Street Fighter V: Best esports title of them all?

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Last time, we talked about how — due to their inherent ease of understanding and relative lack of needed mechanical knowledge — fighting games are the best option for those new to the esports experience to get into the scene, which is the key to stimulating the massive growth of the medium that we’ve seen in the past few years. At the end of the previous article, I made the fairly bold statement that Street Fighter V is the genre’s best positioned entry to bring in newcomers.

Now, a small part of this is due just to the name familiarity of the franchise, since, outside of maybe Mortal Kombat, most people who are not familiar with the genre would recognize the Street Fighter brand moreso than any other. But the reasons that really make Street Fighter V stand out as an esports game — in the average, uninitiated viewer’s eyes —  is the deliberate nature of the game and the speed at which it is played, despite lacking a bit of the flash and spectacle that other games may have.

Street Fighter V is potentially the slowest fighting game to have come out, at least of those who’ve had tournament circuit representation in the last 5 years or so. While this may make it a bit of a chore to watch for those who are deeply into some of the more action-packed games of the genre, this means it does a very good job of allowing viewers to see, digest, and understand what’s happening on the screen as it’s happening, with little outside assistance necessary. Between the low combo hit count and the Crush Counter system giving a spectator a good hint as to when a given player is about to get their shit rocked in a real bad way, this keeps the question of “What just happened?” out of a neophyte’s mind as frequently as it could pop up in other games. In this way, it stands out against some of its cousins (especially the Marvel series), where even some seasoned players will have to replay a scenario in their heads a few times to understand just exactly how someone got hit.

Speaking of the previously mentioned Crush Counter system, that brings up another point in Street Fighter V‘s favor: the relative lack of extra mechanics. Outside of the systems that are near-omnipresent in this family of games (Like throwing/throw breaks, invincible reversals, EX moves, and Supers), Street Fighter V has, at its core, very few additional bells and whistles that a viewer would have to understand in order to enjoy the spectacle. The only real offenders are V-Skills, which are essentially an additional special move that also provides V-Meter, V-Reversals (a mostly-universal way to counterattack out of a bad situation), V-Triggers (character specific powerups/abilities that can do anything from summoning a giant tornado, to altering the properties of a characters moveset, to even opening up more moves for a given character to be able to perform), and the aforementioned Crush Counters, which are counter-hits performed with specific buttons that provide a much higher benefit than the 2 frames of advantage that a normal counterhit would provide.

And honestly, the only one of those 4 mechanics that need any more explanation aside from the half-sentence that was just provided above would be the V-Trigger mechanic, which does take a bit of extra knowledge to be comfortable with seeing. That said, I feel that learning about the V-Trigger mechanic is a lot less daunting than having to understand the plethora of mechanics that the rest of the field has, which is a great point to have in favor of watching pretty much anything, as having to do homework just to be able to gather some enjoyment from watching a given event can be a real bitch, indeed.

Lastly, one of the biggest reasons I feel that Street Fighter V is an excellent game for a relative newcomer to be able to watch and enjoy is what I call the Hype Disparity. I define Hype Disparity as the difference in time that the members of the general viewership will get hype over a certain situation, which is heavily influenced by a given spectator’s understanding of the game. While any given person’s understanding of the game can fluctuate wildly, when discussing Hype Disparity, I tend to lump everyone into one of three categories, depending on their experience: the ones that are highly experienced with the game in question, the ones that have a moderate understanding (due to either playing the game at a low-to-middling level, or having a decent understanding of similar games), and those that have very little knowledge of the game. To Illustrate this point, I like to bring up a particular moment in a match at EVO 2016 between LI Joe and Yukadon.

In this video, we see LI Joe win this round against Yukadon with a jump forward into crouching light kick, crouching light punch, light Sonic Scythe into Critical Art. It’s a bit difficult to tell without watching the match live and with other people, but the hype comes in three fairly distinct waves, although they are very close together. The first wave is as soon as the crouching light kick connects. The viewers who are fairly experienced in the game know, pretty much without looking at the remaining health or meter, that the round has been won by LI Joe, and they react accordingly.

The second wave comes at around the activation of the super. This is when those with a moderate understanding of the game seem to react, be it either they didn’t know that the super was coming, or they had to look to see whether or not the super would end the round. The viewers that don’t have a baseline understanding don’t really react until after Yukadon’s health bar has been emptied, which is when it’s already obvious as to who won the round. Now, it’s pretty much impossible to have zero Hype Disparity in a video game, but Street Fighter V does a great job in shrinking it as much as possible.

Compare this to Marvel, King of Fighters, or potentially Tekken, where, due to the extended combos and setups, each tier of Hype could potentially happen very far apart from each other. In the most extreme cases, almost a full minute may pass between a veteran understanding that a fight has been won, and a newcomer coming to that same conclusion. While it may be a relative non-factor to someone’s viewing pleasure of a particular event if they’re alone, watching all your friends get excited over something while you’re left wondering why is a pretty shitty feeling, which Street Fighter V does a great job at mitigating to what might be the highest possible degree.

As such, between the ease of understanding the goal and methodology of a particular game, the ability to see and digest everything that is happening during a given match without having to rely on meta-knowledge, the lack of informational asymmetry, and the low level of Hype Disparity, it’s safe to say that Street Fighter V may very well be the best game for someone new to esports to be able to sit down and enjoy, and could possibly be one of the main workhorses in building the popularity of this particular industry.

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