Maintaining a grassroots gaming community in a niche game

If you’re familiar with this blog, you probably have noticed that I’m fond of fighting games. They, as a genre, have very much to offer. However, there are big series like Tekken, Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat (Guilty Gear, perhaps, as well) and rarely anything else gets covered in the press. That’s a shame because there are many interesting sub-genres and games, which fly under the radar of everyday player and sometimes, the fighting game community as a whole. I believe that one of those games is Power Rangers: Battle For The Grid. I’ve been playing it on Switch for the last few months and it’s been a lot of fun, as the game has pretty much everything a high-quality product should have (aside from some stuff here and there) – good netcode, enjoyable gameplay, nice soundtrack and so on. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of players in the community, it seems. However, when they get engaged, they stick to it and they have a fun time. 

This blog post will consist mostly of an interview I conducted with a moderator of the unofficial EU server of the game, Technically Footsies, who has been playing the game for quite a while. In it, we will cover a lot of aspects regarding community management, the game itself, its perception in the fighting games community. It may be interesting to see how a player who takes on community management with no professional or formal background in the industry deals with issues community managers have to put up on daily. If you are a professional, you may also have a valuable glimpse into the mind of an engaged player, who got hooked enough to not only spend money on the game but also to invest his time and work into developing a separate branch of the game’s community.

Let’s get to it

Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid

I: regular font

Technical Footsies: bold font

My comments: in brackets/cursive

Jakub Mamulski: How did you find out about the game?

Technically Footsies: I guess my first exposure to the game was from Maximillian Dood’s streams – he covered it when it came out, and it always looked like a fun time whenever he played it – so I picked it up when it came out on PC.

[This situation proves how effective influencer marketing can be. As far as I know, BFTG’s launch was far from stellar, but the FGC (fighting games community) is, unfortunately, used to such circumstances and in defence of nWay (the developer), they seemed to have little experience coming to this project and they happened to greatly change the game in order to deliver it to its current state. People in the community didn’t forget about the title and due to a streamer’s activity, it was possible to make a conversion into a customer in TF’s case. This could be leveraged with the use of affiliate links, which means that the influencer who’d be playing the game would get a cut, be it a set rate or a percentage share, from purchases provided by their activities and content. Technically Footsies also asked me to mention that the game has quite a lively community in The USA, compared to other regions.]

JM: What do you like about the game?

TF: I love a ton of things about the game, I could go on for ages. It’s probably the first game where I really fell in love with labbing (this refers to trying to find new combos and to learn properties of a character in the game’s training mode) – the combo system is really fun to mess with, and I love how the active tag system (BFTG is a so-called tag fighter – it means that players aren’t limited to one fighter during a fight and can switch characters on the go; this mechanic is mostly known as tagging) works – where you call an assist and at any point during it, you can tag into it, which leads to a ton of fun mix/neutral (mix refers to a specific way of building combos, by mixing low, high and aerial attacks; neutral is the state in which the players are not engaged in direct combat at the moment and are trying to gain ground, get a better position and so on) play, you name it. I also just love how distinct they’ve managed to make characters feel from each other – every character has their own defined gameplan, and they all have individual value to a team, even if their kits are a lot weaker than some other characters, there’s so much jank to discover, I kind of love it.

JM: Who do you feel the game is catered towards?

TF: It’s an interesting question because obviously, you have the brand appeal, loads of people from various generations loved Power Rangers growing up, and it’s nostalgic to dive back into it, you’ll get a lot of people picking it up as their first fighting game I’d wager, similarly to how FighterZ (Dragon Ball FighterZ is a tag fighting game made by Arc System Works; it operates on similar principles as BFTG and uses the Dragon Ball IP) introduced a lot of people to fighting games. 

However, the game is very clearly catered towards people who love fast-paced neutral, disgusting mix, and crazy combos. I think players coming from other tag and anime fighters will have a lot to get their teeth into if they pick up BFTG.

[Nostalgia can sell products pretty well. I’m glad that BFTG is so much more than just a money grab trying to capitalize on a classic TV series. When it comes to the second part of what TF said, it can be a double-edged sword, as this target is well defined, but is extremely narrow at the same time. It may be hard to get to players who don’t know yet that they enjoy such things, as they are a potentially valuable audience and an interesting source of sales leads, but getting to them may be a hassle since it’s an extremely broad group. I’m sure that if nWay aims to acquire such users, they probably did an awful lot of AB testing in their paid campaigns (AB tests in marketing are a tool that is used to determine which ad format, audience or any other variable performs better).]

