December 7, 2021
Reading through Capcom's "The future of e-sports viewed through Street Fighter League"
Table of Contents
- 1. Chapter 1: Capcom's Path
- 2. Chapter 2: Our first attempts at e-sports
- 2.1. The Power of the Community
- 2.2. Japanese dominate Capcom Cup 2013
- 2.3. The Start of the Capcom Pro Tour
- 2.4. The rapid progress of players from multiple countries
- 2.5. Japan was late to join the e-sports wave
- 2.6. Communication Space "CAPCOM e-Sports club"
- 2.7. Towards a new style of Street Fighter League
- 3. Chapter 3: Setting up the Street Fighter League
- 4. Chapter 4: Responding to the Corona virus and changing to a Team Owner system
- 5. Interview with the Street Fighter League Pro-JP 2021 Teams
- 5.1. Kadokawa Game Linkage
- 5.2. Good 8 Squad
- 5.3. Saishunkan Systems
- 5.4. Sun-Gence Inc.
- 5.5. Shinobism
- 5.6. DouYu Japan
- 5.7. TOPANGA
- 5.8. Nagoya OJA
- 6. Interview with Capcom President Harujiro Tsujimoto
Published November 15th, "CAPCOM e-Sports: The future of e-sports viewed through Street Fighter League". I picked the book up a while ago and am slowly reading through it. It has lots of interesting information that really explains what Capcom's view of e-sports is, and what they want to do with it.
I'll drop a few notes here and there as I slowly read through each chapter. This definitely is not a translation, and is really just my notes about stuff that I find interesting. If I have any commentary of my own I'll put it in
1 Chapter 1: Capcom's Path
1.1 Organizing to create the Best games in the World
This chapter is basically a history of Capcom, starting with the well known contraction of the name from "Capsule Computer". They talk about how they want to create top class games, and while Nintendo released the Famicon at about the same time that Capcom was founded, they thought that arcade hardware had more possibilities to offer the kinds of visuals and sound that the founder, Kenzo Tsujimoto, wanted to be able to create. He wanted to make graphics and sounds that could move people emotionally at the same level as Disney animation.
Capcom was founded in 1983, I didn't realize that they opened Capcom USA in 1985, that's super early. They also started with famicon conversions super early for their arcade games, a year or so after their founding. Founded a London office in 1989. They talk about how Final Fight was a big hit, they got a lot of fans from that, then put out SF2 to unseat Final Fight, and creating a new head to head genre. They talk about the SF movie, anime, etc., and how SF was a multi-use IP for them.
1.2 Creating a new Genre with Biohazard (Resident Evil)
Then they go into Biohazard / Resident Evil and how that created a new survival horror Genre. Interestingly they said it wasn't really all that well received at the time, but did well with word of mouth and became a real long-seller.
They also talk about "Stylish games" like Devil May Cry / Onimusha, and Ace Attorney. They founded offices in more countries, and talk about supporting series in mixed media environments, and the success of the Resident Evil movies. They get things right again with the release of Monster Hunter. They talk about more franchises (Dead Rising, Lost Planet, etc.) and I had forgotten how much good stuff Capcom has put out there (I didn't touch on the Rockman / MegaMan and other stuff from earlier) but Capcom has really continued to innovate and try new things, and push for mixed media IPs.
1.3 Starting Digital Sales early
The 2010 Keyword at Capcom was "Global Digitization". New consoles have internet, and there are multiple digital storefronts, so they want to take advantage of that. They list a lot of examples of different titles that sold well on different storefronts - I didn't know that the 3DS Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition sold over a million copies. They are intentional about looking at their back catalog, and developing new (or porting old) titles to new systems and getting those out into digital markets to increase sales.
1.4 SF2 Cultivated the PvP Fighting Game Genre
(I could write "competitive" instead of PvP but the idea is person versus person and not necessarily high level competent organized play that the meaning of "competeitive" includes.)
This section was a brief overview of the SF2 series of games, then move to Alpha (with a new Anime style), SF3 with all new protagonist Alex, the revival in SF4, and release of SFV. SFV was viewed as a "reset" that would not only appeal to the core fighting game demographic, but would expand the user base bringing in new people with interesting collaborations, and providing something that perhaps older people could play with their kids (that is actually, my exact demographic.) Nothing super exciting here, more of a focus on sales numbers and very broad strokes of each game.
If you are intersted in the history of these games, you really should read Polygon's Street Fighter: An oral history, Polygon's Street Fighter II: An oral history, Polygon's Street Fighter The Movie: An oral history, Polygon's Street Fighter Alpha: An oral history, Polygon's Street Fighter 3: An oral history. Also, Capcom vs. SNK and X-Men: Children of the Atom: An oral history.
Check out how the James Chen icon changes over the articles. Cool.
1.5 The strategy of spotting trends as fast as possible
They say that e-sports are similar to physical sports in the way that you are able to practice to improve your ability and how you play will depend on how your opponent plays and your adjustment to them. It isn't easy to keep a game popular and successful over 30 years. The talk a little about how Capcom tried to bring in new players to the series with SFV and appeal to kids of people who grew up enjoying SF2. They collaborated with other companies titles to spread awareness of the series (people scoff at Fortnite, but I'm sure that has brought in some new players.)
The talk about trying to build a community online (did Dojos do that?) and using multiple outlets to spread the IP: movies, manga, goods, anime, etc. The popularity of the characters is such that people who don't play games know about Hadoken, etc. Now they want to focus on making e-sports in Japan and North America shine.
2 Chapter 2: Our first attempts at e-sports
2.1 The Power of the Community
SF2 was really popular. When the SNES version came out, there were long lines before shops opened, it was a real cultural phenomenau. It was so popular, Capcom decided to run a Japanese National Tournament in Ryogoku-kan, a prestigious venue usually used for Sumo wrestling. They did that in 1992, hosting about 4000 people - but to get down to that number they needed to run tournaments all over Japan, which isn't easy.
They reached out to arcade and toy shops all across Japan - not just ones that had experience running tournaments but ones that hadn't done anything like that at all - Capcom wrote up a manual for running tournaments, the software you would need, bracket sheets (you complain about Smash.gg but it does do brackets), everything you would need to run a tournament even if you didn't know anything about them.
It was a success, and got a lot of media coverage. Capcom ran a national tournament for three years, with attendance at 7000 people in 1993, and 8000 in 1994. The hall was full with specatators as well. The authors note that Capcom has continued with tournament kits even to this day, in 2008 they ran a national SF4 tournament ("Let your fists burn!") in arcades, and they added a feature to let people who don't know anything about tournaments run an online tournament in SFV (I still need to try that out actually.)
They then talk about how at the time, the way to show you were good at a game was to get the high score, but SF2 changed all of that. The focus was on 1 on 1 battle against people, and not a score, but winning. Strong people started to gather at the arcades. The home version of the game extended that to brothers and sisters and friends, expanding the competitive landscape. SF2 really solidified the 1 on 1 fighting game genre.
They say that in the 1990s that is when the people that would become pro gamers really started to surface, and looking overseas there were large scale competitions there too. In the 2000s you could start to say that esports was born as tournaments that think about the business aspects of things were on the rise and serious competitors really started to see a big increase.
They talk about EVO and how it was founded in a serious way in 2002, and really became the exemplar of tournaments that everyone wanted to win. It was community run. (Praise be to the Cannons and everyone involved.) They shout out Daigo, Fuudo, Bon-chan, etc. as winners here. They also talk about how it wasn't just Street Fighter, but other games as well (for EVO and Tougeki.)
They then turn to the Tougeki series of community run tournaments backed by Enterbrain (now Kadokawa) that had strong roots with the community, started in 2003. One of the reasons for that is because they used a series of qualifying tournaments at arcades around the country and needed community involvement for that to actually work.
After 1999 and delivering SF3: 3rd Strike Capcom was focusing less on arcade games and more on consumer games with Monster Hunter and Resident Evil. Until July 2008, when they released SF4 in Arcades. Lots of people were asking "Why come back to Street Fighter now?" and the answer was the community.
In the 9 years that no new numbered Street Fighter game was released, at Tougeki and other tournament fans kept playing the game and instead of the community decreasing, new people were even brought in and joining the community. There were many arcades that kept their Street Fighter machines even as all the other machines changed in and out at a fast pace. Usually with new fighting game machines in arcades the income would peak quickly, and then drop off. Street Fighter had a different income curve where there was a stable floor with people that loved and just kept playing it. (This arcade discussion is really neat, I'd love to hear Fubarduck's take. Or Henry Cen.)
Capcom was convinced that there are fans for this series, but was concerned that maybe people have grown tired of fighting games, or that there is only a hardcore fanbase that wouldn't make business sense to pursue - so going for SF4 had risks as well. But it turned out it was a successful arcade title, and the home conversions were successful as well, hitting 3.4 million units. (Dealing with all these by 10,000 units in my head is a real pain. Thanks no thanks 万 unit counter.)
2.2 Japanese dominate Capcom Cup 2013
They introduce the idea of a world level tournament in San Francisco with $500,000 in prizes and a sports car (Scion FR-S Street Fighter 25th anniversary edition) as a prize. From that they got the idea of a continuing Street Fighter tournament series and Capcom Cup was born. It started in December 2013 run by Capcom USA.
Capcom Cup 2013 had SF4 AE 2012, UMVC3, and SFxTekken (I have no memory of those other two titles.) They had different ways to get into the tournament depending on the game, and it was streamed on both Twitch and Nico Nico. They run down the winners (sako, Xian, Fuudo, Haitani, Tokido in that order), observing that Japan really showed its strength.
2.3 The Start of the Capcom Pro Tour
The Capcom Pro Tour started in 2014 and focused only on one game (instead of 3 from the previous Capcom Cup): Ultra Street Fighter IV. There were multiple ways to get into the tournament: the primary one that I remember is getting points from Community run tournaments around the world (47 of them). 6 people would make it in this way. There were also 6 online tournaments that I completely forgot about that awarded points. 10 people made it in through Premiere tournament wins - and the book spends some time talking about the size and scale of these large Premiere tournaments. Our of that packed field of 16 competitors, Momochi won the whole thing.
In later interviews / media I've seen (I believe from Japanese articles I've read) Momochi was really amazed at how large the prize pool for Capcom Cup has become. When he won it was about $20k USD if I remember correctly (between $100k - $200k now!)
The book talks about how they would not have been able to run this large scale sort of tour without the help of the community.
2.4 The rapid progress of players from multiple countries
Capcom Cup 2015 raised the cap from 16 to 32 people, and had 13 people from Japan including Momochi, 5 from America, 3 from China, 2 from France, Taiwan, Singapore, and Korea, and one each from Brazil, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Kazunoko won it, which means Japanese players have won three times consecutively. They say this wasn't a surprise though; Japan has always been top class in fighting games and you really could ask not who would win, but which Japanese player would win.
In 2016 SFV released, and the game for Capcom Cup changed to SFV with it. Many new people joined with the release of the new game, but Japan was able to secure 12 of the 32 spots for the 2016 Capcom Cup.
In 2016 though the finals were between the young NuckleDu and Ricki Ortiz, and while people thought that some day other countries would catch up to Japan, very few people were thinking that it would be 2016. Everyone was surprised at the speed by which players from other countries had improved. NuckleDu won Capcom Cup 2016.
In 2017 one player was determined to take back the crown for Japan: Tokido. He is a well known super strong player who graduated from Tokyo University (note: the best university in Japan - you have to be super smart just to get in, much less graduate). He was dominant in 2017, winning just about every tournament he entered including EVO. He made it to Grand Finals in Capcom Cup and it was memorable, not because he won, but because he lost. He lost to a young 18 year old player from the Dominican Republic, Mena RD.
While the 2016 winner, NuckleDu, was well known to fighting game fans, nobody really knew who Mena RD was. The prize for winning that year was $250,000 USD, and the average income in the Dominican Republic was about $4,500 USD. Mena RD was able to get about 60 years worth of average income, and you could say that he was able to achive an e-sports dream.
