Money for Nothing – Capcom’s “Stars” Initiative Is Here, and It Sucks

So this past week, Capcom announced all the details to their 2018 Pro Tour, the nearly 12 month long tournament series that culminates in a final, 32-man event in December. And considering we’re talking about Capcom here, it’s littered with poor choices and a system dedicated to making it nearly impossible to actually compete in unless you are a constantly traveling, world class talent.

Of course, that’s exactly what they want, contrary to a lot of damage control you are going to hear in the next few weeks/months.

See, there’s a gentleman I’ve covered before named John Diamonon, who I’m just going to be calling John D. He is the Senior Director of Licensing and E-Sports over at Capcom’s USA headquarters, which means he has a pretty big hand in what happens on this side of the Pacific. He’s been pretty vocal on Twitter, for better and for worse (mostly for worse), and, in the Summer of last year he made his strategy for pushing the fighting game community toward E-Sports pretty clear:

In a vacuum, that makes absolute sense. As we see currently with athletes like Adam Nippon and Chloe Kim in the Winter Olympics, it is often the magnetism of athletes’ personalities that draw in not only TV viewers, but other, more wealthy eyes. Rippon and Kim will no doubt be harassed with sponsorship offers from every brand on the planet in the months and years to come, and, in turn, it will likely draw many more eyes to the world of figure skating and snowboarding. There are countless examples in loads of other professional sports that show a direct correlation between public interest and the star power of an athlete.

But that’s the key word here, isn’t it? “Professional.”

Talking with the New York Times about his company’s signing of sports stars like David Beckham, a Chief Executive for the British clothing brand Belstaff mentioned that  partnerships between a brand and a professional athlete “have got to done with integrity. You’ve got to have shared values: that’s the beginning of an authentic relationship.”

Capcom wouldn’t know the words “professional,” “integrity,” or “authentic” if it was struck in the face by them.

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Capcom on the search for E-Sports gold

Now I wanna say up front that I am totally in support of players who are able to become bigger than just fighting games. Daigo Uemehara is a legitimate superstar, with his own book, his own manga, and possibly the most famous play in fighting game history. Players like Justin Wong and Marie-Laure “Kayane” Norindr have such big legacies that they are going to be in an independent film that features a fictional version of the FGC. Yusuke Momochi and his wife Yuko “Chocoblanka” Momochi have established a business structured on training young Japanese  players to prepare to travel overseas for tournaments, and are doing well under the banner of former NBA star Rick Fox’s E-Sports brand EchoFox. These are just some of the host of legitimate, larger-than-life figures that have come out of the FGC and are still popular even to this day. I have watched these players for years and am very happy that they are able to get these opportunities.

What pisses me off about Capcom’s attempts to make “Stars” is that they are doing exactly the opposite of what makes all the players I mentioned above so endearing. While those players spent years establishing themselves as the big dogs in their respective games, Capcom seems dead set on stacking the deck to make sure that no one but those who have the privilege to travel nation and worldwide, probably with the help of a sponsor, have a real shot at reaching their finals.

As detailed by Ian Walker of Kotaku in the article I linked at the beginning of this post, Capcom’s 2018 Pro Tour chokes out the regional circuit, making even high placings in those types of tournaments irrelevant. The only real way to grab a bunch of points is to place within at least the top 8 at an established “premiere” event. These events, with brackets of several hundred to a thousand players, are incredibly difficult to place in and usually have a pretty set type of placer: a well traveled, sponsored player with a fairly large presence in the scene. Given that these same players often travel to the regional events just to get extra points, they are most likely going to start gatekeeping the talented-but-not-too-well-traveled regional players out of earning the points necessary to qualify for the finals. Not only that, they’ve effectively snuffed out the region that their current champion, Saul “MenaRD” Mena, is from, Latin America; with only one Premiere type event that is already favoring highly placed people in the region anyways.

