Narratives in the FGC

Narratives in the FGC
Date Published: 15 July, 2019

In a day and age where information on demand is paramount, the FGC (Fighting Game Community) is no stranger to taking part in the constant carousel that is fighting game news, professional circuit standings, player rivalries, and many other headline worthy stories and debates.

However, the storylines that are somewhat lost in the shuffle, are the ones that may not be always as timely or as alluring, but rather are more so consistent in their presence. Therefore, as we take a look at what narratives occupy the FGC in a broader sense, we may be able to predict how they might affect the future of the fighting game landscape beyond 2019.

Narratives in the FGC WP 01
Daigo Umehara is one of the most famous legacy Street Fighter players to date.

The apparent closing of the skill gap—a theme that has been in constant mention in the FGC predominantly since the release of Street Fighter V in early 2016. While the trend itself cannot be placed solely on Street Fighter V’s shoulders to bare, the game’s history since release is possible proof of concept.

Throughout the long competitive tenure of Street Fighter IV, the majority of high-stake tournaments were dominated by names of players whom asserted themselves as the most skillful. While there were instances of upsets on seldom occasions, it was because of the consistency of the top players separating from the pack, that we could appreciate the moments when those who were expected to lose, overcame the odds.

However, if history notes anything in the particular case of Street Fighter V, is that top position is in fact much more volatile of a state than it has been traditionally. The structure of the game from a technical sense has been documented to allow for more possibility of upsets and a smaller window for previous top players to demonstrate an ability of separating from the pack with a reliance on legacy skill.

Narratives in the FGC WP 02
Reaction to BJ Unchained (left) defeating Bonchan (right) at NCR 2015.

Therefore, monumental moments during the Street Fighter IV era, such as Bonchan losing to BJ Unchained at NCR 2015, had more so of a meaningful impact, compared to Dogura and Phenom falling in the early pool stages at CEO 2019, yet turning around to make top 3 at the very next major at Game Over 2019.

However, as a counter argument, it could be simply suggested that while the skill gap may have closed in the case of Street Fighter V, it wasn’t due to the fact of oversimplification of mechanics, but rather that the new player pool ascended to match and even overtake the skill of the legacy player pool.

Narratives in the FGC WP 03
Tekken 7’s season 2 changes implemented more accessible game mechanics for beginners in the form of combo-assists.

Though, as previously mentioned, the trend of closing the skill gap has not been only demonstrated with Street Fighter V, games like Tekken 7, BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle, Dragon Ball FighterZ, and others have also experimented with the idea in some capacity. Yet, it is important to note that while the want for parody is healthy in fighting games, the result of volatility is not.

It is unclear how the future of game development and creative design continues to trend from this point forward in the FGC, the answer perhaps may lie in the sustained popularity of games that demonstrate one design or another, though until that point is reached, the debate of whether fighting games should close the skill gap, will continue to be echoed throughout the FGC.

Narratives in the FGC WP 04
A legacy Super Smash Bros. Melee player in Leffen (left) going up against a longtime FGC competitor in Go1 (right) at CEO 2018.

The Smash-FGC relationship—it is a topic that rises up on occasion depending on the event that brings the two parties together, whether it is the announcement of a large-scale tournament, discussion of crossover competition, or the usual butting heads on behalf of both communities’ online vocal minorities.

Nevertheless, it could possibly be said that as of 2019, the relationship between the FGC and the Smash community is as cordial and friendly as it has been in a long while. Contribution to the amicable air between the two has to be attributed to both communities currently being content with their current situation.

Narratives in the FGC WP 08
Hungrybox (left) going against Wizzrobe (right) at Smash’N’Splash 5, a Smash Bros. exclusive event.

The FGC is currently flourishing with multiple high-quality games that benefit from dedicated and joyous audiences, meanwhile the Smash community is enjoying the latest iteration of the franchise in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and the Super Smash Bros. Melee portion of the community is still continuing its legacy.

