The fighting game community has been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. While other major game genres have been able to go online, like Activision’s Call of Duty League, fighting game players are less inclined to compete over the internet due to latency issues that make matches unfair. But with the pandemic preventing in-person tournaments from happening, no one knows when players will be able to fight offline again.
“We’re in a wait-and-see situation,” said Bandai Namco director of business development Karim Farghaly. The publisher behind several major fighting game franchises, including Tekken, Soul Calibur, and Dragon Ball Fighter Z. They run several competitive circuits for the aforementioned games, although most of this year’s events have had to be cancelled during the pandemic.
Farghaly was one panelist on a panel about the realities of running and esports business in 2020 on the first day of the GamesBeat Summit 2020. The panel covered a range of topics, but came back to the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the esports industry.
“Most of our tournaments are postponed, most likely, until the beginning of August,” Farghaly said. “That’s when Evo happens, the midseason for the community, and there have been no plans to cancel that yet.”
The Evolution Championship Series (Evo), which happens at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center every summer in Las Vegas, is the largest fighting game tournament in the world. Organizers have said they still have plans to hold the event, but it seems unlikely with the current stay-at-home orders and closures of nonessential businesses and events.
“We’re planning on maybe not having any live events in 2020,” Farghaly said. Their circuits could be delayed as far as 2021, even as Bandai Namco looks into LAN events that adhere to social distancing orders. “We’ll resume in 2021 if we have to.”
The panel also covered the importance of growing each individual community during the pandemic, despite the inability to hold events. Studios and publishers should still be hosting tournaments and events online, even if lag or other issues impact competitive integrity. “Everyone is looking for some content when they’re staying at home,” said Tencent’s Neo Liu. “This is an opportunity for the game industry to develop in a good direction and make people aware of how engaging it can be.”
The pandemic has also proven that offline events matter. Liu emphasized that average viewers don’t regard esports as legitimate if they’re all online. The offline aspect brings that authenticity. All panelists thing that live events will be met with great fan enthusiasm and interest as soon as it’s safe to hold them.