Each year the Capcom Cup was getting more and more media coverage. Gachi-kun (from Japan) won in 2018, and you can really see how the e-sports scene is picking up steam.
2.5 Japan was late to join the e-sports wave
In 2010 you started to see pro gamers around the world, but Japan never really was ready to take that second step. A major characteristic of fighting game tournaments are cash prizes for the winners, but in Japan there were various laws made that difficult to do. This was a real problem for Japanese game makers. In 2018 the Japanese e-Sports Union (JeSU) was formed which includes multiple game makers, and their first order of business was to make it possible for prized tournaments sponsored by the game maker to be held in Japan.
That's how the pro license system in Japan was established, and based on that it was possible to run prized tournaments. There are now up to 21 companies in JeSU, and in 2018 e-sports became a hot topic.
2.6 Communication Space "CAPCOM e-Sports club"
In 2018 Capcom formed an e-Sports division, started running tournaments, and doing research. Capcom looks at Soccer and Baseball leagues and sees that players, teams, companies, management, and fans are all cooperative and able to define their own profit streams. They want to build something similar for e-sports. To work on one of those areas, Capcom founded the "CAPCOM e-Sports club" in their Kichijyouji arcade 2018-02-17 as a place for players to improve their skills and foster a spirit of community.
They migrated to weekly online ranking battle tournaments during Covid. In 2021-07-21 they opened up another location at the MIRAINO Aeon Mall in Hakuyama.
2.7 Towards a new style of Street Fighter League
The CPT is an individual event, SFL is a three person team event. Why did we start this league and why did we decide to make it team based? We'll look into that in the next chapter.
3 Chapter 3: Setting up the Street Fighter League
(46 pages into a 223 page book. Pretty interesting so far!)
3.1 Why SFL is a team league
One of the strengths of e-sports is its diversity; people of all ages, races, genders, and handicaps can enjoy it. One of the most important jobs of Capcom is to increase the number of people interested in e-sports. There are people that play games, but don't have interest in e-sports yet, and people that aren't interested in playing but that would enjoy watching. So they thought they should find ways to create opportunities for people to experience e-sports as an in-roads. So they started thinking about that. Games that have been around a long time and have a large fanbase have very strong players, and in some ways that can present an obstacle for new people to get involved. We wanted to think about what we could do about that. The CPT is open to anyone that wants to enter it, and there aren't conditions that make it harder for people to join.
But because of how things are set up, at large tournaments beginners are going to get blown out and drown in pools, so there is an image of the CPT being high level.
So they thought how about a team tournament? While top level players are popular, Capcom wants to think about the long-term success of Street Fighter content and doesn't want to tie it's health to the popularity of it's top players. They thought like pro p-sports (was that an Ultra David nomenclature?) if they could collect the players into a larger grouping like teams, people might become fans of teams, and gain popularity that way.
However, the teams need to have some sort of appeal for people to like them - as with physical sports there are old and young fans, and teams that have fervent fans usually have a strong connection in some way like building a strong connection to their locality and fostering a community spirit. If they could do something similar with e-sports that could provide a first opportunity to expand the fanbase to people that haven't been interested in e-sports before. So they started to think about what kind of rules they would need for a league that could last long-term.
3.2 We don't want a SFV tournament that just hinges on wins or losses
They had two early concepts: 1) differentiating from CPT and 2) including beginners. They thought it was important to build a route into the league for people that had just started playing, showing the mobility of players, in order to increase the funnel for future players. As a team game, you have to think about what are the specific strengths of people on your and opposing teams as you prepare for those matches. Since it is a team game and it is round robin it is different from CPT.
So they made a league of 6 teams, broken into 3 classes of players. The Extreme class were JeSU pro license holders, the High class was non-pro license holders who are very good and young, and the beginner class was people who had just started playing SFV. They didn't want people just to focus on the wins and losses but also the "story" of how people made it into the league and their journey. So they wanted to focus on people's progress and the relationships within the team. The interesting points were the progress of the beginner class, the drive of the High class people to make it to the Pro ranks, and the connections people players at the Pro level (within the team and across the other Pro players). They also knew that play across classes was likely to be one-sided and hard for the lower class to win against the higher class, so they wrote the rules such that games were played within a given class. However, everyone roots for the underdog and would like to see an instance of "Giant Killing" so they added a special "Final Act" rule. If a team was getting beat in a straight loss, then the team could choose either their beginner class or high class player to take on the extreme class player of the other team - a kind of pity match.
SFL's first season started in 2018-11, and the playoffs were in 2019-02.
3.3 Our special rules caused drama that we didn't forsee
The first season of Street Fighter League was The Japan Capcom Street Fighter League powered by RAGE
They talk about the July 2018 Rookie's Caravan, which was another route into the High class draft pool. That was a series of tournaments held around Japan in 6 different cities - and they were all mostly not the major urban centers that you've heard of. They say there were two main reasons for holding the tournaments offline, one is that they wanted to provide the best environment for player performance - and they talk about frame delay and how online impacts that. The other was to provide a space for community and a chance for high level players to gather and play. In large cities there are opportunities for that, but out in the smaller locales that opportunity isn't as common. They also had a tie-in with a popular morning TV series ("Ranking, Please!") too. There was a separate show for the begginer class too. They all went into a draft and the six Extreme class members drafted their teams.
The battles between the different classes were worth different points, 3 for the Pros (Extreme class), 2 for high class, and 1 for beginner class. 3 more points for the "Final Act" pity game if that comes up. Of course the Extreme class matches was what everyone was interested in, but over the course of the season the high class and beginner classes got advice from the pro on the team and you saw a lot of growth over the course of the season. One of the great scenes was when Nemo Aurora's team's Anman (known as Shuto now) fought Itabashi Zangief in the Final Act in the 10th episode, and won. It was like a scene out of a manga. The Grand Final came down to Nemo's Aurora, Mago's Scarlet, and Itazan's Ocean teams, with Itazan's Ocean taking the title.
3.4 Lifting up players with Potential
The second season of JP SFL was from October 2019 to November 2019, the Street Fighter League: Pro-JP powered by RAGE. The concept behind this version of SFL was to include everyone who was shooting for the Pro level and raise the level of play to the top players in the world. Still, it's important to continue to support new players and so they ran multiple tournaments to find the people for the draft pool. So they ran a 2019 Rookie's Caravan across Japan for people that didn't yet hold a pro license, they also held tournaments hosted in arcades run by TAITO, and a series of tournaments for college students. All the winners entered a pool of people that went into the Tryout. Instead of the "Pity Game" they put in a new rule: the character ban system. Each team can ban one character on the other team, which means the team has to think about what character will be banned, and then learn how to use another character well. It takes a really long time to become proficient with another character, you have to learn combos, strategy, practice, and so on. So usually players choose a character that matches their play style well and sticks with them. We implemented this rule because we think it can show a different kind of strength from what you see in individual tournaments to fans, and you need to think carefully about strategy at the team level. We think there are two great venues now for character specialists and multi-character generalists to show their skills. This also can help the Pros shine and gives fans more ways to watch and connect with them. We expected that there would be resistance from the Pro players, but we also thought there would be some people who would be positive about the experience. We were fully prepared to talk with players who had a different opinion. So they talked with all the team captains, and everyone was actually really supportive: they said that while it might not be their normal style, they would accept it as a challenge, and rising to the occasion is exactly what a Pro would do.
Mago Scarlet's Machabo was the target of many bans, but using his sub-character Akuma he really was successful, and largely due to his effort Mago's Scarlet advanced to the finals, and eventually won. We think that based on the ban rule, the meaning of the team battle became even more important, and we saw players strength as they worked on playing multiple characters.
3.5 The peak of SFL: Japan vs. America
In 2019 we also ran a US Street Fighter League. We wanted to offer a way for other countries players to improve and expand the appeal of SFL. We decided to have a competition at Capcom Cup to see which team is number one in the world. Mago Scarlet won it.
The next year Corona Virus threw a pallor over everything.
4 Chapter 4: Responding to the Corona virus and changing to a Team Owner system
4.1 Quickly deciding to run the CPT online
Corona virus was first reported on in the media in late 2019 when it was confirmed overseas, and in January 2020 the first case was confirmed in Japan and constantly reported on after that. We started discussion about whether we should hold the CPT or not from then. We decided it would be hard to have offline tournaments where players gathered together. All of the offline tournaments that would have fed into the point systems around the world were being canceled. We decided that Capcom would run a series of online tournaments for the CPT. Since the CPT in the previous year also included some online qualifiers, we thought from a technical perspective we could do it, so we decided to go online. However, it wouldn't be possible to run a worldwide tournament, because of the physical limits of the speed of light.
I found a manga about fighting games and I wasn't sure I was gonna like it until this guy basically said "Fuck netplay" pic.twitter.com/cbAxBEHWRY— 🅱️alvar (@SsbmKalvar) April 3, 2018
So they planned about how to break up regions based on their infrastructure to minimize the impact of delay OF THE SPEED OF LIGHT.
So in June of 2020 we started the CAPCOM Pro Tour Online 2020. We did this using online streaming platforms and the "Capcom Fighters" channel for the world, and "Capcom Fighters JP" for Japan where we invited Japanese commentary teams and streamed live. We think Capcom was the first company to move their fighting game infrastructure over to online only.
We also added a new community voting aspect to Capcom Cup 2020. Up until now we had run a Last Chance Qualifier open to anyone in the world that could come to the tournament location to fight for the last open spot. During Corona however we couldn't do that, so we opened up voting for the last spot and Luffy from France, who won EVO in 2014, was voted in.
This CPT also had a wider diversity of players from other countries as one defining feature. In previous CPTs the people who made it in would get points from large tournaments around the world, but that means you limit the pool of people who can join to those that have the money and ability to travel to those large tournaments. But running as an online tournament you lower the barriers to entry and have more casual tournaments, and through those we were able to uncover new strong hidden talent that we couldn't see before.
On the other hand there were other problems: different countries have different infrastructure that can make delay impacts even worse, sometimes we couldn't get in contact with players, we didn't know what situation they were in, and it was a revelation to us that running tournament online is a blow up.
There was also a case where in a tournament in the West it took a super long time to run the matches due to the impacts of a hurricane that delayed things. When things break down, there are situations where even if you operate under the assumption of everything working equitably, you have to investigate. We learned that people want us to have flexibility in how we investigate things as we try to understand the conditions of the environment the players are playing in.
In 2020 as all the large offline events were being canceled, people were very happy to see an online CPT as the community was starving for some kind of interaction. As people were staying home to avoid going out, we also saw an increase in viewers. We saw this trend continue in the first half of 2021 with the CPT where viewers and participants continued to increase. And still, online just can't replicate that festival feeling of a live offline event with that passionate atmosphere. We wanted to think about how we could improve things for viewers in a world where online events were a standard, how should we direct things, improve the presentation, make things better for participants and viewers.
4.2 Deciding to cancel Capcom Cup
At the previous Capcom Cup we had announced that the 2020 Capcom Cup would be held in France, but many European countries were in a hard lockdown, so in May announced that we changed the venue to America. However, America then put restrictions on which countries could enter, and so we had to change the location again. After looking at the infrastructure, infection information, governmental policies, the routes of the different players to actually get there, and our ability to get local staff to help, we announced that we would hold Capcom Cup from February 19 to the 21st in the Dominican Republic. In the end though, as infection numbers worsened, Capcom decided that for the safety of the players and staff, we would have to cancel the Capcom Cup.
Having all the top level players gather together in the same place and fighting against each other to find out who is the best is one of the real pleasures of Capcom Cup. We really wanted to be able to provide that kind of offline experience that the players themselves were looking forward to. But no matter the precautions that we took or how long people spent getting in the quarantine there was always going to be a health risk that we just couldn't avoid.
