In the past year, I’ve been watching as many fighting game tournaments as I could. Every large tournament has several advertisers, mostly familiar names, but there was always one that seemed a little odd: Salty Bet. I knew what Salty Bet was—a website where users can wager fake money on matches during tournaments—but I had no idea what it was used for when there isn’t a tournament happening. Then I listened to the latest episode of the Giant Bomb podcast and discovered the crazy reality.
If you head to Salty Bet right now, you’ll find users betting on matches in “Salty’s Dream Cast Casino,” a never-ending stream of randomly generated, computer-controlled fights. The combatants in each fight are culled from the thousands of user-created characters of M.U.G.E.N., a free fighting game framework. M.U.G.E.N. only comes with one character, Kung Fu Man, so the emphasis is on player creation. But the tools available to users aren’t exactly user-friendly, and the upshot is that many custom characters are sloppily built, ludicrously overpowered demigods who, ironically, lay waste to the better-designed, well-balanced characters in the mix. A lot of what you’ll see are characters ripped straight from other fighting games, like Street Fighter and Marvel Vs. Capcom, or from anime and comic books.
Each match starts with the characters being introduced, followed by a short betting period. The odds and payouts are then determined by how many people bet on each character, and the fight begins. The top earners are tracked in a leaderboard displayed on the site. The fun of Salty Bet isn’t necessarily watching the matches, as many of them will be completely one-sided. The draw is in the meta-game—looking at a character and thinking about all the factors that might make it either a god or a wimp. It has nothing to do with the relative strength of the character itself—Spider-Man and Peter Griffin might as well be equals. It’s all about considering the thought that went into making the character and whether you think the person behind it was trying to make an actual balanced fighting game character or just the strongest monster you’ve ever seen. And sometimes it’s just fun to watch Captain Caveman beat the tar out of Frog from Chrono Trigger.