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers | Netflix

JM: BFTG has some newbie-friendly mechanics, like autocombos (a player can mash a button and a predefined combination of moves will be the effect of the mashing), special direct inputs (fighting games often use so-called command inputs for special moves, i.e. in order to fire a Hadouken in Street Fighter 2, you need to input quarter-circle forward and press the light punch button; BFTG has a separate button for special attacks, and you can choose the move you want, by pressing the button and a direction on your controller, so i.e. you can cast a “flame carpet” with the Red Samurai Ranger by pressing the special button and forward) and juggle limiters (long story short, you can’t juggle your opponent with simple combos into infinity and they will snap out of the combo after a while). Do you think that such simplified mechanics can encourage players new to the fighting games genre? Do you consider such mechanics to be a good selling point? How do they affect more experienced players of the game? Do you think that they are limiting?

TF: Simplification is always an interesting discussion when it comes to fighting games, but I think that overall, BFTG handles it very well. The autocombos allow you to chain attacks together in a fairly intuitive way, but not so much that they play the game for you or get in the way of your combos. I think in general the execution floor is way lower, which is nice for newer players coming in – as they can get to the highly damaging stuff like combos quicker than in other fighting games. There are obviously limitations to not having complex inputs, you can’t tiger knee anything in BFTG, for example, but I think it works out fine. In the long run, BFTG is probably one of the most open-ended games I’ve ever played in terms of what it lets you do, so I don’t think those design decisions ended up being all that limiting though.

As for the newbie question – I think they certainly can encourage newer players, the lack of motion inputs makes longer combos, which BFTG is known for a lot less daunting, and I think the auto combo system allows newer players to feel like they’re doing something, whilst also not being good enough by itself to stop them exploring the game for better options. Not really sure if the juggle limit is a new player feature though? It’s just a system mechanic that helps prevent/work around a lot of things. I’ve definitely seen people recommend BFTG on the basis that it’s an easy game to pick up, and I think the more new player friendly mechanics help with that somewhat. While I don’t think you can market the mechanics themselves as a selling point, as newer players won’t have much of a concept of what non-simplified mechanics are like, but it’s a definite selling point that it’s a game that’s easy to pick up, with lots of depth to dig into once you do.

[Even with no marketing background, TF knows that using technical terms such as, say, parrying, footsies or autocombos wouldn’t tell a player with no background in such games a lot. I think this is a huge problem in the marketing communication of fighting games. New players won’t get excited about cancelling systems and rollback netcode. On the other hand, I recall a party at my mate’s. There were some people who rarely play fighting games (we even held a small SoulCalibur 6 tournament once – I main Raphael and Xianghua, by the way) or don’t play them at all. And everyone liked BFTG. Imagine, in a world free of Covid, if this game would be present in many barcades, a lot more people would get to know about it and probably buy it.]

Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid for MacBook gameplay

JM: Do you think that the intellectual property this game is based on makes people overlook it, or consider it to be just a gimmicky licensed product? Dragon Ball FigtherZ you’ve mentioned earlier is, at its core, a very similar product, yet it seems to be more respected by the fighting games community, while BFTG seems to be overlooked.

TF: There probably is something of a stigma about Power Rangers being that goofy show for kids that everyone remembers, so there probably is some of that in thinking that BFTG might be a „gimmicky licensed game” I think the reasons FIghterZ is more recognized is due to a lot more factors than IP though – there are lots of reasons why FighterZ blew up as it did, only part of which was the IP. Maybe people would have thought the gimmicky licensed game thing when BFTG launched due to all the bugs, but I think anyone looking at the game seriously now would have to take it as more than that.

[While it’s mostly speculation, FGC tends to overlook BFTG, unfortunately. This may be one of the main reasons for this situation.]

JM: How do you think the game is perceived by the fighting games community? How the image of the game could be improved?

TF: BFTG is in a bit of a weird spot in terms of how people perceive it, it had a really rough, rushed launch, with a ton of bugs and glitches, and that still affects its image. People still say “Oh, isn’t that the game where you couldn’t block low online?” when thinking about BFTG, but they never look at just how amazingly the game has improved over the last 2 years. Hopefully, the push for more BFTG content from nWay will help alleviate that, as more people will see the game in it’s current, far improved state.