We really wanted to provide some sort of experience for those that won entry into the Capcom Cup though, so we decided to hold the "CAPCOM Pro Tour 2020 Season Finale" Feb 20th to 21st. We would host online exhibition BO7 matches for two people in each region. We decided on the long set because that would really let the players show who was better compared to the more common BO3 or BO5 formats. While we weren't able to host a full CAPCOM Cup, we think this was a format that both our players and viewers would understand and accept. We selected 24 people, including the previous winner iDom, Luffy who was voted in, 18 people from the online tournaments, and 3 others (top 4) for the one region that only had one tournament. Daigo and Gachi-kun who both won the JP tournaments faced off, and Daigo won.
4.3 Holding the SFL during Corona
We decided to run the SFL Pro-JP in early 2020. We switched the Tryout tournament over to online, and worked with the TOPANGA company who have lots of experience running tournaments and events to run the online tournaments. This greatly widened our funnel of possible participants. We then had to decide whether to run the main team round robin sets offline or online, and whether to go fully remote or not. We investigated all the options, looking at the quality we could get from the participants, simulating the network environments, looking at the video overlays, what we would do with staff (would they go to player's homes?), listing up the merits and demerits of each approach. Still, the problem remained in any kind of remote situation of how we would convey the lively and fresh expressions of the players to the audience. There isn't an overwhelming number of competitors like in a tournament, and it is a show / performance where the expressions and visuals of the competitors is really important.
Would we be able to provide an environment that is safe for the players and the staff during Corona? How many and what type of preventative measures would we have to take if the corona numbers didn't get better? We decided to run it offline, but without spectators. We would prepare separate rooms for each team so they would not come into contact, take extensive disinfection precautions, follow social distancing guidelines, and increase outside ventilation for all 10 sessions. After the season ended, as we approached the Grand Final, the corona situation got even worse, we had to prepare alternatives to what we had planned with really cool player entrances and stuff like that. On January 7th, when Tokyo announced their state of emergency, we switched to the remote plan. Thus the curtain rises on the SFL: Pro-JP 2020 with the intense team battle for points. The event was met with success from viewers, and opened up more people to the event.
4.4 Adding a Team Owner system to SFL
May 19th 2021 Capcom announced the continuation of SFL with "Street Fighter League: Pro-JP 2021", and welcome NTT Docomo as a production and sponsorship partner. NTT Docomo also announced at the start of 2021 X-MOMENT, a platform for e-sports league branding, teams, players, fans, partner companies, and so on. We joined with them so Capcom could provide a larger experience and connect to more people. We also partnered with 8 other companies to create teams, increasing the team count from 6 teams to 8 teams. We also increased the number of matches from 30 matches to 56 matches. Our design was to have local companies own and operate teams similar to what you see in Professional Soccer or Baseball with the introduction of this team owner system.
In order for e-Sports to become a business, we need a way to increase the number of businesses participating in e-sports. Unfortunately, so far that has been limited to the IP Holders and companies that are involved in holding events, running tournaments, or services related to those things. One way that other kinds of companies can take part in e-Sports is by becoming team owners. The mission for these team owners is then to run their own team. Since you need to have relationships with lots of companies, not just Capcom but other companies also need to do PR for e-Sports, which can also increase interest and participation.
On the other hand, what is important for players is "the future". A common point for physical and e-sports athletes is how long they will be able to continue competing. Since e-sports are still a new field, there aren't many examples to look at to see what success looks like. So it is important for us to build a league that people who are aiming to become pros, or who have already crossed that first line to support that. It's important to build an "exit" to a second career for people that need that, and an "entrance" for new younger players. So it is key for us to build relationships to education, and ways and facilities for people who are trying to become pros to polish their skills, and support for people who are living the pro life. So we thought it was important with SFL as the focal point to introduce corporate team ownership to allow for building the facilities across multiple locations, and to spread the enthusiasm across multiple communities. Since we founded Capcom's e-sports division in 2018 we have been continuing to listen to organizations and corporations that are involved in e-sports across the country about what we can do to evangelize and increase participation in SFL.
In 2019 we were strengthening the outer wall of collaboration with other companies, and were planning to accelerate their involvement in 2020, but that is when Corona struck. We weren't even sure if we would be able to run the league that year, so we put off introduction of corporate sponsors. We were able to finally put it in place given the experiences we just wrote about.
The eight teams that were interested in expanding e-sports in their location, understood and agreed with Capcom's intention for SFL, and the significance of joining the league are as follows. Each of the teams has an interview in Chapter 5, so please see those.
- KADOKAWA Game Linkage
- Good 8 Squad
- Saishyunkan Systems
- Sun Gence
- DouYu Japan
- Nagoya Ojya
4.5 SFL: Pro-JP 2021 Starts
From June to August in 2021 we held multiple tournaments that granted pro JeSU licenses: the tryout tournament, the Under 22 tournament, and the Pro-License holder only tournament. There was a tournament for each team, that the teams themselves ran. They were successful with over 100 people joining each one. The reason we made each team run their own tournament was to make sure they connected up with the new team members, and as a case model for future SFL, team, and Capcom collaboration.
So now let's take a look at the new rules for this SFL season that are important for how we're trying to grow and expand SFL. The SFL is a super long six month season when you include the pre-season, the 28 days of 56 regular season games from October to December that are streamed live, the grand finals, and the Japan vs. America matches that decide the World Champions.
As before, it is difficult to predict what will happen with Corona, so we needed to decide in advance how many players should be on each team. Since it is such a long season, we decided that each team should have 4 players. We also emphasized the point of having new players join the league. We had the Under 22 and tryout tournaments again, but since the team composition was controlled by the individually run teams, we had another topic that we had to come to agreement on. It was about the character Ban rule that was introduced in 2019. While the rule did bring about team strategy, there is a difference between the strength of someone who plays only one character at the absolute highest level, and someone who plays multiple characters at a high level. And we were able to show the strengths of someone who could play multiple characters at a high level. But for us to change the character ban rule in the second season of SFL it would be like striking a hard blow to the very concept of the league. However, we were expanding the teams from 6 to 8, and the team members from 3 to 4, so what we wanted to focus on was how we can foster competition (struggle / rivalry) between the teams.
There were 3 teams that needed to pick up 2 players each from the draft pool, for a total of 6 players from the field of 28. That's a small opening for opportunity for those looking to be drafted. Among those 28 there were various characters, and there was no question that a tournament between them would be exciting. But many of the players exclusively used only one character. For example, players that have been playing the same character since SF2, working on polishing their play-style and bringing out the best for that character. Known as the exemplar of the character to fans of the game, instantly recognizable. Or players that are new to Street Fighter with SFV, and worked on one character from the starting, choosing a character that works for their play-style and increasing their ability until they were able to rise out of the U22 and tryout tournaments. "Can we find a way to let players who have reached the peak with their character to also contribute?" "Can we think of rules that will allow teams to let the players that they've gathered show off their full power to the extent possible?" "In that case, can we ensure that we have high quality and diverse matches given the character ban rule that we established?" "What can we do to make sure that we don't damage the value of the team battle concept that is central to SFL?"
We kept talking ourselves in circles around these points. What is the key point to having a meaningful team competition when creating the rules? How will that connect to growth and expansion for the league with the introduction or team owners …? The breakthrough came when we came back to the central theme of the SFL: "Building a structure that encourages deep roots within the region / area".
The main person in charge of the league production said "What about instituting a home and away team rule instead of the character ban rule?" Of course, since it's in Corona the whole thing will be online, so there isn't really a home or away concept, but since each team plays twice, as a matter of convenience we could separate things into a home and away game.
The way it would work is that the away team has to submit their roster of who will play 1st, 2nd, and 3rd as well as the characters they will play. The home team will have the opportunity to discuss and decide who will play and the order before each match. Note that they get a chance to talk and look at what happened after each match and choose who goes up next. We thought that would give the home team a chance to prepare for multiple possibilities and choose the right one once they see what the away team decided.
That means that players who can play multiple characters have an advantage as the home team because they can counter-pick based on the away team lineup. On the away side, you can also predict what the other team will do against yourself, and if you play multiple characters prepare for that, so we retain the "strength" of showing the power of using multiple characters that we tried to bring out with the Ban rule. On the other hand, for character specialists when you are on the away team you will have to win against an opponent that has trained against your character, so you can show an exciting victory even in difficult situations. Under the character ban rule we had a situation where you were looking at which team could win more under the same conditions, but with the team system you have home and away games where one team has the advantage over the other, and you get to see how the teams adapt to being in an advantageous situation vs a disadvantaged situation. This also has the advantage for new players that they are able to play in their own way and show off to the team owners how they play under the best situation.
It took about three months for us to decide to this new format, but we were able to announce it at the Under 22 tournament opening. Our premise is that you need to understand how the rules are going to impact players, referees, fans and people watching for the future of e-Sports and for people to accept the changes. Under those conditions, open competition and open tournaments are important. For sports it is important to make sure you are clear on the rules and announce them early enough. If you are too late, that will have an impact on the team owner and people running the games. You build security and stability when your viewers and related people understand the fairness and transparency of your systems.
August 21st, we had a draft for all the people that wanted to fill those 6 open slots and finalized the team composition. The regular season will be from October to December, a battle for points which will decide which teams make it into the Playoffs at the start of 2022, and the winning team from that will move on to the SFL: Pro-JP World Championship.
As we increased the number of teams in play in 2021 we also greatly increased the number of matches and days that we will be live streaming. All of the 56 matches will be live streamed as they are played out online and players and fans alike can get wrapped up in the exciting play real time. We're repeating this again, but SFL 2021 will take place online, using a virtual CG studio. We hope that viewers can experience and enjoy our virtual home and away concept. Even though the teams will be online, we hope that with our themed team uniforms and logo placements that viewers can get a bit of a feel for the home and away system.
In the next chapter, we'll hear from each of the 8 team owners.
5 Interview with the Street Fighter League Pro-JP 2021 Teams
(Page 86). In this chapter we will have interviews with each of the 8 team owners about their team, the details of their team construction, what they think of e-Sports as a business, and messages from them about people or organizations looking to get into e-Sports and other things.
FAV Gaming is a pro gaming team founded in 2018 by KADOKAWA Game Linkage Inc. that is primarily involved in publishing, web media management, and event organization.
Good 8 Inc. is involved in e-Sports player management, raising up young talent, and other aspects of the e-Sports scene.
Saishyunkan Systems is a group of businesses that are involved in promotion of the Kuamamoto area and supporting e-Sports there, and with their entry into SFL this year take on a direct role in e-Sports.
Sun-Gence Inc. multi-purpose entity that owns pro gaming Team "Detonation Gaming" that has multiple pro players worldwide, runs events, and does various creative endeavors.
Shinobism Gaming was founded by Momochi, who has won multiple tournaments, and Chocoblanka. They run their company from the point of view of pro gamers, manage team events, and produce various tournaments and other initiatives.
DouYu Japan is a company that runs a live streaming platform streaming primarily gaming events, and support for gaming companies.
TOPANGA Inc. was founded 10 years ago in 2011 supporting Fighting Game events, tournaments, streaming, and they currently run the Gaming team Gyogun.
Nagoya Oja was founded in 2016 to support e-Sports in the Nagoya region and expanded their e-Sports division by joining SFL.
You'll hear from each of these companies about their steps into e-Sports, their views on the business aspect of e-Sports, and more about their participation in SFL in this chapter.
5.1 Kadokawa Game Linkage
Kadokawa Game Linkage Inc. is a fully owned subsidiary of KADOKAWA Inc. They publish the magazines "Game Dengeki" and "Famitsu", offer web services, and develop business around gaming video streaming. They also run events, do e-Sports management, and are working to increase the value of new areas around video games. They want to spread around the passion and joy of gamers everywhere. FAVGaming.com.
