Devs Pull Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Soul Calibur Out of WePlay UFL After 1xBet Concerns
Bandai Namco Entertainment and Netherrealm Studios released a seemingly joint statement denouncing WePlay Esports as a tournament organizer and stating that they would no longer allow their games to be used by the event series. Having this done by a fighting game organizer, which typically is fairly loose with their use license, is a bit of a damning thing to happen to a tournament organizer and likely a death toll in a given genre.
Why Did Mortal Kombat and Tekken Developers Pull Out of WePlay?
“Bandai Namco Entertainment is constantly striving to deliver the best esports tournaments and events to please our players and fans,” they said on Twitter. “Due to differences in vision and professional standards, we will no longer be working with WePlay as an esports tournament organizing partner.”
Similarly, Netherrealm issued a statement that looks like it could very well take place in a “can I copy your homework meme.” “NetherRealm Studios is constantly striving to foster the best esports tournaments for our dedicated fans and community,” NRS said. “Due to differences in vision, we will no longer allow our games to be utilized in WePlay operated esports events.”
This is significant as it’s one of the first times we’ve seen fighting game developers unite in messaging on pretty much anything. The only other time that other members of the press and I seem to be able to remember was the pull-out of Evo Online last year after allegations of sexual molestation of a minor by Joey Cuellar came to light. That messaging varied a bit more than this from developer to developer.
WePlay, perhaps to their detriment, tried to play the innocent card, though this came as a surprise to them. “WePlay has always strived to raise the standards in every tournament we put together by delivering the highest quality events using innovative production techniques and providing the best conditions for players and talent alike,” they said on Twitter. “With WUFL Season 1, we put together one of the most memorable FGC tournaments to date, approved by both Bandai and NRS. Our goal was always and still is to provide the community with a world-class event that everyone can enjoy.”
Through the first season of the WePlay Ultimate Fighting League, concerns were raised by members of the community about 1xBet’s sponsorship of WePlay and the UFL, which is why games like Mortal Kombat and Tekken were pulled. Most of these concerns raised were that 1xBet is shady, initially reported by community organizer Josh “Icege” McWhorter detailing WePlay’s relationship with them. 1xBet was suspended from operating in the UK in 2019 after an investigation by The Sunday Times found it had facilitated gambling on children’s sports in Kenya, advertising on illegal streaming sites, and promoting a so-called “pornhub casino” with topless female dealers. A Forbes report uncovered similar illicit activities last year. 1xBet’s three alleged owners were wanted by the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation as of August 2020.
“The news today caught us by surprise,” they continued. “Since WUFL began and after the event finished, we tried to discuss the future seasons, go over feedback, and address the first season with both NRS and Bandai but have had no response.”
Despite this supposed surprise, they have been questioned by the press on this relationship before. “The purpose of the WePlay Esports and 1xBet partnership is the expansion of the esports scene and the opportunities for everyone involved in it,” WePlay told Esports News UK‘s Dom Socco on April 21. “We are aware of the fact that 1xBet does not operate in certain countries. 1xBet has assured us that the brand abides by all the relevant laws and regulations in every jurisdiction in which it operates.”
They never even had a license to operate in the UK, instead having sponsorship and advertising agreements with international brands. Still, this ban from operating in the UK certainly raised some eyebrows, and apparently at BNE and NRS most especially.
One Bad Actor Does Not Mean Esports Is Evil
The prevailing narrative to come out of the WePlay UFL Mortal Kombat issue is that esports organizers should stay out of the fighting game community or that this somehow proves that esports is “increasingly desperate to prey on [the FGC’s] grassroots passion.”
That’s an argument that doesn’t stack up. Just because there are one or two organizers out there who have had big ambitions, shady business practices do not mean that esports are largely shady and only looking to take advantage of a community. One bad apple does not spoil a bunch in this case. If a bad actor does something wrong, they should be held accountable, but that does not mean that every organization entering the space needs to be held accountable for those sins. The community acted the right way in this case – they noticed something was wrong, they used their voices to get the attention of people in charge and made sure that a change was made. That’s how it should be.
However, to use this situation as some dog whistle, the FGC should inherently distrust any esports interest that might want to host an event is disingenuous and anti-competitive at worst.