In 1998, Joel and Ethan Coen’s The Big Lebowski was released into theaters. The movie was the highly anticipated follow-up to the Coens’ Fargo, which won two Academy Awards and made over fifty million dollars at the box office. But when Lebowski arrived, it garnered only middling reviews, received no prizes or awards, and fell well short of its predecessor’s ticket sales. Unlike Fargo, which was clearly destined to hold a revered place in film history, Lebowski appeared to be dead on arrival.
But then a funny thing happened. Over time, the audience for The Big Lebowski grew. As people learned to appreciate its quirks, it gained prestige and respect. Slowly, reviewers who had panned the movie began to publish retractions, media outlets began to include it in best-of lists, and film associations began to nominate it for belated honors. By 2014, Lebowski had become so widely revered that it was entered into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
It was a revolution that started among the fans. While the world of official movie culture was moving on to newer and flashier releases, Lebowski fans found one another and created an entire subculture, complete with their own lingo, aesthetics, and rituals. In 2002, a group of 150 Lebowski enthusiasts met up in Louisville, Kentucky for the first ever Lebowski Fest. Soon after, fans created Dudeism, a religion based on the movie’s main character. In fact, it was fans who led the way, continuing to support The Big Lebowski and promote it whenever they had the chance. When Hollywood and the press finally got around to giving the move its due, they were only echoing what the fans had been saying for years.
The lesson is clear: if you build your own community around something that you love, you can keep it alive no matter what the industry believes. It’s an axiom that the Fighting Game Community would do well to remember.
Amateur Gravediggers, Please Stay Out Of Chat
Over the past decade or so, the FGC has turned its collective attention to the world of esports. It’s easy to see why. Where once we had no choice but to build and run everything ourselves for no more reward than the thrill of it, we’re now starting to participate in a true fighting game economy. It’s a small economy, to be sure, and so the vast majority of us are still playing for fun or glory. But there are a select few of us (players, commentators, content creators, tournament organizers, streamers, and so on) who’ve managed to make a living through fighting games, which is a wonderful thing.
At the same time, esports isn’t (and shouldn’t be) the be-all, end-all for our community. Fighting game culture arose in a world without esports and grew to be a worldwide phenomenon without the support of esports. Cash and clout help to energize the scene, to be sure. But our lifeblood is made up of the games themselves and the camaraderie that surrounds them.
What this means is that games don’t die in the FGC just because they’re too small, old, or quirky to qualify as esports. The only “dead” fighting game is one that has zero players in the whole world – and even then, they’re “only mostly dead,” to quote another classic cult movie. Just like The Big Lebowski, there are plenty of fighting games that have faded or been passed over only to flourish years later. And for every person in a stream chat who rushes to establish the time of death for a title that just fell out of the Evolution Championship Series, it’s a good bet that there are hundreds of people who still play and enjoy that game.
Fighting Game Lebowskis
Rushing to declare a game “dead” may seem like a harmless (if tiresome) joke, but it’s no laughing matter. Just imagine how much joy would have been lost from the world if audiences had listened to the critics and given up on The Big Lebowski. Thousands upon thousands of people would never have been able to meet, become friends, and bond over their shared love of the movie, and millions more would have been deprived of the chance to see it at all.
The same thing is true of the FGC. If we want our scene to continue to grow and thrive, the last thing we should do is bury our smaller games. As we’ve previously reported here on toptier, allegedly “dead” games like Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite and Samurai Shodown are still going strong. Thanks to the efforts of community all-stars like JakoMan and Will “CarpetFromAladdin” Lu and tournament organizers like Kevin Ha, Jason Lu, Hazy, angelapickles, AndyOCR, and Sugar Bear, MvCI and SamSho have two of the brightest, most vibrant fighting game communities on the planet. Not only do those scenes continue to keep existing players tied to the broader FGC, they act as entry points for newcomers and outsiders. None of us would benefit from shutting that down.
To help people understand just how many fighting games are still alive and kicking, I asked my Twitter followers to name some “dead” games that they still actively play. The list is truly eye-opening (and if there’s a game not listed here, feel free to mention it in the comments):
- Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite
- Samurai Shodown
- Fantasy Strike
- Vampire Savior (a.k.a. Darkstalkers 3)
- Blade Strangers
- Bloody Roar 4
- Kamen Rider V3
- Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel
- Primal Rage
- Chaos Code
- Fighting EX Layer
- Tatsunoko vs. Capcom
- Street Fighter x Tekken
- Melty Blood
- Sonic the Fighters
- Red Earth
- Shaq Fu
- Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4
- Persona 4 Arena
- Rage of the Dragons
- Tech Romancer
- Big Bang Beat Revolve
- Chaos Breaker
- The King of Fighters ’99
- Them’s Fightin’ Herds
- Punch Planet
- Ranma ½: Chougi Ranbu Hen
- Roof Rage
- Sailor Moon S
- Garou: Mark of the Wolves
- Party’s Breaker: The Queen Of Hearts 2001
- Breakers Revenge
- Dissidia Final Fantasy
- Eternal Champions
If you’re like me, you’ve never even heard of some of those franchises. Nevertheless, they’re all still a living part of the FGC. So if you play a fighting game that’s been burdened with the stigma of being “dead,” don’t give up. Odds are good that there are other people out there who play your game, too. So instead of getting down on yourself or your game, branch out, make some new friends, and show the world all of the great things that a “dead” game can do.
Eli Horowitz is a writer and software professional who lives in Pittsburgh, PA, a city that was once written off as dead. His first novel is set in the FGC. Buy your copy here, then follow him on Twitter @BODIEDnovel for FGC memes, stats, highlights, and general positivity.
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