Interview Subject: Meguro Tasuku, FAV Gaming General Manager Team Name: v6 Plus FAV Rohto Z! Team Members: sako / Ryusei / Tokido / Bon-chan
5.1.1 Why did you enter into SFL?
KADOKAWA Game Linkage started with publishing gaming magazines "Famitsu" and "Game Dengeki", stepped into web media management, putting on events, and other business related to gaming. In 2018 we started "FAV Gaming", a large scale pro gaming team that would be able to compete with the big players overseas. It's unusual for a game media company to run and manage an e-Sports team, but baseball teams have always been run by media companies.
We think there is a nice compatibility between media companies and teams, where media companies can report on the gaming team's activities and advertise for them, which can in turn raise awareness of the media company. The team name comes from the team slogan of FUN and VICTORY, and that's how we try to run the team. It's still a young team without much history, but we currently have eight groups and we manage pros in multiple titles. We have a fighting games group and sako and Ryusei are part of that team.
A big part of why we joined SFL is that we manage sako and Ryusei, and we thought that would be a good venue for them to continue their daily activities. If they were going to join anyway, and we have conviction that they will win, we had no choice but to answer "YES!" to the question of joining.
There is also of course a very attractive business opportunity as well. Different e-Sports titles have different reach to different demographics. SFV has reach into a comparatively older audience, with a high disposable income so there are many business opportunities we can develop.
We have the back-up of SFV as the IP Holder, and the community has long had a tradition of putting on tournaments in a grass roots style so there are many fans that are already used to watching tournaments. We also thought that we could gain valuable information on how to manage a gaming team from the experience of joining SFL. Also, during Corono there have been fewer opportunities for our athletes to get visibility. With Capcom running regular tournaments like this and the CPT, that is a great chance for our players to get experience and increase the level of their play. Since there were fewer opportunities to play at a high level in 2020, we thought that if we were going to continue running a fighting games division there was no other choice for us but to join. We also wanted our players to do more streaming since there were fewer tournaments. However, a daily stream is on a complete different level than the high stakes matches you get in a tournament and they just aren't the same things. So even if you are a popular streamer, that doesn't mean that there is a connection to your reputation as a fighting game competitor. For players that are good streamers, that are great at talking and are able to entertain an audience, I really think that's a great talent. However, the two fighting game players we have on our team are not that style of person. Ryusei wins tournaments though raw power, and sako fascinates people with his intricate play. So we thought it was important for us to build a venue for them to be able to show off their talents, and this also connects to a way for us to encourage their growth and growth of our fighting games division.
While FAV is in the name of the team, this is a special team where we joined with other teams and players, so we also thought it would be a good change to get hands-on knowledge of how to manage a multi-franchise team like this.
5.1.2 Thoughts about the SFL
Our biggest concern when joining SFL was about how to build our team. We wanted to create a strong team. That was also a request from our players, so we had to think about how to make that a reality. We had sako and Ryusei, and the big topic was what other players should we invite? It costs money to run a team, so we also had to go around to sponsors to secure funds. However, we couldn't invite players without first having the funds to do so, leading to a chicken-and-egg problem. As we were trying to figure this out, we also got the impression that other teams were already coming together, and we really started to get worried and felt like we needed to rush. We finally settled on our team composition about two or three days before the deadline.
Speaking frankly, if we invited players who saw that opportunity to join SFL as more important than the money, we could build a team with a more limited budget. When we talked to sako and Ryusei however, they didn't just want to appear in SFL, they wanted to win it. So we started to talk to popular players who were already sponsored, and from that point of view we wouldn't have to worry about money as much but we needed to make sure that there would be benefits for them to join as well. It took us a really long time to figure out how to do this: Top Pros already have sponsors and teams, and it was hard for us to figure out to make it work for them to join with the FAV gaming team.
Each player with their sponsor has a contract that specifies the kinds of appearances they can make. This is true for sako and Ryusei, and also Tokido and Bon-chan who joined the team who each have their own contracts. To give a concrete example, if the sponsors for two players are different and in competition with each other, which logo do we put on the uniform? What brand of equipment should we use in the competitions? We had to negotiate with the different sponsors for all of that. Our team name is "V6 Plus FAV Rohto-Z!" which has brand names in it, but we had to decide on whether to include brand names at all, or to which extent. This is difficult to do when you are running your own team, but even harder when you include players from other teams and you don't want to make them feel slighted or disrespected, and you need to negotiate with their sponsors.
We had a lot of conflict around whether we should try to build our own team, or work hard to fulfill sako and Ryusei's request to bring on external sponsored players to shoot for the win. sako and Ryusei were both in the previous SFL season and other teams were reaching out asking them to join their team, and I'm sure that if we didn't make a team they would have joined some other team. If they did that though, the FAV Gaming team name would be delegated under some other team, but we really wanted FAV Gaming to take part in SFL so we decided to build our own team. Tokido and Bon-chan were both two candidates that sako and Ryusei really wanted to join our team, so they were both super happy when we were able to confirm that they could join the team. Also, both Tokido and Bon-chan were happy because they think the team could win it all.
5.1.3 About FAV Gaming
When we first started with e-Sports and player management we were just a single group but as our scale grew and the company started to be more interested in e-Sports, we became an independently operating division. From March 2020 we started to run "FAV Cup Sponsored by v6 Plus" tournaments. While there are popular shows that gather up influences and the like, we thought it was important for e-Sports and the community to host large open tournaments to find out who is the strongest in the community. We run events like that to broaden exposure for our team, but also to help grow the entire community and market for e-Sports. On top of giving sako and Ryusei a monthly salary, we handle negotiation for them, management, providing a practice environment and equipment, as well as other support. One of the strengths of our team is that havae a media organization that creates opportunities for media and events.
We went to a lot of effort and difficulty to assemble this team for the SFL and our goal is to win. We think all the teams are looking at us, and we think our players are great at adapting and developing strategies. We think our team is strong enough that the players on our team are asking themselves about who would be able to beat them? At FAV Gaming our goal is to be the #1 team in Japan. There are lots of ways to evaluate how one could be #1, but right now e-Sports is a hot word and getting more known. We want to develop domestic e-Sports further and we want FAV Gaming to be at the top of people's minds when they talk about which teams are the best. While Japan is said to have been late to the e-Sports game, we also want our teams to shine internationally. Just like in physical sports athletes need to be able to perform at their peak, and while we don't know all the answers and there is a lot more to learn, we are working with different sorts of ways to collect data and do analysis to help support the best ways to train and get peak performance.
5.1.4 e-Sports from a Business Perspective
While we are thinking about becoming great on the global scale, we also want to stay connected to the local scene. KADOKAWA established a large cultural multi-purpose center in Tokorozawa in Saitama-ken. There are teams in the SFL from different locations, and with the home and away system that's really fun. If you watch an Urawa Reds Soccer game in Saitama, that's super exciting, right? We think e-Sports should also be more locally rooted so we're planning to builds things out from our Tokorozawa center. We'd also like to hold workshops for high school kids. We thought about making a high school team but there are a lot of problems to deal with there, like making sure that everyone has a PC, everyone has good internet connections and so on. So we're thinking of gathering high school students at Tokorozawa and having pros teach them there. Similar to how when people think of Shizuoka they think of strong high school and pro players, we want Tokorozawa to be the same for e-Sports. We think the expectation of e-Sports is very high with kids now, so we need to think of a way to deliver on that.
Right now the e-Sports marketplace is quite small in Japan, and there isn't a lot of money out there. I think it is tough for any company that want to break into e-Sports, and we don't have any examples of successful companies in it yet. We say it is B to C, but can you monetize the consumer in the B to C equation? Once you find that point, you can start to say that e-Sports is a business. For any business you have to first start with "what do the customers want?" What can you do in that space with e-Sports? It will be important for e-Sports as a business to develop and deliver on that point.
5.1.5 Entering into e-Sports
What I would like to impart to people interested in or thinking about getting into e-Sports is that you need to have passion for it. The market is still small, even though the word is pretty big, the reality of business hasn't caught up to it. You really need to have passion for the scene, the players, the IP, and the competition if you want to do it.
5.2 Good 8 Squad
Good 8 Squad Inc.
Good 8 Squad is a company that does player management, encourages expansion of e-Sports, and aims to run a top-flight team that can compete at the global level. They currently have two SFV players who participate in domestic and international tournaments.
Interview Subject: Representative Director Matsubayashi Yuta Team Name Good 8 Squad Team Members Gachi-kun, Kawano, Pugera, Kichipa
5.2.1 Why did you enter into SFL?
The owner of our company is a fan of gaming, and in 2017 I was introduced to Gachi-kun by an acquaintance, and we started to support him in his travels around the CPT with money, scheduling support, and so on. It started out as just a hobby, but then we got into the e-Sports business. Then in July 2018 we founded "Good 8 Squad" and in May 2021 we signed Kawano, but we never made a big public entrance into e-Sports. From the fan's point of view they were like "what is this company?" When Capcom approached us about entering into the SFL though, we thought that would be a great opportunity for our players to appear in so we grabbed it. Actually, within the team we were really debating over whether we should make a team or not, but it would be a great opportunity for our company to show up in a large way, and while it is a lot of work, we thought it would be a lot of fun. It is also being streamed on a large platform and is a great chance for our sponsors to get exposure too. Since we already have Kawano and Gachi-kun on our team and they are well known in Street Fighter, if Capcom continues this team based SFL, then we could get in early and get off to a great running start, so we accepted.
5.2.2 Thoughts about SFL
Once we decided to join our biggest problem was how to build our team. The teams are each 4 players, but we only have Gachi-kun and Kawano on our team. Should we pick up people in the draft or sign free-agents before that? If we take a free agent rental, the chances are high that they would only be with us for 2021. We also thought our team branding would be important. We also thought that if we told our sponsors that we would pick up two strong players, but only for the limited time of the SFL it wouldn't really contribute to the team spirit.
On the other hand, Gachi-kun and Kawano are both young players who joined our team early on before they were super well-known, and came into their strength with our team. We thought our team had the branding of young players and fresh faces, and we wanted to continue that theme. Pugera, who had just become a free agent at the time we solidified our team concept, was available so we reached out to him. We shared our team vision with him and he was excited about it and wanted to join. The other rental agent we picked up is Kichipa. He came recommended from his management company, and when we looked at his past performances we really liked him. Kichpa uses two grappler characters, Zangief and Abigail, and is a real wild card in tournaments. We thought he would play a key role on our team. They are both big body characters with high damage output, and when complementing the characters that Pugera, Kawano, and Gachi-kun play we think that makes an intimidating line up that other teams aren't going to want to face. Because he was in the previous SFL with the ban rule, he also has developed both of these character to a high level of play.
5.2.3 About your company
While we now have our own team in SFL, that doesn't mean there are big changes to how we treat our players. Each of the players and streamers that are on our team get a monthly salary. We also provide necessary equipment for games and streaming. We also edit the videos that our players make and upload them to YouTube. We think videos are becoming more important, and for players that want to focus on that area we brainstorm ideas with them for new topics/events/plans and do the planning to bring those to reality. We haven't yet made concrete plans but we also want to form a gaming house.
We're a small company so we don't have big divisions in responsibility across teams or departments, each person is independently in control of their own work. Of course we have different managers for each of the players, but the entire company supports each player's efforts. For example, we don't have a meeting with everyone in a division (fighting game or FPS or whatever) but have regular meetings with each player and share that out with the whole company. Even if players are in the same division, the way they think and things they do are different, and there are some things that might be hard to talk about with your teammate, so we hold individual meetings to try to reduce the stress that people feel.
Even though we are a small company, we have lots of pro gamers or ex-pro gamers in the company and we think we have a very good environment to understand the thoughts and feelings of pro gamers. We put together career plans for each of our players. It's rare for players to actually think about "What do you want to do in the future?" and other concrete things like that. Of course, e-Sports is still a young field, and we don't really know how things will look in the future. However we don't want our connection to players to stop after our contract ends, and want to think about after support for people after they are done with competition. So that is why we ask about what players want to do in the future, and try to make goals and work towards that with them.
