Last year, it was my belief that Capcom Cup was saved by the incredible performances of its finalists, a group of 32 talented Street Fighter V competitors whose skills outshone the myriad issues I had with the event’s organisation and scheduling. But not even the incredible stories of Capcom Cup 2019 could wipe away the ways in which the company botched the most important Street Fighter event of the year, especially since many of those stories were resolved off stream and out of sight.
But let’s get the fun stuff out of the way. After two days of intense competition, Capcom Cup 2019 was won by Derek “iDom” Ruffin, a New York City local who many have been waiting to have a breakout performance at an event of this calibre for years. iDom doesn’t travel outside the United States – those who know him have even claimed he was afraid to fly for a long time before he finally started visiting events outside his region – and isn’t sponsored by a major organisation. At Capcom Cup this year, he managed to beat out rival Victor “Punk” Woodley in a gruelling, back-and-forth grand finals. He won $250,000 (£187,000). He is incredible.
The road to this championship match, however, was fraught with perils borne entirely from what appeared to have been organisational missteps on Capcom’s part. Capcom has not yet responded to Kotaku’s request for comment, but did share a statement on Twitter acknowledging the issues folks had with Capcom Cup and promised to make “necessary changes” in 2020.
Capcom Cup’s bracket is filled out by 31 of the year’s most accomplished players, with one spot left over for an open-bracket last-chance qualifier held the day before the main event. This allows one competitor, regardless of how they performed throughout the year, to get into Capcom Cup by beating out everyone else in one final free-for-all. As such, it’s typically the most intense tournament of the year, with players walking a tightrope between victory and elimination for one last shot at qualification. This year, 243 players from around the world made the trip to Los Angeles for this competition, but only one would ultimately gain entrance to Capcom Cup.
The fighting game community found out the day of the last-chance qualifier that there would unfortunately be no broadcast for this immensely important competition, and those who wanted to watch in person were forced to spend almost $100 (£75) for a ticket. Several community members would eventually come through in the clutch by providing on-the-ground broadcasts from their phones and streaming backpacks provided by Red Bull. And while the resulting footage was charming in its emulation of actually being at the event and trying to get a good look at an important match in a crowd of fellow fans, it wasn’t up to the usual standard of what a tournament broadcast should be. The fighting game community made their displeasure with Capcom’s failure known on social media throughout the day.
Capcom esports director Michael Martin cited “logistics and set up” as the main reasons behind this decision. Looking at footage from the venue, the Novo nightclub in Los Angeles, it’s clear that there was simply no space for streaming equipment or even people, really. As the last-chance qualifier came to an end, I could see from watching attendee’s streams that the throng of spectators and competitors were immediately ushered out the door by staff, who shouted at them to leave the building mere moments after the qualifier’s grand finals were wrapped up.
The winner, Japanese player Naoki “Moke” Nakayama, had earlier in the year lost his sponsorship and was only in attendance thanks to support from his local scene, some of whom accompanied him to the crowded setup before the tournament-deciding match. The runner-up, hometown hero Jesse “Commander Jesse” Espinoza, challenged Moke after enduring an intense trip through the losers bracket with Dhalsim, who many consider underpowered compared to the rest of the Street Fighter V cast. These would have been amazing moments to see broadcast on an official stream, but Capcom’s inability to give the community that small concession prevented all but the most dedicated fighting game players from seeing it happen live.
The issue with the last-chance qualifier was bad enough, but going into the Capcom Cup main event, several cracks in the “logistics and setup” continued to show, including:
- Some of Capcom Cup’s losers bracket matches were played off stream, necessitating the same community-provided phone streams as had been seen the day before.
- Capcom hosted the finals for Street Fighter League, a team-based competition that has failed to gain traction in the fighting game community, after the first day of Capcom Cup ended. By the time this event ended, it was nearing midnight and many of the players in the Street Fighter League finals were still in contention in the Capcom Cup bracket, giving them very little time to get sleep before the event started back up at 10 AM the next morning.
- A way too long stretch of time was taken up for a half-time show consisting of “Pocky Edition” matches, a weird segment promoting one of the tournament’s main sponsors with a modified version of Street Fighter V.
- Whoever was manning the graphics would repeatedly line up the wrong graphics for the wrong players, leading to several awkward moments where the info for two black competitors or two Asian competitors would be mixed up. This happened all throughout the weekend until the production team seemingly gave up on the graphics entirely.
- Multiple players complained about latency on the Street Fighter V setups. At one point, Emirati competitor Amjad “AngryBird” Al-Shalabi stopped a match between games to point out the issue to on-stage staff. Shortly after losing in grand finals, Capcom Cup runner-up Victor “Punk” Woodley publicly stated the player two side was laggy.
It was all too much. I ended up avoiding watching Capcom Cup most of the weekend because of how frustrating it was to see these issues playing out. I tuned in only during the grand finals to see the all-American championship match and to find out whether or not Capcom would announce a new character for Street Fighter V.
The best I’ve been able to deduce from social media over the last few days is that very few actual community members appear to have been involved in the event’s planning or production, despite Southern California being home to an existing and proven infrastructure for fighting game events. The resulting botch job therefore would represent a failure on Capcom’s part, and I only hope folks don’t let next year’s Capcom Pro Tour and the surprise reveal of a returning character prevent them from holding the company accountable for the embarrassment we witnessed this weekend.
The community has long survived without outside influence or support, and Capcom would do well to either tap into that vein of talent and reward those who have built the fighting game community from nothing or just let the scene do things on their own again. I’ve long been wary of developer involvement, and when big payouts and oversized novelty cheques fail to sway me, the next argument is invariably, “But think of the logistics support!”
This weekend proved that the community can’t even expect that much.
Ian Walker loves fighting games and loves writing about them even more. You can find him on Twitter at @iantothemax.