July 13, 2018
Capcom supports SFV as an eSports game in Japan
Table of Contents
A note on word choice: I used the word "eSports" here a lot. People have strong feels about that word. I don't mind it so much, and I could just as happily write "popularizing fighting games" or something. I certainly don't think eSports means you need to wear a suit, I think you generally should always be respectful of people regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, age, or sexual orientation, but eSports probably does have more of a monetary aspect in it than the grass roots does.
I've noticed lately that Capcom Japan has been doing some good things to support SFV as an eSports vehicle. A lot of people are concerned that any eSports activity around fighting games should keep in mind the grassroots origins of the Fighting Game Community, and I agree that is important. I do think there is space for a variety of content around Fighting Games, and while I love the Open Tournament format, I also see room for other kinds of events and entertainment. I'll write a bit about some of what Capcom has been doing, which is decidedly on the eSports side of things, but I still think is good for fighting games, and the community at large.
1 Capcom eSports Club
Capcom runs an arcade in Kichijoji - the real kind with video games, although nowadays in Japan there are many more photo booths and crane games than there used to be. Back in February 2018, Capcom announced the Capcom eSports Club. It is a physical location in their Kichijoji arcade (down in the basement) with a number of PS4 setups with SFV. Here's what Capcom says themselves about the eSports Club:
"Capcom eSports Club is a space for people to experience games. The goal is to support and increase the number of new users, and to support fans and the community offline. With a simple registration system anyone can easily make use of the space. Our first title is Street Fighter V with 8 setups. On weekdays the space is mainly used for free casual play, and on the weekends we will hold small tournament events. We plan to hold small events on the weekends, so if you would like to get some people together, but don't know where to go, please gather at Capcom eSports Club!"
It is open from 10:00am until midnight, and is free to use. They have sticks for all setups that they lend out with a simple registration (free), and I think they had pads there too. On the weekends they have been holding single elimination ranking battle tournaments. They declare the winner after 4 weeks as the person who has won the most points from the weekly ranking battles. There aren't any prizes associated with it, but it certainly is a lot of fun, and is completely free.
Why does this matter? One criticism that has been widespread here in Japan is that there is no arcade cabinet version of SFV. There is still a large number of arcades here in Japan (although those are declining - very sadly!) and still an active population of people playing USF4. Because there hasn't been an arcade release the community has stepped up to provide locals in different venues, and not seeing some sort of support from Capcom until early 2018 is a disappointment. Still, it is great to see them providing an offline space for SFV, and one that is free at that, and holding tournaments. I think the publisher and developer of the game needs to be involved to grow the community in a healthy way, and this is one step towards that. Tokyo is only one region though, and Capcom could really make a lot more people happy by opening a few more of these locations, particularly near their headquarters in Osaka.
I mentioned arcades in Japan, and how they are decreasing. Just for a little more backup on that other than my conjecture, this article from July 2018 (granted, from a completely unconfirmed source) says that in the mid 1990s there were about 30,000 arcades in Japan (including those not operating under official license). In 2015, there were approximately 15,000 arcades, and my guess is that the decline is increasing. So while that gives some weight to Capcom's decision not to release an arcade cabinet version, it also means that easily accessible spaces for people to casually pick up and try new games is decreasing. Additionally, Japanese homes are usually very small, and it isn't common to have people come to one's home to run sets. Having a public space where people can gather is an important part of socializing in Japan.
That article also has an interesting discussion of how arcade layout has changed since the 90s, when the main focus was on games with a bit of a UFO catcher section, to now where the fighting / shooting / puzzle / racing games are back in a corner but there are large sections for horse race betting games, arcade versions of pachinko and slot machines, many more UFO catcher games, "medal" games (essentially games to let you win more tokens / betting) and sticker picture machines. This trend means to me that fighting game fans are going to need to find new ways to play games since the traditional approach of dropping in at the local arcade is eventually going to disappear. Note that there are, of course, still many arcades that focus on the old school experience (Mikado, A-cho, Hey!, etc.) but those are now the exception rather than the norm.