Even though team play hasn't yet started, we are seeing some positive benefits. Even though Kawano and Gachi-kun are sponsored by the same team, in the end Street Fighter is an individual game, and so they didn't really have the sense of being on the same team, and might have seen each other as rivals. But now that they are on the same team there has been a bit change. On the first day of the INTEL World Open Tokyo Gachi-kun and Pugera were #1 and #2. I'm sure that Kawano was very frustrated at not doing well there, and took that as motivation when he won the TOPANGA Championship. He was so emotional that he cried when he won, and I was overcome with emotion and cried myself. It's unusual to see so much emotion from him. This was down to the hard work that each person put in as teammates, and helped each of the teammates grow stronger.
I think fans can understand when the players put in this much effort how much it means to them. I think it is great when you have fans that can cry along with the players. When Kawano won the 3rd TOPANGA Championship, his opponent was Higuchi, and Momochi, the owner of the team that Higuchi is on had a lot of comments like "He's a good kid", and "You can cry". We hope that we've put together a team for SFL that fans can get that emotional about.
In the future we'd like to focus on finding and developing young talent that can fight at a world class level. We initially started this company because we loved the competitive scene, but we signed Kawano and Gachi-kun and saw that they were able to get to a world-class level under our management. We've just really started out activities recently and don't have many actual results to show, but we are looking at running a large tournament for all the players that were not able to join SFL. Gachi-kun and Kawano have gotten to the level where they are asked to join media programs and we've developed good career plans for them. However fighting games have a long history and people are always watching the storied veteran players, and there aren't many chances for young players to become famous. We'd like to run events like tournaments where young players can get the spotlight and create places for young players to develop.
5.2.4 e-Sports from a Business perspective
Our sponsors were happy to hear that we would join SFL, as were Red Bull and Level Infinity for Gachi-kun, and HITBOX for Kawano. When we reached out to Level Infinity about Gachi-kun's involvement, we're grateful that they also decided to sponsor us. The sponsors that we work with are obviously Gaming PC and accessory related, and we are also approaching business that are not directly related to e-Sports. We are interested in companies that want to support our vision of developing young talent and who see the merits of our vision. When we think of e-Sports as a business, you can't just live off of players that are strong. With pro soccer or baseball, players that are very good naturally become more famous, but that isn't the case of e-Sports. It's important for e-Sports in Japan that you have a lot of twitter followers, or many subscribers on YouTube, or a lot of influencer power. No matter how good the results you have in tournaments, if you don't have good communication capability it won't feel like that alone has much value. For your sponsors, just winning titles doesn't help them unless you are also able to expand the influence of their products or services. So you need to work on communication through twitter, YouTube, or other sorts of ways to make a good contribution. Of course the team side works on marketing, but that is very difficult if the player also does not help. There are players that would prioritize practice over this kind of activity or have a bad attitude around it. You really need to have trust with the players for this to work well. To build trust with the players you need to not just praise them on their work in tournaments, but also look at their twitter, appreciate the good things they do there, and understand the game that they play. We think the trust between the management company and the player is the most important relationship in e-Sports.
5.2.5 Entering into e-Sports
If you are a person or company interested in getting into e-Sports, don't just think about your investment but it is mandatory that you also play the games. You also need to watch streams and tournaments to understand the game. There are also existing communities for these games, so you should also enter the community and understand the players and fans. Online gaming is really active now, so if you play online you might run into pros there, and you can connect with them on Social Networks and live streams as well. A few years ago there was a boom and people thought it would be the year of e-Sports but even now it's not a place that you can bet a business on. There are people that enter without understanding the environment and their contracts aren't good. If you understand the scene and the pros in it you can avoid cases like that. If you don't understand the game you won't know how to support the players, and you end up pushing that burden onto them and that isn't good. If you can deeply understand the game, that will help players to open their hearts to you, and is an indispensable for anyone that wants to get involved in e-Sports.
5.3 Saishunkan Systems
Corporate Group Saishunkan Pharmaceuticals corporate philosophy is "We chase after our customers' satisfaction with excellent products and excellent service, so that we can have an eternal relationship together." This is the foundation of our customers, and we start from the viewpoint of customers to ensure a high repeat rate and retention. Saishunkan Systems takes all of the knowledge and experience we've gained from this through all of our companies and offer it to our clients.
Interview Subject: Saishunkan Systems Representative Director Nishikawa Masaaki Team Name Saishunkan Sol Kumamoto Team Members Nemo / NISHIKIN / Yanai / Shuto
5.3.1 About our company
We are a group of three brothers running sibling companies, starting with Kyushyu Security Securities Inc. run by my older brother. We have three separate Presidents, but our start was a base in Kumamoto. Next was Saishunkan Pharmaceuticals that started selling Domohorn Wrinkle skin cream, with me as the President of that company. Then we added a third company in 2013 that does system integration focusing on security, mail order, CRM systems, and the like. My younger brother runs Sakura Cross Hospital. We all run different businesses, but we are all focused on developing the local region of Kumamoto. When I presented the idea of an e-Sports team to President Nishikawa Naoki he thought it sounded interesting, so we did it. So all the companies were in on it, but we had to decide what company name to put on the team. We went with Saishunkan Systems since that has national recognition, and it has the closest relationship to e-Sports. So while the name just says Saishunkan systems, in actuality we have three companies in Kumamoto that are supporting the entire effort.
We actually also started with J-league soccer team "Roasso Kumamoto", Pro Basketball team "Kuamamoto Voltaires", and the independent pro baseball Kyushu Asia league "The Salamanders from the Country of Fire" team. We got into support a lot of local teams. We had a good experience with these teams, and thought on a positive note that as e-Sports is becoming big globally we also want to show that Kumamoto is a great place for that. We were involved with the Japanese e-Sports association before JeSU was around, and knew about Street Fighter from that. We were also involved as sponsors when Capcom came through Kumamoto two times with their Rookie Caravan, we went to the Tokyo Game Show and saw the Asia Premiere there and saw with our own eyes the excitement and passion there. So when we were asked about Street Fighter League we thought there is a lot of opportunity there for us to send a team from Kumamoto so we accepted.
5.3.2 Why did you join the SFL?
This SFL is a team event, but e-Sports itself is an individual game. We also actually own a badminton team, and that is very similar. We've also supported e-Sports players in the past that are local to Kumamoto, and seen them advance to the Asia region level. We have an office in Kumamoto and once a month we hold small e-Sports tournaments there to advance e-Sports in the area. We do many things to support and accelerates e-Sports locally, but it isn't all just about the money that we spend. Of course, expenditures that help Kumamoto and make a real contribution are good, but you have to think about the bottom line, and it isn't sustainable in the long term as a company to just spend money.
In e-Sports, the content is the prime focus, and the IP holder is therefor the strongest actor in that relationship, and unlike physical sports if you want to expand the audience / funnel / reach, you need to think of different ways to do that. Internally to the company we debated about how we think you need to give normal people a chance to interact and play the titles in e-Sports, but now with Corona we don't have things like large events or festivals where that is possible. Why are we always focusing so much on the Kumamoto area? Well, as we talked about before all our companies starting with the Security company got their start in Kumamoto and that is where a lot of clients, customers, and partner companies are. Through our work we can improve Kumamoto and that rising tide will raise up our companies as well. If we never had the customers for our security company, we would never had built our pharmaceutical company, or Sakura Cross Hospital, so everything we do starts from that base.
After the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake we felt that way even more strongly. We can't just say that, we need to back it up with action. So we really want to pay back and make a contribution to Kumamoto. Just like our badminton team "Kumamoto Saishunkan Pharmaceutical Badminton Club" we put the Kumamoto in the "Saishunkan Sol Kumamoto" in the team name to put our money where our mouth is. Of course we've supported Capcom in the past, but putting our own team together we didn't know anything about how to do that and it was a lot of work. We reach out to people that we know that have teams, and talked with people at the Japan e-Sports association, and are really trying to figure those things out.
5.3.3 Thoughts about the SFL
We were involved with supporting SFL previously, and when we heard about Capcom moving to a team owner system we supported that as well. So we were excited to join to help promote Kumamoto, but if we wouldn't be able to get players from Kumamoto itself, we really wanted to build a team that had players from the Kyushu region. Unfortunately we weren't able to do that this time. Other teams probably looked at how to build a team that could win, but our starting point was different and we are really looking at how we can develop Kumamoto. When we talked with Nemo about this concept, he was really excited by it. We also agreed a lot on how we would like to shape the future of e-Sports with Nemo, and he was excited about appearing in e-Sports events in Kumamoto. We are lucky to have found a partner like Nemo who can help us promote e-Sports in Kumamoto.
We actually started an e-Sports team in 2017 "Le Gaime Kumamoto", but we weren't close to Street Fighter. So it was difficult for us to do recruiting and trying to build a team. When we asked Nemo about who to add to the team he said that he had often been paired with Shuto in team events, so we reached out to him. We then intentionally didn't add two more players. We wanted to pick up a young player that fought through all the qualifications to get to the try-outs. Player management was difficult for us as well, but we were able to get help from Nemo's management company, "Well Played Rizest". Of course we want to have a strong team that can win, but that's not all; we also want our players to have some connection to Kumamoto and be able to make contributions that help the area. So we'd like to get young players that Nemo can help rise up and with great effort, and make a team with a good team spirit and feeling. Because the team's feeling is also a reflection of the company owner. We can't just leave all of that up to the players though, so as the owner we hold weekly practice sessions and have Nemo give feedback to the players. Of course we do that to talk about strategy for league play, but we also want to foster a team spirit feeling that way. You just don't look at players as strong or not, you also have to think about their relationships with other players, check their social media, and evaluate their character as well. We also are looking forward to players positively participating in events in Kumamoto, and both the competitive side of things and their personality is also important. Of course it is important for e-Sports to succeed as a business to improve sales, but we also have to polish our companies and people and how we use games to realize that growth, and putting a team together with that in mind is important as well.
5.3.4 e-Sports from a Business Perspective
Honestly speaking from a business perspective, there isn't much merit to taking part in SFL if you don't have something that you can sell. For the products that our companies sell, there is almost no benefit. However, the company "Saishunkan" has an image as an old-fashioned cosmetics manufacturer, and for a company like that to jump into e-Sports I think is surprising and can get us some recognition. Within Kumamoto people that know about e-Sports are excited, and we've been able to get some meetings with other companies about sponsorship opportunities. We also hope that we can continue some of the work with people that have been involved in the future as well. From a recruiting perspective we've also had people join the company that are interested in e-Sports related work. While things are switching to Online with Corona, we've held some local events offline periodically. We want to hold events that anyone can join, you just have to enjoy it, so we don't restrict entry. That helps increase the number of people interested in e-Sports and increase excitement in Kumamoto. We also want to make content of what we have learned so that other companies in Kumamoto that get interested in running events have documentation and an example case of what they can do. We want to spread out our know-how, rent out the equipment that we've purchased, make sure that lots of people are having fun, and then think about how to monetize things later.
We also started a Sports division at our three companies. Like we said before, we have a badminton team, and sponsor basketball, soccer, and baseball teams, so now we have a division looking at how we can monetize those operations. Withing that, all told we have 6 people working on e-Sports, from people in the company, our worked with Well Played Rizest, e-Sports advisors in Kumamoto, and MC and other people that we have worked with. Of course we would like for our team to do well, but that's not the only thing we are looking at. We have meetings with Nemo about what else we can do. With the 5th anniversary of the Kumamoto Earthquake coming up in June, we hope that we can have some good battles, and show the world good things from Kumamoto.
5.3.5 Entering into e-Sports
Right now it is difficult to say that you can expect profits in e-Sports. I don't think that Capcom or other IP holders want to have clients and teams come and go like it's a revolving door. We think that you need to build an environment in e-Sports where you can do things long-term. We need to think about how we can build win-win scenarios with the IP holders. We are just getting started with this ourselves and have made many mistakes, but if I was giving advice to someone that wants to get into running a team, if you want to get results immediately that is going to lead to failure with a high likelihood. I think it's important to work with people that believe in e-Sports and start off by running small scale events locally. You also need to communicate with the IP and content rights holders and cooperate with them. You aren't the main focus, the entire eco-system is what is important and if that improves it will be good for everyone.
