Microsoft Pulled Support For Killer Instinct eSports Event To Prevent Sequel Hype 1
Image: Microsoft

Back in 2021, the Microsoft-owned eSports platform (formerly known as ran an event focused on Killer Instinct, the rebooted version of Rare's popular one-on-one fighting game series.

Headed up by fighting game commentator Sajam, the event offered a $1000 prize pool and was a notable success – triggering hopes that it could become a regular thing. However, it remained a one-off, and thanks to former staffer @connrokelt, we now know why.

"Since getting laid off, I've been thinking about all the things that went right and wrong at smashgg/startgg over the years, and I can't stop lingering on this one thing that drove me insane then and drives me insane now: Sajam's Lockout," he says.

"In the one year after Microsoft acquired the platform and brought everyone on as Official Microsoft Employees, things were actually really good! They were investing in the product, mostly in the rebrand, but they put some money in a few DAU [daily active users]-driving initiatives."

He adds that "the guy that drove the ship at Microsoft initially was great" and that he "knew that the original team knew more than anyone else about the community and the product, so he let those people speak a lot about what should be done and what could meet the suits' goals."

Around the spring of 2021, "right when everyone was super bought-in on netplay and games that lacked rollback netcode were clowned on," @connrokelt pitched a tournament "that bridged all these different gaps," picking Killer Instinct as the focus. "It was perfect. KI was on the then-new Xbox Game Pass. it had rollback netcode. There wasn't really anyone pushing netplay tournaments for it on the platform. So I pitched it to the boss and got approval to reach out to Sajam to be the brand and do the work of running it."

$3,000 was put aside for the event, with $1,000 being earmarked for the prize pool. "Sajam ended up budgeting, I think, $1.5k for the pot, using the rest to pay his tourney and stream staff," continues @connrokelt. "And it was a huge success! it was the biggest KI bracket on the site, ever. The numbers came back, and they were good, too. It had successfully bumped the DAU up. My hope was that we could draw up a partnership with Sajam, either to run a series that rotates rollback-enabled titles or to just keep running KI, since it's a Microsoft property."

Sadly, that didn't happen – the reason being that Microsoft was concerned people might assume the prolonged support was due to a Killer Instinct sequel being in development.

"The reason why is truly maddening," says @connrokelt. "The next week, bossman schedules a quick 1:1 to let me know he heard from the Microsoft Game Studios folks, and they want us to never do anything like that again. He told me they didn't want to make anyone think they were working on a sequel, and that a Microsoft-sponsored event (via could justify theories that they were going to work on one. It didn't make any fucking sense to either of us, but the idea was dead just like that."

Microsoft has (kind of) walked back on this recently, and is giving Killer Instinct a second chance to shine via an anniversary release. "I'm super happy for that community and what's going on there, but it's really hard not to be furious with Microsoft over tossing out a universally good thing over something so trivial and stupid, that they (sorta) went back on," says @connrokelt.