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The Past and the Future: What can Capcom do better in the new year of the Capcom Pro Tour?

ESH_Adam 2015-01-14 09:56:51

Now that 2015 is officially here, another year of the Capcom Pro Tour is on the way. Due to 2014 being the inaugural year of the Tour, Capcom now has the chance to learn from their freshman entry into the greater world of Esports and make their sophomore effort one that escalates Street Fighter closer to the peak of the Esports mountain.

Capcom’s first true effort at making Street Fighter have a larger presence in the greater Esports world wasn’t a bad effort at all. When the Capcom Pro Tour was announced in March of 2014, fans were overjoyed that Capcom was finally giving more support to the competitive scene. Historically, the company was not known for giving a lot of support to tournaments, especially compared to other developers like Blizzard or Riot. Capcom had slowly creeped its way to the Pro Tour. In 2006, they acknowledged their public support of the Evolution Championship Series (Evo), the world championship of nearly all fighting games at that point. Later, this support grew into pot bonuses and appearances from Capcom employees.

Capcom finally organized their own Street Fighter tournament in December of 2012 with the Street Fighter 25th Anniversary Tournament. It appeared they liked what they saw, as they announced the Capcom Cup at Evo the next year. Capcom Cup would be an annual tournament featuring the world’s best players all fighting for the title of the Street Fighter World Champion. With two Capcom Cups having already taken place, Capcom has consistently improved with each iteration. As more players start dedicating themselves to the game due to half a million dollars being on the line, Capcom must strive to improve their tournament series. If Capcom makes the proper improvements and collaborates with the community, Capcom Cup will ascend to the level of a premier Esports Championship like Worlds, The International, and Blizzcon.

Before I begin talking about what improvements can be made, I feel that I have to reach out to the community and say that they should be willing to at least try changes. The Fighting Game Community (FGC) is used to how things are and usually don’t want to see too much change: who can blame them? If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Still, I think bringing up these changes are important so that we can at least discuss things going forward.

 

Production

Capcom’s production this year was decent. They didn’t knock it out of the park but they certainly took steps in the right direction. The overlays for Capcom Cup were absolutely beautiful. You could tell that they put a lot of effort into making the player profiles and intros crisp and almost ESPN-like. The picture and audio quality of the stream was also high; everything looked smooth and sounded fine. Capcom’s interview series of multiple players participating in the Capcom Pro Tour, even those who did not qualify for Capcom Cup, helped outline the many personalities that are a part of the Street Fighter community.

They do a lot for new fans as well, helping them get to know who the players are and why they should care. Finally, the Street Fighter V exhibition match was the icing on the cake. Capcom most definitely got the hype train rolling with their showcase at Capcom Cup. Those were all great, but they honestly didn’t anything else well in terms of production.

Capcom's new overlays and intros took Capcom Cup's presentation to the next level.

One of the biggest problems with Capcom Cup last year was how they dealt with downtime. Whether it be the awkward halftime show featuring a DJ headbutting an iPad and a live band or having the commentators try to stall until the next match started, downtime simply wasn’t handled well. This left both live and online viewers frustrated and bored. Luckily, this problem is easily remedied. Capcom need only look at other Esports championships for ideas.

There are multiple ways to solve this problem. One that the community has strongly voiced their support for are pre and post game interviews with the players. Getting to know a player’s mindset can help fans understand the mentality and personality of their favorite players. While these are prevalent at other Esports championships, pre and post game interviews aren’t even new to the FGC as they have been featured prominently at SoCal Regionals in the past. A translator would need to be hired for the international competitors but that role should be easily filled by the hilarious Zhi Liang Chew.

Zhi (right) conducting an interview with Kindevu (left) at Evo 2011.

Capcom took a step in the right direction with their player profile videos but could go even further by making videos similar to the ones seen for Starcraft II players at Blizzcon. Before all of the round of 16 matches, Blizzard had a video highlighting the players for each match. In every video, the players talked about their opinion on the match at hand, their journey to the tournament and their goals moving forward. They were very well produced and helped viewers better understand the players. Capcom could easily do something similar for the first round matches, adding another way to help show audiences who the players really are. If Capcom really wanted to, they could even replicate what Riot did where they went totally in depth and had almost a documentary on the road to Worlds. Given the the FGC still has yet to see a really well produced documentary on their scene, I would be thrilled to see Capcom tackle this. Still, it isn’t close to being vital to the tournament’s survival.

Player Spots like this one are a step in the right direction for Capcom.

