Evo highlights need for real evolution in FGC
Justin ‘Wizzrobe’ Hallett is one of the greatest Smash Bros players of all time. Across three titles, he has proven himself to be an elite-level threat, taking games and even events off the world’s number one at various points, including a long period of top level play in Smash 64. Just this year he was able to secure a two-set, double elimination of world number one Juan Manuel ‘Hungrybox’ DeBiedma at OpTic Arena, during a period where Hungrybox was untouchable, and all while Wizzrobe played with Captain Falcon, a character assumed to be close to unviable at the top level.
This weekend, the biggest event in the fighting game community (FGC) will take place in Vegas, The Evolution Championship Series, or Evo as it’s known to the fans, and Wizzrobe will be there without a sponsor. What’s more, until a few weeks ago it was not even certain he would attend at all, as despite being in the top eight for two games at the same time, he could not afford the flights without crowd funding.
Keep in mind too, that not only is Wizzrobe a double game threat (as Project M, his other title, is persona non grata in esports for legal reasons), but he’s also a Nintendo Ambassador. Admittedly there are a few personality traits that make him a less attractive pickup than some players, but in a world where Team Liquid sponsor the almost-universally reviled Hungrybox, that should really not hold back someone as talented as Wizzy. As it was, he couldn’t raise $1,300 without support from his Twitch audience.
Fight for millions of dollars
In contrast, there are players at teams in CSGO without a major title in the last few years, or even a top-four finish at a major event in recent memory, who earn well north of $20k a month. Dota players are going to fight for millions at The International in a matter of weeks, and even people playing Overwatch can scrape some lichen off the side of the esports cliff face and turn it into a decent living. League of Legends, Call of Duty, Rainbow 6 and a few other titles support full-time players, but the FGC cannot manage to sustain a good scene, and it gets even worse if the developers stop artificially inflating the scene.
This is not a twist of fate either, but a result of the way different scenes have been run, and how the participants contribute. There are players in Smash Bros without sponsors that had good deals in the past, and while we won’t name names, there are stories that sum up what holds back the scene, chiefly a lack of understanding about the reality of esports.
A couple of years back, when the best wages for a top-five player were around the $2k mark, per month, there was a team that approached a player. The player in question is famous for his unique interpersonal skill, and has been a ‘god’ of the game for a long time. With all of that in mind, you’d think he would have evolved a more intelligent view of the value of his name, and how to best leverage it.
Instead, when approached by a team looking to sign him, the player in question asked for double the going rate for a ‘god’, despite his lack of personality or brand. On top of this, he said, the deal would only extend to wearing the team’s tag on stream, with no video content, team shirt, or other advertising secured for the salary that was so far from justifiable from an economic point of view that the owner of the org initially thought it was a joke.
Players are a key part of helping smaller orgs grow, and if they do that well, it will feed back into their own earnings, allowing them to achieve maximum pay. Some, however, prefer to focus it all on the play, for a little less pay. With that in mind, you’d assume most players in smaller scenes like the FGC would be happy with a deal and that allowed them to truly commmit to chasing a dream, and work their maximum to achieve that, but that is not always the case.
Instead, orgs are informed that they are no longer a big enough names for players that have no real market value, as Smash is on ESPN now, while so many top competitors remain without a sponsor. Similarly, some smaller orgs leave esports altogether, so disillusioned do they become with the way players treat the offer of money to chase their dreams, and react to the idea they might work alongside the org to do so.
There are a lot of reasons why the FGC doesn’t make the same money CSGO or other areas do, and a lot of those are decisions collectively taken within the community, rather than things that have been forced on them. The ‘open’ nature of the circuit makes events extremely hard to sell to sponsors, as an example, but invitationals are few and far between as they are antithetical to the way many within the FGC think the scene should be, despite Summit being the pinnacle of the calendar….
Wherever you point the finger, though, the reality is that a number of truly amazing games are missing a lot of eyeballs at a time when they could be blowing up. While Overwatch struggles to get fans to understand what is happening on screen, games like Melee, Street Fighter and even Dragonball are relatively intuitive, and could easily capture massive crowds given how every player has a ‘rags to riches’ story, only the problem right now is a lack of riches.