting tournaments and live events is not only a massive boon to the New York fighting game community, but indicative of a certain type of character.
So why then, in the past, has this grace been given, but it was not here? Arturo made a mistake, absolutely, but did he deserve to not even be heard when heavier accusations were thrown his way? What was different about him that didn’t warrant the same benefit of the doubt?
Notice in Honzo’s tweet that while he’s quite disappointed at Matcherino for their perceived incompetence (that would further be demonstrated as this sorry affair dragged on), he’s very quick to note that Matcherino, the corporation, is “responsible for a fuckload of money pouring into the scene worldwide, which cannot be understated.” In my mind, this is a pretty clear statement that even though they have screwed up, Matcherino contributes quite a bit, and to no longer use their service would not be wise. This is pretty in line with how ECT and others have been treated in the past as well – a benefit of the doubt due to significant, overt contributions to the health of these communities.
But none for Arturo, who is scum that needs to be “excised” as quickly as possible because he is replaceable. 25 years of service and almost half a million dollars raised through Matcherino doesn’t seem to fit the bar, apparently. After all, he’s not footing the bill, so who cares?
I think it’s a naturally shared grievance amongst humanity that no one likes feeling as if they are on the outside of a social clique, quietly judged and/or mocked by those who feel they are superior. Of course, that feeling can drive us to paranoia, swatting at phantoms that don’t exist out of a perceived righteousness, but the feeling nevertheless persists.
The FGCs are no stranger to having to fight off allegations of clique-y behavior. Whether it be certain scenes or organizations, there is always an accusation that a secret cabal of influencers gets what they want at all times, and carry a great disdain for all the other players around them. To be clear: this is paranoia. I do not believe that is how people consciously act, nor do I believe that any one group is so formidable as to actually sway far larger groups (Capcom) to bend the knee.
Having said that, I understand, especially in situations like this, how this paranoia finds oxygen. Even when it seemed there was more to the Arturo-Matcherino situation than initially met the eye, that wasn’t enough to break the fever.
“Did you do the thing you were accused of doing that you should be ‘excised’ for? Don’t know, who cares, the fact that you need help defending yourself is proof that you did something bad anyways. Anyone who would discuss this ‘drama’, after all, is ‘farming the situation’ for personal gain.”
It’s a pretty stunning response, and something I heard refrained many times as I explored the situation for my own blog about it: “I don’t know if you did it, but if you did, you wouldn’t need people to defend you, you ought to be able to stand on your own.” I thought this was a “resilient” community? I don’t think it’s healthy, but I definitely understand how a response like that could drive someone into a paranoid state of mind. What other answer is there to take from “Fuck you, you’re on your own, don’t speak, fix your shit and never come back?” Even discussion of the matter is seen as irrelevant drivel. You just cease to exist as any type of person, just water off the back of some monolithic, unaccountable, uncaring “community”. If that’s the case, how are we all not just individuals who are parasites of this “community,” needing to use it but unable to effect it in any way?
And let’s be very clear about what “excising” means in this context. “Indefinite” (read: permanent) bans, complete social shaming, and an acknowledgement that everything you did was actually useless. Arturo Sanchez, whether you think it’s silly or you don’t, has chosen to dedicate his life and time to this community, as a career, since he was very young. There is no human being alive who would handle a complete “excising” from that, with no guarantee of a return and friends of 25+ years simply feeling it is too embarrassing to even talk to him, in any reasonable matter. I think it is worth examining how quick we are to throw out the human context any time these situations come to pass, and take note of how many people who have faced a similar complete excommunication have admitted they have contemplated suicide. This is not banning someone from a website forum, this is handing them a yellow ticket of leave, and should be treated as such. It’s never just “you can’t play games for money anymore,” it’s “the friendships, community, and respect you built up for years is gone and never should have existed.” Big difference between the two.
Note that I am not advocating for the career or reputation of HonzoGonzo to be pulverized – he’s making a mistake, and I’m criticizing him for it. Like Arturo, he’s done a lot of great work for the various FGCs for a very long time, and I respect him for that. He’s also far from alone in it, but I found it to be the most prudent example of someone with a not-small degree of influence or station being incredibly irresponsible and cruel without meaning to. Whether or not anyone thinks it’s fair, public posts don’t exist in a vacuum, and the reason why a “scumbag” had to be the one to step in and defend Arturo from really heavy accusations of theft was because people like Honzo, people whose opinions are taken seriously, were confident in their incuriosity. There simply has to be a higher standard, because while people pretend the stakes are low, I know what they really think too. When one of the most beloved, well-known organizers across all the communities privately confides in me that they are “terrified” of community responses to inaction, I get the feeling that the stakes are actually pretty damn high for all involved.
I also don’t mean to imply I’m any better – I’ve been in the thick of it myself several times, and I have deep regrets about some of the ways in which I’ve contributed to these pile-ons. But being better than we were before means scrutinizing the times when we failed, and I just don’t see enough of that happening. But it needs to – as literally millions of dollars pour into this scene, we will have more and more people enter into these communities. Most of them are merely going to want the money and don’t believe interacting with the community will matter much. I would simply like that not to be the impression someone could get if they stick around long enough.
After all, If the lesson is that no individual ever stands out in the community, that they are entirely replaceable, and that the community owes them nothing and they owe nothing to it, what value is there in even using the term ‘community’ to refer to this whole thing?
I say none.
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