Left Behind? The Tokyo Street Fighter V experience

By on December 12, 2017 at 1:00 pm
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Past the ticket gate, your eyes meet the neon lights from the alleyway as you emerge from the station. With each step, curious sounds ring louder and louder in your ears. You arrive at the building, and descend the staircase. The doors open, and the sound envelopes you in a deafening explosion, as the tobacco haze begins to wear on your eyes. You have arrived. This is your paradise. This is your mecca.

The highest level battleground for Street Fighter 4: Shinjuku Taito Station
The world’s highest-level battleground for Street Fighter IV: Shinjuku Taito Station
End of an Era

For years, the FGC has pondered why the Japanese scene was so dominant in arcade-based titles. When strong talent lives in close proximity to — and practice or train regularly with —  other top players, it makes sense how this environment would produce the players it has over the years.

Of course, there are some nuances to the success of the arcade business model in Japan that Westerners often overlook (some of these reasons naturally elude people who don’t have experience living in Asia). For starters, consider the differences in daily life between the average Westerner and the average Japanese person. Between school, work, and extracurricular activities, people generally spend more time outside the home than inside. Also recognize that on average, adults in Japan don’t move out of their parents’ home until much later, compared to Westerners. Space in Japan is a commodity, and it isn’t cheap. Personal space is highly valued and is something people are more conscious of. Thanks to this, when it comes to gatherings or meeting friends, it is much more common to meet at an outside location. For young people in particular, you can imagine this being the case, especially when it comes to offline sessions. Compared to the West, the average Japanese parent is not going to be as accepting of a 20-year-old’s fourteen friends coming over and staying until 5:00 AM mashing on Marvel.

With these ideas in mind, consider why the arcade business model can be successful in Japan...
With this in mind, consider why the arcade business model can still be successful in Japan…

Now, you might have a better perspective on why game centers work for people in Japan. Even in rural areas, when you spend so much time on public transportation, it’s natural to stop by the game center near the station exit and play 4 or 5 dollars’ worth of games before heading home (to do either homework and go to sleep immediately, or get yelled at by your mom/dad/wife/husband for not working hard enough…). With game centers being so plentiful, it isn’t a major concern finding one somewhere on your route home. As a result, the scene, nationwide, trains on a regular basis in offline settings. This is one major reason why arcade culture in this country has produced a player population with a relatively high average skill level.

However, we must also recognize that four of the past five Capcom-produced fighting games have not had arcade releases. Even then, we must also consider that Street Fighter IV featured multiple, extremely expensive arcade releases, which put strain on independent arcades compared to chain arcades like Taito Station or Club Sega. Though there can be no doubt that arcades have been in decline in Japan, the scene is far from dead here. In fact, rival companies like Bandai Namco and Arc System Works have seen great success time after time through the arcade (and console, ironically), while Capcom has essentially walked away from the arcade business, seemingly. While it is implied Sony exclusivity clauses played a major role in the nature of SFV’s release, we are now approaching the 2-year mark for SFV. Even after an announcement for PC-outfitted arcade units at Capcom Cup 2016, SFV cab setups shown at Toushinsai, and the name of SFV Season 3 being “Arcade Edition,” we haven’t heard any news about the game properly moving to actual arcades. As a result, there are many players in the Japanese FGC that outright reject the game, still insisting on playing the arcade version of USFIV.

The SF4 cabinets at Hey Arcade at 2:00 PM on a Friday afternoon in Akiba. Many players in Japan still insist on playing in the arcade, even if it means they miss out on SFV.
The USFIV cabinets at Hey Arcade at 2:00 PM on a Friday afternoon in Akiba. Many players in Japan still insist on playing in the arcade, even if it means they miss out on SFV.

It isn’t all bad, of course. Because of this departure from the norm, the Street Fighter scene in Japan has put a special focus on building up the next generation. We have seen projects like Shinobism — organized by Momochi and Chocoblanka — which rears young talent like Haku, Yamaguchi, and Johnny. The Japanese scene has also run other mentoring programs to help encourage and train young players like John Takeuchi, Moke, Nauman, and Tachikawa. While in the past, much of this growth would be facilitated indirectly in the wilds of the arcade, the lack of an arcade version has forced the Japanese scene to think outside the box to come up with ways to keep the scene growing. Though it has been rare, we have also seen players who were primarily online entities make big impacts on competitive stages, like Kichipa-mu.

