The top eight players are introduced before the Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition finals during day three of EVO 2019 Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images)
With the year and the decade coming to a close, we here at CheckpointXP are taking a look at where some of the major esports stand going into 2020. And while there’s been strides towards expansion in virtually every esport, fighting games continue to lag behind some of their counterparts. So we take a look at where the FGC stands today and what the new decade may hold for the nomadic scene.
Still Lacking Investment
2019 saw record investment into the world of esports. We saw the single largest individual prize ever, the largest team prize pool ever and viewership numbers grow across the board. However, all of that enthusiasm still hasn’t hit the fighting games community yet. After looking at such astronomical amounts being thrown out to games that have a fraction of the history and legacy some fighting games have continues to be frustrating. In fact, according to esportsearnings.com, if you combined the prizes given out for both of Street Fighter V‘s versions it would be about $3.8 million. This would make it the 24th on the list of top esports prizes, wedged between World of Tanks and CoD: Black Ops 3. Tekken 7 and Smash Wii U are the only other games to even sniff beyond the top 50.
We know that micro-transactions fund much of tournament payouts, but that formula has never truly caught on in the FGC for a multitude of reasons. Skins and costumes are something FGC fans came to expect either with their game or earnable in the content. So it has yet to be seen if this model will be wholly adopted by the FGC if games don’t also go the “free-to-play” route. So if the FGC is to even be remotely capable of keeping up with the lucrative opportunities of esports, investment will have to come from outside. Partnerships like Astro/Tekken 7 were great but it won’t float the FGC forever. Without a doubt, this continues to be one of, if not the most powerful, factors that stunt the growth of the FGC.
A New Generation Dominates
Also this year we saw some tides shifting in multiple fighting games. So many of the old heads like Justin Wong tried their hands at Samurai Shodown. Why? Because the kids were running the yard in Street Fighter. Virtually every SFV tournament in North America belonged to Victor “Punk” Woodley, however, he was unable to find wins at both EVO and Capcom Cup. The latter, Punk lost to another upstart American Derek “iDom” Ruffin.
In Tekken 7, it wasn’t just one person but an entire country that burst onto the stage and started taking major wins from vets. Pakistan’s Arslan “Arslan Ash” Siddique, Atif “Atif Butt” Ijaz and others helped solidify the country as a force to be reckoned with in the 3D fighter. In the case of Arslan Ash, he was able to win both EVO 2019 and EVO Japan. Pakistan was such a new power in Tekken that multiple pros few to the country to train.
Oh, and Dominque “SonicFox” McLean is still the best all-around fighting game player in the world. This year they made two grand finals at EVO for Dragonball Fighterz and Mortal Kombat 11. The latter of which they won five majors for in 2019.
Even though it was released in 2018, Smash Ultimate ended up being the king of the hill in 2019 in terms of sales, views, and prestige. Nintendo finally listened to its community and gave more official support to Smash Ultimate than it ever gave to any other version of the game. It also was the game that FINALLY supplanted Smash Melee as the premier Smash game on the FGC circuit. 2019 marked the first time EVER that a game not made by Capcom was the headline event of EVO, an honor that finally gave Smash the validity that it needed as “officially” FGC.
With a new game also came new talent. We saw players like Leonardo “MKLeo” Lopez Perez, Gavin “Tweek” Dempsey, and Ezra “Samsora” Morris step up and become superstars in more than just the Smash communities. With Nintendo’s continued support the ceiling for Smash Ultimate is perhaps the highest of any of the FGC’s current crop of games.
The Biggest Distruptor Blast
As we look to 2020 and beyond there’s a major player that’s announced their foray into the FGC. Riot Games, creators of the esports behemoth League of Legends, confirmed that the are developing a fighting game. This could mark either a massive change for the scene or reveal it to be impenetrable besides legacy developers. Capcom, Nintendo, Arc Systems Games, and Bandai/Namco have had a chokehold on the FGC since its infancy. So seeing a company as gargantuan as Riot could be both worrying for the aforementioned brands.
First off, Riot has already perfected the “free-to-play” model with League. If they should apply the same to their fighting game, then it would be a massive disruptive force for the FGC. The current model is by the $60 base game, pay more for extra characters and costumes. If the initial investment is nothing but hard drive space then that makes spending $5-$10 on an characters a much easier pill to swallow.
Secondly, and the even more towering elephant in the room, is Riot’s esports apparatus. There is literally no way any of the current FGC game can compete with Riot on scale. Along with Overwatch League and DOTA2’s The International, the League of Legends World Championships continually set the standard for esports live events. They also give out tons of money. If Riot devotes even half of the effort for its new fighting game scene then its curtains for any competitors to even try and match the prizes Riot could dole out.
Predictions? More of the same.
We are at the end of a console generation which means we aren’t going to get word of new titles till ’21 at best. With no new titles to look forward too, the only thing FGC fans can get excited about is downloadable content and esports. So while Pakistan may continue to grow in Tekken, or Americans take over the Street Fighter scene officially, it won’t come to the surprise of any.
If there’s anything the FGC did that would drop jaws its the announcement of more tournament partners and investments. The bulk of FGC events are still run by community-based, grass-roots organizations, and they need more help. If we see multiple title sponsors and consistent prize pools over $500k then we could call it progress. Until then, the FGC will continue to take a back seat to an ever growing esports market. And that is nothing short of tragic.