5.4 Sun-Gence Inc.
We are like the Sun in Japan's e-Sports scene. If you have a goal, you should face it and strive to achieve it. We founded our company with that mindset. I want to become a pro! I want to beat a pro team! I want to be a shining star of gaming! We want to grant the wishes of even just one person with that sort of conviction. We want to emotionally move our fans and followers. We will take on the challenge of doing things that people say are impossible for Japanese e-Sports. https://sun-genco.co.jp/
Interview Subject: Sun-Gence President Umesaki Nobuyuki Team Name: Komyufa DetonationN Team Members Itabashi Zangief / Nauman / Takeuchi John / Tachikawa
5.4.1 Why did you join the SFL?
I thought that during Corona we needed to make venues for our Street Fighter players to have appearances, and if they would be in it anyway, it would be best if we made our own team. Capcom also talked about doing local based development, and since we have a sponsorship with Chubu Telecommunications, I thought it would make sense for us to have Nagoya as our base of operations. However, our players are in Tokyo, and we have a lot of sponsors and clients in Tokyo as well. There is fierce competition for e-Sports players in Tokyo, and it would make sense to have long-term relationships with Tokyo clients. It's like with sports, during Corona if their ticket sales go down, teams' income goes down as well. But when I looked at different data, sports teams' sponsor's revenue didn't decline. I think that's amazing. When you have local teams and people that support them, the team can partner with local business and you have to help them improve their sales. I think it's good for teams to have long term partners that can help them grow the e-Sports scene for a more stable team. Building a local fanbase is a great benefit to e-Sports teams and is a merit for us.
e-Sports is a big keyword with the youth now, and even businesses have heard of it. I thought we couldn't pass up this timing. If the fire is striking now, I thought we should let it burst out nationwide and join SFL. We also didn't have any barriers preventing our entry into SFL. Detonation Gaming has been around for a long time and we know how to put together and run teams, as well as get sponsors. We've been doing this for 10 years and so knew where to start. There are new teams getting started here in SFL based in Tokyo, and they will have to deal with the competition for sponsors and fans. That's one of the qualities of this league, so teams shouldn't have any regrets about that. We see the existence of other teams as rivals and a good impetus for improvement.
5.4.2 Thoughts about the SFL
I'm super happy that SFL exists as a venue that our Street Fighter players can appear in. I'm also happy for the CPT that was held last year, but with the rule changes that was held online, and the number of tournaments people could join really decreased. So I'm happy for the opportunity for players to appear and show up for the fan base. The way that our players reacted to the Corona situation was clearly different based on the player's age. Itabashi Zangief uses large body wrestler style character Abigail and Zangief, and his personality is that he likes stability so he actually was quite worried (lol). So he kept asking me things like "Is the company going to be ok?" and stuff. The younger players on the other hand, weren't as concerned about it though. It wasn't that they were irresponsible, they could see that team activity and sales were continuing to increase, and they talked about how they hoped the company was doing ok.
For our SFL team, we were going to build around our two Street Fighter players Itazan and Nauman, and I thought we would use rental free agents for the other two spots. However Street Fighter League isn't going to end in just a year, so I wanted to choose members that we could work with for a long time. Just around that time, Takeuchi John's contract with his team ended, so he became available. He's around the same age as Nauman, so I thought we could build around Itazan with him and Nauman as two young players. Once I started thinking about young players, I thought there was no other choice by Tachikawa. Originally he was part of our team, he's the same age as Nauman and Takeuchi John, and with this composition we have old man Itazan as the Master (lol) leading the young students as our team concept.
5.4.3 About our company
I'll talk about how our company compensates players. For fighting game players, we hand over 100% of tournament winnings to the player. My image of fighting game players is that they always lived off of their tournament winnings, and I didn't want to interrupt that history. "Everything that you win is yours." On top of that we give a monthly salary that can cover a bit over daily living expenses. The standards for our players is that they make contributions to the team. First of all that means winning in tournaments. Winning a tournament is the best kind of promotion that we can get for our team. For example when Nauman won EVO Japan 2020, he also got a nice salary increase. Itazan put in a lot of work on the CPT and consistently had a high results, and also worked really hard appearing in team events and other things, so he got a nice yearly salary increase as well. That kind of system helps support player's motivation.
Otherwise we don't have a lot of direct input on what players should do. We do ask that they stream. Anyway, Nauman streams every day on his own even if we don't say anything so it isn't like we have to push much there (lol). During the CPT and other long events, we do say that there is a lower limit that we would at least like them to stream.
I talked about a theme of our team on raising and developing new players, and we have lots of other teams, but speaking honestly there are lots of established and old players now and it is difficult for new players to join the scene. I think Street Fighter is relatively a good place for younger players, but even then veterans are still overpowering. One of the reasons we are excited with the local based SFL this year is because we want to go to high school and universities to help develop and find new talent there. While we're here to support young players, another thing that I tell people is to talk directly to me. I tell people that a lot, and we aim to have a good company environment. Of course there are individual managers for each player, but having information filter through them, or people thinking that "Umesaki is a busy guy so I can't talk to him" or that they really would like an increase in salary but it's hard to bring that up, these kinds of things build walls between us. So I talk to our players directly to try to reduce those barriers. It might be a bad sign for the CEO to be so hands on and deep in the details though (lol). But that does help reduce barriers between the players and myself.
5.4.4 E-Sports from a Business Perspective
Going back to the SFL, when we said that Detonation Gaming would have a home base in Nagoya, we heard from a lot of fans about "Why Nagoya?" (lol). The response from business in Nagoya was great though. The really thought it was great that a well established team like DNG was putting down a base there. We chose Nagoya because we have lots of examples of doing things in Nagoya, starting with the Cosplay Summit. Also, we have a lot of players on DNG whose home town is Nagoya. Nauman's from Nagoya. The 2006 Asia Tournament was also where e-Sports in Japan first got real recognition on a world stage. Everyone says that Japan got into e-Sports late, but that was a chance for us to show how far Japan has come. It's a bit off for me to say this, but I think that we were pioneers in Japanese e-Sports and accelerating the market, and that's why I'd like to make Nagoya a base of operations.
Japan still has a gap to the rest of the world even with it's fast growth. Particularly there is a Galapagos of games that we play here and I think there are real weak points for the Japan scene in some games. This is also my personal opinion but looking at streaming culture, from where we started with Nico Nico Douga and moving on to the competitive scene, Japan is one or two, no even three!, steps behind. I think the best way to change this is to start with changing how younger people think.
From a business perspective I think we have no option but to grow the market for Japanese e-Sports. For example, doing something with manga or anime, or other things that kids read. There has always been hesitation for adults to say out loud that they like it. It's the same with games. But as 10 or 20 years pass and the generation changes the number of people that criticised these things decreases. And kids that grew up enjoying anime, manga, and games will think that a culture of e-Sports is assumed and obvious. That's why I believe that in 10 or 20 years e-Sports will be as big as soccer of baseball now, or maybe even bigger. Because we all love games. lol.
Actually, young people know a lot about e-Sports. For example, middle school kids who don't know about e-Sports do actually play the games that e-Sports use, so that's why I think it will become common in the future. My nephew really plays a lot of games, and when I see him he even says "Uncle, I'm doing e-Sports!" lol.
5.4.5 Getting into e-Sports
For SFL this year of course all the players are excited to get into it, but relatively speaking many of the teams have a high average age. These people have a lot of accomplishments. On DNG, we have Itazan leading a cadre of young bucks and I look forward to them defeating people like Daigo and Tokido on the big stage. I think that will really motivate them, and get people excited to cheer for us. I really hope our team can work hard to show you that kind of action.
I'd like to let Capcom know that I understand how hard it is to host events like this online in the middle of Corona. I feel it's important for people that don't know about e-Sports to see how passionate we are and the excitement of our events and not just online stuff only in order to entice them. So to the extend possible, please plan with that in mind. For people or businesses that want to get into e-Sports, I'd like to warn you not to try to do anything half-hearted. You might have heard that e-Sports is popular and think you might be able to make some money, but I'm telling you that there isn't money money in it at all. Not only is this just limited to games, if you look at the financials of soccer teams I'm sure you will see it is the same. In the end you have to do it because you love the game, you love the team, you want to make it great for the fans. If you still say that you are interested, I'll tell you to first start with playing the game. I myself started out by getting close to the level of representing Japan in gaming, so I understand the joy and the misery of it. You can have any kind of motivation, like "I am of fan of this player and want to support them", "I want this player to show everyone how cool they are", "I want players to be able to live just off of gaming", or "I want to work with this player on their second career after they quit playing". I was people who have a real passion for the scene to join.
Shinobism was founded in November 2015 by EVO and Capcom Cup winner World Class Fighting game player Momochi and Japan's first female pro-gamer Chocoblanka. With a slogan of "The bridge that connects 'people' and 'games'", Shinobism runs a gaming team, hosts events, does event planning, and works in the space that involves people and games. https://shinobism.com/team
Interview Subject: Momochi Team Name: Shinobism Gaming Team Members: Momochi / Fujimura / Higuchi / Ohtani
5.5.1 Why did you enter SFL?
We had taken part in the previous SFL seasons, and when Capcom reached out to us we decided to join. In the past we had a team leader, and then took part in the draft process to build out the team, but it was a bit of a shame because those teams were one-time-only things. We thought we could put together a great team of our own this time and were happy to join. Since businesses are team owners this time, I think it really makes more of a team feeling. It's also great that we are able to take part as a full Shinobism team since we have so many Street Fighter players. I've always thought this is the kind of style that SFL should have been, so I was unequivocal in accepting. It's also a great merit that this provides a venue for our players to shine domestically. Particularly since for Pro fighting game players having good results in overseas tournaments is a big part of our exposure, and during Corona those tournaments have all but disappeared. It's a boon to Shinobism that we have a domestic event that is of such visibility and importance for our players to get exposure.
5.5.2 This is a great chance for your players to make their marks
When we started talking about joining, we had 8 potential team members who could be on the team, but due to timing constraints, only 6 were up for consideration. While we were super excited to make a team, we had the unenviable task of deciding who to leave out. Back when we were in the previous SFL and I led a team, I selected Shinobism players Fujimura, Johnny, and Haitani. This time I chose Fujimura, Ohtani, and Higuchi, and one of the reasons for that was to give exposure to players of different generations. Specifically, Ohtani and Higuchi are young players, and I thought this would be a good chance for them. Of course, Higuchi also did very well in the 3rd TOPANGA Championship, and of the young players is very strong, which also played a factor. Higuchi really wants to prove his worth and do well, and I was sure that if we didn't select him he would be picked up by some other team in the SFL. So he was super excited to join on Shinobism's SFL team and said he would give all of his effort to do well.
As for Ohtani, he's quite close to Johnny in terms of age and strength, so he might have thought that maybe he wouldn't be chosen. So when I asked him he was half surprised and half ecstatic. Fujimura is a veteran on the team, and a core pillar so he was happy to do whatever was necessary for the team to succeed.
5.5.3 Thoughts about the SFL
I thought this for the 2020 SFL season with our team as well, but team Shinobism has the longest history in SFL and we have the best teamwork of all the teams, and I wanted to continue and build on that this time. Of course that means having good results, but also we want to put on a good show for the fans that support Shinobism, and those that support individual players too. This time I'm expecting Fujimura to be the core of our mental and physical strength, so if he can concentrate on that I'll be happy.
Higuchi unfortunately wasn't able to win the 3rd TOPANGA Championship, but immediately after that he told me that he would like concentrate on the SFL and get his revenge there. He's hungry to win, and I hope that he can use that motivation in our matches. Ohtani's in a difficult spot (lol). He's a noncommittal easy-go-lucky player but that's a bit of a different look for our team, and I think it's important for us. I also look forward to seeing how he will handle the pressure of these matches on his way to a Pro level. As for myself, I'm leaving the mental aspect of the game to Fujimura, so I just want to focus on playing the game, and make contributions to the team that way.