2 Street Fighter V AE Rookie's Caravan 2018
The full title is Capcom eSports Club Presents: Street Fighter V AE Rookie's Caravan 2018 X Fighting Game New Super Star Scouting Project. If Capcom is known for one thing, it has got to be their interesting naming of games in the Street Fighter Series, so I think having a long name for an event to go along with it makes sense.
What is this Rookie's Caravan thing about? It is a series of tournaments over six different locations all across Japan, to try to find a new Fighting Game star. The majority of the events are at various Aeon shopping malls, although one of them is at historic Kumamoto Castle (which is still under re-construction after having been severely damaged in an earthquake). I have listed up the dates and locations in English in my June and July list of fighting game events. The tournaments run from July 21st to August 25th. The Rookie Caravan website says that each winner of one of the regional tournaments will get support from Capcom to attend the Capcom Pro Tour Japan Premier which will be at the Tokyo Game Show September 22nd - 23rd in Chiba (well, Tokyo is close enough). The details for the support haven't been announced yet, but it sounds like it will be transport and perhaps support for a hotel. I'm interested in these events though, and will keep this post updated with information as I come across it.
Each Fighting Caravan Tournament will be single elimination first to two, up until the top eight, when it switches to double elimination. There is a 64 person cap, and they will be streamed on OpenRec.tv.
As long as I'm reading this stuff, I'll summarize some of the important points from the Rookie Caravan webpage. You need to register with smash.gg, which is very interesting, because that is not something you see often in Japan. EVO Japan 2018 was the first time I saw anything in Japan using smash.gg. The events will run from 11am to 18:00. They will have a corner to play SFV for free, and say that you can win original SFV goods by playing, with details on that to be released later. You can also get some stuff by entering into their "How many Hadoukens can you throw?" challenge, where you have to throw as many Hadoukens as you can in a limited amount of time. There isn't much too interesting in the rules, although they do have some of the usual suspect stages banned, and Mika's Pom-Pom cheerleader outfit is banned.
Also, a quick note about Aeon malls. Aeon is a large department store / grocery store chain, positioned perhaps similarly to Walmart in America. You similar phenomena to what is happening in rural and suburban America, where Aeon has been displacing a lot of the small businesses in small towns, and I'm not going to go into that dynamic. DNG|Tachikawa had a tweet about how Aeon malls are important in rural areas, and when he was in middle school and high school they were the main place to go for fun, for dates, to hang out, and so on. So when Capcom and other events are going to locations outside of the major cities in Japan, the Aeon malls provide a great location for gathering lots of people, being in an accessible place, and providing the foot traffic so that people who don't know about fighting games can experience them. Typically, these events are set up in a exhibition space that is wide, roomy, and often has sight lines from multiple levels so lots of people can see what is going on as they walk around and do their shopping. In the tweet that Tachikawa quotes, it is called out that one of the expansions that Aeon is planning specifically has a space where one intended use is "eSports tournaments", which I think is fascinating.
Why does this matter? I think this is a great example of Capcom doing things to help spread more of an offline culture to other parts of Japan that do not have a community-led weekly event. Red Bull's Bonchan's Road Trip was the first example of a well-publicised event to bring more awareness of non-Tokyo (Or Cyclops Gaming in Osaka I guess) locations of fighting games. It might sound crazy to you Americans, since Japan is essentially the size of California, but the perception of Japan is that it is a large place, but right now the FGC is only well known in Tokyo, and maybe Osaka. Running events in other locales lets people who live there see some local action, raises awareness for people who might not otherwise see the eSports aspects of things, and can increase fans. It is also really cool that they are doing something at Kumamoto Castle, and I hope that they pair some sort of charity aspect with that to help out the locals there.
