We eSports Now? Capcom’s Sponsor Ban Introduces the FGC to Top-Down Governance

By on June 22, 2016 at 12:59 pm
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Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not reflect Shoryuken as a whole.

As SRK writer Sam “Trilby” Foxall reported recently, Capcom will “not allow the display of any products marketed towards adults” on their streams. The ban covers “alcohol, cigarettes [and] other products [Capcom] deem[s] inappropriate.” Fortunately, players who are sponsored by any producers of these kinds of products are still allowed to compete in Capcom Pro Tour tournaments.

Unfortunately, no one—as of yet—familiar with the inner workings of the Capcom Pro Tour decision makers can let us know what was discussed at the meeting where they decided on this ban. Was the decision made solely as a means to protect Capcom’s image, brand, products, and tournaments by making sure things like alcohol, tobacco, and pornography have no connection to Street Fighter V? Or was it also made as a way to introduce some form of oversight or governance of the fighting game community (FGC)?

Needless to say, the community’s response to this new rule varies depending upon who you ask. And from the sound of rumblings within the FGC, the big question that everyone wants an answer to is whether the ban is a good move for the FGC or if it is just a good move for Capcom.
pic `The problem is that the answer to that question will take time to present itself as the FGC begins to experience the short and long term impacts of Capcom’s ban. But, in the meantime, there are two ways the FGC can try to measure the ban’s impact: in terms of (1) image and (2) access. In other words, how does the ban affect these two important tenets of the FGC, and if the results aren’t great, what can be done about it?

Image

In terms of whether the ban helps or hurts the community’s image, it is best to separate the two different entities at issue: Capcom and the FGC itself.

From Capcom’s perspective, the ban does little to help the company’s image.

For starters, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) already advertises to consumers that in Street Fighter V, “female characters are depicted in low-cut, form-fitting outfits that display large amounts of cleavage and/or buttocks. Female characters’ breasts sometimes jiggle during character selection.” This was not language that Capcom sent to the ESRB to help promote the game, it is language that the ESRB crafted after spending some independent time playing Street Fighter V.

Anyone who has played the game knows exactly what the ESRB is referencing. David “Ultradavid” Graham pointed out a good example:

Furthermore, different sponsors the ban is aimed at, like The Steam Co. (an e-cigarette and vaping producer and supplier), have been sponsoring fighting game players for quite some time now, and there has not been any sort of violent or major outrage at Capcom in return. In fact, The Steam Co.’s tag on competitive fighting game streams was “TSC.” It takes a lot of work to get from a “TSC Street Fighter” Google search to the actual website for the The Steam Co. The way The Steam Co. represented itself on past streams was hardly anything that would lead an impressionable thirteen year-old to starting an e-cigarette habit.

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Mostly likely, it’s the Team YP issue that brought things to a tipping point. But, the website for Team YP in no way references its parent website. Somebody who is coming to a fighting game stream who does not already know where Team YP comes from isn’t going to make the connection because of a tag at a fighting game tournament. Arguably, Capcom only exacerbated the problem it wanted to curtail by implementing the rule, and now Team YP is in the spotlight when it really wasn’t before. Most of the Google hits linking Team YP to its parent website are related to bans in other eSports scenes too (in addition to the numerous articles posted about Capcom’s ban as of today).

In short, sponsors like Team YP and The Steam Co. do not advertise “female characters . . . depicted in low-cut, form-fitting outfits that display large amounts of cleavage” on streams like Capcom does, so why keep them out of the scene at all? If Capcom thinks there is an image problem in the FGC, it needs to look inward first.

On the other hand, some readers will be quick to point the old “burn meter, not tobacco” ads that The Steam Co. used to run on prominent FGC streams (including those streamed Street Fighter IV events) featuring a model in a low-cut shirt. But the point is still the same: the image isn’t very different from what Capcom put in its own game and, more importantly, it was perfectly fine with the advertisement while it supported major tournaments and players while the scene grew. But now that the FGC is on the up and up (and Sony is involved), Capcom is suddenly not okay with it.

And when it comes to the image of the FGC, it is already in a pretty good spot. Prominent videogame news outlets like Polygon have hailed the FGC for its diversity. One article is even titled “Why the Fighting Game Community is Colorblind.”

This is readily apparent when compared to other eSports scenes:

And while the FGC works to break gender barriers as well, Capcom’s ban (as explained below) only makes it more difficult for future players from all backgrounds to become a part of the scene as a professional or sponsored player.

Access

To be fair, Capcom does still allow players sponsored by these companies to compete in Pro Tour tournaments, but their ban removes the main incentive for sponsorship in the first instance: mass advertisement and visibility. From a sponsor’s perspective, what is the value in sponsoring a player if Capcom just handicapped the amount of people that will see their tag and the content of any advertisements they would want to show on stream?

