FGC Locals During 2020: Bad Idea, but Some Venue Owners Must
The Coronavirus has had a massive effect on the esports industry, but none perhaps more than the fighting game community. Unfortunately, even as the country has begun to open back up (despite the advice of health officials), the FGC has not been able to get back to normal business as locals seem unlikely to resume in 2020.
However, some fighting game organizers, and especially venue owners, are having to face an existential crisis of a decision. Run local tournaments for those patrons who are willing to put their health at risk, or face closure, especially as government aid runs dry as both parties in Washington remain deadlocked.
These young people are primarily willing to put their health at risk in order to escape the boredom that’s set in from being in quarantine lockdown, in addition to not wanting to deal with poor netcode from their game of choice. While this has been being worked on by developers like Nintendo, Bandai Namco, and even Capcom to some extent, even good netcode isn’t going to be the same as the lag-free environment that an offline event is going to offer.
Health officials have still said that going out to public events is a bad idea, especially those where you are constantly going to be interacting with your environment. LAN centers are a prime example of a business that aren’t necessarily safe for attendance at present – much like bars, they have people getting excited, laughing, yelling about hype moments – and combine this with the fact that young people (especially those in the FGC) aren’t exactly known for their hygiene and you have a recipe for a germ breeding ground.
Why Some Organizers Are Trying to Get People to Attend FGC Locals in 2020
For local venues, local fighting game events provide a consistent income and foot traffic to their LAN centers and gaming cafes. Not only do they expose people to the business and its other amenities beyond the tournament, but they also buy snacks, purchase gaming equipment, spread word of mouth about the business to their friends. The list of benefits goes on – and it becomes quickly obvious to see why not being able to host these events is a bad thing for a small business. Without them, all of these benefits instantly evaporate.
And during a health pandemic when it’s not advisable for folks to be out and about (even though Americans increasingly are ignoring suggestions to social distance at home) that’s a really bad thing. Especially with rent coming due and a serious lack of government protection for small businesses. These businesses, especially in states like Nevada where stay at home orders have been lifted, have no choice but to open and just do the best they can to survive in these rough times.
Take Press Start Gaming in Las Vegas. Located just off the Las Vegas Strip next to the Pinball Hall of Fame, PSG had made a name for itself in the fighting game community for being a hub for local Super Smash Bros Ultimate players. When that game launched, they were hosting locals for upwards of 90 people on a consistent basis. All of that has all but evaporated in 2020 thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic, where even after opening, the local venue is only hosting FGC events for under 30 people, and has never come close to hitting its cap – even though if given a choice, the venue would stay closed, if they had any kind of rent protection. The pause on rental evictions lifted in Nevada on June 30.
“It fucking sucks. If I could stay closed, I would. If we were forced to be closed then there might be more of a chance of some government intervention to protect small businesses,” Press Start Gaming owner Andy Reanrungroch told Esports Talk. “But by issuance of the governor, we opened at the end of May. Arcades/LAN centers are not rich businesses to begin with. I do it for love of the communities I serve and love of games.”
The Coronavirus has raged in Las Vegas since Governor Sisolak’s order to reopen and proceed to phase two, which included venues like PSG, as well as casinos. COVID cases continued to climb throughout July and set records five days out of that month. There have been over 50,000 cases in the county alone, which accounts for a majority of the cases in Nevada as a whole. The state has been classified as a “red” risk state by the government, and that outlook hasn’t been looking to improve anytime soon. Despite this, some young people (as they are prone to doing) are thinking they are invincible and still want to attend events.
“Since reopening we’ve been down at least 50% in gross sales but I have to keep pushing, keep moving forward to try and survive,” Reanrungroch continued. “I don’t blame people that don’t want to come out right now. I completely understand. But at the same time people can’t blame me for trying to survive. I’m following every rule, taking every precaution, and I’m just trying to still be here for every community when this is over and they feel safe to come again.”
Even with these precautions that PSG and other venues are taking, there are still obvious risks and obstacles for venues to overcome. As recently as last month, Esports Arena in Las Vegas had an outbreak of Coronavirus among its production staff. At the time, they reported that this employee had not come into contact with patrons, and tournaments continued to be run at the venue for players. This does raise the question of at these small venues, even with all the temperature checks in the world, who will police their own staff, and even if the staff is all healthy, how do you guarantee that all patrons are not asymptomatic and possibly spreading the disease inadvertently.
