Does the FGC Need To Unite?
Date Published: 19 November, 2019
As we close the chapter on the year 2019, and look forward onto the year 2020, the fighting game community finds itself well into its current era—the “esports era.” A change of the landscape that began to gain momentum back in 2013, has drastically transformed the way many in the community view fighting games, both literally and figuratively.
However, before we look ahead at what the future relationship of esports and fighting games might look to accomplish in the upcoming years, it would be wise to reference the past, and see in which areas the FGC succeeded and failed at, before we can begin to answer a very important question—”Does the FGC need to finally unite?”
In order for us to answer such a loaded question such as “Does the FGC need to unite?”, we must first answer the following; “Is the FGC currently divided?”, “How does the FGC become united?” and lastly, “What incentives are there in a united fighting game landscape?”
Beginning with the first question—”Is the FGC currently divided?”, a loaded question within itself, we must look at the early days of the fighting game landscape, both in recent history, as well as the distant past.
It was only less than a decade ago that the state of fighting games, as well as its community was nowhere near its current status of being an operating cog in the giant machine that makes up the industry of competitive gaming—better known as esports.
Although there were some efforts prior to it, the change hadn’t begun until Capcom’s Street Fighter IV headlined it’s first professional circuit for the game in the year 2013 with the inaugural Capcom Cup.
In hindsight, it is largely due to Capcom’s vision for their iconic Street Fighter property, that the format and current successful campaigns of other fighting game circuits are as prosperous as they are today.
However, even before Capcom’s innovation with its professional circuit back in 2013, the feeling of a certain divide, was very much noticeable in the FGC. The heightened comeback of the Street Fighter franchise back in early 2009 was significant predominatly for two reasons.
Street Fighter IV played a major hand in both rejuvenating the fighting game landscape, but also in creating, or perhaps rather resurfacing a theme in the FGC that was existent, yet temporarily dormant, and that was the act of elitism.
Although it wasn’t as pronounced during the grassroots era of the FGC, when arcades were the prominent locations for competition, the name that was put on a pedestal, was without a doubt Capcom.
The historical significance of Street Fighter II aside, the remarkable runs held by titles such as Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Capcom vs. SNK 2, and Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, were enough to warrant the dedicated fandom from the fighting game landscape.
However, be it during the arcade era, or during the console era, the heightened relevance of Capcom and it’s fighting game properties shifted its dedicated portion of the FGC to act in way of elitism towards other fighting games. Lending to labeling the “Non-Capcom” titles as almost minuscule in caparison.
It is fair to say that the relationship of the other dedicated fighting game circles, such as the 3-D space with titles such as Virtua Fighter and Tekken, and later on the anime space with titles such as Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, had held resentment towards the labeling it received from the Capcom diehards, however, considering the sheer pull Capcom held in the FGC both in the 1990’s and in the early 2010’s, resistance was futile.
It wasn’t until early 2016, with the launch of Street Fighter V, and post Street Fighter IV‘s successful three year stretch of the Capcom Pro Tour, in addition to the feeling that the established property seemingly couldn’t do wrong in the eyes of the majority of the FGC, that the always resurfacing theme of a divide within the community garnered more attention and significance.
In a similar fashion to Capcom’s mishandling of Street Fighter X Tekken in 2012 with regards to it’s communication with its direct audience, odd marketing practices, and a failure to deliver on a comprehensive product, the same faltering reoccurred with the majority of Street Fighter V‘s lifespan, before Capcom managed to somewhat rebound in 2018 with Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition.
However, the difference this time was that resistance was no longer futile. The emerging of titles such as Tekken 7, Dragon Ball FighterZ, and the return of the Mortal Kombat series with Mortal Kombat 11, has provided enough competition to Capcom largely by virtue of the exposure on the esports front.
Amidst Capcom showing signs of weakness with the early stages of Street Fighter V, Bandai Namco capturing momentum out of the gate with Tekken 7, and the excitement of both new intellectual properties, as well as rejuvenated ones, the fighting game market had finally provided a sense of parody, something that was seemingly missing for nearly a decade.
Therefore, with over 30 years of fighting game history to study, and multiple eras to document from, as we stand here today and ask, “Is the Fighting Game Community divided?”, perhaps the best answer is “No, but it isn’t unified either.”
Whether be it due to Capcom’s dominant presence, or title parody in the landscape due to esports exposure, fighting games by design, are meant to be held as unique experiences, which consequently births the idea of favoritism, and thus creates circles of preference across the FGC.
To that end, the FGC is similar in practice to live action competition such as mixed martial-arts. The individual fighters are akin to the community, the specified martial art they prefer is akin to the FGC’s title preference, however, the competition itself in its entirety is predominatly enjoyed by the fans regardless of preference.
Therefore, while specific fighters such as Conor McGregor may steal the headlines for a prolonged period, akin to the FGC’s case of Capcom and Street Fighter, the emergence of other exciting prospects like Israel Adesanya, a la the case of Bandai Namco and Dragon Ball FighterZ, will eventually garner the attention of the overall fan base.
Now with a better understanding of the FGC’s partition situation, we can now shift focus to the second question, “How does the FGC unite?” Firstly, we have to acknowledge that union in the FGC, albeit extremely unlikely considering it’s preferential divide, is still a possible concept.