Another way to help kill downtime that the FGC might not be familiar with or even in favor of is having an anlysis/replay desk featuring players and experts. Street Fighter, or any fighting game for that matter, has never had anything like this. Analysis has been done on UltraChenTV before but there has never been a dedicated desk to analysis. While the FGC may think its too professional or “Esports like”, having an analysis desk can help show why Street Fighter is such a beautiful and strategic game. Being able to identify a turning point in a match, a brilliant read, or an insane hit confirm can highlight the hype and genius behind the game.

The desk would help new fans understand the game on a deeper level who will no doubt be tuning in due to the event being on Twitch’s front page. It may be controversial but this can be a fantastic new addition to the competition and may potentially bring a new layer to the spectator experience. People like David “UltraDavid” Graham, Seth Killian and an analytical player with a lot knowledge like Jay “Viscant” Snyder would thrive in this role when they’re not on commentary.

Having an analysis desk like the one from Worlds 2013 could help fill downtime and bring a new dimension to the spectator experience.

A halftime show isn’t necessary for this type of competition. The gameplay should be enough for most viewers and fans. However, if Capcom insists on having a halftime show, they should not have music again this year. It just doesn’t seem to mesh well with video game tournaments in general. There are a number of fans who have expressed interest in seeing exhibitions in Ultra Street Fighter IV. This shouldn’t be used for multiple reasons. If players have already qualified for the tournament, it might distract them from performing well, leading to a less than peak performance in either area. Getting away from the conflict of interest, changing up the game that is being shown can help break things up and usher in some fresh air to the tournament.

Instead of using Ultra, Capcom should dig into their vast vault of amazing fighting games and use them for exhibitions. With games like Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, Darkstalkers 3, all the iterations of Street Fighter II… the possibilities are endless and infinitely exciting. Being one of the oldest franchises in all of competitive gaming, Street Fighter has an incredibly rich competitive history full of rivalries and legendary matches. On top of that, many of the games have small but passionate and dedicated communities with players still pushing the skill ceiling. Who wouldn’t want to see the age old question finally answered with an exhibition: Was Tomo Ohira actually better than Daigo Umehara? Given that Daigo didn’t qualify for the main tournament, I guarantee fans all over the world would LOVE to see a FT10 exhibition. Any fan of Street Fighter has wondered if the legend of Tomo Ohira is true, especially given that there is minimal footage of his godlike run through the early years of Street Fighter II. Seeing these 2 legends face off in Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting would be absolutely spectacular. Somehow, Daigo vs. Tomo is just the tip of the iceberg too, which shows the incredible depth of Street Fighter’s competitive history. You could easily do a Daigo vs. Alex Valle runback of the Street Fighter Alpha 3 World Championship or a USA vs. Japan teams exhibition in any previous iteration of Street Fighter. Capcom has a massive opportunity to showcase not only the historical relevance of their games (and therefore the great design of the games) but also the history of Street Fighter, which has been plagued by poor documentation.

Tomo Ohira at an arcade in the early 90's. Ohira was the first King of Street Fighter in the U.S., with some veterans calling him the greatest player of all time.

Setting aside the poor handling of downtime, Capcom needs to improve their production. While there were some areas that got the job done, there were many glaring issues that were embarrassing for a tournament of its caliber. One of the biggest issues of the event had to do with commentary. The problem was brought to light by Justin Wong via Twitter where he expressed interest in seeing soundproof booths so that the commentary team could say whatever they wanted. UltraDavid later explained on Reddit how he felt his commentary was hindered due to the competitor’s ability to hear him. Because the competitors could hear him, he often refrained from talking about how a player could come back or what they were doing wrong because he didn’t want to influence the game. If he spoke what was on his mind, some players might have used his commentary to adapt to their opponent, which could be seen as cheating or using outside help. Street Fighter isn’t the only Esport that has dealt with his problem. The need for noise cancelling devices and methods is something that fans and players recognized very early, especially because many games in Esports like Starcraft have hidden info that can mean the difference between winning and losing. Street Fighter might not have hidden information but it is becoming quite apparent that noise cancellation may be needed in the future.

There are a few solutions to this commentary problem. The first and perhaps most obvious one is to implement soundproof headphones. This is the standard (usually combined with soundproof booths) for multiple Esports games from Starcraft II to League of Legends. Soundproof booths aren’t necessary though, as Red Bull and the Electronic Sports League (ESL) have proven through their Starcraft II tournaments. Having the players wear the soundproof headphones would allow the commentators to speak freely while potentially allowing the players to have greater focus on the task that lay before them. However, there are pros and cons to this scenario. The crowd can now enjoy unfiltered commentary but players who feed off the crowd, who use the hype generated by their fans to fuel their gameplay could be at a disadvantage. A big source of their strength might be cut off from them, making them not perform at their highest level.