3 Profit sharing deal for SFV streamers on OpenRec.tv and other OpenRec activity
Capcom and OpenRec.tv came to an agreement over IP usage from the Street Fighter V franchise such that streamers in OpenRec.tv's Creators Program who choose to stream SFV can get some revenue sharing from advertisements and Ale (I might be wrong on the romanization there - essentially OpenRec's Bits equivalent) used while streaming. This program started from July 1st, and OpenRec says that it is the first in the world - I don't really know how things work with Twitch, but this shows that Capcom is looking at eSports and streaming, and trying to set up some frameworks for how that will work. I think since OpenRec is a Japanese company and Capcom is as well, it is easier for them to start taking steps here, although it also seems like OpenRec is making a big push into SFV content (which is great!) so this might be more from their end.
According to this itmedia.co.jp article OpenRec has also partnered with Nintendo for similar deals with Switch versions of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Splatoon2.
Why does this matter? Japan has lagged behind other countries when it comes to monetization of eSports content. I see this as Capcom's taking initial steps into exploring how they can be involved in the conversation of how monetization will happen. I think it is positive in that there is a revenue share (I don't know the details about breakdown) and Capcom seems to recognize that not putting up barriers to streaming so that their product gets out in front of more people is a good thing. I would like to see something similar with Twitch, which has been getting popular here in Japan, but I also have a soft spot for OpenRec.tv which has been involved in fighting games in various ways for a long time.
In addition, Capcom officially supports the RAGE Street Fighter V All-Star League powered by Capcom. It is right there in the title, and Capcom links to it from their official sfv esports page. I'm sure that Capcom works with tournament organizers and invitational events to make sure that use of the SFV intellectual property is allowed, and in fact I suspect that getting approval from Capcom is actually much more work on the tournament organizer end than anything else. In this case though, Tomoaki Ayano, the SFV Arcade Edition Promotion Producer from Capcom even joined the mid-season review special, so they are closely involved with this production. I'm all for it, because I've found the RAGE SFV All Star League powered by Capcom to be very entertaining, and I like seeing the use of the official team battle mode. I see this as an indication that Capcom sees the need to step up their involvement with the community.
OpenRec also announced that they have partnered with Capcom to stream Capcom Cup Premiere events with commentary in Japanese on OpenRec. This is interesting because I hadn't seen much official Japanese language streaming for overseas events. Sometimes you get live on the spot streams from Momochi or other players, or Daigo might re-stream something, but this is the first time I've seen (outside of EVO Japan) a full commentary booth (remote I suppose) setup for tournaments. I do think OpenRec is pushing a bit more for this, but again, Capcom is trying things out, and I think it is important to grow the viewership fan base as well as the player fan base.
4 Involvement with the Japan eSports Union (JeSU)
In February 2018, the Japan eSports Union (JeSU) was founded. Back when that was announced I put up a quick translation of some of the information that was floating around, and while I'm interested in it, I have not really been paying close attention to the terms and conditions. Essentially, having a professional union addresses a problem with Japanese law regarding payout for tournaments. By establishing a regulated system that denotes who is a professional player, those players can then be paid prize money, which wasn't possible before in Japan due to regulations (often said to be gambling law related, but I've also heard it was related to 風俗営業取締法, the Entertainment Establishments Control Law). You can read more about it at this Team Liquid article by Sarah Enders.
So a union was formed. There are lots of problems with this - for me I'm a big fan of the grass roots organization, and the idea that you never know who might win on any given day. Some person from out of nowhere might come in on a tournament and take it all, and that is the way it should be, IMHO. Licenses will only be granted for specific games, which have worked with JeSU. At the time of this writing, the list of games includes WinningEleven 2018, Call of Duty WWII, Street Fighter V, Tekken7, Puzzle Dragons, Puyo Puyo, Monster Strike, and Rainbow Six Siege. Of course, there are many more games that are played than this, and I guess if you play some fighting game that isn't represented here (Guilty Gear? Dragonball FitherZ?) you are just out of luck when it comes to winning prize money in a domestic Japanese tournament.
