Salty Bet: a pop culture royal rumble we can't stop watching

Philippa Warr at

"I AM SALTY BETTING," I tell PCG editor, Graham. "BETTING ALL THE SALT."

It has been a few days since the bet-'em-up, Salty Bet, arrived in my life. It was Graham's fault, actually and as such it feels only right that he should have to put up with my capslocked enthusiasm. You sign up and are given $400 in Salty Bucks (henceforth referred to as Bux) to squander betting on the outcomes of fake fights between a frankly astonishing cast of characters. It is as if an arcade machine and an intellectual property lawsuit-in-waiting have had a loud and hyperactive baby.

"Never go all in! You cray cray!" is Graham's response. Oh dear.

The fighters are pulled from a pool of thousands created by users of the MUGEN fighting game engine. Spectators must then consider the match-up and then choose an amount to risk on their favourite. Well, I say "consider". It can be utterly impossible to tell who has the advantage just by looking. A tiny anime girl will turn out to be insanely overpowered, easily smashing her opponent - a more subtly-skilled giant monster - into submission.

The characters are computer-controlled so the betting isn't about assessing human skill. It's about still being awake at 4am, looking at the screen and asking yourself, "Do I honestly believe that the dragon form of the sorceress Synn could take a killer whale in a fight?"

To help you decide there's a spectator chat box as part of the Twitch-powered video stream service where nonsense, capslocks, pictures of dogs, abuse and (occasionally) betting advice can be deposited.

"MOONWALK IS OP"

"NEVER BET AGAINST DRAGONBALL Z"

"HODOR HODOR HODOR HODOR HODOR HODOR HODOR"

The next match causes text chat to go into meltdown as it seems the Salty Bet collective is unable to process Sad Claps vs Omega Tiger Woods. Mostly because rather than traditional punching, kicking and blocking the match has thus far featured a school bus, a jiggling cheerleader and a rain of nuclear warheads.

Once the bets have been registered and locked you'll be able to see how much the community risked on each character. That's important because payouts are made proportionally. What that means is that the game works out what percentage you put into your chosen player's pool. If you picked right then Salty Bet takes that percentage of the losing player's prize pool and adds it to your winnings. To get the most bang for your Bux you want as many people to back the loser as possible - it means that not only will the prize pool be bigger but your contribution will constitute a higher percentage increasing your winnings in two ways.

A side effect of this system is that the aforementioned chat friends are not really your friends at all. Rather, they are trying to get you to go all-in on the character they think is going to lose. You could try an advanced tactic and bet the opposite of what chat advises but at this point I should remind you that it is a game where a giant Tiger Woods head on a tiny MS Paint body is raining nuclear destruction on a computer-controlled opponent. Basic psychology will only get you so far.

"Are you watching now?"

My conversation with Rich has turned back to Salty Bet. We had previously been discussing the mantis shrimp - a crustacean capable of smashing aquarium glass with its claws. The mantis shrimp, it seems, is massively OP and I remember thinking it would make an excellent addition to the Salty Bet lineup.

Suddenly the browser tab is open and I appear to be haemorrhaging Bux. I am getting dangerously close to the salt mines - that's the game's term for losing all your cash. If you do go broke Salty Bet gives you a pity buck (well, ten to be precise) so that you can start climbing your way out of salty poverty.

All of this is free of charge; you never have to spend money on Salty Bet. That said, you can choose to become a member of the Salty Illuminati (from $3.99 monthly to $30 for the year). Amongst the privileges bestowed by membership are a Bux balance which never falls below $666, the removal of the site's banner ads, and access to your entire betting history. There's also the matter of being able to see the statistics of all characters and the betting stats from previous tournaments - perhaps slightly more useful than the text advice if you're hoping to improve your odds of winning.


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But to treat Salty Bet as a game of skill, no matter how slightly, can feel like a betrayal of its gloriously disposable pop culture attitude. I started watching the stream because Graham told me Snoopy was fighting a Powerpuff Girl, I stayed watching the stream because I wanted to see Beast from X-Men beat Kamek from the Mario games into a bloody pulp, and I began betting because the internet offered me free, valueless money and I am only human.

If you are also human, chances are you will enjoy Salty Bet. Whether you then become addicted hinges on how much you enjoy typing "HODOR" while watching video streams and trying to generate fake cash. Now, if you will excuse me, a miniature version of Disney's Simba is about to take on the might of the Coca Cola polar bear. $40, here I come.