Super Shady Fighter

Guest Feature: Fighting game aficionado, Shingouryu, gives us a extensive look at the seedy underbelly of the fighting game community, and explains some of the basics in anticipation for his trip to UFGT9 this weekend.

By Shingouryu | May 22, 2013

One thing that makes the Fighting Game Community (hereafter referred to as "The FGC") unique as a competitive organization is that it is mostly self governed. With the exception of Evo (basically the international championship of fighting games) and various company sponsored events, tournaments are run by members and active participants in the community, and tournament officials are comprised entirely of volunteers. 

This is a bit of a point of pride for the FGC, and it puts it a bit at odds with the Esports community - what we now see as majors started as much more casual affairs. Before the advent of live streaming, tournaments didn't have nearly as much publicity and were only for the most hardcore of the hardcore. Hell, before the internet was commonplace tournaments were mostly just local gatherings in arcades and were mainly against the same people you would play everyday anyway, barring geographic rivalries like the legendary one between Southern and Northern California. But I'm getting off topic, how the internet has affected the way people learn and perceive fighting games is a fascinating subject, but not the focus of this article.

Anyway, the real point I'm trying to get across is this - since there are no professional "officials" to speak of and the rules of conduct are completely determined by the tournament organizer (who is almost always a member of the FGC as well), policing as far as actions of players while at tournaments is as best incredibly lax and at worst nonexistent. This can lead to some rather... shady business. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a proud member of the FGC and there's a lot to like about the community, but there are a couple things I feel are questionable that people may not be aware of, so I thought I'd give you a peek at some of the less scrupulous things that go on in a tournament setting.


Now, I generally like to ignore sweeping generalizations, but if there's one thing that can be said about the FGC in general it's that it loves to gamble. Said gambling typically takes one of two forms:

Side Bets: For the FGC, side betting is really as ubiquitous at tournaments as the games themselves, and every tournament seems to have players that are more concerned with making side bets than actually playing their matches. There are several stories of competitors being disqualified because they were too busy keeping track of the results of various bets they have made for different matchups instead of going to their own scheduled matches.

Of course, side betting in itself is relatively innocuous. I mean, competitive sports of all strokes have at least a little money exchanging hands under the table, but what is really impressive about side betting in the FGC is not only how openly blatant it is, but also the sheer number of different things people bet on. Side bets will at times even be mentioned in commentary on the matches, sometimes with the commentator themselves praising their good fortune or bemoaning an unfavorable result regarding their own bets. Bet conditions can range from mundane (who will win the match, number of wins/losses on each side) to ridiculously specific. Some of the more interesting ones I've seen: chosen character color palette, which player will get the first strike bonus, number of super/ultra combos used in a match, number of seconds remaining on the clock at the end of a match, number of times a specific normal/special is used, and how many tears Chris G will shed if he loses.

Money Matches: Just as ubiquitous to tournaments as side bets, money matches are an incredibly popular component at tournaments, to the point where a lot of professionals make more money through money matches than actually winning tournaments. They are so rampant that at Evo (where they are explicitly prohibited) it is a running joke to refer to them as "Funny Matches."

Like side betting, money match types come in all sorts of varieties.  Many times pros will add handicaps for opponents such as random only, joke characters only or even physical handicaps like blindfolded or using a strange controller at the cost of a higher buy in.  Unsurprisingly, these are also quite popular to watch among streamers and tournament goers, and there is almost always an unofficial "Salty Suite" (little bit of terminology here, when a player is "Salty" it means they are upset about losing a match) money match room and stream that is often heavily publicized by the local and professional players that will be present.  Of course, side betting is also applicable to money matches, so a lot of money inevitably gets passed around at these events.