There are a few ways a union can occur in the FGC, though, there are two main ways that immediately come to mind, those being the organic movement around a specific fighting game title, or the substantial marketing push towards an esports friendly property.
The organic movement in the FGC is not a new concept, rather it was exemplified only a little more than a year ago when the Under Night In-Birth franchise received a rejuvenating update in the form of Under Night In-Birth EXE: Late[st], that not only organically sparked growth for the game, but widened its dedicated circle and overall interest in the process.
However, in order for a unionization in the FGC to occur organically, a movement has to be on a scale much larger than any we have ever witnessed, something that was speculated to happen back in early 2018 with the release of Dragon Ball FighterZ.
Dragon Ball FighterZ out of the gate had pointed to perhaps being the game the fighting game landscape could look to when the idea of becoming united was propositioned. The game was showcased at E3 2017, a mainstream show that reaches a wide audience, its development was in the hands of a recognizable name in Bandai Namco, and lastly, but most importantly, it’s intellectual property had been already an established widespread brand.
Yet, despite having many things going for it, where Dragon Ball FighterZ‘s failed to capitalize was with its initial concept and promotion. A tag battle system, an early homogeneous feel, and chaotic action from a spectator’s point of view, were all hurdles, but ones that could be addressed and improved upon, evident by the game’s current nature.
However, with a lack of a significant marketing push, especially in the western markets, was ultimately the game’s failure in truly capturing a mainstream audience, outside of its dedicated fighting game circle.
The other property that perhaps at one time had a realistic chance of unifying the fighting game landscape, was the very same property that holds some accountability for its aforementioned divide—Street Fighter.
Coming off a spectacular professional tour year in 2015, employing widespread marketing, and accomplishing a feat that no game has ever done so before, registering over 5,000 competitors at Evolution 2016, Street Fighter V had potential to change the landscape.
After earning its national syndication in the form of an appearance on ESPN2, Street Fighter V had seemingly finally gone big time, they checked every box, from mainstream marketing decisions, to owning a recognizable property, and featuring a simple gameplay concept.
However, as previously mentioned, while Street Fighter V was doing well to win the hearts of those outside of the dedicated fighting game landscape, it ultimately failed to appeal to a significant portion within the FGC.
Therefore, with two fighting game titles in recent history with the potential for unifying the fighting game landscape falling short for different reasons, the FGC remains in the same position, however, the door for unification in the FGC is not closed just yet.
Despite it being far too early to speculate anything with regards to its standing in the fighting game landscape, the early in-development fighting game title from Riot Games is one title that can potentially shake things up in the FGC.
Considering it will be a brand new franchise from a fighting game standpoint, as well as holding an immensely popular intellectual property in League of Legends that is already widely recognizable and globally marketed, a fighting game from Riot Games is already ahead of the curve in succeeding where both Street Fighter V and Dragon Ball FighterZ had failed.
Though, perhaps most importantly, the brand name League of Legends is already synonymous with the world of esports, possibly making the transition for a fighting game title enter that same fray in a seamless fashion.
Therefore, with the information we have available, both from past experience, as well as future possibilities, it leaves us to ask the penultimate question—”What incentives are there in a united fighting game landscape?”
It is a simple question of “Why?” and a similarly simple answer would be; “For esports.” The good that comes from a unified FGC is the fact that when it comes to events, particularly invite-only events, the scale, production, monetary gain, and exposure, would be unlike the FGC has ever seen before.
Focusing on one fighting game title to helm the competitive front in the FGC could open up the door for mainstream success, something fighting games has flirted with in the past, but never managed to truly capture.
Unifying the audience in the fighting game landscape would also presumably end the era of open invite tournaments for circuit purposes, meaning each competitive esport event, while perhaps less frequent, would benefit from showcasing the top individual fighting game players in the world competing against one another, be it in a one-on-one or team format.
The aforementioned question—”Does the FGC need to unite?”, was a question too broad to answer right off the bat, however, after answering the prelude questions to better understand the factors that lead to asking such a question, we ask again, “Does the FGC need to unite?”
It is a subjective matter, however, with one opinion offered, I would humbly answer “No, not when the price of union, means further segregation.” Taking everything into consideration, the fighting game community would find it very difficult to come to terms with regards to only dedicating its attention to one fighting game title.
The divide within the community, both originating from personal preference, as well as past inner conflict, is one of the main reasons why unification is so unlikely. However, the idea of exchanging the smaller spotlights for one grand one, potentially sacrificing open invite participation in circuit tournaments in the process, is a concept that goes a little too far from what the FGC stands for, which ultimately is community.
Being tied down, contractually or otherwise to show exclusive interest to one fighting game title, ultimately subjects the FGC to simply creating another large independent circle, rather than widening its current one.
The current model of competitive fighting games is subtly balancing the concept of esports, as well as the concept of the FGC. Each game is an individual faction competing in one market. The audience within the market gets to pick which games and circuits are worthy of their attention.
While coming together on one focused target may result in finally achieving the grand scale the fighting game community has longed for, the price of further separation for a grand scheme unionization, is far too high as it may only tear the community apart by eliminating many of the values the FGC has long stood by.
It is very much a hypothetical situation, however, unifying the FGC is not out of the realm of possibility, which consequentially lends each and every one of us in the fighting game community to ask ourselves—”Is a united fighting game landscape something we really want?”