One of the other things that we would like to do through SFL this year is build up a connection with our local area. So far Shinobism has not done much there, and I hope we can gain experience in that domain through SFL. I also hope that we can use SFL to get more interest from other sponsors. Up to now, surprisingly Shinobims has sponsors that are not related to gaming, so I'd like to expand the field that we operate in for sponsorship.
When we announced that Shinobism was taking part in SFL, we had a lot of fans tell us that they were very happy about that. We also heard from our sponsors that they are looking forward to SFL. In 2021 we partnered with Megane Super (Glasses Supermarket) but due to Corona we really just haven't had many places for our players to get visibility. So we're happy that SFL can provide us a venue for that. We also think that it takes a while for sponsors to get used to e-Sports and we're appreciative of our sponsors so far, and plan to have long-term relationships with them. So we'd like to work hard to partner both with SFL and our sponsors for mutually beneficial relationships.
5.5.4 About our company
So far our activity has centered around running events and managing our team. For example, since 2015 we've running open team events that anyone can join called "Tokyo Offline Party". During Corona we haven't been able to run offline events so about 3 or 4 times a year we run "Tokyo Online Party", and many people have enjoyed those. We also haven't limited ourselves to domestic events, and have run global events with team matches between Chinese or Korean teams and Japan because we think it is important to continue global communication.
We also do things like host invitational Street Fighter tournaments for people that don't play Street Fighter in order to reach audiences that normally wouldn't have a chance to see fighting games at all. We also help run tournaments for titles other than the ones that we are mainly involved in. We also think it is very important to develop the younger generation and intentionally concentrate on that.
As for player payment, we believe that all tournament earnings should go 100% to the player. Any prizes that we get from SFL will also go 100% to the players. Whether it's bad or good, Shinobism was started by us (Momochi and Chocoblanka) and so we want to make sure that can continue to have a supportive environment for our players. From the point of view of income, player activity, and player mentality, there were big changes with the onset of Corona. We had to put more of a focus on streaming, and each of our players needed to think of different ways to reinvent themselves under this environment. We used to have this view that practicing for tournaments and then going out and getting good placements was what being a Pro gamer was about, but it is very hard to make a living as a Pro gamer like that now. So since 2020 each of us has been grasping around trying to find out what we can do. And while you can certainly say that it has been a difficult time, within that we've had interesting results when each player changes how they think about things. While there may be players that return to the old ways once Corona has calmed down and we can go to international tournaments again, I also think there are many players that have found a new way to operate and will continue that.
I've shared with our players how I think we should act as a company. Even before Corona I asked players to stream or do other activities to get them closer to their fans, but now with Corona that becomes more of a main focus. So in that sense, it isn't like since Corona started Shinobism has been in a massive rush to try to change how we do things. While the range of activities that our players take part in has increased, I also hope that our players can always understand that as Pros their words and actions have weight and importance. Also, we're only able to do what we do at Shinobism because of the support from many different types of fans and partners. So please don't take that for granted and act with gratitude.
5.5.5 E-Sports from a business perspective
When e-Sports tries to capture business, I think it's important to deliberate about how much you should involve fans and spectators. Of course it is important to increase the number of players, and the number of people that buy and play the game and that should be the main focus. However, lately there have been more people that don't play the game but are fans of certain players, and thing things like "That player that I like plays this game, so it's good", so there are other types of ways for people to enjoy e-Sports. I think it is important for us to also capture this kind of player for Street Fighter and Fighting Games if we want to increase our market. I think that game makers and pro players have done a good job of making the game more enjoyable and approachable for beginner players.
What they have not yet done is work on ways to appeal to people who don't play games at all, but can become fans of certain players, similar to how many people spectate but do not play sports. That strata of demographic has not been developed at all yet, and so from a business perspective I think that is what we need to work on for the future. We need to pile up more and more people like that. We can try to build trust and confidence by running tournaments, or doing new types of streaming for fans, or streams to connect with new audiences. By doing things like that we are able to build up a fan base, and new relationships with businesses, like we did with Megane Super (Glasses Supermarket). It's easier for us to do our business in that environment. For example, when you want to advertise something, instead of just showing the advertisement instead we frame it as "This business supports our SFL, or tournament, or e-Sports or whatever, so let's support them." That builds a better PR cycle for everyone.
One example of new projects that Shinobism is doing is that we have done various collaborations with V-Tubers, and we ran a V-Tuber tournament. There are many fans of V-Tubers that don't know anything about Street Fighter and Fighting Games, so this is one way that we can appeal to them. We're actively thinking about ways that we can reach out to people outside our normal circle.
5.5.6 For people looking to get into e-Sports
What I want to impart to people looking to get into e-Sports is that first of all, you need to love games. Of course there are many business reasons to want to get into it as well. There are people that think that e-Sports is getting popular so if they enter they think they can make a lot of money, and if people like that enter the area it would be good for the industry as a whole by accelerating development. But if you don't really love games, then when you enter the business you might not have the will to continue long-term, or find that there is gap from what you imagined to what you can realize, or there can be many other obstacles.
Gamers have critical vision, and they can tell when you don't have a real love for games. If people think that you joined the industry even though you don't have a real love of games, it will be hard to get support from fans and users. You really need to have a good understanding and love of the games. For example if you don't really have a good understanding of the game, or want to all of a sudden run a team, or start a business, there are businesses like ours that you can partner with as one way to get into e-Sports.
So if that is your situation, please come and talk to Shinobism! (lol)
5.6 DouYu Japan
DouYu Japan Inc. operates "Mildom", a streaming platform on which anyone can stream PC, console, or mobile games easily. It isn't just a platform for content creators, we aim to be a platform for live e-Sports tournaments, and many other types of entertainment.
Interview Subject: DouYu Japan Inc. league manager Kiyomizu Keisuke Team Name: Mildom Beast (established 2020-04-03) Team Members: Daigo / Fuudo / YHC-Mochi / Moruto
5.6.1 About our company
DouYu Japan is a company that works on developing our live streaming platform. It was founded in August 2019, and focused on game streaming, but lately we've been expanding into non-gaming areas as well. Still, we're at about 70-80% of our streamers and users who focus on gaming. Since we started we've had good relationships with gaming companies, starting with Capcom, and have streamed many tournaments. We also support people running tournaments, have run tournaments on our own, and are looking to build communities with gamers. When we first started there were not many good examples of how we as a streaming platform should partner with e-Sports and we had to search for ways to do that ourselves. We've done so by partnering with many people, and over time have become a neutral party that connects up others. We think in we can provide value to viewers, publishers, the community that holds tournaments, and gaming teams by hosting tournaments. We're constantly thinking about how we can run a tournament that leaves everyone happy without inconveniencing anyone. Since there are almost no domestic examples of what we should do, we were heavily influenced by what people did overseas.
However, the environment that e-Sports grew up in overseas is different from what happened here, so if you just tried to do what worked overseas here you run into many problems. Since our parent company is the Chinese company DouYu, examples of what worked in China are often shared with us, but just because it worked in China doesn't mean it will work in Japan. We've actually tried many different things from overseas, but still need to keep experimenting. The gaming titles that are popular in Japan for e-Sports is very different from what is popular worldwide. Also, the number of people in Japan that are interested in e-Sports or want to get involved in it is small. In Japan, if you want to run a tournament, instead of trying to gather up pro gamers, you really need to work with V-Tubers, YouTubers, and streamers if you want to get good viewership numbers. Of course, that isn't the case for all titles, for example for Street Fighter you can focus on pro gamers, but I feel like there are few titles where that is the case.
5.6.2 With the Community
Our motto at Mildom is "with Community" - it's very important for us to build things with the community. That's important whether we're talking about competition between streamers, or whether we want to run a tournament, we're always thinking about the community. Even if there isn't a benefit to us, there are examples where if there is something that people want to do to stream on Mildom, we worked with them in a positive manner to do it.
At Mildom we like to have a representative for each major streamer, and create an environment where you can always talk with someone at Mildom. We don't just say "We're a streaming platform so do whatever you want with it!" but instead we spend our days getting close to streamers and thinking about what we can do to grow their viewership. Should we run an online event, or a campaign, and we try to come up with things that will match the streamer's play style and games. For example, if you want to run a tournament we will cooperate entirely with the streamer to run one as they envision it, we'll invite some guests, contact the game publisher, and support what is needed from the community side of things. That's what's great about "with Community".
We think that e-Sports content is very important at Mildom. It's the majority of the traffic at our parent company DouYu, and we have data showing that if you have lots of e-Sports traffic that is good for business. We're still at the point in Japan that we say that e-Sports day is still to come, but we think it is critical for us to grab that traffic as it goes. We think that there are many sleeping stars in Japan that can help us grow the platform into one that people will love for a long time. People who love fighting games on our platform have a higher retention rate than people from like, for example social games or other non e-Sports titles. We have a chance to get many more viewers from a tournament than we do with normal streams. In order to get great users, we have a real chance by putting on very good tournaments with the community, and e-Sports are very well suited to that.
Like I said before, Street Fighter has a very strong community. It's an important game where there are lots of strong Pro players in Japan that compete on the global level, and we'll do our best to support it in the future. We're taking part in the tournament this time as "Mildom Beast", and we think if we can grow within the Street Fighter community, or even in the larger e-Sports market, we think that would be great both for us and the community.
5.6.3 Thoughts about the SFL
Mildom has been supporting "Team Beast" since April 2020. Team Beast has an un-severable connection to the fighting game community. We support them so that these critical players and streamers will never have to leave fighting games. We aren't looking for short term business gain here. Of course we need to build some sort of sales off of this to sustain the business, but we're still in the phase where e-Sports is growing. We made our sponsorship contracts with them thinking about what things will be like in 5 or 10 years as we grow with them. Thinking of things that way, when Capcom contacted us we quickly agreed to join SFL because there are lots of merits for our company. We left the team composition up to Daigo and Fuudo. We thought it would be good for the team concept to align with what they want. Since they want to have good results in the tournament, we thought the best we could do was to support in them in what they needed for that. We've always done things in that way, for example for Daigo we give him monetary support to join tournaments, make his uniforms, and give support for running things for his community like "Beast Cup". We always take our player's opinions and thoughts as the most important things. Of course one of the biggest hopes we have is that people watch SFL on Mildom. We think one of our strengths is that we have lots of related content you can enjoy, and we hope you enjoy our platform and follow content creators on it.
5.6.4 e-Sports from a business perspective
I think it is a paradoxical way to say it but if you want to see e-Sports as a business I think you have to not think of e-Sports as a business for it to grow and become a business. To be more concrete, you have to think that things are good as they are without trying to force money out of e-Sports. It goes back to "with Community". You really have to build the community and streamers and viewers. It's important to think about how you can make money, but the way that Mildom as a platform will grow is by having people think things like "It's fun to run a tournament on Mildom" and stuff like that. e-Sports is now a well known term in society, so now we have to think about how we can increase the number of people that want to watch e-Sports. The big difference with physical sports is that a large portion of the viewers are either players or used to be players. We need to figure out what we can do to get people who haven't played the game to watch it, like how it is with Soccer or Baseball. Japan has always had a lot of game players, so much so that it used to be called the "Gaming Country". I think there are lots of e-Sports fans hiding under the surface still. If you can get users like that interested in tournaments and then other content creators, get them to realize how interesting e-Sports are, get coverage on SNS and mass media, that can expand the audience and you can monetize things from there.
