There are some things folks have come to expect from fighting game tournaments. Organisers always provide the monitors, consoles, and games necessary to compete, but the venues that these events are held in often lack access to affordable drinking water. This has long been an issue in the fighting game community, but the topic has become all the more pressing after the recent Dragon Ball FighterZ finals had strict rules and high prices for water.
Before the main event got underway, last month’s Dragon Ball FighterZ World Tour concluded with a series of intense, single-elimination tournaments to fill out the championship bracket after one player, Ryota “Kazunoko” Inoue, won four of the tour’s regular qualifiers.
Making it into the finale — known officially as the Red Bull Final Summoning due to its partnership with the energy drink company — was hard enough, but social media was soon inundated with challengers questioning the event’s overbearing regulations on bringing outside drinks into the Los Angeles venue.
Once inside, attendees found that the bottles of water available for purchase had high price tags, and even those ended up being sold out before the day was done.
“Wow you can’t bring water from outside and the venue is out of water bottles,” Dragon Ball FighterZ finals hopeful Vineeth “Apologyman” Meka said on Twitter. “I actually have to drink water out of the sink.”
“Can’t bring water inside venue,” echoed fellow competitor Steve “Supernoon” Carbajal. “Thanks for letting us know.”
Red Bull has supported the fighting game community with various sponsorships over the last few years and often provides free samples of its stimulant-filled beverages at many of the events it supports. The company also sponsors several individual players who are rarely seen without a can when they attend tournaments.
Daigo Umehara made headlines back in 2017 when he got out of his seat to make sure a Red Bull was on camera during a match, rushing to one of the full-stocked, branded refrigerators that have become ubiquitous at fighting game competitions and esports events in general. But many players say they’d also like to be able to have plain old water on offer, not just doses of uppers like caffeine and taurine.
“It’s important for water to be openly available for purchase or for free at events,” Carbajal said via email to Kotaku. “Many of the competitors are at the event for over 10 hours some days depending on the scheduling, so it can be quite exhausting to have to play and stay focused for that full time and for there to be a lack of water.
It should be fairly easy to obtain water at events or allow us to bring in our own water we purchased elsewhere. Being hydrated and being able to feel mentally and physically sound is just as important in esports as it is in traditional sports. Water plays a big part in many professionals’ day.”
Reports of the water scarcity at the Dragon Ball FighterZ finals event were met with both frustration and levity on social media, but most players recognised from experience that it was a serious issue that needed to be addressed by tournament organisers. At the Evolution Championship Series, for instance, regular bottles of water are offered at a premium within the tournament itself, with vendors stationed outside the Las Vegas venue also providing hydration at upwards of $8 a bottle.
Evo allows attendees to bring in outside drinks, but with many players travelling into these areas from out of town, and some from completely different countries, it’s not always easy to bring cheap packages of water bottles or even to travel off premises to stock up at a local store.
“I think it is a sensible conversation to be having,” Combo Breaker event director Rick “thehadou” Thiher told Kotaku via email. “Tournament experiences are often long and complimentary water availability is a voiced expectation from many attendees. I think some venue and entertainment norms get overlooked when a failure to meet this expectation creates hostility though, such as convention halls, concert venues, and festival grounds often not having complimentary or affordable water regardless of gathering type.”
Thiher also said that while his organisation has been able to negotiate for water stations, affordable water sales, and an allowance of outside drinks at the venue they use for Combo Breaker, this luxury isn’t always afforded to the rest of the tournaments on the competitive circuit.
He hopes water availability becomes a “key priority” as his fellow organisers look for venues in the future, saying that events could possibly leverage venue sales or “include water in ticket prices to buy out beverage minimums,” although he acknowledged that the latter “may prove rarely reasonable.”
One event, CenCal Standoff, has met the challenge head on. Although this event is younger and smaller than many tournaments that have found it difficult to provide readily available water, the Fresno-based fighting game competition will be taking steps to ensure players stay hydrated when it rolls around later this month.
Attendees that registered early, for instance, will receive a free bottle of water when they check in, and additional bottles will be available for purchase at just $1 throughout the weekend. There will also be drinking fountains in the venue itself, allowing players to refill bottles to their hearts’ content.
“We’re a smaller event in Central California and our team often brainstorms to see what we can offer to players so we can continue to grow the event,” CenCal Standoff organiser Sierra Rudolph explained to Kotaku via email.
“We asked around and made a few posts inquiring as to what makes an event feel ‘premiere.’ A common answer was access to affordable water. It seemed like a mark that could have been easily missed but we knew this was achievable at CenCal Standoff. We have a smaller core staff so decisions can be made with more ease, and that may be a factor sets us apart from other events.”
The fighting game community has branched out in the past to partner with corporations that had yet to interact with competitive gaming, like New Japan Pro Wrestling hosting a full card at Community Effort Orlando, and Roadrunner Records having a presence at East Coast Throwdown.
These are companies that would have arguably never entered the world of esports if not for the work of these grassroots fighting game organisations. Maybe it’s time for fighting game tournaments to start building similar relationships with the water industry or, at the very least, offering water on their own dime to complement the aspects of competition they already provide. These competitors are thirsty for more than just tournament wins.
Red Bull did not respond to Kotaku’s request for comment.