JM: How did you find out about the game’s main Discord server? Can you tell us about how the European server was created and talk about its early days?

TF: I can’t quite recall how I found the main Discord for the game –  I think I must have landed on the game’s subreddit looking for a Discord server, and it directed me to the main server. 

It took some time for the EU Discord to come about – there were a handful of EU players, and a few events planned, but obviously, Covid threw a wrench into things. With the help of a South African player, spag, we started to run weekly Europe/Africa lobby nights, which helped to bring the players together a bit and soon after that, I set up the first EU/Africa tournament  – a few of those later, Falkunn, another EU player thought it’d be worth it to set up a server with all the EU folks, which he did and we invited everyone who played in the lobbies/tournaments to them.

[nWay did a good job when it comes to redirecting traffic from their subreddit to the Discord server, but regional scenes and independent Discord servers can be a pain to start.]

Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid
Someone’s getting whiff punished here lol. source:

JM: How important is the community aspect of the game to you and do you consider it to be important for other members of the server?

TF: I think the community aspect is hugely important, and it’s something I’m really proud of. With smaller games especially, when newer players come in, it’s really important that the community can pitch in to help them learn, and be a welcoming place, and I think we do that well. It can be really tempting when you’re a small community to just get really insular, but that’s no way to grow a game.

And I think in general, the BFTG community is just a great place to be – I certainly enjoy it, and it’s always encouraging to see others having a great time with it. 

[I believe that most multiplayer games in spite of their genre should have strong community features. I can tell that from my own perspective, as clans in Fishing Clash I’m a social media and community manager of, play a huge role in user retention and general player engagement. This can be expanded even more in such skill-based titles as BFTG, where knowledge exchange and looking for sparring partners is very important.]

JM: How do you manage the community? Do you encounter any obstacles or uncertainties of any sort? You also organise tournaments – how important are they and which platforms do you use to conduct them?

TF: I think by and large the community manages to regulate/manage itself pretty well without my input, I just make sure people are doing well and organize events most of the time. When tempers get a bit heated, usually you just want to de-escalate things I find, and if people still have problems, it’s best to talk to them privately or encourage the people who have an issue to resolve it via DMs. But that’s a rare occurrence in any case. 

I think tournaments have been a really helpful way to get the community engaged, especially since they’re run on a regular basis. It creates a nice little goal for the players in the scene to work towards. For brackets/organising the running of the tournament itself, I generally use, and recently, we’ve started using Matcherino as a way to put together prize pools for the tournaments and to get people engaged in supporting the community,

[It seems that BFTG is mostly played by civil and adult people, who have a strong sense of cooperation and self-control. I must say it’d be a blessing to have such a community. Such an approach of the players provides a fertile ground for healthy discussion and gathering valuable feedback regarding the title. Grassroots esports events are also quite helpful, as they provide a clear benchmark for the players to see who’s the best and this is often one of the main goals of people who play fighting games – to beat everyone.]

Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid
I love using Dragonzord’s light input. source:

JM: How do you manage to get new people to join the server?

TF: It’s usually a mix of things – I tend to keep a close eye on the main BFTG Discord, occasionally you’ll get newer players who find it more easily, so having someone on hand to direct them to the EU server is always helpful! I usually just let them know the server link and give them an open invitation to join it. I also have a Discord requirement set up in the Tournament settings of our fortnightly tournaments, so if someone comes across the Tournament and wants to join, they can hop into the server. It’s probably also one of the places where console players are a big help, as players on the server sometimes strike up chats with people they’ve matched up against in ranked, and can then invite players to the Discord if they’re looking for help.

[Even though TF doesn’t use a lot of tools to grow the Discord server, he makes the presence in the Discord server mandatory for people taking part in tournaments, which is a very smart tactic. Despite the fact that his possibilities are limited, other players also feel responsible for growing the server. I remember getting absolutely mauled by RawketPawnch (one of the top EU players) in ranked matches, so I found him on Twitter and engaged in trash-talking, while also expressing my admiration for his skill. He was kind enough to send me a link to the Discord server and that’s how I became a part of it. In other words, member acquisition conducted by members of Discord isn’t well organized, structured and often relies on its overly incidental nature, so it seems very slow, but it certainly works.]

