Street Fighter's Pro Tour Keeps Squeezing Out Its Middle Class

Upsets like Saul "MenaRD" Mena's victory at Capcom Cup 2017 could be a thing of the past (photo c/o Capcom)

Over the past few years, Capcom Pro Tour has evolved from the collection of direct qualifiers organised for the Street Fighter 25th Anniversary Tournament in 2012 to something much more inclusive. In order to ensure global representation at Capcom Cup, leaderboards were established in four distinct regions - North America, Asia, Europe, and Latin America - allowing players from across the world the chance to earn a spot at the main event with strong performances in or around their home countries.

While these qualifiers haven't always been perfect, the opportunities they offer to players in underrepresented regions have produced some incredible moments -- most recently, Saul "MenaRD" Mena notched a surprise victory for the Dominican Republic in 2017. Capcom Pro Tour developed in such a way that almost everyone had a shot at Capcom Cup if they put in the work.

The changes made to the qualifiers in 2018 might undo that. It looks like qualifying for the circuit's finale is going to be much harder if you aren't already a well-established competitor. T

here are two major issues: the diminishing relevance of "ranking" events and a continued disparity between the number of events in each region.

Capcom's circuit is typically split between "premier" and "ranking" events. Premiers are important tournaments that offer up a ton of points towards a global leaderboard, which directly leads to qualifying for Capcom Cup.

Ranking events, while more common, offer fewer points, and those points count for separate regional leaderboards. Those regional leaderboards qualify players for regional finals, which in turn are premier events. In the past, serious competitors obviously paid more attention to premier events, but ranking events were important because most players and regions had reasonable access to at least one.

The gap between premier and ranking tournaments will be wider than ever this year. Ranking events will lose a few points, and premier events will gain a lot. Last year, winning a premier was worth 400 points; it will be worth 700 this year.

A win at Evo, which is so important that it gets its own tier, is increasing from 1000 points last year to 1750 this year. And payout depth has been shrunk across the board, meaning fewer players at each event are able to earn points.

By boosting premier points and weakening ranking events, Capcom Pro Tour 2018 makes it harder for mid-level players to qualify

If every region had the same amount of premier and ranking events, this wouldn't be a huge deal. Everyone would theoretically have access to equal opportunities to earn ranking points. But that's not the case.

The number of tournaments on the tour has fallen slightly since 2017, hurting some regions more than others. North America leads the way with 16 events (nine premier), but everyone else is making do with less.

Europe has 10 total (down from 12 last year); Latin America, for the second year in a row, will host just one premier event - the Latin American final. That means that the only premier-level event in Latin America will only be open to players who are already high on the regional leaderboard.

Canada and California both have more premier events than the entirety of Latin America. Even as a lifelong Californian, I'm comfortable in saying that's completely ridiculous.

In the original announcement, Capcom referred to these changes as "logical weighting," with the goal of placing more significance on premier events.

There's no mention of the lack of premier events in Latin America, which effectively blocks local players who can't travel outside the region from competing for a spot in the grand finals, and Capcom didn't respond to Compete's request for comment on the subject.

Despite its major gains in recent years, competitive fighting games are still in their infancy compared to the larger esports world. Few players are signed to major teams, and fewer still are making enough money to compete as a career.

Integrating the pro tour with the fighting game community has had the benefit of leaving the established grassroots tournament scene undisturbed while also giving Capcom a ready-made competitive circuit. Their partnering with tournaments like Evo, Combo Breaker, and Community Effort Orlando gave the fighting game community more power.

But unlike in other esports, the FGC has minimal separation between amateur and sponsored players. Eliminating opportunities for players who can't afford to compete on a global level means eliminating the bulk of competition that has comprised the genre for decades and keeping them from ever breaking into the upper echelon


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