Why Attending a FGC Local During COVID-19 Is a Bad Idea
There are other venues out there that refuse to host Fighting Game events at present, but have resumed hosting events such as Fortnite and other PC titles where patrons are isolated at their own station.
Esports Stadium Arlington in Texas is one such venue, and President Jonathan Oudthoune, who hails from the fighting game community originally and is better known as PandaxGaming, knows first hand why these events are such a bad idea. Especially in a venue that’s cramped.
“The nature of smash events would require people to walk around, come into close contact with others and close distance for communication,” Oudthone explained to Esports Talk via Twitter DM. “Not to mention the absurd amount of time required to clean stations. FGC events are not feasible in general due to the nature of them.”
But surely, hosting FGC locals in 2020 can’t be much different than holding other events? Not so, according to Esports Stadium Arlington, especially when they have the staffing to ensure rules are being followed.
“We only host Fortnite at our venue right now because gamers go directly to their station and stay there after getting temperature checked,” Oudthone continued. “They’re required to keep their mask on at all times and they receive their keyboard/mouse at the door. When done, they return their peripherals and we sanitize them and keep them behind the desk until it’s checked out again. Stations are deep cleaned after each use. The volume of station rotations is SIGNIFICANTLY lower than what a smash event would require.”
Of course, Esports Stadium Arlington, with its 10,000 square feet worth of space, is at a significant advantage when compared with your typical small LAN center, such as in the case of Press Start Gaming, and Oudthone is well aware of this.
“Also our size advantage allows us to space players out appropriately,” he concluded. “No reason to ever come into close contact with other players or stuff unless you arrive with a “family” which we cap at groups of 4.”
These groups of four allow so-called social distancing bubbles to continue existing despite all being at the same venue.
This, plus the sanitation and mask requirements serve to keep patrons safe at ESA. That isn’t the case at venues that are much more cramped and only offer about a fifth of the space, and especially not with events in the FGC which require constant rotation of stations and coming into contact with people.
It doesn’t help that while gamers do attempt to follow the rules, there are always going to be bad actors and selfish folks out there who give less of a damn.
“Sometimes I have to tell people to keep their masks up,” PSG’s Reanrungroch said. “They’ll have them chin strapped sometimes. But I’m pretty firm with them and will only have to ask once. I’ll tell them it’s their only warning. I tell them if the county comes and does a wellness check they won’t get in trouble but I could lose my business license. So keep the mask on.”
What Is the Alternative for Venue Owners?
The sad reality is that many businesses have been adversely affected by the Coronavirus. Many, many venues will end up having to close across the United States and elsewhere simply due to a lack of business and events being able to be hosted. While venues like Press Start Gaming and Esports Arena are certainly going to try to host FGC locals in 2020, it’s ultimately down to whether or not you feel safe attending an event like this. The prevailing wisdom is that there are more important things to consider than attending an event for a few hours, and even with its poor netcode, there are online tournaments to compete in for Super Smash Bros Ultimate and other fighting games. It’s not ideal, but these are difficult times that we live in.
Fortunately, not all is lost. Many venue owners, who would rely on funding from local events, have begun hosting tournaments online, as well as offering players ways to help fund their favorite venues and events from home. Press Start Gaming has launched a GoFundMe to help keep the venue open, which as of press time has raised about $11,000, and counting. This, combined with the modest earnings from the FGC locals that PSG has been able to host so far in 2020, may serve to help the venue survive past this pandemic and get things back to normal.
They have been a cornerstone of the Las Vegas Smash community since Ultimate’s release (and even before then) so it would be a shame to see them vanish overnight due to a pandemic. However, all of this does serve as a reminder that the fighting game community is not typically funded by a large corporate sponsor, or the city – it’s the blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifice of local owners like Reanrungroch that keep things flowing. Ultimately, it’s up to the fighting game community to help these places stay afloat, even if they don’t feel safe attending FGC locals themselves in 2020 – and would be ultimately justified in feeling that way.