It’s fight night and the energy in the air is electric. Fans filter into the Maze Bank Arena while fighters congregate at the side of the cage, preparing for the battles ahead. Commentators are doing vocal warmup exercises and running down the list, and promoters have their phones out, hyping up the bouts on Twitter. This is a regular event in Los Santos, and the people of the city have come to love the action and adrenaline of Blood Night Bouts.
Blood Night Bouts is a fight circuit in the fictional state of San Andreas, run on the GTA Online role-play server New Day. I’ve been part of the New Day community for almost two years, including volunteering as a staff member, and Blood Night Bouts has grown from six guys scrapping in a parking lot to an entertainment empire that can fill in-game stadiums.
“Blood Night Bouts is a passion project that was created from my love of a few things,” says Android 18, the player behind Meryl Ford, the founder of Blood Night Bouts. As Android explained in a call with Polygon, “RP [role-playing], that’s pretty obvious. But the other things would be fighting games, fight culture, and sports entertainment — primarily wrestling.”
Fans of ’90s Attitude Era wrestling will spot some of its creative hallmarks lovingly homaged in Blood Night Bouts. Dan White, an in-game league commentator, is a tribute to WWE icon Jim Ross. “Dan’s the face announcer, and Meryl’s the heel,” says Rums, the player behind Dan White, in a call with Polygon. “I’ll be booing a fighter, saying he needs to be stopped and shut down, but as soon as Meryl gives a thank-you speech and the curtain closes, he’s the first person I’m coming over to for a hug.”
The fighters stick to kayfabe, even when they’re not at a fight. Kayfabe is the art of staying in character — a heel is a bad guy and a face is a good guy, even outside the ring, and keeping that narrative is all part of the fun. Even outside Blood Night Bouts, the server’s wrestling scene congregates at in-game gyms, training sessions, or meetings with fans. These fighters are role-playing while they’re role-playing.
But Blood Night Bouts isn’t scripted — at least, not the winners of the slobberknocker fights. “I’m a huge fan of letting things flow naturally,” says Android. The fights are determined purely by skill using the Grand Theft Auto 5 melee system, which allows for fighters to punch, dodge, kick, and brawl. Add in the majesty of a player custom-renovated and -decorated arena, and the audio of two commentators selling the match, and it becomes a delightful bit of digital theater with dozens of people working together.
“We have ambassadors, we have streamers, we have commentators and DJs who play the music,” says Android. “We’ve got champion belts — three titles, two singles and tag team — and we’re working on a secondary division.”
Android cites her favorite match as a grueling best-of-three between championship holder Miguel “The Almighty” Mackeen-Tod and the Detrimental Darling Clara Evans, representing Bruisers’ Gym. After tons of shit talk and hype, Clara came strong out of the gate and picked up the first two rounds handily, only to have the Almighty make a resurgence and reverse sweep the series. Rums’ personal highlight is the meteoric rise and moral fall of Luke “The Drifter” McCoy, who started as one of the league’s most beloved faces and tore his way through the competition. Over time, he evolved into being one of the biggest heels in Blood Night Bouts — an unstoppable monster who Dan regularly decries.
“At the end of the day, we’re sitting here in a fake arena playing fake characters for three hours for these people in the stands that are just sitting here to be entertained by us,” says Rums. “My view of role-play is that we are our own directors, producers, script writers of our own TV show. It is what you make of it every time you log in. You are an actor in this overall TV show that everyone else is starring in, and you gotta play your role, your part in the story, and just give it your all.”