This summer is a very eventful one for fighting games, but an even more eventful one for those aspiring to be a name in the community. Heated debates happen in the Fighting Game Community, also known as the FGC, all the time. This time, the definition of a professional is up for talks.

But don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

For those who have been reading my writing: Welcome back! For those unfamiliar, I am Anthony Lowry. I am a former professional* MTG player, former competitive FPS player, fighting game competitor, and MMORPG enjoyer. I have been writing for about 11 years, and have probably spent way too much time talking about competitive endeavors than actually being “good” at said endeavors.

So why the hell would you want to hear what I, of all people, have to say about what makes a pro fighting game player, especially since I’m no pro myself?

Well, that’s because I don’t think there is such a thing, and the term in the FGC in particular doesn’t actually mean anything tangible.

So, I guess we should start with the age old debate: What’s the definition of a pro? What does being a pro mean in the FGC sphere? Asking different people will get you different answers of course, but are any of the answers meaningful?

Let’s start with the common ones:

“A pro player means you make money playing and/or competing in fighting games.”

The most direct retort to this is: What’s your salary? Are you making a living off of it? If not, why not? If you want to be a bit more shallow about it, then ask: “What are your tournament earnings?” If you are going to define a pro by how much they’re making, then they better be making enough to sustain themselves. Otherwise, what’s the point?

That said, there are two very important caveats to this.

First, there is a very fine line to toe when it comes to “doing it for the money.” If you love doing something, then do it. Money shouldn’t dictate everything you love or do. It’s a lot more than just that. For the purpose of defining a professional, however, especially in this capacity, how you’re able to sustain yourself will come into question. The bigger issue I take isn’t with if players can sustain themselves here. It’s why there aren’t more outlets and opportunities for players to actually be a professional. More on this later.

“A pro player is someone who regularly competes and plays at a top level.”

This definition already has critical flaws, partially because it doesn’t consider any circumstances beyond those fortunate enough to be from NYC or California, but that’s besides our scope. If you are fortunate enough to compete at a high level, then how are you doing that? Does a pro need to be privileged enough to be able to sustain themselves outside of fighting games? Is this why the FGC continues to push the need for players to also be content creators? If being a top level player isn’t enough to be considered a pro, does being a pro even matter? What exactly are the benefits of being a pro player in this context? If the notoriety is the goal, then why does the FGC do such a poor job of recognizing players? If we want to solidify a definition of pro, then we need to solidify the players we deem such.

“A pro is someone who makes money off of fighting games, period.”

This definition is one of the broader ones, but encompasses people who bring the most exposure to the FGC: content creators. If their job is to play fighting games, then does it matter where or how they do it? Does skill play a part of it at all, even if they’re a huge part of what makes a scene, tournament, or community, what they are? If I make more money writing this article than a high level player does top 8’ing a major, does that make me a pro? Does this answer change if we put a popular streamer in place of me? If it does, what’s the metric?

What is the metric?

Who is more worthy of the definition: a person who streams or a person who writes or makes YouTube videos? Is a person who has less viewers but makes more worth more than someone who has more viewers but makes less? Does the amount one makes matter? If it doesn’t, then what’s the usefulness of what a pro means?

“A pro is someone that knows or performs more/better than casuals.”

This is the funniest one to me, because it implies that better fighting game players are inherently more knowledgeable, more suited to take on actual jobs in the industry, and more marketable. If being a better player was all it took, then why are so few of them able to be more than their gameplay?

It sort of baffles me how we constantly tell these players to grind and grind, with little support from those who are pushing them to grind, and very few resources available, while also throwing them to the proverbial wood chipper if they don’t wind up exactly perfectly successful. We tell them they did something wrong along the way or they just lack certain equipment, or whatever they can think of to make themselves sound better, while also placing blame.

There is nothing noble about putting ungodly amounts of hours into something for no benefit to yourself. Doing it for the same community that will shove you by the wayside in an instant is not brave or commendable. In contrast, there’s nothing wrong with doing things because you want to, and if you happen to find success through that, great. Most people often start out that way. The issue I take is when you’re constantly pushed to try and be somebody in the FGC, which doesn’t really give back to itself in the first place.

If the FGC can’t even redeem Matcherino codes during tournaments, what makes you think they’ll afford time to you?

You are only as good as your last tournament, and that is unsustainable in an economy that wants to move to the player they want to see or like for that week. You would quite literally need to not only do well in every event, but effectively dominate, and there are probably a single digit number of players that actually do that.

For what it’s worth, I think it’s totally okay for “pro player” to be reserved for elite players only, or for players who “prove” themselves. The issue is how we define these things, and how sometimes these arbitrary definitions become malleable once it involves people who are exceptions. I don’t think exceptions are bad; quite the opposite, really. It’s when exceptions are made out of convenience to the people who aren’t making said person’s career. I don’t want to see someone who just won a major succumb to a pay cut just because they got 9th at the next event, nor do I want to see an old school FGC player argue that they know more than a “casual” just because they play better.

Which brings me to the last point on this matter.

Whatever your definition of being a pro is, you are not above another member of the community. Being better than them at playing the game doesn’t mean you’re better than them at other aspects of the game. Pro players in other sports and esports aren’t frequently coaches or managers or the like. Sites like Dustloop, the home of anything involving frame data, strategies, and hyper specific information, is all done by, what many would consider, casuals. I find it hard to believe that pro players in the FGC care to do that work themselves, especially for free. Without these casual players, there wouldn’t be pro players.

Not a single pro learns only from other pros. If this were true, information would be way more monetized than it is now.

I know this whole piece comes off pretty materialistic. Not everything revolves around money or fame or what have you. Ultimately, what you get out of fighting games is only for you to decide. If we’re going to have this debate, however, knowing what makes a pro is wholly important, no matter what tangible benefit the individual gets out of it.

Anthony Lowry (they/he) is a seasoned TCG, MMORPG, and FPS veteran. They are extensively knowledgeable on the intricacies of many competitive outlets, and are always looking for a new challenge in the gaming sphere.

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