Let me start off this post by defining a feeling that many people in the fighting game community are experiencing now but may not quite know how to articulate. From Webster’s Online Dictionary:
Schadenfreude n. – Enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others.
Schadenfreude has infected the FGC very quickly in the past couple years, and it’s pretty obvious why. But first, a little backstory:
Capcom, many years removed from their glory days, released sequels to its incredibly popular franchises Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom in pretty rapid succession in the late aughts. Both of the series’ previous entries were revivals of sorts, new games in franchises that had been long dormant, with Street Fighter 4 first hitting arcades in in the Summer of 2008, and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 arriving in February 2011.
Each game received universal acclaim from both critics and fans alike, who were delighted to see these IP’s get some attention after 10+ years of side games and unrelated crossover titles. SF4 is even seen as giving birth to the modern day FGC, in many ways, because it was heavily promoted via a national tournament thrown by major video game retailer Gamestop, which then lead right into Evolution, the biggest tournament of the year. The games had a tournament lifespan of over four years, typically as the headline events of the annual Evo tournament and many of the major tournaments across the US and other parts of the gaming world. Before too long, sequels to both games were announced, with Street Fighter V scheduled to release in early 2016 and Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite in Fall 2017.
As usual, both games had its detractors. Tons of people who played games seen as lower on the totem pole like King of Fighters and Guilty Gear and Killer Instinct could be seen groveling on the internet that the only reason people play the games is because they are Capcom fanboys who will just like anything they produce. Street Fighter V and Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite looked to be no different, and many braced for yet another overwhelmingly positive reception to these two new additions.
But a funny thing happened when both games were released: the goodwill and nostalgia seem to disappear, and this is where the schadenfreude I described earlier reared its ugly head. Street Fighter V released to middling reviews, with critics citing the game’s lack of single player content and shaky online structure as key issues. Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite‘s reviews were mixed as well, following a tumultuous pre-release period where the game’s recycled assets and questionable graphical style were maligned pretty regularly on the internet.
Of course, to nerds like me, this was all mindless and inane chaff; I just wanted to here what the playerbase who took it seriously as a competitive game had to say. And, to be honest, it wasn’t much better. SFV, which had a long period of time where the game was publicly playtested by an online beta, has been heavily criticized by the competitive community, maybe even moreso than the actual game critics. On any given day, one could click onto any fighing game site and see a tweet or long social media post from any number of top players decrying the game as “random,” “ass,” “a game for scrubs,” etc.
MvC:I was doomed far before release, with what seemed like scandal after scandal providing fodder for the community to pounce on. There was the infamous interview (already a damage control piece in reference to a trailer released weeks earlier) in which then Capcom USA Community Manager Peter “Combofiend” Rosas referred to beloved characters from Marvel’s X-Men property that would not be appearing in MvC:I as “functions,” a response implying that angry fans should look into other characters because they provided the same tactical and technical functions as those X-Men characters did.
I would be remiss in not discussing John “JohnD” Diamonon, the senior director of licensing and E-sports at Capcom USA. Every other month it seemed like this guy was putting his foot in his mouth on Twitter: being disingenuous about a certain type of motion being in the game, attacking long time community member Arturo “Sabin” Sanchez after an innocuous tweeted photo, accidentally uploading an entire proposal from Capcom regarding E-sports and MvC:I to his Youtube page, the guy’s done it all! This is all without mentioning him being responsible for one of the most quoted memes in 2017 in the FGC. As you can see, he’s had a busy year.
In all of this, I can’t pretend like my schadenfreude levels weren’t through the goddamn roof. Because there are so many players in the FGC whose only experience in the realm of fighting games is Capcom, their thoughts and opinions tend to skew way toward that style of game more than anything. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I’ve had to deal with people who don’t know any better telling me the game I play is shit and that it’s “not a fighting game,” whatever the hell that means, because of this, that, and the other reason.
So, being only a human being, I can’t help but feel a little tingle of joy at watching the two top dogs get a little bit of a tug on the choke chain from its playerbase. I can admit to thinking it can be a little fun to indulge that mean streak and say the game sucks loudly and obnoxiously, if only because it feels like payback for years of unbridled arrogance from certain players who believe Capcom’s games to be the Almighty when it comes to fighters.
Don’t get me wrong, though: SFV and MvC:I will continue to be the top dogs at tournaments and have the most entries. It is just funny to see just how many people will play the games religiously and say they’re terrible and try to find little hints of evidence that the games are slowly dying.
“Dying” is a concept in the FGC that simply means the game will not be watched or played in tournaments. Depending on how the game is seen in the general public, the fervor is either harsher or smaller. For SFV, in particular, it’s at a seeming all time high. It’s so high that a few weeks ago, a random tweet went out that the Wall Street Journal was posting an article that detailed the horrid straits that Capcom was in due partly to this game’s sales. This was endlessly retweeted and gloated about, despite being completely fake. That’s schadenfreude in action, my friends!
Those poor souls who ardently defend the title are often referred to as shills, which is a little harsh, although sometimes it’s hard to see it as anything but. This is typically top players who happen to make a living off the game, but sometimes even whole websites seem to be a sipping a bit of the Kool-Aid.
