The last few weeks have been a turbulent time for Shoryuken, the world's leading fighting game website, and full disclosure, my former employer. After the outlet's owners announced plans to shutter their message boards, the competitive community was sent into a frenzy, worried what the move meant for the future of genre discussion.
And while that decision has since been reversed, the momentary alarm revealed a pressing issue with regards to how fighting game information is shared.
The website and its forums were established in 1999 by Evolution Championship Series founders Tom and Tony Cannon, Joey "Mr. Wizard" Cuellar, and Seth Killian. Where before the fighting community had relied on primitive precursors like newsgroups and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels, Shoryuken represented a more stable home for sharing news, tournament details, and competitive strategies.
"This was back when the web was just starting to pick up steam," Tom Cannon told Compete. "Most conversations happened in person or through text-based discussion boards like Usenet. It was fairly difficult to have a deep discussion about strategy if you didn't personally know a top player. The initial mission of the site was to pick the brains of the top fighting game players in the country and document their strategies, as well as the mindset they took when practicing and playing in tournaments."
From these humble beginnings, the Shoryuken forums grew to become the world's most important hub for Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom discussion. In time, more websites would follow their lead, including Tekken Zaibatsu (Tekken), VFDC (Virtua Fighter), 8WayRun (Soulcalibur), Dustloop (Guilty Gear, BlazBlue, Persona), Melty Bread (Melty Blood), and Test Your Might (Mortal Kombat, Injustice).
Despite different focuses, each one followed the same format of featuring general discussion as well as separate boards for character-specific strategies, providing invaluable spaces for their respective communities to trade competitive information.
It's on Shoryuken that some of the greatest fighting game content of all time was shared. Co-founder Seth Killian's series of "Domination 101" essays remains essential reading for anyone looking to improve themselves, and old-school players like John Choi, Alex Valle, and James Chen would often provide videos of newly-discovered strategies and combos.
"Shoryuken gained a reputation for being a place you learned, so many people felt welcome," Chen said. "Obviously, as with any online community, there were always some issues of people getting driven away by arseholes, but it still managed to grow."
"Eventually, areas like General Discussion became the most popular places, with random topics like JaHa's dating tips threads and all sorts of things not even gaming related."
Unfortunately, much of this work has been lost to time from the various crashes and redesigns the Shoryuken forums have experienced over the years. And with the advent of social media platforms like Twitter and Reddit, the community has spread itself thin instead of remaining in one localised place.
Still, pockets of activity still remain, most notably within the Tech Talk subsection, which focuses on helping players build and modify arcade sticks for competitive play.
Mark Julio -- who, as a global business developer at Evo, a brand and community advisor for the Tekken franchise, and a consultant at peripheral manufacturer Razer, is probably the busiest dude in the fighting game community -- looks back fondly at his time on the Shoryuken forums.
As an arcade stick enthusiast, he was on the ground floor of Tech Talk, and witnessed first-hand how the scene handled its evolution from all-in-one arcade cabinets to consoles.
"There were phases where the community had to learn and grow with the technology, namely when Evo began switching to console and people had to start testing monitors and televisions for playing games," Julio explained.
"When new consoles came out, people had to figure out controllers, modding, and converters. There were so many eras and milestones in the Tech Talk group, it's crazy looking back at it now and knowing that our community's history and DNA is in there. At lot of my personal knowledge was gained from these forums and, I'll be honest, it helped me get a job at Mad Catz for knowing things about arcade sticks, parts, and what makes a good fighting game controller."
When the owners announced plans to close them by the end of January, the community was obviously taken aback. Sure, they weren't as popular as they once were, but as the place where a number of players first cut their teeth in the fighting game community, the message board's sentimental value remains off the charts. The most common response to the news was surprise, with many asking if an archive of sorts was possible.
Speaking to Compete shortly after sharing this news, Cannon said finances were the key motivator in their decision, citing the arrival of social media and YouTube as contributing factors to the forum's decline.
Closing them, Cannon explained, was "part of an effort to refocus Shoryuken on projects that will add unique value to the fighting game community." That said, they were dedicated to archiving the discussion hub in some form or another due to its historical value.
The only problem is that social media has yet to match what made the Shoryuken forums so special. Twitter, a garbage website with a useless search function, is far from a reliable receptacle of knowledge, and Reddit is similarly poor at maintaining important information. Still, when Cannon asked if the fighting game community was willing to contribute financially to keeping the $US2,000 ($2,516)/month forum servers alive, a majority responded negatively.
Full disclosure. SRK forum costs are about $2k a month, including hosting and services. SRK itself has been in the red for a while. Something's gotta give. Would you support a Patreon to keep the SRK forums up?
Also, if you <3 SRK, turning off your AdBlocker would be great. Thx!
— Tom Cannon (@ProtomCannon) January 10, 2018
"The fighting game community needs to figure out a way to preserve its information," Chen continued. "Other groups have wanted to try but I don't think they're aware how difficult of a project that is. Most haven't been as successful because it takes a lot of work to maintain those things, and it's almost always volunteer work, speaking as a guy who has tried his best to maintain the Shoryuken wiki for a long time."
Fortunately, those discussions have been postponed for now. In response to the outcry, Cannon announced only three days later that the Shoryuken forums would instead be migrated to new servers to mitigate the high costs of their previous host. The owners will plan to open some sort of community funding option, but that will go towards providing contributing users with "perks" on the forums themselves.
So the Shoryuken forums have survived another day, but that's just a stopgap. The fighting game community needs to start having a serious conversation about how they share and preserve information. As few fighting game developers seem interested with teaching newcomers how to actually play their games, it often falls to the most hardcore fans to produce content that will entice beginners and keep them excited with the genre until they feel comfortable enough to join the competitive scene.
Shoryuken represents the best the fighting game community has to offer: a resourceful spirit that has kept the genre thriving even in times of developmental drought. As always, it now falls to dedicated players to ensure its significance isn't lost as the community evolves.
Ian Walker loves fighting games and writing about them. You can find him on Twitter at @iantothemax.