Red Bull's Starcraft II tournaments have shown that boothless setups can work fine.

The other alternative to the commentary problem is to have commentary for the stream only. While not common among other Esports events, most mainstream sports have adopted this model. The commentators could be at a booth off to the side where the players couldn’t hear them, eliminating the problem entirely. To fans of other Esports, this may seem like a big step back for live audiences but this is the norm for the FGC. Most tournaments in the FGC don’t have commentary for the .live audience. That being said, Capcom Cup isn’t anything like your regular FGC tournament. The players are invite-only and it is largely a spectator event. Factoring in those two aspects, especially the latter, makes live commentary seem much more desirable. Having no commentary could alienate some people who came to the event with a friend or out of interest due to its world championship status.

While we’re still on the subject, Capcom needs to address another glaring problem with the commentary: there were only two people on commentary for the entire event. This is no disrespect to UltraDavid or James Chen, as they are among the best in the business at their craft, but one need only glance at them near the end of the tournament to see that they were running out of gas. Other Esports Championships have ten or more commentators for the entire event. Capcom Cup doesn’t need nearly that many but having four to eight commentators on rotation would help keep the quality of the event high. Commentators could switch every few matches, allowing them to rest and giving the audience a nice change of pace. This would be especially necessary if Capcom Cup expands from its one day length. Some could even head over to the analysis desk if Capcom decides to have that at the next event. Capcom has no shortage of commentators to reach out to either, with many people in the community showing their skill before. The all-star team for Capcom Cup would consist of James Chen. UltraDavid, Seth Killian, Capcom’s very own Peter “Combofiend” Rosas, Team PIE Lee Chung, Twitch’s Mike Ross and Ryan “Gootecks” Gutierrez.

Outside of all that, there are little things that Capcom can do that will bring their world championship to the next level. Most FGC events feature both players fighting side by side. Some tournaments like Final Round XVI and SoCal Regionals 2014 have done away with this, as a head to head setup featuring a monitor for each player not only looks nice but helps keep strategy inside the game. Due to fighting games’ roots in arcades, many players are used to playing side to side and have even come up with ways to use the setup to their advantage. Mashing on an empty button to make your opponent think you’re going to do a move or even reading your opponent’s inputs have become staples in the competitive scene. By implementing the head to head setup, Capcom will keep the strategy in game only. Many fans have stated their distaste over the strategy methods outside the game over the years. Capcom will have to decide if they agree with those fans’ beliefs going forward.

Final Round XVI featured a monitor for each player, making it a head to head setup.

 

Qualification and Points

Capcom’s first attempt at building a world tour was solid. The only gigantic problem lied in many of the events being centered around the United States. Street Fighter is a truly global game with top players residing in obvious places like Japan and Taiwan but also in more obscure locations like Brazil and Kuwait. Many of the regions don’t get a chance to show their skills on the world stage often. Because of that, fans were disappointed that these regions didn’t get the proper representation they deserved. The obvious solution to this problem is for Capcom to have more events count for points around the world but that likely won’t be enough to get those players to Capcom Cup.

Capcom needs to decide if they want to have automatic qualifier spots through tournament wins or a purely point based qualification system, similar to the one used in tennis for the ATP World Tour finals. This is not an easy question to answer as even larger Esports have struggled to figure out what the best system is. If one uses a purely point based system, sponsored players gain a significant advantage as they have the ability to fly to multiple events to ensure their entry to Capcom Cup.

Let’s say we have two players. Player A is capable of winning tournaments but isn’t sponsored while player B can’t quite get the big win but is sponsored. Player A wins a tournament but can’t afford to go to more while player B places top 8 at multiple tournaments but never wins. Player B ends up going to Capcom Cup because of points instead of player A despite player B having less skill.

Sometimes even sponsorship isn’t even enough. There simply weren’t enough events all over the world. Look at what happened to Bruce “GamerBee” Hsiang during last year’s tour. GamerBee is regarded as one of the best players in world but it isn’t easy to travel to tournaments from his homeland of Taiwan. This made GamerBee only able to attend a few tournaments over the year compared to someone like Du “NuckleDu” Dang. NuckleDu is a great player but a vast majority of people would call GamerBee the superior player. He was able to qualify over GamerBee due to having so many tournaments on the tour in his home of the United States. GamerBee traveled to many tournaments all over the globe but a sponsor can’t fly a player to each international tournament; the investment wouldn’t be justified at that point.

