A New Reality

I was just a freshman in college looking for a hobby. I never imagined how much my life would change from just a hobby.

I always played video games growing up, a lot of them, but my favourite of all time was Mortal Kombat. It was one of the first games I ever played. So when I heard Midway, the developer of the game, went bankrupt it killed me. I thought the franchise I loved was over.

When Netherealm Studios was created and they announced the Mortal Kombat reboot in 2011, I was all-in. I followed every little detail until release and got the game at midnight. I played it in my dorm every single day.

I was never the best at fighting games, I just knew I loved them. I had to teach myself a lot.

I eventually moved to Orlando with my brother. He told me they were having a tournament at a place called Rooster’s Bar and Grill. I didn’t even know they had tournaments for Mortal Kombat.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to compete. I didn’t know if I was any good, but he insisted on me playing.

He drove me there. He paid for my entry fee and everything. He really wanted me to compete.

This tournament happened to be a CEO monthly, and I ended up getting 3rd place. I didn’t realize the magnitude of the event at the time, and CEO wasn’t at the level it is today, but it was a big moment for me.

Ever since then I found something I had a passion for. It opened the door to a world I never really knew existed. It connected me to a bunch of people who introduced me to the fighting game scene. I competed more and found out that people would even travel just to go to tournaments.

I eventually travelled to my first major in 2012 which was Final Round 12 to compete in MK9. There was a lot of hype around my name which made me really nervous, but I ended up getting 5th which was huge.

Getting top 8 at a major is a big deal and from that moment on I was addicted. I would travel, and compete and was pretty successful.

All of my hard work and practice culminated at EVO 2016. Going into the event I wasn’t sure how I was going to do. I had just graduated from college and was in the process of taking over my parents travel agency, so I was busy.

The month before EVO I was able to practice about 5 hours a week, which is what most other players would do in a day.

I lost pretty early but fought through the loser’s bracket at the event and had to play Forever King to make it into the top 8. I won, which meant I would get an EVO medal.

From there I wasn’t nervous anymore because I got what I wanted. Every player, no matter the game, wants an EVO medal. So knowing I was going to get one, the feeling was absolutely insane. To make things better, I ended up placing 4th.

Years of hard work paid off, although I still wonder how I would have done with more practice leading up to the event.

I’m so grateful for discovering the fighting game community.

It has opened so many opportunities for me and really changed my life. It helped me find my true passion, which I never knew existed, in broadcasting.

I don’t really compete too much anymore, being a full-time caster is my goal right now. I’ve even taken improv lessons to improve my skills.

It’s crazy to look back at my career. I would consider myself a successful player, but I still wasn’t able to support myself solely by playing. Even now I’m still running the travel agency and I’ve gone back to school.

Back when I started competing, the money wasn’t there. 3rd place at an event like CEO would barely cover travel and housing, but now you can walk away with thousands of dollars.

If I was still in the scene and placing now like I was back then I would have definitely been able to make playing my full-time job. I really feel like I missed a big opportunity.

Even now, I feel like there is a lot lacking in the Netherealm Studios fighting scene. Especially because it’s such a small part of the fighting game community. As someone who watches a lot of DoTA and Counter-Strike, I see every major filling arenas.

I want that for the scene that changed my life.

One of the major issues is that Neatherealm has this cycle of creating a new game every two years. Beginning with MK9, followed by Injustice, and then to Mortal Kombat X and so on.

The games are different, and each one improves upon the last but it has created this play and forget mentality. People get bored and get excited about the shiny new thing and the other games fall by the wayside and it stunts the scene’s growth.

The community has a long way to go as well. There aren’t a lot of personalities like there are in other games. Most players don’t have a huge presence on Twitch or other social media like you see with other games. There’s not a lot of ways to attract fans who don’t play or watch the game.

On top of that, when some of the popular outspoken members of the community start saying things like Injustice 2 – which is the main Neatherealm game right now – is trash, that opinion spreads like wildfire. So now, people are just waiting for Mortal Kombat 11.

The problem is there is no easy fix. Looking at it from a marketing standpoint. At the end of the day, Netherealm is a business and the best way for them to make money is to release a new game. Injustice 2, for example, sold amazingly well. It had the perfect mix for both competitive and casual players.

There was an offline competitive circuit with huge money. Dragon walked away with over six figures by the time season one wrapped up, but for season two the prize pool was cut in half and viewership dropped because of that toxic mentality about the game.

It’s tough for me to watch. Especially when a game like Dragon Ball FighterZ has just exploded into the fighting game scene. The prize pools and the popularity were there almost immediately. I’m a little bit jealous. I want that for my scene, but I’m excited for what it means for fighting games as a whole.

I don’t think fighting games get the respect they deserve, although they’ve been gaining traction again recently. I’m interested to see what is going to happen with the next Mortal Kombat game, but for now, I’ll have to wait and see.

Image Credit: Robert Paul and Carlton Beener

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