Screenshot: Bandai Namco Entertainment

The future of Dragon Ball FighterZ competition is in flux. Over the last few months, several prominent fighting game events have had to pull the game from their official lineups, and no one is quite sure who’s to blame.

Dragon Ball FighterZ has become one of the most popular games in the fighting game community since it came out last January. Players of various gaming backgrounds have found themselves drawn to the game, culminating in over 2,500 competitors traveling to Las Vegas to compete at Evo 2018 last summer and making it the largest Evo game that year.

There are also a ton of different corporate fingers in the Dragon Ball FighterZ pie due to its use of the mega-popular Dragon Ball Z license. Any one of these stakeholders could exert their rights as property owners and publishers to bar the game from competition. And one of them appears to be doing just that, although confirmation on exactly which one is still hard to come by.

Warning signs first appeared in November, when DreamHack Atlanta announced that they would be removing Dragon Ball FighterZ from the lineup two weeks before the event’s start. DreamHack fighting game director and community organizer Alex Jebailey said the game’s low entry numbers—which, at the time of the announcement, sat around 40 players—had nothing to do with the cancelation, but when reached for comment by Kotaku, he declined to expand further on the reasons behind the game’s removal.

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Due to its overwhelming popularity, the community assumed that Dragon Ball FighterZ would be a shoe-in for Evo Japan in February 2019. But the lineup announcement, which revealed games like Street Fighter V, Tekken 7, and BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle, made no mention of Evo 2018’s biggest game. While the organization didn’t release an official statement on the matter, Evo business director Mark “MarkMan” Julio wrote a tweet that implied Dragon Ball FighterZ’s absence was because they “couldn’t get approval from the publisher/owner.” He has not responded to a request for comment.

The latest development in this saga came just last week when publisher Aksys Games announced that they too would be pulling Dragon Ball FighterZ from the next installment of their annual fighting game tournament, Anime Ascension. The company’s brief statement cited “unforeseen circumstances” as the impetus behind this decision and has yet to respond to Kotaku’s request for comment. Players, however, have not been as quiet, with notable competitor Dawn “Yohosie” Hosie, who had already registered for Anime Ascension, calling the issue “bullshit and toxic.”

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Emotions have been high following these developments, but no one is quite sure where the anger should be directed. It could be as simple as Dragon Ball FighterZ publisher Bandai Namco Entertainment not wanting competition with their official World Tour circuit (Bandai Namco has also declined to comment on this matter). This morning, Tekken producer and newly-appointed supervisor of Bandai Namco’s fighting game esports strategy team Katsuhiro Harada made a statement that promised to continue supporting DBFZ community events. Fans have also speculated that Dragon Ball franchise owner Shueisha and anime production studio Toei should be blamed for the mysterious cancelations, but the latter posted a tweet yesterday claiming that it has “no knowledge about preventing tournaments.”

As the fighting game community continues to expand, it will also receive attention from outside entities that want a piece of the pie, especially if those entities’ intellectual property is being used as the basis for the games in competition. Players have often speculated that Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite’s failings had as much to do with Marvel not wanting to play ball as Capcom’s mishandling of the franchise, and now, with Dragon Ball FighterZ falling victim to similar treatment, the player community is worried that their game might suffer the same fate. They have good reason to worry; much like Infinite failed to make the Evo lineup in 2018, the event’s head honcho Joey “Mr. Wizard” Cuellar has intimated that DBFZ might be a “one and done” after its explosive debut that same year. Given that Dragon Ball FighterZ has had one of the most vibrant and exciting scenes of 2018, it’s tragic that this year has ended with the burgeoning community getting held back by a mysterious corporate argument.

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