Obviously, there are holes in the system that can be exploited, but the solution isn’t simply to have auto qualifier tournaments for different regions. We saw the flaws in this system with the Street Fighter 25th Anniversary qualifiers where superior players would fly in from all over the world just to take the qualifying spot from the locals. During the London qualifier, Kenryo “Mago” Hayashi and Yusuke “Momochi” Momochi flew in from Japan to take 1st and 2nd place, respectively. This qualified them for the Street Fighter 25th Anniversary Grand Finals later that year. There is no guarantee that local heroes will succeed, which leads one to wonder what system is the most ideal.

The Street Fighter 25th Anniversary Tournament Series showed the flaws in having auto qualifier tournaments.

There is no ideal qualification/point system for Street Fighter, at least not yet. There simply isn’t enough money in the scene on nearly all fronts. Capcom’s poor financial status is now public knowledge so there is no possibility of dedicated, developer run tournaments like the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) or Starcraft II’s World Championship Series (WCS). Street Fighter isn’t big enough to the point that most skilled players can make it to a majority of tournaments a year. There are only a handful of people that can make a living off of the game and an even smaller amount of people in that handful are players. This eliminates something like the ATP or Formula 1 where players travel across the globe in a world circuit. The $500,000 prize pool for this year’s Capcom Pro Tour will bring in more sponsorships and attention than the Street Fighter has ever seen. That being said, it will take a long time until more players can make a living off the game and Capcom can run more of their own tournaments, especially to help regions where there are little to no tournaments, like Dubai and Brazil.

Sako, the Capcom Cup 2013 champion. did not qualify for Capcom Cup 2014.

Despite the ambiguity of what qualification system is right, Capcom does have a few aspects that they can improve on this year. The first issue to be resolved goes all the way back to the first Capcom Cup, where Naoto “Sako” Sako was victorious. Many people felt that Sako deserved to have the opportunity to defend his title at the next Capcom Cup. However, the community is split in how Sako, or any Capcom Cup champion for that matter, should be given that opportunity. Some advocate that an automatic invite to the next Capcom Cup be given to the current champion while others say only points for the next year should be given. The latter seems to be the most conducive to seeing the highest level of play. Rewarding a champion is necessary but an auto invite goes a bit far. Having an auto invite would allow the champion to underperform the entire year but still have a spot for Capcom Cup, taking away an opportunity for other players who performed better that year to participate. Giving a large amount of points not only gives a reward and significant advantage going into the next tour but also creates more hype and high level matches. Knowing that a spot is not guaranteed, the champion would participate throughout the tour to fight for a chance to defend his/her title. The community sees the champion face off more and a great storyline about a defending champion is made.

Online play is a major part of nearly all Esports. Some online tournaments even rival the play seen on the offline play like John “TotalBiscuit” Bain’s SanDisk SHOUTCraft Invitational. The world’s greatest Starcraft II players faced off and many intense matches were made there. Online tournaments are a huge part of CS:GO and Dota 2 as well. Due to their peers, it was only natural that Capcom would try their hand at holding point rewarding online tournaments. The idea was fine but the technology isn’t at the level where these tournaments can be considered fair. Not only does internet quality fluctuate wildly depending on the region but fighting games are also the most susceptible to lag. Lag can play a role in other games but rarely can it be the sole decider of who the victor is. In fighting games, lag can completely change the face of a match, causing the more skilled player to lose. Combos often have links that can be as small as one frame so any lag can have an immense impact on a match. Everything just snowballs after that: lag leads to a missed link, a missed link leads to a ruined combo, a ruined combo leads to a lost match. At this point, online play favors internet quality much more than skill. If Capcom Cup wants to become a legitimate competition, Capcom can’t have multiple tournaments reward points to the player who doesn’t have the most skill.

Capcom's attempt at moving Street Fighter into the online space was not fair to many players.

The last and most obvious improvement Capcom should make is to allow more tournaments to be a part of the Capcom Pro Tour so more players will have the opportunity to at least try to qualify for Capcom Cup. North America has enough tournaments but recognizing more tournaments in places like Korea or Taiwan could do wonders. Capcom didn’t even award points to Japan’s Topanga A League, a tournament thought to house the greatest Street Fighter players in the world. Its Esports brethren’s equivalent would be Starcraft II’s Global Starcraft League (GSL) or LoL’s OGN Champions series. Even with having more tournaments around the world, the community and Capcom will have to decide what system (auto qualifier, purely pint based, or mix) they feel is the most fair as their scene continues to evolve.