What are we, the greater FGC at large, supposed to take away from this? I’ll let London tournament organizer and frequent Capcom partner (between commentating and doing livestreams for Capcom’s UK Division) say it:

I must have missed the part where the vast majority of the FGC wasn’t “enthusiastic amateurs.”

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Given the information that has come out, it seems pretty safe to assume that Capcom probably agrees with Mr. John D and wants to focus on the “Stars” to build their E-Sports brand around. I may disagree heavily with how they go about it, but hey, if it works it works, right?

Let’s talk about The Battle for the Stones.

Battle-for-the-Stones
I passed some stones of a different kind thinking about this tournament

Battle for the Stones was Capcom’s attempt at pushing Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite since it could not be a part of their normal pro tour. Much like their Street Fighter V series, the idea was that there would be a series of events, offline and online, that would end in a final bracket of 16 people playing for the grand prize, which was a $30,000 prize pool and a sweet trophy. To drum up some extra juice, the seven previous winners of the last game in the series, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, were already entered into the final bracket. So far, this sounds like a fun way to capitalize on a game releasing late in the year, right?

There was one liiitttlllee thing that also made it special…The Infinity Stones.

See MvCI’s story revolved largely around the acquisition of The Infinity Stones, a creation of Marvel Comics that is currently at play in their long running cinematic universe. The Stones are meant to represent the characteristics of existence, and bringing them all together grants nigh omnipotence. Since they feature heavily in the game as actual mechanics, Capcom thought it would be neat for them to be rewards to the winners of the qualifying tournaments, with each stone having actual, tournament altering consequences. No, I’m not kidding.

I would like to say we could blame the Marvel influence, but if you go to the bottom of the red section in that link I just gave, you’ll notice the words “Marvel is in no way a sponsor, administrator, or prize provider for this tournament.” Either way, this was pretty off putting to a lot of people; it’s hard to take a tournament extra seriously when you can play such havoc with the rules. But $30,000 is $30,000, and the first big tournament was set for SoCal Regionals on Sept. 22, 2017. MvCI was released on Sept. 19, 2017. Capcom didn’t put a pot bonus, but they did put up a spot for the Battle of the Stones, which was a little sketchy.

Another big problem was that Capcom knowingly and willingly gave some players an advantage going into the tournament.

During the…divisive (that’s being mild) buildup to MvCI’s release, Capcom had quite a few public showings of the game, often times getting known players to show off the game. And it never helps to give them a little time to prepare by themselves. The player in the middle is Ryan “FilipinoChamp” Ramirez, a guy who most likely got a bunch of early access play time, if the rumors and innuendo is anything to go by.

This is actually pretty common, especially since there’s such large group of strong players, like Champ congregated in the Norcal area where Capcom’s USA headquarters are based. It’s not a big deal, but most people know how to keep it low key. I’ll give Champ points for at least trying to pretend he was surprised by this character reveal at Evo.

giphy (1)
FChamp trying to conjure up something for the big stage at Evo

Here’s where it gets shitty, though. Come the week before the release of the game, Capcom begins giving access to the game to certain players to stream the training and versus modes for the purposes of showing off some early game shenanigans. Ramirez was one of those players, surprising pretty much no one. As I mentioned earlier, the first tournament for the game was not only days after release, but also a qualifier for a big money tournament coming up. Justin Wong was smart enough to realize the potential shitstorm and bowed out of the tournament. Not all the early access players were as thoughtful.

Two guesses as to who won SoCal Regionals that weekend.

It was Chris G.

ori7ph
I will continue to find as many excuses to post this picture of exasperated Naoto as I can

No, it was Fillipino Champ, to no one’s surprise. Per the rules of the tournament, the Infinity Stone and spot in the finals was given to the runner up, but to me, the damage was done. Players in certain areas getting early copies due to broken street dates by vendors, and while that sucks, there’s not a whole lot anyone can do to stop it. But it is a horse of a completely different color when Capcom, the company who made the game and is running a big money series in which this week 1 tournament is a crucial stop, knowingly and willingly gives early access to certain players and does not bar them from entering the tournament. There were rules in place to let people who had already auto-qualified into the Battle for the Stones finals through legacy (like FChamp) from taking the spot that the tournament gave, but otherwise it reeked of the governing body picking and choosing who they wanted to do well, at least early on.