Furthermore, the abundance of sponsors in the eSports scene at large is not the same in the FGC. It could use all the sponsors it can get. Aside from teams like Evil Geniuses, Team Liquid, RZR, and Team Secret, there is not an abundance of sponsors like AMD, Dell, or SteelSteries banging down the doors of FGC members or organizations with a sponsorship contract in hand.

Why implement a rule that would limit the ability for some players to get a sponsorship and compete in the Pro Tour? The Steam Co.’s Sanford Kelly recently had to announce that he will not be able to attend Evo 2016 on sponsorship thanks to the ban and that he is no longer one of The Steam Co.’s tournament-sponsored player, and it is unclear whether other players will end up in the same position.

The specific language of the ban is problematic on a larger level in terms of access. Here is the official rule from Capcom:

Capcom will not allow, and will not allow third parties, to display, advertise, or otherwise promote in any manner sponsorship, endorsement or commercial or any other type of affiliation with or by (i) adult content sponsors, such as a publisher of pornographic websites or (ii) companies that manufacture, sell, distribute or market alcoholic beverages, cigarettes or vaping (e-cigarette ), drugs, guns or other weapon on the official media content or channels (such as event video streaming and social media) of Capcom or any Tournament Organizer for or in connection with the Capcom Pro Tour. (emphasis added)

asfasdfasdfAre you a tournament organizer involved with helping run a Capcom Pro Tour tournament? Be sure not to advertise or discuss anything that Capcom higher-ups could find “inappropriate.” Are you the person responsible for handing the social media accounts for tournaments like DreamHack, East Coast Throwdown, The Fall Classic, or Canada Cup? Watch what you re-Tweet or post about on Facebook and be prepared to defend its “appropriateness” to Capcom. Same goes for your Twitch streams. And if you have been a long-time tournament organizer in the FGC who has already worked out sponsorship or advertisement deals before Capcom decided to take your tournament over, do you need to get its approval? Is Capcom going to fill the financial shoes of the sponsors it chases away from the scene? Probably not.

For that matter, what qualifies as “products marketed towards adults”? Does the upcoming, rated “R” “Suicide Squad” movie qualify as a product marketed towards adults? What about an ad for a fancy sports car? Is the ban limiting the ways producers and streamers in the FGC can come up with sponsorship or revenue ideas? It is difficult not to think so. What about a Tweet or re-Tweet talking about rated “M” fighting games like Mortal Kombat or the recently announced Injustice 2? Clearly, the ban does not help in terms of access.

To be fair, if we read the language of the ban the same way we would try to interpret it at as a statute or law, we could apply a canon of construction known as “noscitur a sociis” (latin for “a thing is known by the company it keeps”). Under this view, the ban would only apply to things that are substantially similar to the specific products it mentioned (porn, tobacco, and alcohol), and a Tweet about a sports car would not most likely fit. But what about everything else in between? And there are certainly more interpretive rules that could give the ban another, more ambiguous, definition.

When sponsors take a look at the open-ended nature of the ban, they are likely to think, “why risk it?”

For its part, Capcom has discussed its rule in the context of only controlling its own streams. But, that’s not what its rule says. And what would Capcom do if a tournament organizer in no way affiliated with the Pro Tour decided to run a Street Fighter V tournament, but allowed sponsors akin to Team YP or The Steam Co. to advertise on its streams and show their tags? Would Capcom be in the right to demand those streams be taken down? The last thing anyone would want is an “eSports” division of the FGC, and the “grassroots” division of the FGC on the other side.

And what about side streams at major tournaments where a Capcom Pro Tour Street Fighter V tournament is taking place? For example, streaming organizations like VG Boot Camp, BG Callisto, and Event Horizon streamed many of the side tournaments at Combo Breaker 2016 (like KOF and Tekken) while a Pro Tour Street Fighter V was going on. Are those streams something “in connection with” a Pro Tour Stream, and that Capcom has a say over in terms of advertisements or letting Team YP use their tag on stream?

Unfortunately, the rule is still nascent, and it will take some time before the FGC sees how it plays out, whether the ban has any impact on sponsors like Team YP anyway, and—more importantly—just how broadly Capcom interprets its rule. And, as reported by SRK here, it looks like Capcom is willing to consider these types of sponsors when it comes to ad space, but not player sponsorships.

Conclusion

The FGC was built from the bottom up, not the other way around. It has not had the luxury of a company like Riot being there from the beginning for to develop it, guide it, and support it (financially and communally). But now that the FGC is growing, there is more interest in the scene, and more and more sponsors become interested in the FGC, Capcom seems want to take control of once grassroot-natured events like East Coast Throwdown and Final Round for their own benefit. The question is whether the FGC is willing to accept the top-down, “League of Legends” styled control and governance that comes with it.

Sources: PolygonCapcom