It's funny to think of a fighting game having responsibilities, but that's exactly where Street Fighter V found itself on the verge of its mid-February release date earlier this year. As the follow-up to what was arguably the genre's most important release in decades, there was a lot riding on Street Fighter V's success. Would it be able to maintain the fighting game community's massive growth over the past seven years, while also providing a worthwhile platform for hardcore competitors?
Street Fighter V had been under intense scrutiny from the moment it was announced. While folks once enjoyed fighting games as a hobby, competing solely for notoriety or acclaim, a select handful had turned their skills into thriving careers. For some, fighting games were no longer a simple pastime, and competitors across the globe looked to Capcom in hopes they could live up to this new legacy.
In the time between 2008's Street Fighter IV and Street Fighter V, expectations for modern fighting games had risen. Moving from arcades to home consoles made features like stable online play and robust single-player experiences the norm, and competitive mechanics needed to provide sufficient depth to keep up with the community's lightning-fast social media discussion of strategies while also making sure not to exclude newcomers entirely.
Players scrambled to gain access to various beta tests held before Street Fighter V's official launch, and the consensus was optimistic. It was clear that Capcom put work into making sure each character had unique tools at their disposal, and even the netcode tied to online multiplayer was functional.
At launch, however, a different reality awaited the fighting game community.
Much of the content found in Street Fighter V depends on a reliable internet connection. When booting up, the game immediately connects to Capcom's servers, which it uses to track things like player progress, match statistics, and replays. As more of a "living, breathing platform" than a standard release, Street Fighter V allows players to earn in-game currency to spend on a consistent stream of downloadable content, which also relies on communication between the game and its servers.
That's why, when Street Fighter V went live and players found themselves continually booted from the servers, the problems went beyond not being able to beat up friends online. Core components of the game, including the aforementioned currency acquisition, were nigh inaccessible from the moment the game launched. It was a mess that left the community wondering if Street Fighter V needed a couple more months in the oven.
These early problems overshadowed the fact that, at its core, Street Fighter V was a pretty good game. It was relatively simplistic when compared to its predecessors, focusing less on intricate setups and more on reading the other player, but the variety of tools and mechanics built into the game by Capcom still allowed for a wide range of gameplay styles to find success. Much of this differentiation was thanks to the V-System, which provides each character with their own unique power-up or special action, and player strategies evolved briskly. Today, players can excel with intense rushdown, careful defence, dominant space control, and more.
For all the missteps it had at launch, Street Fighter V's mark on the competitive scene was just beginning. In late February, the annual Capcom Pro Tour launched in earnest, promising big money for players able to prove themselves across the world thanks to backing from PlayStation. Leading up to December's Capcom Cup, Street Fighter V was the most popular game in the community by a huge margin. This year's Evolution Championship Series, for instance, saw over 5,000 competitors travel to Las Vegas to compete in Street Fighter V, almost doubling the next largest game, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.
But the game's poor launch continued to breed scepticism about its prominence in tournaments. Many fighting game fans would ask whether or not top players were keeping up with Street Fighter V out of genuine enjoyment for what it offered or simply because that's where the money was. There's no doubting the hype it brought to major events, but the stigma remained.
Loving Street Fighter V could sometimes feel like a chore, partly due to a rather technical issue known as input delay. As with any genre, fighting games feature a slight delay between when the player presses a button and their character responds. This is generally a non-issue when playing casually, but when you start moving into the world of competition, where one or two frames of animation can mean the difference between landing a winning combo and utter defeat, reducing this delay is of the utmost importance. Just a month after Street Fighter V launched, it was discovered that the game featured an inherent eight frames of input delay. Though just a fraction of second, players familiar with fighting games could feel the lag between button press and on-screen action, and this revelation all but validated their concerns about the fledgling title. While efforts have been made by Capcom to reduce this discrepancy, Street Fighter V's native delay still outmatches its contemporaries, far above where it should be for competitive play.
Controversy about the game came to a head in September. What should have been a moment to celebrate the addition of fan favourite Urien to the roster turned into a liability for anyone worried about their computer's security. In an effort to quell the influx of cheaters on PC, Capcom used the Urien release to also issue a patch that contained a supposed "anti-crack solution" in the form of the Capcom.sys driver. That solution ended up being a glorified rootkit. Anyone with a malicious desire to screw with someone's system could do so by using the back-door access this application created. Although they quickly rolled it back, opinion of Capcom was at an all-time low, and this public perception continues to be a thorn in Street Fighter V's side months later.
Street Fighter V's greatest challenge came with the necessity to appeal to a wide variety of player archetypes, while also not disadvantaging one in its appeal to another. This balancing act is exemplified in one of the game's most recent pieces of downloadable content, Kanzuki Beach, a stage that shows what happens when harmony isn't perfectly maintained.
While stages rarely affect gameplay in Street Fighter as much as they do in, say, Super Smash Bros., it's easy to understand why Kanzuki Beach quickly became a fan favourite. It's gorgeous, the music is jamming, and it provides some teasing fanservice by way of cameos from characters like the Judgement Girls from Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike and Rival Schools' Tiffany Lords and Hinata Wakaba. But part of that beauty is what makes it completely unfit for competitive play.
The rising tide that covers much of the stage, while expressive in the way it refracts light, can make the white-knuckle footsie battles of certain matchups a nightmare. Furthermore, Birdie's low-profile projectiles are hidden by the surf, a tremendous advantage that acted as the final straw for the stage's tournament life. Shortly after these issues were discovered, Evolution Championship Series head Joey "Mr. Wizard" Cuellar announced that the stage would be banned at the tournament's 2016 instalment, a move that became standard at other community events. This scenario, while just a tiny part of a much larger story, serves as the perfect example of Capcom's bungling of Street Fighter V.
So, what can be done? It's clear that Street Fighter V is in dire need of a rebranding, especially with the hype and goodwill of Capcom Cup recently coming to an end. Competitors need to know that Capcom is capable of providing them a stable platform in the coming years, and casual players who may have poked their heads in and given up need to be reintroduced to the content that's been added to Street Fighter V since launch.
After watching Street Fighter IV become Super Street Fighter IV, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition ver. 2012, and Ultra Street Fighter IV, fans of all stripes were obviously exhausted by the endless revisions that have become the genre's calling card. As such, Capcom has assured the community that Street Fighter V would remain Street Fighter V, but it might be time to renege on that promise, or at least relaunch the game in a way that highlights the changes that have been made since February.
At this point, Capcom might as well make an effort to reintroduce Street Fighter V to the greater gaming community. They could show players the copious amounts of single-player content it now provides, like the lengthy story mode fans clamored for at launch. They could add a legitimate arcade mode to appease those looking for a bit of old-school level progression. They could take a page from Overwatch and open a public test realm, allowing players an early look at upcoming content so they can gather feedback from the insanely dedicated members of the community.
There are a lot of things Capcom can do to restore faith both in Street Fighter V and their ability to reliably steer it towards success. They can't, however, rest on their laurels or coast by on the excitement of Capcom Cup. They need to take a long, hard look in the mirror before players begin migrating to the myriad other fighting games out there. The road through Street Fighter V's first year was a bumpy one, both for Capcom and a community that was eager for something new. But as an evolving product, the next challenge for the Street Fighter V developers is learning from their mistakes and honing a title worthy of the franchise's iconic legacy.