There aren’t many series that can claim to have established the foundation for an entire genre of gaming. Inspiring a global culture of millions of would-be world warriors by crafting a universe featuring hundreds of iconic combatants spanning over sixty titles, not to mention creating the combo system (a staple of combat gameplay) by sheer accident, Street Fighter has become a definitive mainstay of video game history.
Enjoying moderate success at best, the first Street Fighter featured clunky controls and innovative but unrefined gameplay. Players were granted limited maneuvering options that restrained them from complex tactical approaches and relegated them to dependency on landing stray hits to defeat their opponents within the allotted 30-second limit. At that point, no one would have imagined that a game with such an odd presentation would have been responsible for 25 years of gaming, competition and community growth.
To commemorate a quarter century of continued success (and as a way to promote their 25th anniversary collector’s set, an amazing deal for $150.00), Capcom has created a Street Fighter 25th anniversary tournament series as an attempt to reach out and celebrate the fans that have made the game what it is today. While at the NYC qualifier, I had a chance to speak with Ryan Gutierrez (@Gootecks), Victor Fontanez (@TeamSpooky), and the commentating tandem “UltraChen”, consisting of David Philip Graham (@UltraDavid) and James Chen (@jchensor). With this collection of long time fighting game players and media personalities, we discuss the evolution of the fighting game community and Capcom embracing its fandom.
Paul LaCen: In what ways has the fighting game community changed in the last 25 years; has it become more intense or has it had to kind of calm down to appeal to a wider audience?
David Philip “UltraDavid” Graham: It hasn’t had to do anything. It has certainly changed; there are different people playing it nowadays. Not everyone grew up playing in the arcade, a lot of people didn’t; they grew up playing at home. That does lead into a little bit of a different culture. As the scene has gotten bigger with the release of games and the popularity of streams, there is a new influx of people. I feel that they have adopted a lot of the preexisting fighting game culture to a significant degree, but things are definitely different. Tournaments are run a little bit differently, people interact differently.
Having more people involved gives it more of a spectator feel than there ever used to be. Tournaments early on – everyone knew exactly what was going on because everyone who attended was a hardcore player, and that’s not necessarily the case today. So you have to explain things a bit more. Tournaments are growing and some of the bigger ones feel like conventions. I don’t think any of that was forced in any way though, I feel that it has been a natural progression as the scene has gotten bigger.
Ryan “Gootecks” Gutierrez: I guess the culture has definitely changed. It started out in the arcades, and then since about 2006, everything has shifted away from the arcades to the consoles. That changed the culture a lot because in the arcade setting you don’t necessarily have to be nice to anyone or play well with others.
The console shift changed things in the sense that if you want to get good and you don’t live in a place with a strong arcade culture, you kind of have be nicer to people. If you go into someone’s house to practice, things just aren’t as rough because generally people don’t act mean when they’re invited to someone else’s house.
Victor “Spooky” Fontanez: Although things have appealed to a greater range of people and more people are getting involved, all the people from ten and fifteen years ago are still here; most of them are still very strong players as well. But there has been a lot of growth, there are a lot of people who are just spectators, fans of SF who aren’t actually players. I feel that we haven’t had to lose anything to appeal to those people though. In fact, I think we’ve gained a lot as we’ve grown.
James Chen: It has changed significantly since I first started. In fact, David and I were just talking about it on stream. After a match, Sanford and Wolfkrone just started discussing the match. Players will actually do that now, they’ll ask each other “what were you thinking when this happened” and actually get an answer. That just wasn’t what it was like long ago. I joked earlier on stream that in the old days at the arcade, you would ask someone “why did you do that?” and you’d get “I dunno, I just felt like it”. So it’s changed a lot.
A lot of people like to talk about that old arcade feeling where everything was hardcore and everyone was mean or “evil”. It’s a little exaggerated these days, but there is still a lot of truth to it. The arcade culture was very different than how it is with the online scene.
Plus, the other thing that I think has changed is the amount of the information that can be spread through YouTube, Facebook, and community sites. Training videos and articles, the dissemination of information. The tools that help people learn have advanced so much now that the way we play fighting games is totally different than the way it used to be.
PL: In what ways do you think Capcom has made great strides in the recent years, and in what ways do you feel they could stand to improve?
DPG: This tournament series is a pretty big step in the right direction. From my perspective as someone in the fighting game community who wants to see Capcom support us more, I’m happy that they seem to be doing that. Putting out Arcade Edition v. 2012 to cover up an obviously imbalanced game solely because the tournament scene couldn’t take the original Arcade Edition seriously as a competitive game. Spending the time to release changes because of FGC feedback shows that they’re paying attention to us.
Those are both good signs. In the past they would release games, maybe throw a launch tournament for it; that was it, with no continued support. Now they’re trying to reach out to us and that’s a big thing, it creates brand loyalty when fans that support the game feel that they are being supported in kind. It’s a sign that they’re looking into making stronger, tournament-worthy games.
