Fighting in the time of COVID: how the local fighting game community is facing down the pandemic

This is the first of a two-part feature on the state of the local fighting game community (or FGC). Do you want us to cover other gaming communities? Email us at

Before games had mobile warriors fighting for lane control in MOBAs, before they had virtual soldiers rushing bombsite B in Counter-Strike, there were fighting games. Born from the arcades of old, these games had players put in token after token, fighting it out in virtual fisticuffs for arcade supremacy.

The fighting game genre predates most other competitive video game genres around. Indeed, its players competed in fighting game tournaments long before the term “esports” came into use.

Well before game companies started pushing massive amounts of money into esports the fighting game community (FGC) had already built its own competitive scene. Indeed, it’s one of the only scenes where the players are united by the genre and don’t just revolve around one game.

Despite its roots, the FGC hit a stumbling block during the current pandemic. Fighting game competitions are still largely based on offline play. The genre’s fast-paced nature makes it very sensitive to lag. Combined with the current state of fighting game network code, online play remains far from viable for many games in the genre.

This hit particularly hard here in the Philippines. With the subpar state of the country’s internet, most of the genre’s players tended to congregate to offline venues such as PlayBook, GamePad, SecretBase and the like. At the same time, its biggest competitions were offline ones. These included major Philippines tournaments such as the annual Rev Major and the now-defunct Manila Cup, as well as international ones like South East Asia Major and Evo.

The pandemic put a stop to all that.

Filipino world warriors

Before we delve into how the pandemic has affected the local FGC, we first need to learn about the players who travel abroad to compete in fighting game tournaments.

For over a decade now, Filipino fighting game players have been traveling to tournaments around the world. This group included not just big-name professional players, but also amateurs either looking to make a name for themselves or who just wanted to play in an international tournament.

“I’ve always wanted to be a competitive videogame player since I was a kid,” says Gamepad Masters’ (GM) Alden Jacob. “I just didn’t have an idea on which game I wanted to compete in. I delved into DOTA but I fell in love with fighting games right away once I met the community.”

The community interaction plays a big part in why players like Jacob, who currently competes in DragonBall FighterZ, travel abroad. The scene’s grassroots focus and open tournament structure have created a community like no other. Here almost everyone is on an equal footing. This is regardless of whether or not they’re a pro player or just a fan.

Many players travel just for the community aspect and to fight players from other countries, not necessarily to win. Even Jacob admits that he started going to tournaments just to “experience playing other players” while he was abroad. But he was eventually bitten by the tournament bug and started competing in earnest.

“The better I got it turned into a need to test my skills and broaden my horizons,” he adds. “I can’t be content with just being a top player in my country.”

The same goes for Jacob’s fierce rival and one of his closest friends, Mico “Xanxus” Crawford-Perez from team EHADA.

“From the start, I had no plans committing to join every tournament as playing was just my hobby,” Crawford-Perez explains. “Eventually, when I won 2nd place at Rev Major 2018, I realized that the feeling of winning and making new friends was all worth it.”

“After I met and became friends with Alden, I discovered that he continuously traveled and competed in international tournaments,” he continues. “I got inspired by this which led me to try and join him to represent our country.”

Others, such as GM’s Kevin “RakEnRoL” Mando travel to learn how players from other countries play.

“You’d be amazed at how different people play and how they come up with certain concepts outside the country,” Mando explains. “As well as learning their culture, being able to travel, it’s nice to bring something on the way back home with a learning like no other.”

Kicking butt and making names for themselves

The efforts of these players eventually paid off. Jacob first found gold in 2017, when he beat Andrew “Jiyuna” Fidelis at BlazBlue Central Fiction at SEA Major 2017 in Singapore to win his first international championship.

Since then, Jacob moved on to DragonBall FighterZ. Here, he represented the country in various tournaments such as FV Cup X SEAM 2018, which he won, and the DBFZ Japan Saga 2019. He’s also found himself playing for several teams, first the Imperium Pro Team, which was his sponsor during SEAM 2017; then Cosmic Gorgons and now Gamepad Masters.

Crawford-Perez has also continued to compete and place high in various tournaments. But his most famous moment may be in South East Asia Major 2019. Here, he won a rare time-out match in DragonBall FighterZ against Japanese players Kei “BNBBN” Komada.

The novelty of such a win—time-outs rarely happen in DragonBall FighterZ—even got the match featured in Kotaku. While he eventually lost the set to Komada, the moment was enough to earn Crawford-Perez a place in the game’s competitive lore.

Meanwhile, Mando credits his experience competing abroad as having helped him earn a spot in Season Two of the Nationals for Tekken 7, where he played for the STI e-Olympians.

In addition, he’s given back to the community, helping organize grassroots tournaments for Tekken 7. He also hosts a regular podcast where he features both established as well as up-and-coming Tekken players.

Then a new challenger came: COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to all the momentum that these and other players have built. Major fighting game tournaments both in and outside the country have been put on hold. In addition, quarantines have confined these players to their homes. (Read: How Ranida Games is fighting hard for Bayani’s release)

For most video game genres, this wouldn’t be a problem thanks to online play. But, for the most part, this isn’t the case for fighting games, which thrive on offline competition.

But why is this the case? Why do fighting games still rely on offline play when other genres have moved on? And what have both the players and the developers done to try to address these issues the genre faces? Learn more about that and more in part two of this series.

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Franz Co

managing editor | addicted to RGB | plays too many fighting games

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