The interesting thing to note is that while both communities still share some of the same venues and somewhat of a platform, the use of concentrated events for both the Smash community, such as Smash’N’Splash and the FGC’s equivalent in Northwest Majors, has given both communities the freedom to dedicate focus to their primary passions, perhaps providing some sort of balance for both communities.

Narratives in the FGC WP 11
ESPN Esports covering the FGC’s weekend at Combo Breaker 2019.

The influence of Esports on the FGC—it’s been discussed almost ad nauseam, however, considering that the era that the FGC is currently inhabiting could be labeled as the “Esports era”, the advantages and disadvantages have to be weighed accordingly in order to better future direction.

There is no argument that the Esports movement in competitive fighting games has played a large hand in providing opportunities to competitors, tournament organizers, and influencers that were simply nonexistent prior to its arrival.

Though, the Esports movement that transformed the FGC into what we know it to be today, it did not come without sacrifice. As previously mentioned, fighting games experimenting with closing the skill gap could be linked directly as a form of creating more of an accessible Esports product.

Narratives in the FGC WP 09
Promotion for ELeague’s ‘The Challenger’ series for Street Fighter V.

Other initial concerns which eventually became a reality were examples of smaller scale sponsors getting pushed out of the door in trade for larger companies using the platform for marketing, the loss of certain iconic FGC members whom either didn’t believe in the direction of Esports, or were simply mistreated by the industry.

However, excluding some censorship and more of a business-like approach with regards to the presentation side of things, the aspect that should perhaps be looked at the closest with regards to the future of Esports, is its potential oversaturation.

With nearly every legacy fighting game franchise being a part of a professional circuit, and event frequency nearly spanning every week in a calendar year, as consumers, the FGC will be posed with the question of whether more is actually less?

Narratives in the FGC WP 10
Dead or Alive 6 World Championship is one of many professional fighting game circuits currently running in 2019.

Despite it not reaching that point as of yet, it is important to understand that there is too much of a good thing, and with professional circuit events being promoted every week, a desensitization to these events can occur, especially considering factors such as the aging of titles and retention of interest.

It is to be determined if a change to the current Esports model will be needed in the future, however, considering fighting games are still very much in the infancy stages of taking part in professional circuits and the business that is Esports, there is still enough time to make fitting improvements if they are found to be necessary.

Narratives in the FGC WP 07
Legacy fighting game player Sooa offering a handshake to her opponent after her victory.

The presence of women in the FGC—women participating in fighting games is not a new concept, therefore, labeling this narrative as the arrival of women in the FGC would be inaccurate, however, the exposure of more women in fighting games in recent years is more so fitting of a narrative.

With the Esports movement providing more opportunities, it is of no surprise that high level female competitors have been taken notice by sponsors and professional teams in the same way male competitors have.

Narratives in the FGC WP 06
Knee (left) facing Tanukana (right) in the early competitive days of Tekken 7.

The encouraging aspect of this narrative, along with its potential to continue to trend in more growth, is that while more female competitors, be it veterans or newcomers have become more so recognized figures in the FGC, it is predominantly due to their competitive skills.

While they are fewer in numbers, women in the FGC have shown that they are not only elite as female competitors, but rather just elite as competitors. It is to be seen if more women grasp the opportunities currently available in the FGC, however, if nothing else, the current outlook of women in the FGC looks quite promising.

Narratives in the FGC WP 05
Gootecks (far left), PR Balrog (left), MarqTeddy (right), and Mike Ross (far right), all enjoying a laugh at SCR 2014.

In conclusion, despite outlining multiple narratives that could factor in the future outlook of the FGC, the true narrative of the fighting game community, regardless of era, is not its constant growth, but it’s sustained passion.

The FGC has demonstrated throughout the years that no matter the game, time of day, prize pool at stake, or any other factor, that the passion for fighting games isn’t going anywhere. The circle may widen and it may even contract, but one thing is for certain, the feeling of community will always remain intact.

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