Fight Friday: Decoding the Criticisms and Pro Player Favoritism of Mortal Kombat 1

Ever since Mortal Kombat 1 was released back in September 2023, there has been no shortage of discussions surrounding it. From the incredibly odd bugs to the Kameo system, to distinguishing what we thought was good from what’s actually good, the discourse has been ongoing. While it might be tempting to label MK1 a hit based on sales numbers, the reality with fighting games goes beyond mere figures. As more players engage with the game, it becomes evident that it continues to receive its fair share of criticisms. Whether it’s the grindy Invasion mode, issues with monetization, missing or broken features, or concerns about game balance, the critiques are diverse and impactful. As someone who appreciates MK1, I can certainly understand the validity of each point. But the real question lingers – how significant are these criticisms?

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re familiar with Combo Breaker. For the uninitiated, Combo Breaker is a tournament held every Memorial Day weekend, evolving into one of the largest tournaments in the country. It’s a thrilling experience for spectators and a massive battleground for competitors. It’s the third largest tournament in North America, making the latest entry numbers all the more shocking. Among the 24 games at CB2024, the top 8 main stage games includes Street Fighter 6, Tekken 8, GBVS Rising, Guilty Gear Strive, Under Night In-Birth 2, Guilty Gear Rev 2, Smash Ultimate, and KOFXV. Despite its recent release, MK1 is at the very bottom at the leaderboard despite the 3M in sales. It’s especially noteworthy when compared to the majority of games with more players have less than 1M in sales. This isn’t a promising start for a game still in its infancy. Maybe it will pick up by the time May rolls around.

The pressing question emerges – why? Why has the NRS community seemingly distanced itself from this game? Initially considering factors like the prize pool for Pro Kompetition, which stands at a respectable $265K, one might think that this should be appealing. However, when juxtaposed against Street Fighter 6’s $1M prize pool, it raises questions. Game balance, another potential factor, doesn’t seem to be deterring professional players from engaging with the game, at least according to metrics on YouTube. Delving deeper suggests that the issue might be rooted in gameplay, as evidenced by recurring complaints.

One major point of contention is the Kameo system. Personally, I find it amusing, appreciating a bit of foolishness in games. However, others view it as a reason to stunt and oversimplify characters just to accommodate the Kameo system. While I enjoy Kameos, I can acknowledge that some characters feel incomplete without a well-executed Kameo. Another complaint centers around the high-low mixup style of gameplay, a perplexing criticism for me. Perhaps it’s because the last MK I delved into was MKX, and that game’s mix was genuinely terrifying until you learned how to navigate it. Lastly, there’s an issue that resonates with me as well – the input reader. Uncertainty about whether I’m too precise or not precise enough has discouraged me from playing certain characters, favoring others where consistency is more bearable.

Now, things take an odd turn. Somehow, the casual playerbase perceives that the pros are the ones responsible for ruining the game. Their reasoning is rooted in the belief that developers are more attuned to the pros than the louder casual playerbase. As absurd as it may sound, I can empathize with how they’ve arrived at this conclusion. Countless times, we’ve witnessed games catering to eSports, making them more playable for professionals at the expense of the casual crowd. However, this time, the perspective seems murkier. From my viewpoint, it appears that developers are reacting impulsively to the evolving tech on the tournament scene. It seems that every time a strong strategy or combo is discovered, adjustments must be made. While some changes are undoubtedly necessary, others, like the Cyrax Kameo change consuming the entire gauge, feel like knee-jerk reactions that severely impacted the character’s usage. This raises the question of what the developers are truly listening to – is it Twitter, replays, tournament results, or Reddit? Currently, it’s challenging to pinpoint.

At present, the perception is that the pros hold the power to influence game changes. However, this contradicts several criticisms from the pros themselves. If pros wielded such power, why would SonicFox need to tweet about NRS being more straightforward with the community? There’s a belief that pros can dictate whether a game fails or succeeds based on their tweets, seeing them as influential figures when, in reality, they’re just enthusiasts voicing their concerns like everyone else. We should pause and realize that SonicFox, as skilled as they are, doesn’t decide the fate of these games. No pro does. Assigning such responsibility and power to an individual is counterproductive. We’re fortunate that SonicFox is handling this pressure with grace.

Mortal Kombat 1 needs to find its footing sooner rather than later. With both fans and pros pointing out numerous problems and the developers’ poor communication, the game may be in jeopardy. It’s disheartening, especially since I genuinely enjoy this game despite my historical disdain for Mortal Kombat. I have my grievances, but I simply want the game to survive long enough for these issues to be rectified. As mentioned earlier, the game hasn’t even celebrated its first year. It’s too early to predict its fate. Not long ago, we witnessed another game starting rough and evolving into something commendable in Street Fighter V. Let’s hope NRS doesn’t take as much time to learn from their lessons.

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