Oct 22 2013 - 1:00 pm

The hard-knock lives of professional fighting-game stars

Earlier this month, thousands of hardcore sports fans crowded the Staples Center in Los Angeles, cheering on international teams loaded with top players
Jeb Boone
Dot Esports

Earlier this month, thousands of hardcore sports fans crowded the Staples Center in Los Angeles, cheering on international teams loaded with top players. The Lakers and Kings were nowhere to be seen. This was the championship for the biggest eSport in the world, League of Legends.

The main event pitted South Korea's SK Telecom T1 against China’s Royal Club, a match the Korean side won in convincing fashion. At stake? $1 million.

At one time competitive gaming was confined to LAN tournaments in hotel basements. Now championships are selling out major sports arenas and boasting major prizes and corporate sponsorships.

Much of that growth has come from games like League of Legends, the wildly popular Riot Games title that's taken advantage of an approachable format, a-free-to-play model, and slick marketing to bring eSports to its largest historic audience.

Aaron "FR RoachKing" Chestnut

But in spite of the surge in eSports' popularity recently, there's one community of hardcore gamers still slugging out in basements and living rooms for little fame and even less money.

True to its roots, the fighting game community (FGC)—gamers who play beat-em-ups like Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom, and Tekken—have continued to defy the increasingly sterilized world of professional gaming.

“The best players are the guys who can’t afford to travel an hour out to tournaments," noted Aaron "FR RoachKing" Chestnut, 22, one of the U.S.'s top players in Marvel vs. Capcom 3.

"I’ve literally gone to drug houses to play the best in the world. They barely have food to eat but they’re incredibly intelligent and fucking ridiculously good.”

For FGC players like Chesnut, traditional eSports were always rich kids games, populated by people who learned to play on computers their parents bought. Your average eSports game, after all, requires expensive rigs and a blistering fast Internet connection.

Fighting games, played on cheaper consoles or in arcades for a few quarters a pop, have always been more attractive to players from lower-income strata. If you were a hardcore gamer but couldn't afford a computer or—in the early days— a modem, then fighting games like Street Fighter II were the only option.

FGC is the punk rock of eSports, an almost reactionary movement that brings matters back to the basics with raw intensity. 

“There are a lot of reasons why games like League of Legends are incredibly popular," said Hoa “Anakin” Luu, a player who literally wrote the book on Namco's Tekken Tag Tournament 2.

"A League of Legends fan may tell you different things, but if you ask FGC, they’ll say it’s just not who we are. We’re not eSports. We’re our own people. We’re outcasts… We prefer to be self-sufficient."

That independence comes at a cost. Fighting game stars rarely appear on the rolls for top pro-gaming teams. When Luu won more than $12,000 at a Major League Gaming Pro Circuit event in 2010, he still held on to his job at a convenience store.

“The financial responsibility puts [FG players] at a disadvantage," Luu said. "Those PC gamers are in high school and college without a lot of responsibilities. After a while, that part-time stuff just isn’t enough, especially when there aren’t that many tournaments."

He's since cut back on gaming to work full-time.

Money is certainly a priority in the FGC, though for different reasons. A large portion of the scene is fueled by money games: casual matches between players who wager cash on their win. These types of matches played a formative role in the professional fighting game scene decades ago, when players would put money on the line for matches played in crowded arcades. 

Today, up-and-coming players often break out of obscurity by putting cash on the line to challenge well-known pros.

For many, the organic and rough-hewn face of the FGC is one of its greatest strengths, setting it apart from the new face of eSports. Traditional sportsmanship applies to professional StarCraft or League of Legends players. The games are played, then hands are shaken, and the scene moves on to the next tournament.

Not in the FGC.

To earn respect, you have to win.

Hoa "Anakin" Luu

That's why the money waged on big matches is more about personal pride than a desire to make a few bucks. Sure, there are some sizeable prize pools in bigger tournaments, but beating a high-profile opponent often matters more.

“My biggest success was meeting the winner of Evolution 2012’s UMvC 3 tournament," Chestnut said, referring to the FGC’s largest annual tournament. "He talked shit about the character I played and I played him for money and won. It was very close, though.

