Street Fighter Doesn’t Need Saving, Because It Isn’t Dying

By on December 23, 2016 at 9:10 am

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer, and do not reflect as a whole.

“Mine is the last generation to play Street Fighter,” HyperX|Daigo Umehara says–as 20-year-old Liquid|Du “NuckleDu” Dang wins Capcom Cup 2016.

“No one cares about Street Fighter anymore,” Daigo says, as LI Joe captures the hearts of a nation at Evolution.

“The world isn’t interested in Street Fighter anymore,” says Daigo, as he is dunked for the fourth time in a row by 18-year-old Norwegian BX3.TP-Link|Phenom (at Canada Cup 2016).

“How can I save Street Fighter?” Daigo wonders, as r/Kappa|John Takeuchi inspires hundreds of people to contribute to his flights to America.

Wait, what?

Like many of you, I read a piece last week about Daigo Umehara and his mission to save Street Fighter. Why does he need to save Street Fighter? Because it’s “dying,” of course.

Yes, apparently Umehara has done all there is to do, and now his mission is to “revive the game that made him famous.” He wants to “keep the game he loves from disappearing.” But here’s the thing: Street Fighter is more alive than ever.

Sure, it’s easy to think that things are bleak when you look at the facts and figures being presented. Street Fighter V didn’t sell as well as some other fighting games–in fact, it’s one of the worst performing Street Fighter titles–and much of that is down to the unfinished state in which it was released. We all know now that Capcom rushed the launch to make sure that the game was played for the full 2016 season, and that launching without a Story, Arcade, or even a single-player versus mode was undeniably a mistake that impacted sales outside of the competitive market. Asking full price for part of a game–even part of a game that was going to be continuously supported for the next half a decade–is simply bad business. The sales figures reflect that, with only the hardcore fighting game fans taking the plunge.

Arguing that Street Fighter is doomed because of its poor launch, however, is madness. There’s a whole host of facts and figures conveniently forgotten in the weaving of ESPN’s apocalyptic narrative, and they paint a much brighter picture for the future of Street Fighter in the FGC.

Consider, for example, the number of entrants for Street Fighter V at Evolution 2016. Over 5,000 players flocked to Vegas in the hopes of becoming the first Street Fighter V Evo champ. That title eventually went to Razer’s Infiltration, who claimed his title under the watchful eyes of not just the FGC faithful, but also the hundreds of thousands of viewers who tuned into Street Fighter V’s debut on ESPN2. Just like the record-breaking number of entrants, there were more people watching Street Fighter than ever before. Evo 2016 was the most-watched tournament of 2016, peaking at around 213,000 viewers on Twitch, with a further 203,000 tuning into the ESPN2 broadcast. In comparison, in 2015 there were 228,776 viewers watching Ultra Street Fighter IV, which was broadcast exclusively on Twitch.

And ESPN clearly liked what they saw, because they came back for more. At just 20-years-old, Nuckledu is one of the trailblazers of the new generation–and capped a dominant end to 2016 by claiming victory at the Capcom Cup, which broadcast live on Twitch and was then broadcast again on ESPN2 the following day. His prize? $230,000 USD, significantly more money than GGP|Kazunoko’s victory in 2015 earned him. Money isn’t everything–but an amount like that speaks far more loudly for the health of Street Fighter than poor sales do of its demise.

Facts and figures don’t tell the whole story, however; we know that Street Fighter is alive and kicking because of the tales we have already seen play out this year. Du’s dominating end to the year was simply the epic finale to a tournament that personified all the surprises 2016 had to offer.

With top seeds Infiltration and Tokido failing to take a game at Capcom Cup, being knocked out of the tournament they were expected to win without getting the chance to make their mark–it was a far different experience than anyone expected. Players like Yukadon and HuomaoTV|HumanBomb, who were called into action at the very last minute, made waves and proved just how deserving they were of spots–and also proved just how lively the current Street Fighter V scene is at the moment. Others, like GW|Eita and–of course–Nuckledu proved that their youth was a boon by playing aggressive games that overwhelmed their more cautious elders.

And that was just the grand finale to a year that included highlights like LI Joe’s Evo 2016 run right into the hearts of America, Cyclops|Go1’s rise from the King of Poverty–one of the most decorated anime fighter champions–to become a consistent threat on the circuit, and other young players rising up to make their marks on a game that was still fresh and inconsistent.

