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Capcom giving eSports a fighting chance

By Brendan Sinclair

Capcom giving eSports a fighting chance

Wed 20 Jan 2016 3:20pm GMT / 10:20am EST / 7:20am PST
DevelopmenteSports

Publisher is finally treating eSports like a business, hoping to use exclusivity to turn Street Fighter V into the future of competitive gaming

On February 16, Street Fighter V will launch on PlayStation 4 and PC. It will not be launching to Xbox One thanks to an exclusivity deal signed with Sony. And as Capcom director of brand marketing and eSports Matt Dahlgren told GamesIndustry.biz recently, there are a few reasons for that.

Dahlgren called the deal "the largest strategic partnership that fighting games have ever seen," and said it addressed several problems the publisher has had surrounding its fighting games for years.

"Basically every SKU of a game we released had its own segmented community," he said. "No one was really able to play together and online leaderboards were always segmented, so it was very difficult to find out who would be the best online and compare everybody across the board."

"A lot of the other eSports games out there are team-based, and while there's an appeal to those, there's something about having a single champion and having that 1v1 showdown that's just inherently easy for people to understand."

Street Fighter V should alleviate that problem as it's only on two platforms, and gamers on each will be able to play with those on the other. Dahlgren said it will also help salt away problems that stemmed from differences between platforms. For example, the Xbox 360 version of Street Fighter IV had less input lag than the PS3 version. That fraction of a second difference between button press and action on-screen might have been unnoticeable to most casual players, but it was felt by high-level players who know the game down to the last frame of animation.

"There were varying degrees of input lag, so when those players ended up playing each other, it wasn't necessarily on an equal playing field," Dahlgren said. "This time around, by standardizing the platform and making everyone play together, there will be a tournament standard and everyone is on an equal playing field."

Finally, Dahlgren said the deal with Sony will help take Street Fighter to the next level when it comes to eSports. In some ways, it's a wonder it's not there already.

"I think fighting games are one of the purest forms of 1v1 competition," Dahlgren said. "A lot of the other eSports games out there are team-based, and while there's an appeal to those, there's something about having a single champion and having that 1v1 showdown that's just inherently easy for people to understand."

Street Fighter has a competitive gaming legacy longer than League of Legends or DOTA, but isn't mentioned in the same breath as those hits on the eSports scene. In some ways, that legacy might have stymied the franchise's growth in eSports.

"A lot of our community was really built by the fans themselves," Dahlgren said. "Our tournament scene was built by grassroots tournament organizers, really without the help of Capcom throughout the years. And I would say a lot of those fans have been somewhat defensive [about expanding the game's appeal to new audiences]. It hasn't been as inclusive as it could have been. With that said, I do definitely feel a shift in our community. There's always been a talking point with our hardcore fans as to whether or not Street Fighter is an eSport, and what eSports could do for the scene. Could it potentially hurt it? There's been all this controversy behind it."

Even Capcom has shifted stances on how to handle Street Fighter as an eSport.

"In the past, we were actually against partnering up with any sort of corporations or companies out there that were treating eSports more like a business," Dahlgren said. "And that has to do out of respect for some of our long-term tournament organizers... Our fear was that if we go out and partner up with companies concerned more about making a profit off the scene instead of the values that drive the community, then it could end up stomping out all these tournament organizers who are very passionate and have done so much for our franchise."

"In the past, we were actually against partnering up with any sort of corporations or companies out there that were treating eSports more like a business."

So instead of teaming with the MLGs or ESLs of the world, Capcom teamed with Twitch and formed its own Pro Tour in 2014. Local tournament organizers handle the logistics of the shows and retain the rights to their brands, while Capcom provides marketing support and helps with production values.

"I can't say Capcom wouldn't partner up with some of the other, more established eSports leagues out there," Dahlgren said. "I do think there's a way to make both of them exist, but our priority in the beginning was paying homage to our hardcore fans that helped build the scene, protecting them and allowing them to still have the entrepreneurial spirit to grow their own events. That comes first, before partnering with larger organizations."

Just as Capcom's stance toward tournaments has changed to better suit Street Fighter's growth as an eSport, so too has the business model behind the game. The company has clearly looked at the success of many free-to-play eSports favorites and incorporated elements of them (except the whole "free-to-play" thing) into Street Fighter V. Previously, Capcom would release a core Street Fighter game, followed by annual or bi-annual updates with a handful of new fighters and balancing tweaks. Street Fighter V will have no such "Super" versions, with all new content and tweaks made to the game on a rolling basis.

"We are treating the game now more as a platform and a service, and are going to be continually adding new content post-launch," Dahlgren said. "This is the first time we're actually having our own in-game economy and in-game currency. So the more you play the game online, you're going to generate fight money, and then you can use that fight money to earn DLC content post-launch free of charge, which is a first in our franchise. So essentially we're looking at an approach that takes the best of both worlds. It's not too far away from what our players really expect from a SF game, yet we get some of the benefits of continually releasing content post-launch and giving fans more of what they want to increase engagement long-term."