Fighting games as a competitive scene really exploded in popularity near the mid 2000's with the advent of online streaming, and has only picked up speed since then. Due to this, professional fighting game teams have begun to form, sponsored by all sorts of benefactors such as equipment companies, game companies, various arcades and even local efforts. Despite the fact that this should lead to a very professional mindset, a side effect of the FGC being more casual is that the top players generally all know and like each other, and tend to walk in the same social circles regardless of professional alliances (even moreso than other competitive gaming scenes). Since we're at a point where the top 8 of any given tournament is almost guaranteed to be comprised of sponsored players who are friendly with each other, sometimes some funky business can happen.

Staged Outcomes

Ultradavid, a prominent FGC commentator, slamming Filipino Champ about
the previous night's match at ECT.
So, this is what really inspired me to write this article. "Staged" matches have obviously always existed, but when it was suspected and afterward officially revealed that several of the special guest matches during the ill conceived Street Fighter X Tekken reality show Cross Assault (seriously, this caused all sorts of bad press for the FGC) were staged they gained a renewed prominence as a bad thing in the mind of the FGC.

As an example, there was a large fuss last night about an Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 match between the players Filipino Champ and PR Rog (The Eduardo mentioned in the tweet above), and I am going to attempt to outline it in the simplest terms possible. It was loser's quarterfinals, so the winner would move on to loser's semis and the loser was 5th, and a relatively high profile match. Near the end of the match, PR Balrog had about 5 different opportunities to win the match by pressing any attack button, yet during each opportunity he chose movement options instead. For a couple, there is a slight argument that he was positioning for a throw, but some of the scenarios are indefensible from any logical point of view, not to mention that given the current character match-up (Doom/Vergil vs. Dark Pheonix) going for a throw would be the stupidest tactic possible. Compound this with the fact that Filipino Champ's character was incredibly vulnerable every time and PR Rog didn't have to worry about countering guarding with a throw, and it makes it quite apparent that the outcome was staged. It is also notable to point out that these two players are very good friends, and live in the same house. So obvious was this staging that the twitch chat, which is usually full of trolls and can never agree on anything, immediately started throwing accusations at the players.

So why would players bother to stage/throw a match? There are really several potential reasons.

The first is a relatively practical one - an unfavorable bracket. This is currently the most popular theory on why the example listed above happened. The winner of that match would go on to face a player known as Chris G, who is widely considered the best Marvel Player, in loser's semis. While PR Rog's team deals well with Filipino Champ, they probably decided that Champ stood a better chance against Chris G, so Rog threw the match because he didn't want to face Chris G. Since they live together and are good friends, they can just split whatever winnings they get (more on that later).

The second is another practical reason, and probably the most shady - side bets. Though not extremely common, there is potential for this to happen, especially when there is a player who is very heavily favored to win. I'm sure you've all heard the "underground prize fighter bets against himself, loses on purpose, then makes out like a bandit" scenario, and it's basically the same thing here. Amusingly, side betters often take this into account, so you'll sometimes find the underdog has a lot more money on him than you might expect.

The last is a less practical reason - drama. Many prominent members of the FGC have very set personalities, to the point where they are almost comparable to professional wrestlers. The aforementioned Filipino Champ, for example, is one of the best known heels of the fighting game community. That is, he is generally disliked as he tends to use "cheap" teams and tactics, as well as having an all around rude disposition. PR Balrog, on the other hand, is generally liked, cited as a good guy, and is famous for having a good record against international (Japanese, Korean, Chinese) players. If the above match were less obvious in its staging, it could've created a lot of buzz in terms of people hating Champ and feeling sorry for Rog, leading to increased popularity for both of them.  Instead, they ended up getting called out by the community.

Pot Splitting

So, say you're a professional Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 player, and a large amount of your income comes from fighting games. You find yourself in Grand Finals against another top player whom you are good friends with. Whoever loses the match is going to get substantially less money than the winner, and feelings of resentment could result from this. Add the fact that Marvel is a relatively random game, and you've got a lot of pressure building up. The solution? Split the pot of course! That way the result doesn't matter and both players leave happy.