A personal highlight was the debut of John Takeuchi, who plays the game with relentlessly joy, and celebrates wins and losses with equal grace. His Rashid, a little-used character at the top level, was such a pleasure to watch that he captured the hearts of the denizens of r/Kappa, some of Street Fighters most passionate fans. They banded together and raised funds to fly Takeuchi out to American tournaments, where his turbulent winds blew away many of the best players in the world.

It was also promising to watch some of Street Fighters leading players take on mentorship roles with promising youngsters in their home countries. EG|Momochi and his partner ChocoBlanka have built a program to teach and inspire young Street Fighter players, and even flew them out to participate at Evo–where they performed admirably. Infiltration took on a similar mentorship role when he was home in South Korea, teaching and guiding promising young players like Xyzzy to global success, and we’ve seen recent college programs where Tokido and other top players visit schools and mentor young players.

So, perhaps it sounds a bit rich of Umehara to suggest that it’s his mission to inspire the next generation of young players. While he’s focused on participating in tournaments and streaming on BeasTV, other players have taken hosts of promising youngsters under their wing. Daigo doesn’t have the same sort of magic he once did, either. He’s yet to find his groove in SFV, and though he’s a marketable name, there are other, possibly more-inspiring players in the current scene.

In fairness to Daigo Umehara, things may not be exactly what they seem. In the context of the ESPN article, Umehara appears to be bemoaning the death of Street Fighter–but when you read his quotes alone, it’s clear that he just wants to help the next generation find its feet. The claims that provoked this rebuttal–that Street Fighter and the FGC are dying–aren’t direct quotes from Daigo.

Quotes from other figures in the community, such as James Chen and Nuckledu, are presented to help this argument along, but again appear to be taken out of context. Others, like those from ANBU|Punk and FOX|Julio Fuentes, are almost directly in opposition to the narrative being woven. After all, Punk’s explosive arrival to the top level is just the sort of thing that we are meant to believe doesn’t happen anymore, now that Street Fighter is “dying.” He and Fuentes–who performed admirably at the Capcom Cup despite battling an arm injury–are a part of the next generation that supposedly doesn’t exist yet.

That generation was again showing just how real they are last weekend, as Punk reinforced his presence at the top level by winning NEC17, beating 17-year-old MenaRD in Grand Finals, who in turn had defeated Capcom Cup champion Nuckledu to reach Grands. Between Punk, Nuckledu and MenaRD, the three of the Top Four at the year’s final Major were under 21. How can you look at that and still fail to see the new generation of Street Fighter champions?

And here’s the thing; it’s not just flat out wrong to claim that Street Fighter is dying, it’s irresponsible. In 2016, the FGC have been given the chance to stand among the mainstream media, if only for brief stints. The fact that these claims were made on a division of ESPN that is dedicated entirely to esports is incredibly exciting, but also deeply disappointing.

For young players who are watching Street Fighter at Evo on their TVs for the very first time, the FGC can finally appear as a legitimate pastime, rather than something they get teased for at school. Maybe they are looking at Infiltration or Daigo Umehara with the same sort of inspiration that thousands of kids looked at Derek Jeter with, and dreamed of playing for the Yankees.

The very last thing that they need is to be told that Street Fighter is dying out, especially when that is categorically untrue, at least when it comes to the FGC. There are problems with the way that Capcom is handling the game, and there is undeniably some risk that support tapers off, but that threat is not from a lack of passionate players. There is value in telling Capcom that we’re not entirely happy with the mistakes that they’re making–not in prophesying doom and gloom.

ESPN did get one thing right; Street Fighter is hard. It’s not easy to be successful, and takes long hours of practice. Are these kids, who have been so inspired by Nuckledu and EG|Ricki Ortiz defending their home turf at Capcom Cup, going to dedicate the time and effort when ESPN–a source that has the sort of credibility that many esports-focused sites lack with the general public–are telling them that it’s pointless?

Who can forget the joy we all felt as we watched the 8-year-old Noah the Prodigy go ham on all comers in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3? Why would we want to damage the chances of another Noel appearing and shocking an EG|Justin Wong or Tokido with their abilities?

Street Fighter isn’t dying. But articles like that aren’t doing it any favors.

Keegan “Interrobang!?” Spindler is Shoryuken's Features Editor, and is far better at thinking about Fighting Games than winning at them. Somehow every character he picks turns out to be low tier, and when he’s not getting beaten you can find him writing nonsense tweets - @DumbGrammarJoke – and trying to work out how to get good.