Do I blame Ramirez? Absolutely not! I can’t imagine turning down offers like that, especially when the competition is bound to be extremely heavy and I rely on performing strong. Do I even think Capcom at any point paid him for this? No, I don’t think they could put that together. But can I question Capcom’s insistence at choosing this person (a person who has a troublesome-at-best past with regards to professionalism and transparency) to show off their game, and in the process muddy up results for tournaments? Hell. Yes. If you want to make “stars” then just do it like it has been done before: let the players play over the course of a few months and see what happens. Ryan Ramirez is a very good fighting game player, I’m sure he’d have no trouble doing it on his own without your bullshit meddling.

Needless to say, the rest of the Battle for the Stones was equally bootleg. The finals, held the same weekend as the year long Capcom Pro Tour Finals for SFV as well as the Last Chance Qualifer for said tour, was largely a flop and, if rumors and innuendo is to be believed, a total shitshow behind the scenes as well. I know I’d have a lot of confidence in the future of the game’s E-Sports prospects when the guy allegedly in charge of all of it says “Fuck that game” after I just placed second at its biggest event!

Oh yeah, it probably also didn’t help that the game had a huge patch with balance changes and new characters just a few weeks before the finals, and the finals were going to be played on the older version. Somebody (I won’t say who) appears to have had at least the DLC characters early. Playing on the older version suddenly makes a lot more sense that way.

VWGZq
Me, trying to envision how all of this happened

Again, I don’t blame the players; if I was basically handed the tools to get better on a silver platter, there’s no way I’m not doing that. But I would hope that the people in charge of this thing would at least have the goddamn courtesy to try and at least look professional and provide some authenticity to their corporate nonsense, especially with something as inherently diverse and passionate as the FGC. They have been making “stars” since inception, they don’t need corporations with millions of dollars to inject it into the scene, and the sooner they realize that they sooner we can actually get E-Sports that feels like it has a pulse and isn’t just currying to a select few over the majority of the population.

Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of hope for that: we’re dealing with an industry where you can be a sponsored, salaried player and say horrible things that would be worth termination in other jobs but a slap on the wrist (or nothing) here, you can be the commissioner of a massive organization and not “get around” to posting the code of conduct, you can physically assault someone and still host a nationally televised show in the same profession, and you can be the owner of a decent size team and creep on women and ask for nudes. We’re in the Wild West and nothing is sacred. The latest news about the Capcom Pro Tour appears to have even doubled down on that idea to cut out the “any given Sunday” feel of open events, and I’m sure that is what they will continue to push for privately, even if they don’t want to say so publicly

I don’t want to come off as if everything I’ve ever seen regarding FGC E-Sports is garbage, since it’s mainly just the Capcom side, so here’s some good stuff: Bandai-Namco has been doing great with the Tekken World Tour, which had a great story with champion Byung-moon “Qudans” Son winning after a long hiatus, SNK Corp. had a World Championship Series for King of Fighters XIV that was a lot of fun, and even E-League can be fun when it’s not hiring stranglers and doing goofy horseshit that is super phony.

Well, that about does it, wraps her all up. I wish nothing but the best for players who look to seek this crazy gaming life as a profession, but I hope that it doesn’t happen at the expense of the mid-to-low level players who make up the beating heart and soul of the FGC, even when the players sometimes push for it:

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That’s it for me this time. Remember folks, stars are in the sky and stars are in Hollywood; they are not going to ever eclipse the fighting games we love to play and will burn out long before the games go anywhere.

3 thoughts on “Money for Nothing – Capcom’s “Stars” Initiative Is Here, and It Sucks

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