This article is proudly sponsored by WePlay Esports
The physical element of the Fighting Games Community remained absent for more than nine months until WePlay Esports expanded into the scene and put on WePlay Dragon Temple, marking an end to the LAN drought with its own MK11 event.
It was the first fighting game tournament for WePlay, as well as the first event hosted in the custom-built WePlay Esports Arena Kyiv, bringing top MK players to the stage to compete for a $60,000 prize pool.
WePlay Dragon Temple was a big deal for several reasons, including the fact it bookended the pandemic and gave fans hope that physical events weren’t something that would be left behind after the pandemic finally comes to a close. It showed that new tournament organizers and partners were willing to bring fresh ideas to the FGC and expand on the core concepts that make the scene so unique.
“The fighting games are very entertaining for both hardcore gamers and a general audience,” general producer and chief visionary officer at WePlay Esports Maksym Bilonogov said” You don’t have to know all the game mechanics to understand what is happening in the match, who is winning, and how to distinguish the two players. It takes a couple of minutes to understand how the games work, pick your favorite and become emotionally involved.”
Now, WePlay Esports is pushing things to another level, launching an entire dedicated portion of the company to run FGC tournaments in partnership with Ukrainian Olympic and heavyweight boxing champion Oleksandr Usyk, which marked the birth of the WePlay Ultimate Fighting League.
Season One is continuing to build momentum for the MK community, while also lending a hand to Soulcalibur VI and Tekken 7. The entire event is broadcast from WePlay Esports Arena Kyiv and an overall prize pool totaling $150,000 — $50,000 for each game.
The event is streamed on Twitch, YouTube, and Dazn, with 1xBet as the official global betting partner for WUFL and all of WePlay Esports’ events in 2021.
The Fighting Game Community was one of the esports scenes hit the hardest during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the very fabric of FGC was founded on in-person competitions spanning from arcades.
On top of that, almost every fighting game was developed and published by different companies, meaning that once physical events started being canceled, each individual game was left in a different state.
“What the FGC needs right now to grow the most, is more sponsorship deals at more levels of play,” professional MK player Denom “A F0xy Grampa” Jones said. “It’d be nice for more players to get more out of the effort they put into the community, whether it be tournaments, tournament organizing, streaming, etc. Other than that I think it just needs time, it always grows over time, just gotta be patient, COVID slows this obviously.”
Street Fighter V might have been the title that most readily adapted to the online-only space, with Capcom very actively reworking the Capcom Pro Tour into a series of online events.
This included 18 online qualifier events split over several regions that would feed into the 2020 Capcom Cup. However, because COVID-19 continued to be an issue, the event would eventually be scrapped and a series of showmatches were held instead.
Other games, like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Dragon Ball FighterZ, Mortal Kombat 11, and more didn’t entirely fade away, but the online format led to a massive decrease in big tournaments. Online events were still happening but were nowhere near as popular or as rewarding for players.
Of the key titles that made up the core FGC presence in 2019, only a handful of games maintained that hold in 2020 once the pandemic began. The last major physical tournament to be played in-person was Final Kombat 2020, which saw Dominique “SonicFox” McLean take home the title of best Mortal Kombat player in the world
And, to add to the bookend effect that WUFL is looking to have for the FGC, SonicFox won WUFL Season One’s MK11 bracket too, beating Sayed “Tekken Master” Hashim in an intense final set that required a bracket reset to seal the deal.