“I don't care. I’ll play anyone for any reason. But there are a few people that won’t give you the time of day if you don’t wave cash in their face."

For a lot of the top competitors, money and even winning are secondary.

“I feel like now, even though I do try to win, every time I travel, it’s more about seeing my friends," Luu said.

"It’s kind of like a family reunion. I’ve had a lot of tournament wins and memories in my day—it’s not as important to me as it once was."

But the infamous, unrelenting competitive spirit of the FGC never goes away.

“I still want to win. I still want to make the people that support me proud. But I’m getting old,” he chuckled.

Luu is 22.

Photo by meddygarnet/Flickr (remix by Fernando Alfonso III)

Today - 6:06 pm

Third-person health bars make competitive Overwatch easier to spectate

And Blizzard has added them to the game's public test region.
Nicole Carpenter
Dot Esports
Image via Blizzard Entertainment

Thank you, Blizzard! Overwatch in-game spectators can now toggle on third-person floating health bars for both teams.

It's a feature that's going to make Overwatch esports much more pleasant to watch—and it'll have a positive influence in caster analysis, too. Blizzard quietly implemented floating health bars for spectators in the latest Overwatch public test region patch, though the feature is expected to make it to the live server soon.

"I think this is going to help casting quite a bit in some of these bigger fights," OGN Overwatch caster Erik "DoA" Lonnquist said in a video on the feature. "You call tell the narrative of the fight a little bit more. You can kind of see who is getting lower."

Previously, this information was only available in the third-person perspective by looking away from the fight and to the team lineup bars at the top. And given how chaotic Overwatch can be, looking away for any amount of time could cause confusion.

Third-person health bars are one of the features fans and casters have been clamoring for, with Blizzard promising that increased spectator functionality would continue to roll out. "I think it really shows that [Blizzard] is listening to us," DoA added. "They're looking at what needs to be done in spectator mode. They're taking the steps they need to make it better. Props to Blizzard for putting it in there."

Blizzard has not commented on when this feature will hit Overwatch's live server, but we're guessing DoA wants it before he starts casting season two of the OGN Overwatch APEX on Jan. 17.

Today - 4:46 pm

Cloud9 recruits new player ahead of Overwatch APEX Season 2

Former NRG Esports player Daniel "Gods" Graeser will replace Kyle "KyKy" Souder.
Nicole Carpenter
Dot Esports
Image via Blizzard Entertainment

Western Overwatch teams are arriving in South Korea just days before the OGN Overwatch APEX Season 2 tournament series is set to begin—and Cloud9 is just announcing a roster change.

Daniel "Gods" Graeser, a flex/DPS player who was released from NRG Esports in October, will replace Kyle "KyKy" Souder on Cloud9. KyKy will step down from the starting roster, though he'll stay in South Korea as a temporary coach for Cloud9 opponent Team EnVyUs.

Uncertainty in Overwatch's meta is likely the cause of Cloud9's roster shakeup: A new patch is in testing on Overwatch's public test realm and expected to hit the live server at any time. Gods, as a flex player, is like a safety net. With Lane "Surefour" Roberts and Lucas "Mendokusaii" Håkansson also on flex, they've got much of the hero pool covered.

"I'm very excited to be joining Cloud9," Gods said in a statement. "Becoming part of such an amazing organization is definitely a huge opportunity for my career, and I can't wait to see all that we can accomplish together."

Though a last minute roster change seems reckless, it's worked for invited OGN Overwatch APEX teams in the past. In season one, Team EnVyUs was forced to replace Ronnie "Talespin" DuPree after he quit the team days before EnVyUs was scheduled to fly to South Korea. The sudden switch up seemed to work for EnVyUs, who brought on Pongphop "Mickie" Rattanasangchod and won the whole tournament. With KyKy as coach, they're looking to do the same. The former Cloud9 player, however, is not signed to EnVyUs permanently: "[He's] here to help us as a tryout for a coaching position," Dennis "INTERNETHULK" Hawelka tweeted. "We're optimistic about his position."

EnVyUs will take on MVP Infinity when OGN Overwatch APEX season two begins on Jan. 17 at 5am ET (7pm KST). Cloud9 takes the stage Jan. 20 at 5am ET (7pm KST).