The mystery behind Dragon Ball FighterZ tournament cancellations

Last year was amazing for Dragon Ball FighterZ. It quickly became the most popular fighting game of 2018, outdoing big names like Street Fighter V at pro tournaments. More people were playing and watching Dragon Ball FighterZ than any other fighting game, making it a headlining game at EVO, and attracting all sorts of pro attention including SonicFox, e-sports player of the year.

With Capcom’s MVCI fading fast, it was clear that DBFZ was going to be the king of fighting games for the foreseeable future.

At least, that’s what appeared to be the case, until something strange started to happen. Toward the end of 2018 major DBFZ tournaments started to get shut down. Dreamhack Atlanta, Anime Ascension, and the big one, EVO Japan, all had to cancel their DBFZ tournaments, and in every single situation tournament organizers were not allowed to speak publicly about the reasons. This created the next big mystery to hit the fighting game community. Why was the most successful fighting game in recent e-sports history being shut down?

A few suspects were immediately ruled out. Both Bandai Namco and Arc System Works, the developers and publishers for the game, stated that they had nothing to do with the tournament cancellations. This makes perfect sense, considering they would only want to build the player base for their game, especially if they wanted to eventually release a season two of DLC content.

The fan base turned their gaze toward Toei Animation, the owners of the Dragon Ball anime IP. Toei has built up a bad reputation with fans due to their repeated actions against popular fan-dubbers Team Four Star and their comedy parody Dragon Ball Z Abridged. However, Toei eventually posted on Twitter that they have absolutely nothing to do with tournament cancellations. Further information came forward stating that Toei only holds the rights to the anime and could not shut down DBFZ tournaments if they wanted to.

Now, the fandom is turning its eyes toward Shueisha, the owners of the general Dragon Ball IP via manga publication. Shueisha has not yet made a statement about these tournaments and they are unlikely to in the future. However, their silence does not confirm anything. Part of what makes this such a mystery is that none of these companies seems to have a reason to roadblock the fastest growing fighting game e-sport. They would have to be incredibly out of touch with e-sports and the general Dragon Ball fandom to take such actions.

Bandai Namco themselves appears to know what a deathblow this could mean for the game. An e-sport only lasts as long as tournaments are being run for it, and shutting down tournaments is a good way to make pro players abandon the game. Bandai Namco does have their own DBFZ World Tour going on, but this alone wouldn’t be enough to hold up the entire DBFZ scene. Remember, playing an e-sport is an investment in time and money, and if e-sporting events are cancelled then professional gamers cannot make that money back. Even a short hiatus of a few months is enough to kill even the most popular fighting games and Joey Cuellar, the organizer of EVO himself, noted that “DBFZ might be one and done.”

As such, Bandai Namco appointed Katsuhiro Harada, the director of the Tekken series, as their new leader and supervisor of the Bandai Namco Fighting Game e-sports Strategy Team. Harada made the announcement on Twitter:

To everyone in the "DRAGON BALL FighterZ," "TEKKEN," and "SoulCalibur" community.

I wanted to notify everyone that I have become the leader and supervisor of the BANDAI NAMCO Fighting Game eSports Strategy team today (Of course, I'll continue producing the game as well).

And first I would like to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who held and/or participated in various tournaments this year.

We at BANDAI NAMCO are committed to expand the horizons of both tournament and community scenes of these 3 franchises.

We are already planning to have as many official tournaments as possible for next year—while continue supporting tournaments held by the community.

Furthermore, we are dedicated to figure out ways where we can assist tournaments and community activities in the future.

If you have any questions or inquiries about holding or participating in a tournament in your area, please contact the local BANDAI NAMCO office in your respective region.

(※The conditions and languages might differ between areas, so contacting your local BANDAI NAMCO offices is highly recommended.)

We will continue to bring you the ultimate experience through BANDAI NAMCO Fighting Games next year.

Thank you.

For the time being it appears as if the e-sports scene for DBFZ will be able to use Harada as a go between, but this too presents some issues. Needing to wait for an official Bandai Namco representative to give you the OK for any DBFZ tournament will make it hard to run smaller local tournaments which is where you find the majority of new up and coming fighting game players. In addition, players tend to flee from any e-sport whose parent company appears to be hostile to the fan community.

It’s also possible that something bigger is happening behind the scenes at Bandai Namco and Arc System Works. No information has officially come out about the possibility of a season two of DLC content. It would be hard to imagine that a game this big would have only one season of DLC content, which it’s major competitor, Street Fighter V has had four. This too is worrying the pro DBFZ scene, as a lack of content support will cause steadily fading interest in the game, and fading interest is another e-sport killer.

Either way it’s a sad start to the New Year for one of the most popular games of 2018. Hopefully we will get some concrete answers in the coming weeks, especially with newer competitors like Mortal Kombat 11 just on the horizon.

What do you think? Who is canceling DBFZ tournaments and why, and will the competitive scene survive in spite of it? Let us know in the comments.