Positive year for Bandai Namco esports culminates in San Francisco

A longtime title in Asian esports communities, Tekken 7 is growing its presence internationally following a worldwide release in June. Provided by Bandai Namco

Bandai Namco Entertainment will host the Tekken World Tour Finals on Sunday in San Francisco to will cap off a successful inaugural year for Tekken 7, which launched internationally earlier this June, and has already surpassed 2 million units sold.

While Tekken 7 has been a mainstay in Japanese and Korean arcades, releasing in March of 2015, now the rest of the world will have a chance to prove who is the best this Sunday for the lion's share of $50,000.

Mark Religioso, brand manager for Tekken and esports strategist for Bandai and Namco, said the game's growing international scene is a sign of things to come.

"I think what people are realizing now is it's not something, at least in its stage right now, where you're going to make a ton of money," Religioso said. "What it is for me is really community building at this point."

Tekken 7 had a very strong first showing at the Evolution Championship Series earlier this year in Las Vegas. It had over 1,200 entrants, twice 2016's turnout for Tekken 7: Fated Retribution, which was only out in Asia at the time. But Street Fighter V and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U also had strong showings in their first years, and Tekken 7 could also have been in a honeymoon period.

"I think that may have been our problem in the past, but obviously we're in the digital age now," Religioso said. "We're constantly releasing new content, new characters to re-engage fans to give them something new to play with.

"I think that other publishers are a little more advanced in terms of what they're doing in our space. But, I think what we're doing here is taking kind of a slow approach, an organic and methodical approach."

Bandai Namco will try to differentiate itself by promoting Tekken's top players via online videos and documentaries. Other publishers like Capcom and Riot Games have taken a more hands-off approach and let individual teams handle promotion of their own players.

"What we really want to highlight is player narrative and just what these players are all about," Religioso said.

Along with the Tekken World Tour Finals, an exhibition tournament for Dragon Ball FighterZ, another game by Bandai Namco, has many gamers excited. Bandai Namco is using the World Tour Finals as a way to promote the upcoming anime fighter by featuring top players and community figures like D'Ron "D1" Maingrette and Echo Fox's Dominique "SonicFox" McLean.

"Our goal with Dragon Ball FighterZ is to really develop it as another tournament worthy title," said Denny Chiu, director of communications for Bandai/Namco. "I think gamers and hardcore fighting game fans have been looking for a Dragon Ball title that could fulfill that space, and we're definitely tuning Dragon Ball FighterZ to be that game."

While Religioso and Chiu hope Dragon Ball FighterZ becomes a title worthy of tournament competition, they weren't willing to go into its esports potential.

"When it comes to development, I don't think anyone comes into a game development design meeting and goes, 'Hey, we're going to make this esports game," Religioso said. "I think that's the wrong approach."

And to an extent, Religioso is right. There have been plenty of games that have been positioned as an esport, only to falter, like Infinite Crisis and Dawngate. Even games like Overwatch or Heroes of the Storm, with sizable player bases, have struggled to attract significant viewership outside other than at worldwide events.

"A game becomes an esport because of the community," Religioso said.

The Tekken World Tour Finals will take place on at the Metreon in San Francisco where the five best players from the Americas, Europe and Asia respectively, as well as the winner of Evo 2017, Echo Fox's Kim "JDCR" HyunJin, will fight it out to prove who's the best.