Thus, over the past few years the Japanese scene has had to change the venues they play at, the way they train, and the times at which they do. Specifically, this decade has seen the rise of the “game bar” business model in Japan. This is what the SFV experience in Tokyo area is like at the moment. If you are coming to Tokyo and want to train in SFV, consider stopping by some of these training grounds.

esports square AKIHABARA

Located a short walk from JR Akihabara Station, E-sports Square is a game bar and premier venue for fighting game events in the Tokyo area.

Less than a 5 minute walk from JR Akiba Station, Akiba E-sports Square has emerged as an invaluable event space in this era.
Less than a 5-minute walk from JR Akihabara Station, Akiba E-sports Square has emerged as an invaluable event space in recent years for Tokyo-based fighting game communities.

This is a major venue for offline FGC events in general, but is best known abroad as the venue for Fighter’s Crossover Akiba. Fighter’s Crossover Akiba (FCA) is the main offline gathering for Street Fighter V in Tokyo, run by Kagecchi. Every Wednesday from 7:00 PM until 11:00 PM, players are free to battle on 19 setups. One cool thing about the setting is that different stations are separated by online rank, and have different rotation set counts. For example, one station is reserved for Silver league players, sets played in first-to-2, another is for Gold league, sets played in first-to-3, etc.

A strong percentage of grassroots FGC events in Tokyo are held here at Esports Square
A strong percentage of grassroots FGC events in Tokyo are held here at E-sports Square.
This is the number one gathering spot for offline SF5 play in Tokyo.
This is a common gathering spot for offline SFV play in Tokyo.

This is a great venue for getting casual matches with players of all levels, even top players. Some of the best players in Japan come to this venue every week to sharpen their skills, and like the arcade, you will find they are quite approachable in this setting. There are usually tournaments held here, and before big events (such as Japan Cup) it isn’t strange for them to open on Wednesday and Thursday.

There is a pay system based on how long you intend to stay. Like most institutions in Japan though, no credit cards!

There is a pay system based on how long you intend to stay. You receive a name badge and drink voucher with paid entry. You hold on to your badge, and when you leave, pay based on your time package.

English version of the above menu
English version of the above menu. Like most institutions in Japan though, no credit cards! Bring cash!
It is easy to forget that this is a game BAR! Have some screwdrivers to ease the pain of those crush counters. Drink up!
It is easy to forget that this is a game bar! Have some screwdrivers to ease the pain of those Crush Counters. Drink up!

You can find more information on their official Twitter page here, and their official website, here.

Studio Sky

The other major venue for SFV in Tokyo is called Studio Sky. Tucked away on a side street a short walk from JR Otsuka station on the Yamanote Line, this is another major offline gathering spot for SFV and other console-based games.

A short walk from JR Otsuka Station lies a curious looking alleyway...
A short walk from JR Otsuka Station, on the 4th floor of an ordinary building in an ordinary alleyway…
But what lies beyond the door...?
… there is a door to “Studio Sky.” But what lies beyond…?
An intense Friday night casual session at Studio Sky.
An intense Friday night casual session at Studio Sky.

Organized by MomochiChocoblanka, and Gama no Abura (For the uninitiated, Gama is the voice behind this famous clip), these sessions are open to anyone on Friday evenings. For a small fee, players are free to play on multiple setups. Like E-sports Square, setups are separated into categories based on set length and online rank, making it easier to meet or network with other players around your skill level.

The night before major events, it isn't strange for the gatherings here to reach big numbers!
The night before major events, it isn’t strange for the gatherings here to reach big numbers!

Stay updated about info regarding this venue by following them on twitter, here.

Tokiwasou, The Heiwajima Gaming House

Tokiwasou is the name of the now famous “Heiwajima gaming house” in Tokyo area. While this is not a public gathering spot, it has become an important training place for top players and aspiring pros.

Less of a venue and more of a "training ground," the Heiwajima is an important locale for aspiring top players in SFV.
Less of a venue and more of a “training ground,” the Heiwajima is an important locale for aspiring top players in SFV.

It is important to note that this is an actual residence, where many top players (both from Japan and abroad) have stayed for a chance to grind out practice long term. Though this isn’t open to the public, it isn’t strange to find some of the strongest players in Southeast Asia gathered here before major events.

Tokiwasou is a private residence, frequently mentioned in the Tokyo SFV scene.
Tokiwasou is a private residence, frequently mentioned in the Tokyo SFV scene.
People that train and practice here have made a strong impact on the Capcom Pro Tour in recent years...
People that train and practice here have made a strong impact on the Capcom Pro Tour in recent years… (Unrelated, but “Geek Weekend” has to be one of the worst names for a tournament, ever…)
Thoughts from MOV on Japan & Street Fighter V
3rd Place at Capcom Cup 2017 in SFV, Evo 2016/2017 SFV Top 8, 4-time SBO/Tougeki Champion in 3s, the Master of Vampires himself talked with me about SFV, training, the JPFGC, and the future.
5th place at Capcom Cup 2016 in SFV, Evo 2016/2017 SFV top 8, and 4-time SBO/Tougeki Champion in 3rd Strike, the Master Of Vampires himself talked with me about SFV, training, JPFGC, and the future.

