How many of you all got told as a child that playing video games were a waste of time? That you wouldn’t get anywhere doing that? That you’d never do anything with that? I got told that on a near daily basis. I could have been done with my homework and chores, minding my business, my elders would make me feel bad for playing video games. Fast forward to current day in the current year and we can tell that they were wrong. Not that they could have predicted it, but they were wrong. However, even I could never have expected this latest milestone. Fighting games…at the Olympics.
Now this is something people have joked about since the rise of eSports. How it’ll never go as far as the Olympics because it isn’t a sport and all that. But now skeptics will have to hold that L and watch Akuma be great on their TVs. While I’m sure this decision has garnered some backlash, I think it’ll be important to discuss the implications and benefits this has for fighting games going forward. I also think there’ll be effects that we may not immediately see, but let’s discuss what we have so far.
Up until now, fighting games have been seen as a niche section of gaming. Despite their rising popularity, only so many are dedicated to fighting games enough to practice every day and actively improve instead of the casual player that’ll learn the moves and that’s it. There’s nothing wrong with that, by the way. But the number of professionals in this genre weren’t massive. When you hear that a tournament has a turnout of about 5,107 people for a game, that sounds impressive, and it is. But compared to a total game sales, in this case Street Fighter V, that’s only 0.00204% of it’s approximately 2.5 million sales. That percentage isn’t of proven professionals, simply of people who took the game seriously enough wanting to compete in Street Fighter V. While being at the Olympics may not change the most minds, I think this will propel fighting games outside of that niche status and perhaps grow the scene a bit with people curious to be like one of those players who are on the Olympic stage.
What better game to start than Street Fighter V? Despite those who hate the game for their various reasons, it’s a simple game. It’s a game designed to not be overly complicated or so deep that it can’t be understood. Perhaps that’s its greatest strength and why it’ll be at the Olympics instead of games like Tekken 7 or Under Night In-Birth, or even Smash Bros Ultimate. SFV is easy to explain, easy to commentate, and can be a tense spectacle to watch at times. The game is easy to pick up, but not as easy to master. For long standing veterans, this game can either be just a different beast or a piece of trash. I’m not here to debate if it’s good or not to you, as I think Michael and I have done that enough. All I’m here to say is that if any game was going to make it this far, it was going to be Street Fighter V. If not its ease of access, then the weight behind the name. Yeah, we all know about Mortal Kombat, but who’s going to put that game on that big international stage? Tekken? How do you explain movement like that to an incredibly casual audience? You get the idea.
Now, I do have my concerns. For this being something never before done, there isn’t a blueprint on how to throw and Olympic tournament like this before. That said, I hope they bring in people who know what they’re doing and have held large scale tournaments before. Rick Thiher (The Hadou), Alex Jebailey, and Joey Cuellar (Mr. Wiz) are names that come to mind as consultants on how to make this something that is great for players and spectators alike. As far as commentators, I again hope they pull people who are tried and true to do this as opposed to random Olympic commentators that may know a lot about swimming and pole vaulting, but squint their face up when you ask “what’s a plus frame?”
The next concern is one I think some others have considered, and that’s game design going forward. I think Capcom stands to make a lot of money from the exposure alone. Other companies are going to be paying attention to that because as much as we love these games, they have to make money first and foremost. If this Olympics deal makes Capcom all the dollars they ever hoped for and this tournament goes off without too many problems, then other companies are going to try to throw their hats into the ring and make games of similar make. There will be companies that try to take their core game and boil it down to what they think are the essentials with just a little bit of spice and a whole lot of flare. Now, it could turn out well, or they could completely miss why SFV is where it is. SFV has found a bit of a sweet spot where the game is simple and people can play it, but leaves itself with just enough depth that there will be a clear cut difference on those who know the game and those who don’t. Some companies can go the route of making the game way too easy or think that more complexity is what these games need and make a game too complex for the sake of it. Either way, I do see game design going forward being affected by the results of this tournament.
More immediately, I can see the backlash. Already, eSports has had a tough time because they have “sports” in the name. And as any football fan is ready to tell you “VIDEO GAMES AREN’T SPOOOOORTS.” I’m sure we’ve all seen this or heard this, but this may be the peak of it. I haven’t seen a lot of hate, but the hate I’ve seen has been potent. Ranging from “the olympics is a joke now” to “you’re just giving participation awards to losers!” because for reason we still believe gamers are basement dwellers with no lives in 2019. Well, that’s all just too damn bad. Whether they like it or not, eSports has proven itself to be a lucrative business. In this ever changing world, people will be looking toward new forms of entertainment every day. Yeah, football and basketball is all cool, but have you seen optimal G combos? Have you seen Karin whiff punishes? Have you seen some of the personality these players exude?
In short, this’ll be interesting to say the least. Oh, and for the record, I know Rocket League is there as well, but this is about fighting games y’know? My hope is that this’ll be something that will become tradition and commonplace, not some one time kind of thing. It’ll certainly take time, though. Between public sentiment and the effects this can have on future game development, things could go wrong. Or things could be amazing and fighting games can be propelled to new heights. I can’t wait to see what comes of this, but one thing is certain: Street Fighter 6 isn’t coming any time soon so you might as well either learn Street Fighter V or play older games. What do you guys think? Will this be amazing? Or a disaster? And are you excited? Let us know in the comments.