There’s always a point in every competitive game’s life where it’s faced with the threat of death by any number of factors. Maybe another game is coming out soon. Maybe there isn’t much interest at the casual level anymore. Maybe the scene itself is toxic and broken. Who knows. All we know is that it’s there, somewhere; hiding in the corners of angry tweets and Reddit threads, casting shadows from the swamp of dubious interviews. For Street Fighter V to get through 2017, it’s going to have to tighten its red headband and combat boots because that threat is about to bust out a 75% combo and make a bad situation unrecoverable.
Yes, the FGC is insular and blah blah blah. Independent events and “growing a local scene” etc. etc. Let’s deal with what Yoshinori Ono said last year, though: Street Fighter V is supposed to be, or become, a major esport. The problem here is that all we really have is the CPT that’s even remotely “esports” about Street Fighter. Sure, there are the Red Bull and ESL events, but they basically play out like small tournaments with high production value. There aren’t any circuits out there that yield a true esports experience for players or fans. ESL’s King of the Hill events are cool and sort of have a hybrid feel to them, but they’re very small in scale and typically on at non-prime times. It’s as if Street Fighter is a bucket of Legos that don’t really fit together in terms of what Capcom has envisioned. Strike one.
All anyone needs to do is look to the botched launch that Street Fighter V suffered through to have an understanding of the state of casual interest with the flagship fighter. When you rush a title with massive hype so that it’s ready for your pro circuit, chances are you’re going to be leaving a ton of casual fans in the cold, and a good chunk of change on the table. As the DLC characters trickled in throughout last year, so did a small number of fans, but it’s nothing to write home about. The arrival of a cinematic story and fan-favorite fighter, Akuma, also helped out, but the following is still pretty weak. Even the new and highly interactive Savage Series only pulls in a couple hundred viewers a night. That’s not good, considering you can just go to a random amateur Overwatch stream and see much better numbers. Strike 2. In all honesty, this point could be a dagger in the heart of Street Fighter V in a few months. More on that in a second.
There will always be gripes within any gaming community regarding a game’s mechanics or patches or whatever. In fact, if you don’t see some degree of anger and passion, you’re probably not playing a very good competitive game. So there’s that. But what about when premier players are constantly bad-mouthing a game like it killed their families? Street Fighter V is not perfect by any means. Capcom has tried to casual-ify it into the ground, and the end result so far has been questionable at the very best. Many pros claim that it lacks depth at the highest levels of play, while newcomers still don’t have a platform to learn the basics of timings and frame data. People of all levels are calling Street Fighter V trash, even some people who are paid to play it. So pros are bored, and newcomers not only can’t learn, but then see the Twitter mudslinging and very defamatory interviews and discussions about the game they’re trying to break into? Good luck with that. Strike 3.
Bullets are already loaded, and a blind hand is reaching for two more rounds in Injustice 2 and Tekken 7. What hope does Street Fighter V have? Frosty Faustings and its predictable winner, NuckleDu (even if he didn’t win, just looking at the roster should give you at least three names that would probably end up walking with it)? The treadmill has to stop. Even event organizers openly joke about pools being a total snoozefest, and that the meat-and-potatoes of most tournaments is in the top eight. Is this the “premier” esports model that Capcom will be forced to settle for? If I was mildly optimistic about my favorite fighting game last month, I’m basically staring at my watch now as an esports and FGC consumer. I’m thinking there will be much better content available to us in the very near future.