interesting shit guys! i’m currently writing my senior thesis in college about the concept of community in fighting games. this kind of question is really insightful from a sociological standpoint.
on one hand, you have this established (old school) culture of going to tournaments and being a competitive player, where most people know each other already and good players are respected, but not celebrities by any means.
as the scene grows exponentially, however, the numbers simply become too large for everyone to know everyone else. but, everyone who is interested is at least aware of the names of good players. since you then have large numbers of people who are aware of, but not personally acquainted with these players, it follows naturally that some aspects of being “a celebrity” will emerge for these players.
the really interesting point though, which many people have commented on, is to what degree are the products of this celebrity status (documentaries, tribute videos, sponsorships, asking for autographs) really justifiable, and what kind of empirical effect does this have on fighting game/mainstream culture?
from what I can see, this is really a complex issue because you have the spectators (fan boys) on one side with their perspective, and the other players who actually know top players (who are probably less than starstruck), and of course, the “celebrities” themselves, who might behave in any number of different ways ( i like to think of this as the spectrum of UltraDavid to Filipino Champ. UltraDavid, from conversations i’ve had with him, rejects this idea of celebrity, even though he is a well known name in the community, whereas Filipino Champ, after winning SoCal regionals, appeared quite overwhelmed with his new found status in several interviews, and flaunts the attention that he receives).
from a broad perspective, let’s be real and acknowledge that people who are fighting game celebrities are NOT celebrities AT ALL in mainstream culture. you talk to any random dude or girl on the street and they probably don’t even know street fighter is played competitively. even if you tell them that it is, most people still don’t care.
now, within the the smaller context of video game culture, we can see that some of the top SSF4 players are known to at least some degree, even among some people who don’t play fighting games exclusively. you can see it in articles in kotaku as well as other “mainstream” gaming websites.
still, it is not to the degree of korean starcraft, which we can acknowledge as the epitome of how mainstream video games can be in this present day and age. top starcraft players are given training for interview skills and are sponsored by mainstream corporations that have nothing to do with gaming, similar to other professional spectator sports. a lot of the celebrity status of top korean gamers is fueled and enabled by formal media outlets.
SSF4 top players on the other hand, are documented and interviewed by other community members. there is no formal process or third party that constructs their status, or any mainstream organization to lend these players legitimacy (except for daigo and madcatz i guess, but still not really). i’m not saying that this is good or bad, but it is important to point out that to a large extent, the current generation of players are pioneers of fighting game culture in this new age of streams and spectators. the question of “are celebrities good for the community” is not really relevant at all, because it is not a conscious decision that the community is making for itself. in reality, it’s just that the basic structure of the community is changing, so that these things exist. it’s not “good” or “bad”, it just “is”.
furthermore, i think the mere fact that this kind of conversation is taking place is indicative of just how uncharted these waters are for the fighting game culture. as things progress, we’ll just need to adjust accordingly. until then, i guess the important thing is to keep things in perspective, do not put more emphasis on things than there realistically should be, and at the same time don’t try to pretend that things aren’t changing.