The fighting game community ate it up. At its peak, Battle of the Strongest drew thousands of viewers on Twitch, and the crowdfunding campaign opened by organizer and stream producer Arturo “Sabin” Sanchez collected donations from around the world. The initial $1,000 prize pool quickly ballooned to $8,000, with contributions from community veterans like like Evo co-founder Tom Cannon and Super Arcade owner Mike Watson. I even threw in a few bucks myself. Battle of the Strongest was an ode to the legacy of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 competition, and viewers responded with an organic outpouring of love and cash.

After securing first place, Erik “Smooth Viper” Arroyo capped off the evening with an intense pop-off—not against his opponents, but against someone who wasn’t even there, a west coast player known as Abraham “Neo” Sotelo. Earlier in the month, the two had exchanged words on Twitter, with Neo saying he would let the NYC players know if he ever decided to “make yet another coffin for another east coast body.” In lieu of a social media response, however, Smooth Viper took the opportunity winning Battle of the Strongest afforded him to let his thoughts be known in a more public way.

“Neo, when your bitch ass is ready, you come see me, pussy,” Smooth Viper yelled into the camera as the rest of the room erupted. “I’m the best over here, that shit ain’t gonna change in 20 years, 30 years, even when I’m dead. My son will take that crown. So, if you’re ready to come see me nigga, come see me. Until then, be the bitch nigga that you are.”


Everything about Battle of the Strongest, from the game chosen to the outpouring of money from viewers and even Smooth Viper’s outburst, felt like a catharsis. It’s no secret that 2018 was a rough year for the fighting game community. In addition to Capcom’s complete mishandling of both Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite and Capcom Cup, players are frustrated by things like the relatively low $7,500 payout to the Tekken World Tour champion, the sudden exodus of esports organizations Echo Fox and Fursan Esports, and the shaky outlook of Dragon Ball FighterZ competition. Where corporate involvement was once seen as the next step for the fighting game community, most players are starting to realize that placing your hopes and dreams in the hands of outside entities might not provide the most authentic experience, or even a secure future.


While it may not have been the sort of tournament that would pull in advertising revenue or mainstream support, Battle of the Strongest felt like the only way for the fighting game community to close out the year. It was a return to the exciting, gritty roots that made the scene great in the first place, with very little mind given to appeasing a corporate structure or enhancing an investor’s bottom line. Battle of the Strongest was simply a distilled fighting game experience with one of the genre’s most celebrated installments, a group of friendly rivals gathering together to talk shit and smack each other around for a bit. And that’s all it needed to be. That’s all fighting games ever needed to be.

Ian Walker loves fighting games and writing about them. You can find him on Twitter at @iantothemax.