JM: Did the server get recognised or supported by nWay? How would you describe nWay’s community and esports management?

TF: The EU server hasn’t really been supported by nWay so far, but they have retweeted some of the tournament announcements I make, which is always a boost for publicity. The main server itself has a fair number of the devs in it/the community manager, so they touch base every now and then.

In terms of their community/esports management as a whole, I think they do a really solid job – they put a good deal of money into the BFTG League (BFTG’s official esports series), and they’re really encouraging of the tournament scene as you can see in the number of events that the community runs for BFTG. Things got a little bit rocky with the league when the pandemic started, as it was a bit of a blow to have national lockdown just as you’re starting up an esports league, but all the major league stops have been a blast to watch, and nWay is a good part of that.

In terms of community stuff, they actually announced a content creator program recently, which I’m really excited for, as it’ll hopefully pave the way for a lot of great content in the coming months for the game. 

[Talking from my point of view, I’m not sure if nWay provides an outlet for the players to advertise their grassroots communities, but I’ve included clan/club promo posts in social media of the games I’m in charge of and the players seem to really enjoy them, so this may be a way to go.]

This is a promo picture for one of the upcoming events organized by Technically Footsies. source:

JM: Is growing the Discord server a hard task?

TF: Yeah, growing it is definitely difficult. As with a lot of smaller games, you can’t expect everyone that joins to keep playing the game consistently, so you have a lot of people who drift in and out. We’ve reached a stable point where we get about 10-12 people on a regular basis for our bi-weekly events, but you’ll see a steady stream of new players in each. I guess it’s easy to get more people in the Discord, but harder to bring people in and keep them invested in the game.

[It seems that, aside from growing the server, user retention is one of the biggest challenges TF has to deal with. It’s probably extremely hard to keep players if one is not aware of the dev team’s plans and inner workings, so I think that people who deal with community management as professionals are in a far better position than people responsible for such grassroots kind of servers, Facebook groups and such, for they are aware of what exactly is going on within their games and they can plan their communications accordingly.]

Here’s the lastest tournament TF hosted.

JM: If you want to make a shout-out, say hello or whatnot, now’s the time 🙂

TF: Obviously, a huge huge shout-out has to go to the European discord as a whole, they’re the reason I keep running events, we’ve started adding prize pools to the tournaments via Matcherino, and the love the community has shown still staggers me. Also massive thanks to Falkunn for starting the server, and wiping the floor with the scene whenever he plays, and to Spaghetti and the South African scene for giving the scene the chance to grow via the tournaments and our old lobby nights. Thanks to K3R1M, and to Horsey Chobunso for commentating the events whenever available, and to Grimbakor, even though he broke the game, he does a bang-up job running the brackets for the events. 

I’ve probably missed out a ton of people, but thanks to everyone in the BFTG community at large – you’re all good ones, and I’m happy to call this community home.

[Huge thanks to Technically Footsies for taking part in the interview and for moderating the Discord server. Shout-out to RawketPawnch, the craziest Lord Drakkon player there is and to all the members of the server. I also want to apologise to all the people I rage quitted on.]

Quite a lengthy interview it is. However, Technically Footsies showed that even if has no monetary gain from the work he does, he still enjoys running the server and tournaments. I think that this man is driven by a passion for both the game and the community. And this, despite his limited resources, shows that a big part of community management in the gaming industry revolves around passion. He probably wouldn’t even play the game if he didn’t enjoy it that much and he is a living example of what I call a “star of the community”, as, from my point of view, he’s extremely valuable when it comes to creating content and nurturing the community, keeping them engaged in the product and maybe even contributing (even if in a very indirect and minuscule manner) to sales. He figured out that tournaments are a decent way of gaining new members of the community and it’s certainly an interesting prospect to incorporate into your communications if your game allows you to conduct them. This server is also a sign that a good game will always find its fans and that such small and detached communities are often an interesting and worthwhile place full of valuable info for the developers, which may not get noticed. I encourage you to become a part of your game’s unofficial communities and to engage with players, as they are often thankful for the product you provided and will appreciate your presence.

Feel free to follow Technically Footsies (and me) on Twitter. You can also add me on LinkedIn – I’m always up to talk about the gaming industry and marketing!

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