Still, Capcom does work with JeSU, so that's good I guess.
One fear that I had when I heard about JeSU is that they would limit the number of people who could play in tournaments, or that there would be a shift to invitation only events, which would lead to a stagnation of new players coming into the system. It does seem like they are taking this into account, for example, by saying that it would be perfectly fine if say, for example, the top eight of some tournament were all granted on-the-spot licenses. Note that the IP holder determines the process for which players are granted licenses, and that can differ by game.
Why does this matter? Japan has always been at a disadvantage compared to tournaments overseas when it comes to prize money for players, which can be an important factor in making pro gaming a tenable career. Something had to be done, and I'm glad that Capcom is there to make sure Street Fighter is a pro licensed game, but I would vastly prefer changing Japanese law to make the entire system unnecessary. It is only going to be an opportunity to introduce friction and problems.
5 Capcom Confidential
Capcom recently started up the Capcom Confidential podcast. It isn't as big of an initiative as some of the other things I've listed here, but it is an honest attempt to communicate more with the fanbase. The show has been driven primarily by Western developers at Capcom Japan, but this is coming out of Capcom Japan which is rare for a Japanese company. They have talked about moving to a video format so they can interview Japanese developers and provide subtitles, which I think would be great. They haven't talked about fighting games much directly, or about anything eSports, but I do think that is something that will come up in the future, and having more transparent open communication from Capcom is always something I welcome.
If nothing else, the podcast is really fun, so give it a listen. You might want to skip the first one, where they hadn't quite worked out their audio process, but I've enjoyed all the episodes so far.
Why does this matter? More open communication is always a good thing. It is also a rare move for a Japanese company.
6 What could Capcom be doing better?
I'm not in the gaming industry at all, but I have some opinion about what Capcom could be doing better to promote Street Fighter V.
First, I really think Capcom should support local offline gatherings more systematically. To my knowledge, the Fighter's Crossover -Akihabara- weekly held in Akihabara e-Sports Square is the only regular offline event that has official approval from Capcom to use the SFV IP. The reason they have a license is due entirely to the organizer, kagecchi79 who negotiated for one, and it did not come cheap. Local gatherings are critical to the long-term viability of a game, and in the current environment where there are no arcades (aside from Capcom's Kichijoji eSports Club) Capcom should really encourage these kinds of events. World class players that are in contention for the Capcom Cup play at the Figher's Crossover -Akihabara- event, and grooming strong players through a local scene is very important for Capcom. They might not have to provide funding, but at least should not charge an onerous amount. I think they could do a lot to promote the events, and the players at them. The Local Fighter's Network initiative from r/StreetFighter is a great example of trying to do something like that to highlight players in locals.
While I would love to see an arcade cabinet version of Street Fighter V, due to the declining arcade market in Japan (not to mention worldwide) I don't expect to see one happen. Still, one can hope. As long as I'm hoping for hopeless things, I wouldn't mind seeing some updates to MvC:I. Or a new Darkstalkers game (please get Arc System Works to develop it).
I would love to see Capcom take a look at what Red Bull has been doing with eSports, where they have been a great driver for the community. They have done a huge amount for the community by opening their Gaming Spheres all over the world, and Capcom could do worse than following their lead there.
I would love to see more and better communication with the fighting game community. While it is great to see Bizarromike as the Esports Social Media Manager at Capcom, that communication is driven out of Capcom America. I would love to see more communication from Capcom Japan, and specifically more and better information about why they make the balance changes they make, similar to what NRS does with their Watchtower streams. I would love to hear from someone at Dimps about what their philosophy of the game is.
I've been a fan of Street Fighter since I first ran into a SF2: World Warrior cabinet at Aljon's Pizza in New Jersey back in 1991 (I think). So I'm likely a Capcom apologist. I have seen some nice things going on here in Japan though,
If you have read this far, congratulations. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.