Even if it's not quite free-to-play, Street Fighter V may at least be cheaper to play. Dahlgren said that pricey arcade stick peripherals are not as essential for dedicated players as they might have seemed in the past.

"Since Street Fighter comes from an arcade heritage, a lot of people have this general belief that arcade sticks are the premier way of playing," Dahlgren said. "I think now that the platform choice has moved more towards consoles, pad play has definitely become much more prevalent. I would believe that at launch you're probably going to have more pad players than you actually have stick players. And in the competitive scene, we've seen the rise of a lot of very impressive pad players, which has pretty much shown that Street Fighter is a game that's not necessarily dictated by the controller you play with; it's the strategies and tactics you employ. And both of them are essentially on equal playing ground."

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8 Comments

eoghan dalton Creative Director & Co-founder, Studio Powwow

6 2 0.3
I really hope their plan pays off. But it's a 70 euro product, that demands a lot of your time to really enjoy fully. It'll come down to whether the new players can stick around long enough, after the hard-core get to grips with it. Capcom have to be commended though, for heading in the right direction.

Posted:6 months ago

#1

Alan Blighe Research Associate

34 87 2.6
Interesting that they're trying to drive attention away from arcade sticks. A lot of people I know play SF casually, and there's a common belief that you can't play at a high level with a pad. This has obviously been proven false recently, but I think its important to get the message out there - "you can be good at this game without spending 200 to get into it"!

Posted:6 months ago

#2

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing

1,462 1,825 1.2
Let's name names here. There are TWO players in the world who can win a tournament on Capcom tour with a pad. Not 2%, actual two players, Luffy and SnakeEyes. Both of them are not using stock pads either. One is using a special fight pad, the other is using a very old controller and a character which fits joypad controls like no other.

In the end, it will boil down to the SFV control scheme. But I would not holding my breath seeing too many people compete with pads. And honestly, it does not matter. if there are enough players for matchmaking, people can be happy in the pits of playing with controllers AND enjoy watching tournaments.

Posted:6 months ago

#3

David Vink Game Designer

15 48 3.2
For fighting games to go really big among general audience they need easier controls. Most fighting game developers are stuck in the past (IMO) with regards to how difficult they make it for players to actually get the character on screen to perform the moves they want. Some people would consider that the 'sports' aspect of eSports (practicing your muscle memory to input combos), but I think the fun comes from watching the different strategies and mind-games employed by high-level players, not how well they have memorized certain combo strings.
That's just my opinion, of course.

Posted:6 months ago

#4

eoghan dalton Creative Director & Co-founder, Studio Powwow

6 2 0.3
If you're serious about committing to an activity you enjoy, maybe competing at a higher level even, 150 Euro for a stick that will last you ten years is nothing. Having said that, SFV seems to be trying to move away from complicated inputs and combos, to more strategic footsie style gameplay more suited to pad. At least that's my hands off opinion. One solution to make things pad friendly would be losing the three button requirements for ultras, as in SFIV. One less button to map.

Posted:6 months ago

#5

Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA

155 288 1.9
The article touches on whether the fighting game community will be behind it becoming an e-sport. Unlike other e-sports where particpant and spectator are kept at arm's length that's not the case with fighting games: you can (depending on where you live) stroll right into an arcade and play some of the finest players around.

And a lot of what makes commercial sports work (team-based sponsorships) are a bit tricky with fighting games as they are ostensibly single-player sports: When an American player playing for Evil Geniuses makes a come back the crowd aren't shouting "Evil Geniuses" in sycophantic rhythm, that's for sure. Though Capcom may well be on the right track with their approach.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Shehzaan Abdulla on 22nd January 2016 3:22pm

Posted:6 months ago

#6

Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA

155 288 1.9
For fighting games to go really big among general audience they need easier controls.
In my opinion the issue is less about controls and more to do with fighting games not laying their mechanics bare. There's a thick, opaque layer of mysticism between the tutorials of many fighting games that simply vomit information at you (with no context on how to apply any of it) and the stupified player.

I still feel, to this day, that the Virtua Fighter series does the best job of being transparent about how it works and provides tactical, actionable feedback to players on where to improve their game. But Virtua Fighter simply doesn't have the visual appeal and recognisable characters that help make Street Fighter or Tekken hits.

Posted:6 months ago

#7

eoghan dalton Creative Director & Co-founder, Studio Powwow

6 2 0.3
Totally agree with your points on tutorials. They teach you the "language", but not the "context". The really important techniques (cross-ups, setups) are ignored. Also, when you look at a tournament like EVO, most of the attendees are there to play, to take part, not just spectat. Not sure if other esports events are the same.

Posted:6 months ago

#8

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