 

Tournament Format

The double elimination bracket has been a staple of any fighting game competition for years now. Some tournaments have deviated from this format, like the Topanga League or MLG Anaheim 2014’s Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament. The double elimination format is fine but many would argue that it isn’t the best way to find out who the best player is. Bracket luck can play a huge part in the double elimination format, where a player might become a champion because he/she didn’t face their “demon” or a bad matchup. There are multiple formats that Capcom can take inspiration from but there are a few things that need to be fixed before we even get into the larger format of the tournament.

The Topanga League is one of the few Street Fighter tournaments to not have a double elimination bracket, using a round-robin format instead.

Perhaps Capcom’s greatest mistake was making Capcom Cup a one day event. Their decision caused the entire ordeal to feel rushed and almost fake. All matches until grand finals were played in a best of three fashion due to time constraints, causing community outrage. The community felt that a best of three series was far too short for a tournament of Capcom Cup’s prestige. Most fans stated that at least a best of five was needed with some others even saying that a best of nine format is what the tournament deserved. The bottom line is that the best of three format and one day length are not acceptable in any way. Other Esports championships often take place over the course of weeks. Capcom Cup doesn’t even need to get close to that but at least a two day event should be done. Given the extra time, a best of nine format would do wonders for Street Fighter. Fans get to see more high level play, players have more chances to prove themselves, and new viewers will get a chance to see the beauty of long sets where the intricate dance of adaptation between players  takes place. Long sets always leads to the more skilled player’s victory. Beyond that, grand finals should set itself apart by having an even longer format. A first to seven would be a great way to settle who deserves to be the Street Fighter champion.

Some members of the community have also voiced their dislike of counter picking, saying that they believe Capcom should enforce a character lock. While it’s great to see a player stay dedicated to his/her character, counter picking is a valid skill like any other seen in fighting games. It shows knowledge of the game and offers another way for a character to display his/her skill. It takes a lot of time and dedication to have a tournament viable secondary character. That dedication should be rewarded. Even beyond that, a player should do anything it takes to win. If a player wants to focus on one character, that is his decision. Counterpicking exists in Dota 2 and LoL as well, so it’s tournament viability is not limited to fighting games.

Kun "Xian" Xian Ho's Dhalsim counterpick against Daigo's Evil Ryu was one of the hypest moments of the tournament.

Capcom has a wide variety of tournament formats to choose from. However, any changes to the standard tournament format (double elimination) would probably require dialogue between Capcom and the community. They don’t see anything different and may not be receptive to the new format. Any sort of group play or round robin play would be fantastic and would add more competitive credibility to Capcom Cup. From the research I’ve done, group play leading into a double elimination format is the best fit for Capcom Cup.

Having group play allows Capcom to be more flexible with the number of people at Capcom Cup in the first place. Many top players and fan favorites failed to qualify like GamerBee, Bryant “Smug” Huggin, Yudai “Pepeday” Furushima, and Lee “Poongko” Chung Gon to name a few. Expanding from the sixteen seen last year to twenty or even twenty-four.  More players brings more hype to the event and can showcase how diverse the Street Fighter scene is.

Pepeday was one of the biggest breakout players of the year, pleasing many fans through his unique El Fuerte gameplay.

Group play would consist of four groups of six players each played in a round robin format. Each series is best of three and any tie breakers would be settled by game differentials and head to head record. The results of group play will be determine where each player will be in the playoffs. First place goes directly to winner’s semifinals. All other places are seeded into loser’s bracket: fifth and sixth place go to loser’s round 1, fourth go to loser’s round 2, third goes to loser’s round 3 and second goes to loser’s round 4. All matches would be a first to five until grand finals, which is a first to seven.

The ideal format for Capcom Cup would like similar to this.

Whatever format Capcom chooses, they must do their brackets correctly. During Capcom Cup 2014, Capcom embarrassed themselves by messing up their own brackets. On the online loser’s bracket, Ryan Hart was scheduled to play Seon “Infiltration” Woo Lee while Eduardo “PR Balrog” Perez-Frangie would face Momochi. Instead, Ryan Hart played Momochi and PR Balrog and Infiltration fought. Capcom later revealed via Twitter that the online brackets on Capcom’s website were wrong and that they were using a written bracket the whole time. Many fans were confused and some even thought some bracket floating might have happened. This could easily have been an honest mistake but it is still unacceptable for such an impressive tournament.

Capcom has a long road ahead of them in making Capcom Cup and Street Fighter on par with their Esports brethren. While the path is difficult, it is certainly doable. As long as Capcom and the FGC work together to make the right improvements, Capcom Cup and the Pro Tour surrounding it will become the prestigious World Championship it is destined to be.

Images courtesy of their respective owners.  If you enjoyed this feature, feel free to follow me at @ESH_Adam for updates on my content!
 

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