But why do we like doing this so much? Why do we enjoy this schadenfreude, even if it comes at the expense of our FGC bretheren? Having been in the NRS part of the scene for years, I’ve noticed that there are people who love to just constantly spout rhetoric that implies the game is going to die. Whether it be through low tournament views on Twitch, balance, the state of the online, or, my favorite, “there’s no hype,” it seems like there’s always something for these bootleg Nostradamus’ to latch onto.
I think a lot of it stems from the bitterness of perhaps not being as good as you once were so, in your sort of twisted logic, killing off the newer game to make way for the older (or a version of) game would “save'” the series from damnation. I can kind of see the logic in that, but it just comes across as sour grapes; no one likes to hear about how their game sucks just because it isn’t like an older one.
Another thing to consider is that maybe, if the game dies, it would justify that person’s dislike of the game in spite of its surging popularity. Marvel and Street Fighter have always typically been the most popular tournament games in the modern day FGC, but Mortal Kombat and Injustice sell the most amongst the general populace: Injustice 2, as of right now, is still within the ten best selling video games of the whole fiscal year. Shitting on what people like is very popular thing on the internet, if YouTube comments and Twitter are anything to go by, so this is more than likely the correct answer.
The unfortunate thing about this is, it eventually leads to those same sour grapes becoming the new grapevine from which anyone who’s ignorant of what’s going on. I was talking earlier to a guy who I know plays Injustice pretty casually but knew that there changes coming to the game’s balance in a few days. He described Injustice 2 as being in a “precarious” position, especially when it came to “tournament support.”
This is a game that, as of this writing, has a tournament coming up this weekend that has $150,000 on the line for the winner, the culmination of a four month-long tournament series. They still have for sale in-game a particular set of alternative colors for all the characters in the game that is meant to be a community contribution to future tournament pot bonuses. The company’s previous game, Mortal Kombat X, was supported hard for over two years. There is simply no logical reason to believe that tournament support would go away anytime soon, unless of course, you believed the common logic that seems to be running rampant on Twitter and on TYM.
For reasons hitherto unknown to me, the prevailing theory seems to be that NRS will just stop supporting the game after this particular tournament finals because “hype” is low. I don’t really know what that means, but I know that it’s bullshit. Even a cursory glance into the source of these rumors would reveal a veritable who’s who of washed-up players and ne’er do-wells that have about as much of an inside source as I have washer board abs. On its own this is pretty much harmless bitching, but it has farther reaching effects that are much more damaging.
Saying a game is “dead” is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Regardless of how much money is on the line, players and spectators alike effectively turning their backs on the game will sink a game completely. I played one of these games: Street Fighter x Tekken. This game had pretty much no supporters once it came out, leading the annual Evo tournament to make the tournament a 2v2 affair, an attempt to push the game’s unique mode where two players could play on a team of two different characters. This was not a good look for the game, and along with a disastrous pre-release YouTube series entitled Cross Assault and various early balance issues, the game was largely considered a laughingstock only five months into the game’s life. Despite its main event status at a big tournament series held by Capcom to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Street Fighter, despite a car (yes, a car) being one of the prizes for the winner of said tournament, the game could not be redeemed. Even after a massive rehaul of the game, SFxT 2013 Version, the game slowly petered out until it was only available at most big fighting game events as an unsponsored, unscheduled side tournament.
I played SFxT for a long time with a local scene that really embraced the game, and I remember that they all talked about how the earl game talk really damaged the reputation of the game, to the point where most people wouldn’t even give the game a second look. I feel this same thing is starting to happen to Injustice 2.
E-League, the $150,000 tournament, is the biggest slice of pie anyone would ever receive in the history of the NRS scene, as the Injustice Pro Series Finale was before it. For some reason, however, not many players seem to act like it is as big an opportunity as it is. Rumors of players complaining about being “burnt out” and playing other games in the leadup to the tournament were spread like wildfire. Question: for many of these players, playing Injustice 2 is their job. If you get “burnt out” at your job, you keep doing it if you wanna get paid. And there was a lot of money here! What on Earth is going on?
I really, really hope this isn’t the case. I have seen it happen to too many games in the past and I would hate to see it now. I may not like SFV and MvC:I, but I feel that I don’t need to be a part of the problem by listing out what I think needs to be changed about each game because a) it won’t happen and b) if you already enjoy it, I’m not going to change your mind. All it would do is lead to more negative rhetoric, and I think I’m tired of that, for now.
So I implore you, if you’re one of those types who feel the need to tell people, unprovoked, how bad a game is, why not just stay silent? Or worse yet, if you don’t like a game and still play, just admit the reason why you are playing or quit. Don’t give false platitudes like “I just care about making a good game,” or “I care about the community,” just admit you are playing for the money and that’s it. No one would hold it against you, essentially when there’s so much jack on the line. And for those who do like games that get a lot of unjust hate, fight back! Correct the falsities going around and don’t let a bunch of losers who have nothing better to do kill the reputation of a game.
Thanks for reading these rants, even if I come across as annoyingly self-righteous. Believe me, I’m aware. I try to get a new piece up every week, so look for that if you’re interested. I’m hoping to do an expose on the VxG 2013 tournament, but there’s a lot of research to go along with that, so it may be a little longer. Either way, I appreciate you all who go got to this sentence without rolling their eyes at least twice, and I’ll see you next time!