Bandai Namco and NetherRealm Studios have announced plans to no longer work with esports org WePlay, which over the last month has hosted big money events for Tekken 7, Soulcalibur VI, and Mortal Kombat 11.
In separate statements that were published at the exact same time and very much sound like they were drafted together, the longtime fighting game developers cite vague differences in “vision” and “professional standards” as the key impetus behind their decisions.
Kotaku contacted both developers for more information. NetherRealm Studios’ parent company Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment declined to comment beyond the official statement. Bandai Namco didn’t respond before publication.
WePlay first entered the fighting game community late last year, ingratiating itself to top players and talent with huge payouts and some of the first in-person competition since the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic. The organization’s most recent venture, the Ukraine-based Ultimate Fighting League, was promoted with a total prize pool of $150,000, promising an ongoing and lucrative partnership with the competitive scene.
That said, those who weren’t cashing WePlay’s checks were naturally suspicious of a random, cash-rich esports outfit suddenly taking an interest in fighting games. These suspicions gained traction earlier this month thanks to a Twitter thread by competitor and community organizer Josh “Icege” McWhorter detailing WePlay’s public relationship with controversial gambling site 1xBet.
While 1xBet has previously partnered with major organizations like the Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur football clubs, the company was suspended from operating in the United Kingdom in 2019 after an investigation by The Sunday Times found it had been facilitating gambling on children’s sports in Kenya, advertising on illegal streaming sites, and promoting a so-called “pornhub casino” with topless female dealers. A Forbes report uncovered similar illicit activities last year. 1xBet’s three alleged owners were wanted by the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation as of August 2020.
“The purpose of the WePlay Esports and 1xBet partnership is the expansion of the esports scene and the opportunities for everyone involved in it,” WePlay told Esports News UK last week. “We are aware of the fact that 1xBet does not operate in certain countries. 1xBet has assured us that the brand abides by all the relevant laws and regulations in every jurisdiction in which it operates.”
In response to Bandai Namco and NetherRealm Studios’ announcements, WePlay published its own statement on Twitter this morning, saying that the news came as a surprise.
Kotaku reached out to WePlay for comment, but didn’t hear back before publication.
It’s still unclear exactly why Bandai Namco and NetherRealm Studios pulled their games from WePlay competitions, but following their announcements this morning, social media has been inundated with theories that it was out of concern for the 1xBet situation.
In any case, this appears to be yet another chapter in the contentious relationship between the fighting game community and a larger esports world increasingly desperate to prey on its grassroots passion. Here’s hoping fighting game developers do more research on the organizations they partner with in the future.