For those not familiar with the terminology, "Splitting the Pot" means that after the tournament is over players who decide to cooperate with each other will split whatever winnings they get evenly, removing the stress of needing to win as well as any potential disputes between players. This is most likely to happen with the top two players, but can really extend downward to any placing that still gets money or even farther if a very large number of players are in cahoots with each other.

This generally leads to what is known as "Sandbagging," which is a catch all term for players not putting a lot of effort into their play. Sometimes this is subtle - a few dropped combos here and there, using really weird setups, etc., but sometimes it is very blatant - picking really weird characters, barely paying attention to the match, there has even been an instance of a player picking random for a tournament match.

Do note, however, that there is a distinct difference between staging and sandbagging. During a staged match, the players desire a specific outcome and generally want the match to seem as genuine as possible. During a sandbag match, neither player really cares about the outcome and whether or not they want to attempt to hide it is to their discretion.

Other Shadiness

Bracket Rigging: Thankfully not very common, but certainly not unheard of. There is a famous example in which a player named Marn, allegedly after being knocked out of several other tournaments, decided to pay off the bracket organizers (again, volunteers) to rig the bracket in his favor. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), the bracket organizers weren't very good at their job, and this caused mass confusion that led to that particular game's tournament being cancelled.

Due to this incident, Marn was immortalized as "Mr. N" in the parody fighting game DIVEKICK!, and his bio is as follows:

Uncle Sensei may have sent Mr N to the losers bracket, but his career ended later that day after Mr N paid a massive sum to have the brackets rigged in his favor. Officials noticed the foul play too late, and the tournament was in such disarray that the entire event was cancelled and everyone was disqualified. Unable to afford fees for the following year, Sensei was forced into retirement. Mr. N can usually be found riding to coattails of his best friend, upcoming Divekick superstar Dustin Weinburger, and is usually behind any sort of foul play that may occur at a tournament. Mr N owes the mob a lot of money, and is constantly on the run.

Stick Modding: A large point of contention in the FGC is what system a particular game should be played on. Not only are there gameplay differences between systems (albeit extremely minute), they need to know what system they need a controller for. Now, most people who are really serious about playing competitive fighting games use fight sticks for greater control and ease of accessing different buttons, and good fight stick is quite pricey. Like, $150-$200 pricey. So the prospect of buying two different ones is quite a barrier for a lot of people. This is where stick modders come in. Basically, they make it so any stick can be used on any system. Of course, stick manufacturers discourage this, but not enough to keep modders from being present at nearly every major tournament.

Theft: There is a lot of money in terms of equipment present at any given tournament - systems for each station, individual games to be played, streaming equipment, monitors, etc.. Combine this with the sheer number of people and it's inevitable that sometimes things go missing. If you ever go to a tournament with a fancy new fight stick you also need to be wary of stick thieves. "Hey man, I have a match I need to play and my buddy has my stick... can you lend me yours?" is a common phrase heard at tournaments, and while the FGC is usually hospitable to its own, a little caution goes a long way.

Sexism: Not really shadiness, but a problem nonetheless. Surprisingly, the FGC is actually really quite gay friendly, and there are many prominent players that are openly homosexual. This makes a bit of sense when you consider that the FGC was born in arcades which were, in my experience, places that tended not to discriminate due to race, religion or sexual orientation, but rather places that united dissimilar people due to a love of gaming (there's an article waiting to be written right there). However, the caveat is that arcadegoers and fighting game players are generally male, and it's considered a more masculine pastime. This causes females players to either be looked down upon or, in worse cases, verbally teased or assaulted. Things are getting better with the rise of female players like Sherry Jennix and Kayane, but it's still an area where vast improvement needs to take place.

So yeah, despite all it's shortcomings, I love the FGC and am super pumped to go to UFGT9 this weekend. Obviously I think the good in the FGC outweighs the bad, and am looking forward to report that after I return home.


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