Opinion: Crowdfunding is key to growing the FGC

Fighting game competitors play on the first day of East Coast Throwdown in Morristown, N.J. The Street Fighter V tournament's prize pool is partially crowdfunded. Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports

Some esports made it big financially through support from their game developers or from third parties like sponsors. The fighting game community (FGC) is looking in a different direction: crowdfunding.

Since its inception, the FGC has emphasized passion and community over prize pools and revenues. Many of the FGC's biggest tournaments and best-known streamers, like the Evolution Championship series and Victor "Spooky" Fontanez of Team Spooky, became successful because they grew out of the love for both the community and fighting games. Top players aimed to win tournaments for the prestige and the chance to build a legacy. The FGC's grassroots beginnings meant that the scene simply didn't give much thought to the mechanics of money in competitive gaming.

Now, though, things are changing. With the influx of sponsors signing players, greater attention to events by the mainstream, and inclusion under the booming "esports" umbrella, it's time to adapt to a new ballgame. Other major esports like League of Legends, Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Hearthstone have events where the scale and quality of production rival that of traditional sports; they also attract similar levels of attention from the public and sponsors. One way to close the gap between the FGC and these other esports developmentally, then, is to invest more money into the fighting game tournaments themselves.

Although the idea of using crowdfunding to raise money for tournaments might seem to buck the norm, it's not a new concept in esports. The most successful example is in Dota 2 with game developer Valve's tournaments and events. Valve produces several Majors and a capstone tournament called The International every year, and the prize pools for these events are all partly raised through selling in-game items. This year, Dota 2's fanatical community contributed more than half of The International's $20 million purse.

Additionally, crowdfunding is a concept that is particularly suited to the FGC's culture. With crowdfunding, the FGC can continue to maintain its strong community and group identity. Sponsors might want to influence a tournament's signature look or a stream's overlay in exchange for fattening its prize pool. If the fans and the players take that role instead, the tournament directors have more freedom to run the event in an authentic way.

Crowdfunding is not actually a new concept in fighting games, but it has not been a consistent tool for raising prize pools; for example, there has been online pooling from community subreddits that brought international players to specific tournaments.

Now, an FGC tournament is ready to embrace crowdfunding in a more direct way. East Coast Throwdown (ECT) on Sept. 3-4, a tournament that was crafted from the ground up by Joe "LI Joe" Ciaramelli and John Gallagher, is partnering with Matcherino to boost the Street Fighter V tournament's prize pool. Matcherino is a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter that specifically supports esports tournaments. ECT will be Matcherino's first foray into the FGC, and the site will sponsor and partner with the tournament to provide incentives and stretch goals for donors.

The response from community figures has been enthusiastic. Matcherino is partnering with Twitch and Red Bull-sponsored player Daigo "The Beast" Umehara to provide incentives and prizes for donors to the ECT campaign. Umehara revealed an additional crowdfunding scheme of his own on Twitter:

Evil Geniuses' Justin Wong, a legendary American fighting game competitor, donated $500 to the pot and urged his followers to support the cause. He is currently the top donor.

In keeping with other crowdfunding campaigns, Matcherino and ECT have come up with stretch goals involving exhibition matches, signed gear, custom equipment, and more. The effort has been deemed a success, as funding status stands at $5,100 out of the original $5,000 goal.

ECT's funding initiative might not reach the millions that other major esport titles can collect, but it's a step in the right direction. As prize pools grow, fighting games will be seen more and more as top titles for investment. Fighting games occupy a rare niche as a kind of game that both challenges the hardcore player and thrills the casual newcomer. With crowdfunding, the FGC can creatively generate buzz due to larger prize pools and raise the profile of these events so that more players will want to participate in the future.