ELeague’s “The Challenger” Reality Show Doesn’t Know Which Audience to Cater To

eSports is big business nowadays. The idea that people playing video games on a competitive level and raking in tons of money may seem alien to the general population but it’s true. Video game tournaments, like the ones for League of Legends and Hearthstone, have prize pools of that will make a professional athlete’s eyes salivate just a little bit as how large they are. These eSports tournaments also manage to get an insane number of viewers from all over the world, routinely getting more people watching these live events than the likes of the Superbowl.

The reason why general audiences aren’t aware of how big eSports have gotten is because, well, eSports just isn’t mainstream. That doesn’t mean the gaming world shouldn’t try, right? Well, it looks like the ELeague Network is trying to do just that by making a reality show with some of the more notable competitors in the fighting game community. The show is called The Challenger, wherein seven of the better Street Fighter V players stay in a house and compete in challenges wherein the last man (or woman) standing will be included in the ELeague Street Fighter V Invitational tournament. The first episode premiered a few days ago and I’ve watched it and, if I’m being honest, it was okay but  I can’t help but wonder who this show is for. Because it doesn’t seem to be for someone who wants to watch a reality show or someone who wants to see some really good competitive Street Fighter V matches.

As someone who love video games in general, I do have to applaud ELeague for taking the risk and putting out a product like The Challenger. The video gaming community does have a tendency to alienate newcomers and even people who want to just enjoy playing video games. We call unskilled people noobs and button mashers to demean them and, honestly, it can be a rather unwelcoming community as you have to prove yourself in order to get into this “exclusive club” when we should be trying to take people under our wing and actually teach them some of the tips and tricks to get better. The Challenger does try its best to be “noob friendly” as there were moments in the first episode where they try to explain some of the terminologies and strategies that have become part of the regular Street Fighter V lexicon.

Say what you will about the decision to use a reality show format, I think it was a good choice to make it more accessible to people for several reasons. For one, the reality show format is very easy to do on a small budget. All you need is to rent a house for a week or so, trick it out with cool tech and cameras, fill it with people to be filmed and you’re good to go! No fuss, no muss! Second, the reality show format is a tried and true tested formula that’s worked for other competitive eliminations shows as they’re easy to digest for normal audiences. The folks at ELeague probably thought making a reality show would make it easier to introduce people like LowTierGod and Gllty, players who are relatively well known in the fighting game community, to the guys and gals who aren’t familiar with those names/gamertags.

The Challenger generally has a built-in target audience right off the bat as this is still a kind of Street Fighter V tournament. The typical tournament rules, such as winner/loser brackets and the usual Top 8 system, aren’t followed as they have to make things move better for a reality show format. Since they invited some rather popular Street Fighter V players to join The Challenger, their fans will definitely tune in to see how they do. There was also going to be this morbid curiosity regarding how LowTierGod, a rather infamously negative influence in the fighting game community, would interact with the rest of his housemates.

However, despite ELeague’s best efforts to make a show that would appeal to both casual and hardcore audiences, The Challenger fails to really appeal to both camps, at least based on the first episode. The first episode was a little too technical for casual fans and it didn’t show enough of the game and the personalities of the players for the hardcore audience.

For people who want to just watch a reality show and who are not familiar with the game, I don’t think they’ll understand why the challenges will be difficult, even for professional players. For example, in the first episode, the challenge had players go through Street Fighter V’s Arcade mode in the mirror. This means that their controls will be reversed, which would take much more concentration as they’d have to fight against the muscle memory they’ve built up for years when it comes to blocking and executing special attacks. I’m not sure if someone who’s never played a fighting game would be able to comprehend how difficult this is.

Also, there’s the unfamiliarity of the players and the characters of the game. Fighting game fans and people who watch Street Fighter V tournaments are familiar with the trash talking and “bad guy” personality of LowTierGod and we also generally know which person mains which character in the game. We know the strengths and the weaknesses of each character in Street Fighter V’s roster. So, fans knew the significance of RobTV picking LowTierGod to battle in the elimination challenge and we totally understood RobTV’s decision to pick Guile instead of using his traditional Karin, someone who’s able to control space effectively, even against an offensive monster like Urien. Tasty Steve and Sajam, the hosts of The Challenger did try to explain those little bits for the uninitiated but, since they had to cover some of the more intermediate techniques, such as conditioning an opponent, in less than a minute, I don’t think “noobs” would be able to grasp the intricacies of it all.

Longtime fans are, of course, able to understand them and won’t need these explanations. Unfortunately, one of the biggest reasons why we actually watch fighting game tournaments isn’t shown all that much in the show. That would be actually watching them compete and play the game! The first episode featured a blowout with RobTV virtually annihilating LowTierGod in the First to Five set. At least, that what they said as what was televised was a heavily abbreviated series of matches.

It was like watching a string of highlights for one set. That’s perfectly in line with the reality show format because the challenges can be long and drawn out. But for someone like me who’s used to watching a 8-hour stream (yes, 8 straight hours) just to see our favorite players get their time on the main stage, we’re used to long and drawn out challenges! In fact, we relish the thought of a really good match going the distance! Basically, we want to see the entire match, even the quick beatdowns!

Also, the people that were picked to be on The Challenger weren’t exactly the top names of the Street Fighter V world. Sure, Commander Jesse, Gllty, SherryJenix, JB and LowTierGod are definitely “fan favorites” and are popular enough to be recognized by fans, but they aren’t exactly the highest caliber players in the tournament scene. They do really well and they can definitely beat a scrub like me but there are definitely some names that aren’t included in ELeague’s Street Fighter V Invitational that should’ve been in The Challenger. People like Xian, Poongko, Gamerbee and, yes, I’m gonna include Marn in this list, have not yet been invited to compete in the actual event. So why aren’t they in the show? I’m guessing it’s because they only invited the guys that are in the United States to keep things simple. But the roster of The Challenger is kind of underwhelming, with LowTierGod being the only one who may be entertaining because of his abrasive personality.

With that said, I still will be watching The Challenger. But I won’t be watching because it’s a good reality show or because of the high level play. I will be watching it because it’s a weird experiment. ELeague is trying something different and I’m curious how this weird mix of reality game show and fighting game tournament will come off at the end. And I do want to see who actually wins The Challenger and make it to the Street Fighter V Invitational. I’m pretty sure whoever does make it won’t win it all… but who knows? It could be a Cinderella story if the winner does take it all… but I’m not holding my breath.

Did you see The Challenger? What did you think of the show? Let me know in the comments section below!

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