Right now if Daigo talks about a tournament, he's really only going to reach his followers, who are either street fighter fans themselves or viewers. How will we be able to do PR to get outside of the usual target audience is a real topic recently. We'd like to do something like put real time player stats at the bottom of the stream or in a browser similar to the kinds of stats you can get in physical sports. It's a long term goal because you need help from the publishers and game creators for that, but if we can do that it will make for a better viewing experience. They've already done this in China and there is lots of interesting information around the screen. They have information about the teams, and league stats if it is a league game stats up until now. Right now you need to either go to the publisher's site or get that information from within the game. Getting that information right in front of users on a streaming platform would be a big change and we're looking at that for the medium to long term. We think a streaming platform like Mildom is different from television; TV is a one way broadcast but on a streaming platform you can have the viewers interact. What if for, example every 100 comments a player gets they get an in-game point, so that viewers can have some small influence on the outcome of tournaments or results. That would really increase viewer engagement and the entertainment aspect. You wouldn't do this for the top level tournaments of course, but community run ones. It would take a lot of work on the product development side though! (lol)
5.6.5 For people interested in getting into e-Sports
The main thing I want to say to people getting into e-Sports is that you really need to have a long term plan and not think that you can make money in the short term. You really have to reflect on what you want to get out of it. For us as a platform we have long term goals we are trying to accomplish. You can't just get into this without out plan. The community is very sensitive to that sort of thing.
More specifically, at a large scale there are 5 sectors of people involved in the scene: there are publishers, streaming platforms, people involved with teams, the media, and finally sponsors that support everything. If you want to get more specific there is software that supports streaming, but if you want to have an impact in business you stick to those larger 5 categories. You have to think about which of those sectors you will end up in, and how you monetize differs across the categories, so you really need to do that analysis before you get into the business. Even within those sectors in many of them you aren't likely to make money so you need to have medium to long term plans. Also it's really important that you love games because if not you won't be able to continue for long. There are also lots of people that have a real passion for growing the business so that is also an important part of your business.
Within the world of head to head fighting games TOPANGA manages the top of the top pro players and runs the most important tournaments. We manage people who are world class tournament winners, or winners of pro tours, and our goal is to make games a respected part of society. We support our players on Team Gyogun so that they can become an indispensable part of SFL. https://gyogun-official.com/
Interview Subject: Toyota Fuusuke Team Name: Gyogun Team Members: Mago / Machabo / Moke / Mizuha
5.7.1 What prompted you to start the company?
Before explaining about founding TOPANGA, let me first talk with you a bit about myself. I myself played a lot of fighting games as an elementary school student, and then for a while I wasn't able to play, but back when SF4 came up I was sucked back into that world by just how amazing it was. I did a lot of research on tactics on the internet, and entered tournaments.
When I was away from the fighting game world I was working part-time at a Mahjong parlour, and about a month after I started working there Daigo started to work there too. Daigo was taking a break from gaming just then, but as I got to know him I realized that he was a famous player. I thought it would be a real waste if there was such a world famous player near me but I didn't have a chance to see his greatness, so we started to go the arcade. At the time I had just started player SF4 so no matter who I'd play I'd lose in ignominious defeat, so I couldn't really understand just how good Daigo was by playing him. But when the person who beat me played Daigo he just demolished them. I really wanted to improve to the point that I could understand what this difference between us was, so I got completely absorbed in becoming better at SF4 myself. It took about a year for me to understand just how great Daigo was. And even then I still didn't beat Daigo. (lol)
At that time, I took part in the "GODSGARDEN" tournament that was held at Asegaya Loft A, and I thought "It would be great if these kinds of tournaments got more popular in Japan!" I had taken part in nationwide tournaments before, but the feeling of a tournament from a company is different, and there is just something about the feeling of the passion from an underground event, and I was really drawn in by that. This was still before Daigo went pro, but he was invited to a few overseas tournaments that I was able to go to with him. Back then in Japan people who played games weren't thought very highly of, but overseas game players were starting to get some of the respect that you see for physical sports players. When I saw how people looked at Daigo with respect, I thought that if I worked hard, I could make it that way in Japan as well, and I founded TOPANGA.
5.7.2 The road to building up a large company from zero
I founded the company in April of 2011. I had planned to do it earlier, but due to the shock from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake things were delayed. I didn't really have a plan for how to recover from that, but thought that I should at least start with founding the company and doing what I could do. I had planned to start with tournament running, but given the circumstances I thought a charity tournament would be good, so I held the "TOPANGA Charity Cup". Electricity supply in Tokyo was short at the time, so it would have been difficult to hold the tournament at a game center. I heard that there weren't limits on electricity usage in Chuubu (a region of Japan) so I contacted a game center in Shizuoka and they said I could hold it there. So I talked with Capcom and got approval, then held the charity tournament. I hadn't had any experience running tournaments before that, so I had to learn everything from scratch.
I had thought about streaming on the web before starting the company. But I didn't really have much in the way of equipment so I started "TOPANGA TV" with just a small web camera. At first we streamed on Saturday, but as there were more tournaments and the CPT, with players going out of the country and coming back in, I thought Wednesday would be the best day for it, so I changed to Wednesday where it still is. We also started "Kachitagari TV" about a year after "TOPANGA TV". Since I had just founded the company I was still the only employee, and all I had was time. If I just waited it wasn't like work was going to come to me, so I'd hold events and run TOPANGA TV. Nico Nico Douga saw this and asked if I could run a tournament and stream it on their live streaming platform, so that is how "TOPANGA League" got started. It started as a paid streaming event, and was successful, so I started to see how I could make money. By working on things that I and the viewers wanted to see I was able to run "TOPANGA WORLD LEAGUE".
Up until 2019 I would hire part time help or use temp staff for events, and I ran everything myself, but thinking about how e-Sports was growing, and how there were lots more things that I wanted to do beyond what I could accomplish on my own, I decided to take on a challenge and grow TOPANGA to the now 10 people that we have. I've been able to continue to maintain the stance that I started with, as a company that stands between the players and the game makers. For example, there is a huge number of players but they aren't able to all directly talk to Capcom. TOPANGA is able to talk to both sides, and come up with various proposals. If you get too close to either side you lose sight of the other, so I really have to work to keep a balance there. I also don't want to duplicate things that media companies or other large companies are doing even since I started. I think TOPANGA should focus on doing things that large companies can't in order to hype up the scene.
For example, holding events that impart the feeling of just how much fun games are to people, or events for people that want to become pros. I try to think about what things we can do outside of the CPT and SFL to support the scene and raise it up.
5.7.3 Why I made an e-Sports team
Currently TOPANGA is running an e-Sports team called "Gyogun" but I didn't plan on running a team when I started TOPANGA. At the time there weren't many teams run by companies then, I was the only staff, and I wanted to concentrate on the area that I knew well: fighting games. There weren't any team leagues like SFL then, and I still thought of fighting games as 1:1 affairs, so I just didn't have any image of them as a team. It was common for people to perform individually, and individually get their own sponsors based off of that. I think that kind of thinking changed from 2014 to 2015. Daigo and Tokido's activity really increased the number of eyes on fighting games, and lots of teams started to get founded around then. But young players would enter the team as kinds of interns, and it wasn't rare for the kind of support they would get to be inadequate. I thought that after Daigo and Tokido retired, we don't have the kind of environment that can bring up the next generation of players. Top pro players would go to 20 or so international events a year, while the young players would only go to 2 or 3. It just wasn't likely for a young player to be able to get enough points from local events to be able to make it into Capcom Cup.
It would be more like a miracle if a young player would be able to go to one of the overseas tournaments on the money that they've saved from a part time job and place well enough to leave a mark. It would be really tough for young players under that kind of circumstance to take over one the old guard of Daigo and Tokido retire. I thought that I could do something help these young players develop so I started a pro gaming team.
I thought if I was going to do that, I didn't want to do it just for fighting games, but for all sorts of games and try to build interest for gaming in general. That would be a new challenge for TOPANGA. If TOPANGA could get something going with a non-fighting game, and that picked up popularity, people from fighting games and that other game would both become more popular, and that would connect back to profits for TOPANGA.
Of course, if TOPANGA just jumps into some scene that it has no connection to people would probably have a bad reaction to that. While I have confidence and people believe in us for "Street Fighter", if I jumped to another title there's a negative chance of people thinking we're just trying to do the popular thing. I'd feel the same way about someone suddenly trying to get into fighting games. So when I made a team I thought I'd include people from various games and have events for those.
Recently, the singer Eir Aoi and Idol Totsuka Otoha joined Gyogun, and that's because from many years ago TOPANGA has been putting in effort in media related endeavors. When I formed the company in order to solidify our position I put a lot of effort into running large tournaments. But around 2017 when people starting saying things like "e-Sports are sports" I thought it would be good to start putting a lot of effort into a different direction from that. I thought it would be good if we could start doing things on terrestrial television. So from 2018 to 2019 I asked Tokido and worked with him to get many appearances on regular TV shows. He's a player that needs to reserve a lot of time for practice, and is a very important weapon for TOPANGA, so I felt bad about it, but I thought it was important to get out in front of ordinary people so they would know about our activities. Actually because of all his efforts people really got to know more about e-Sports, and Eir-san and Totsuka-san joined Gyogun, and I hope we can continue to work together in the future. Young people accept e-Sports, but older people still feel uneasy about it. TV is the best way to change their viewpoints. Now it is the age of internet advertising, but I think it's important to advertise and get on normal TV as well to appeal to people that don't know about us. As we let the older people in the world know about e-Sports it will come back around to the business, and that is an important role for TOPANGA now.
5.7.4 Thoughts about SFL
When Capcom talked to me about SFL, there was no reason not to join: TOPANGA always joins all the large tournaments. With the amount of effort that Capcom is putting into it and the potential to create intense interest in Street Fighter, there was no option for us not to join. There hasn't been a tournament that puts the spotlight on the team players and features them so much, so I really resonated with this. I started with the idea of making it possible for pro players to exist and so I'm fully supportive of ventures that build the foundation for pro players to succeed. The SFL has a tryout which is great for young players, the winners and runners-up get pro licenses, and it isn't just limited to Tokyo but also other areas, which increases the possibility for people to become pro players. This also connects to the SFL idea of becoming a regional based league, so I hope this continues in the future.
For TOPANGA I'd like to increase the number of players that we have and the number of games that we support. If we can accelerate and promote one genre, that will help the entire e-Sports business, and I think that's one way that I can contribute. The four people from Gyogun that are in SFL always put in a lot of hard work, so all I had to say to them was "keep on doing your best". Of course they should continue to excite people with their game play, but they should also do things outside of the game to garner interest and have an exciting presence. I hope that they can keep a positive outlook and work well with the people from other genres and help us develop and expand further.
5.7.5 e-Sports from a business perspective
I think the most important thing to keep in mind for e-Sports as a business is to push how interesting you can make things outside of the game itself. I'm aiming for something like Pro Wrestling. For soccer and baseball players, even if they don't give good interviews or do anything interesting outside of the game, if they are good at the game they can become super popular. But in our current situation, you can't just be good at games and think that things will work out due solely to that. If you look at SFL as one example, there isn't a single person on a team that doesn't do things like stream or make youtube videos, and you need to do something outside of your play to gain popularity. You need to have the capability to promote yourself in some way, which is an aspect that pro phsyical sports players don't need.
So how can you work on your showmanship to make things fun and exciting for an audience? It's important to not just go to a tournament, but to go and have stories that are interesting to people. Pro Wrestling has been doing that for a long time, and I think we should put effort into growing in a similar way. Of course, that isn't the only way to go. Capcom and people that tournaments and other people all have their own ideas on ways to go, and we're all trying to promote the popularity of possibilities of gaming and we should all keep doing that in our own ways. We will grow by letting people see how interesting we all are as people, and that's how I plan to continue moving forward.
I've felt this way since the founding of TOPANGA, that we've built a lot of stuff along the way, we've created a lot of our own specific culture, and even though it is hard to create new things, e-Sports is still a very new and young field. I think it's very hard to create new things, and I'm ecstatic that the people of TOPANGA are with me on the front lines trying to do new things and leave a mark on the field. I'd like to impart this to people interested in getting into the business: it's still an area that is under development, and it's a real joy to create something new, there's real value to be doing this work, and please join us to help develop and improve things in this exciting field.