Jazz: For tournaments in the past (like Cooperation Cup or SBO/Tougeki) you primarily trained in the arcade, but how did you practice or prepare for big events? Now that you main SFV — which is a console title — please tell me how your practice has changed.

MOV: During the SBO/Tougeki era, for better or worse, I think I was a lot more casual [with my training] than I am now. Of course, at that time, I also intended to do my best and train hard. However, thinking on it now, all I really did was just go to the arcade and have fun. [laughs]

Now there are a number of factors to consider. Since we get version changes much faster and I don’t get the same kind of casual match experience against rival players, a player’s rate of improvement, practice efficiency and the quality of goals players aim for has become severe. There are a lot of elements a player has to deal with while they think about these things.

Jazz: During the SFIV period, there were still big 3rd Strike tourneys in Japan, so many 3S veterans stuck with 3S. What made so many 3S veterans start picking up SFV?

MOV: While the question kind of answers itself, from the last SBO/Tougeki in 2012 until SFV’s release, you could say 3S players were jealous of the attention and hype the SFIV scene garnered (this was around the time when the Capcom Pro Tour started to develop). It got to the point where it was difficult to just hop into SFIV, so not only 3S players, but players from a variety of game scenes decided if an SFV released, they would play and do their best in it. It seems like many players felt this way.

Jazz: Since there is no arcade version for SFV, the environment is much different than before. As an arcade player, how do you think the nature of this release has affected the fighting game scene in Japan?

MOV: While the rest of the world is primarily console-based, arcades still have a large influence in Japan. It is unfortunate, but as far as I can see, if someone wants to get together with other players to play SFV offline in Japan, there are not many options to do so outside of Tokyo.

Jazz: For the Japanese FGC, if an arcade version were released, do you think people in the Japanese FGC would rally around it? Which would you prefer?

MOV: I think if a new version or an arcade version was released, I have no doubt strong players outside Tokyo region would increase, so it would be a lot of fun. Personally, I’m fine to play in either setting. However, if I could settle down and play in a cozy arcade, I would spend a lot of time there, I think. [laughs]

Jazz: For the upcoming AE update, are there any particular changes you want to see? What about system changes? For the upcoming Capcom Pro Tour and point system, are there any changes you would like to see?

MOV: I want this to be a game where I can say, “this game is fun, so let’s play together!” For example, I can’t recommend the game because a character like Zangief in his present state is in the game, so let’s delete him.

Regarding the Pro Tour, since most players aren’t able to go to so many tournaments, I think having a few Capcom Cup auto-qualification tournaments would be hype for the scene. At present, even if you win the biggest tournament in Japan, it isn’t connected to the Capcom Pro Tour. Given this, I feel like it is too difficult to have big dreams for a lot of players.

MOV: To all my supporters: There will be so many veterans and strong players at the Last Chance Qualifier for Capcom Cup 2017. I have no idea if I can break through or not, but I think I should be able to play with no regrets as we close out Season 2.

日本語版
Left Behind?

For better or worse (or maybe a mix of both?), SFV and the nature of its release has forced an awkward evolution on the Japanese FGC. In the end, the venues and hot spots for Street Fighter in Japan have changed. By sharing these venues and describing the offline JP SFV experience for you, hopefully you have a better understanding of how different the JP scene is and how the situation is there regarding recent Capcom titles. If you are a serious Street Fighter V player, I hope you take the time to visit some of these venues and play during your visit for Evolution Japan or another event. I also hope it encourages people who have never been to an arcade before to go to one (preferably, a non-chain), just for a taste of what all these old people can’t stop talking about.

The Capcom Pro Tour has closed out another successful year at the PlayStation Experience, and fans and fanboys alike have enjoyed this year’s big closing announcements. Likewise, on the other side of the Pacific, there was a collective of players that anticipated announcements of their own — while some players hoped for a new V-Skill, V-Trigger, or frame data tweaks, others were watching Capcom Cup with hopes for a version of the game that would simply allow them to play in the home of Street Fighter: the arcade.

A fighting game player from New Orleans, LA, now living in Japan. A sports fan and arcade gaming enthusiast, find him in Mikado on Saturday nights!