Capcom’s Esports Boss Breaks Down the Future of Street Fighter V Esports
Street Fighter’s Capcom Pro Tour has been running strong since 2014 in Ultra Street Fighter IV and has since transitioned into Street Fighter V. However, Capcom have been fairly secretive about what their long term goals are for the FGC and their Capcom Pro Tour. The Japanese developer rarely offers a peek behind the curtain to see exactly how things are conceived and planned out.
There’s a good reason for this. Despite their U.S. fight counterpart Capcom USA running a professional tour for four years prior, the home company itself only established their esports division in 2018.
The Dawn of Japanese Esports
Japan has long had issues with getting esports kickstarted, despite growing popularity overseas in the United States, Korea, and China. This was largely due to archaic laws surrounding classifying competitive gaming as gambling, but these laws have been worked around thanks to the advent of the Japan Esports Union. This was something that Capcom has been involved with since its inception, and something they were able to extend their existing methods with.
“Overseas, we saw esports really take off in the last decade, but it didn’t really gain traction here in Japan until about 2016,” said Nobuhiko Shimizu, Capcom’s head of esports, in a developer interview. “The Japan esports Union (JeSU), and our own esports division, followed in 2018, which is now seen as the official “start” of the Japan scene—one that is widely expected to grow in the days ahead.”
It hasn’t been easy, though. Street Fighter, in particular, has seen several stumbling blocks in its esports programs as it adapted to running JeSU events in Japan.
“Japan may have had a comparatively late start, but we at Capcom are more committed than ever to creating an environment that works for both athletes and potential sponsors,” Shimizu said.
Capcom’s New Approach
While many in the fighting game community prefer to run things themselves with developers there to offer prize and logistical support, some have been critical of Capcom’s policies and lack of action indirectly supporting the scene through direct actions to support players’ livelihoods beyond prize pools.
This now seems to be changing as everyone in Capcom’s various divisions is getting on the same page.
“Creating an environment where esports can flourish involves a lot of people: athletes, viewers, game developers, sponsors, event organizers—all are vital to its success. Where organizers might rely on ticket or souvenir sales to generate profits, others might depend on video distribution fees or broadcasting rights for income. Either way, I think it’s of vital importance that we have an ecosystem that provides for everyone, whether it be businesses or spectators.”
These are big words from Capcom, who have long engaged with the fighting game community through community-run tournaments. While there is no indication that that will be changing, it does show that they want to take a more hands-on approach to improve the ecosystem for everyone involved. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats, and that seems to be the approach that Capcom will want to take in the future.
Capcom even seems to want to promote events and has been for some time on social media. But the next logical step would be letting players know that a major event is happening in client. While Shumzu doesn’t directly state it, he does imply that it’s something Capcom might have in the works for esports events, especially for the Street Fighter League, where Capcom encourages participation from major pro players, up and comers, and online players that have proven their worth.
“There are plenty of people out there who enjoy playing the game, but have never participated in an esport, or maybe they don’t play at all, but just want to watch as a spectator. It’s our job to give all of these people, and more, the chance to experience, and potentially fall in love with, esports. They may even decide to participate in an event themselves,” Shimizu explained.
“We felt that 3-on-3 matches would offer a bit more depth. In the first Pro League, teams consisted of a pro, a high-level amateur, and a normal player. Now, this gave us the chance to watch team members work and grow together—something not present in your traditional 1-on-1 structure. By designating team spots for amateur and everyday players, we provided an opportunity for them to realize their hidden potentials—hopefully leading to new pro athletes in the process.”
A Brighter Tomorrow for the FGC?
Esports and the FGC have always had something of a strained relationship. Many fans in the FGC believe that esports will come in and crush the community efforts that have been built, and destroy the open nature of these events. However, Capcom and other fighting game developers have been keen for that not to be the case. The tours that they run continue to incorporate some of the largest grassroots events while running their initiatives on the side. A good example of this is the Street Fighter League, Capcom’s team-based Street Fighter V esports league, that’s been running alongside the Capcom Pro Tour (when everything isn’t being canceled or delayed by the coronavirus, that is).
“This is something that Capcom president Haruhiro Tsujimoto has said as well, but I believe that esports has the potential to be more than a simple fad,” Shimizu said in conclusion. “First, compared to traditional sports, esports is more egalitarian—everyone, regardless of physical condition or gender, can participate and compete at the highest levels of play. Capcom’s been running Street Fighter tournaments for almost 30 years now, ever since our tournament at the Ryogoku Kokugikan back in 1992. We feel a strong obligation to continue to foster esports as both an economic and cultural commodity. There’s still so much work to be done, but all of us, top management included, are extremely excited about the days ahead. North America, Europe, Japan, and Asia, we think the potential for esports is there and we’re going to be working hard to bring them to you all.”
Given Capcom’s new outlook on improving the community efforts that exist and making sure the ecosystem is fair for everyone, it looks like there could be a hugely symbiotic relationship between the developers and fans forming. One that incorporates some of the best parts of esports production and cash flow for professionals while maintaining that grassroots spirit that has been the lifeblood of the FGC since the dawn of the 2000s.