JC: This 25th anniversary is a great indication of the strides that they’ve made; they’re definitely trying to get more involved with the community. They hired Ryan “Fubarduck” Harvey to run the Austin tournament and Eric “Big E” Small, a tournament organizer with years of experience to run the northeast qualifier. Getting IPlayWinner and TeamSpooky to stream it and getting myself and David to run commentary, it’s nice to see them getting involved and reach out to the community. For the longest time, it felt like the community has been doing everything and now it feels like Capcom is trying their best to promote it as well.
To improve it, they just need to get involved more. You look at a company like Riot and how much they’ve put into League of Legends. They made a conscious choice to say “we see what Starcraft 2 is doing and how Blizzard is directly supporting its fans. We need to do everything we can to get League to that same level of community interaction”. Having the company that made the game directly support it pays off, League of Legends is easily the biggest game out there right now. Starcraft 2 does well because Blizzard’s directly involved with the players. If Capcom can get to that point where they don’t see the tournament scene as a secondary priority, but rather as the focus of their support, the sky’s the limit.
[EG] Puerto Rican Balrog squaring off with New York’s own Chris Hu
VF: Capcom really stepped up with this tournament; putting up five hundred thousand dollars in cash and prizes, that’s pretty amazing. It’s nice to see them directly give back to the competitive scene that pushed their games in the first place. Also, they’ve made a huge effort to release new titles and updates for the games. The first SF4 Arcade Edition was very unpopular; everyone complained about Yun and Yang being overpowered. They took it all into account and released v. 2012, and since then SF4 has been a big deal again, everybody’s really enjoying it. It’s nice to see Capcom look closely at the feedback and making the effort.
As far as improvement, I think the loss of Seth has really hurt them. I wouldn’t pretend that I know who could do his job, but they really need to find some way to carry on his effort. The loss of Seth has created this disconnect between the company and the community, and they need to find a new golden child to reestablish that connection.
RG: This 25th anniversary tournament series is definitely huge, because they have events all over the world with big cash prizes and the scion car for the winner for SF x Tekken. More importantly, who they brought on to run the tournaments is a big deal as well. Matt [Dahlgren, Senior Product Manager At Capcom] bringing on Big E, who has years of experience running NEC and Winter Brawl, in an administrative fashion, having TeamSpooky and iPlayWinner run the stream and UltraChen do commentary – Capcom kind of decided “why reinvent the wheel? Why not have the people who are already doing a great job work with us in an official capacity?”
As far as improvement, I think everything involved with Street Fighter x Tekken was executed poorly. The web content marketing that they did with Cross the Line was a poor choice, simply because there are so many content creators already involved with promoting games. Atlus recently released Persona 4 Arena and collaborated with Cross Counter, UltraChen and Levelup, who were already producing content, to help market the game. Capcom could have probably done something like that.
The DLC fiasco was a huge problem too. Capcom could have avoided that by not having the characters already on the disc. They said officially that it was to provide a smoother user experience so that time and money wasn’t wasted downloading a gigabyte of DLC. But when you really think about it , if you know anything about digital distribution, you know that bandwidth is pretty cheap, to the tune of 7 cents a gigabyte. If each of your downloads were 2 gigabytes, it would still only be 14 cents per download. At the cost of twenty dollars per download, I think 14 cents of those 20 dollars could have been allocated to server costs. Plus, when you take into account that everyone’s playing on broadband anyway, why would 2 gigs at the cost of 14 cents per download even be a factor?
Rare footage of someone actually landing a KO in SFxT
Lastly, the entire gem thing could have been – people didn’t want the gems, the gems were just kind of forced onto us with no way to turn them off. The funny thing is I was actually a big proponent of gems, and I still think they’re amazing; I think it’s a great idea, but even with Capcom allowing and encouraging gems in this official tournament, no one used them.
It’s really unfortunate because of the criticism the game gets about being boring and ending in time outs more often than not. Well guys, news flash, if you’re using gems to increase your offensive damage and grant yourself extra meter off of certain situations and setups, the match would probably go a lot quicker. But no one wants to budge on it, so everyone’s kind of playing this handicapped game, then getting upset because it’s not exciting. That’s not necessarily Capcom’s fault, but there are a number of ways that the situation could have been handled.
The other problem is that by enforcing the gem system, you have all these tournament organizers who don’t have access to multiple sets of DLC gems without paying for them. A very simple solution to that is creating an application system for tournament organizers to obtain DLC codes for gems.
The FGC is pretty tightly knit, there are no strangers in this community. In fact, we have representatives from Capcom who are on a first name basis with most of the community. Any tournament that is going to be worth going to will be well advertised and no one’s going to get one over on Capcom by trying to get DLC codes for individual use. Capcom’s motto is obviously not “let’s sell DLC to tournament organizers”, so why not create a system that promotes that method of play? It’s nothing that they likely didn’t do with reviewers anyway, and despite the game doing well in reviews, that did nothing for the game and it flopped anyway.