Just recently, one of my team members posted an article railing SFV for some of its missteps. I implore you to read his article at length, but the underlying tone was a reluctant acceptance of SFV. Not specifically by him, but by the FGC.
Articles bashing SFV are nothing new, but something about my KPBrother pessimistically framing the situation was unsettling. To quote him, “Because it’s the latest Street Fighter installment, the FGC will bear with the growing pains, not abandon it.” So thoroughly were my jimmies rustled by this, that I couldn't help myself in protesting the idea, professing my rebuttal here in this forum. I don't mean to contest his view of the situation, but instead the belief that we as a community must play SFV if we want to move ahead.
Now... there's a lot to say. Where to start? The belief that the latest SF is the most important thing around is a notion that's been forming in the mind of the FGC for over a decade. I suppose I'll start with the specific point in my KPBretheren's article that set in motion this torrent of a response. He offered up not a statement, but a rhetorical question poised from the minds of thousands of today's FGC faithfuls: “Where else are you going to play an active Street Fighter?” This rhetoric is proceeded with (both in this article and off the lips of many current players) an almost condescending followup: “You want to migrate back to SF4, 3rd Strike, Super Turbo… fine, but you’ll be hard pressed to find someone to play with, let alone active competition”. These words betray a line of thought that troubles me. Assuming you don't already see the problem in this thought process that I do, I'll do my best to take you with me as I try to break down the fault I see in this reasoning.
As simple as I can make it, that line of reasoning implies two major beliefs that I just don't agree with. The first is “If you wanna play big, you gotta play Street Fighter” and the second is “If you wanna play fighting games, you gotta play big”. Excuse my paraphrasing, but these are the basics of that reasoning and I can't ever see myself agreeing with them.
Before getting into this, I want to just give some background on my experience with fighting games. I didn't really consider myself part of any community until Skullgirls, so I'll start with my experiences with that game. In the first few weeks of the game being released, I found myself going to a weekly local to play the game. It was the only game I enjoyed, so I traveled nearly an hour to this place to play this one specific game. The first week they held a tournament, and there were 16 entrants. The second week, there were 3. The third, I was sitting there alone playing SG training mode hoping someone else would come along and play with me. There was one other player there who enjoyed the game, so we would play by ourselves. I went out there weekly, just to meet with that one player as often as I could. After a time, though, he moved on to the more popular game there (KOF13). Shortly after, I stopped going to the local, as there was nothing there for me anymore. After this, I was strictly an online warrior. There was hardly anyone online on Xbox, so I would open a lobby and patiently wait, maybe watching cartoons or playing my DS while I waited for matches. I did that for a long time, before I started going out to tournaments (I would guess nearly 6 months, maybe closer to a year). When I went to the handful of tournaments that gave SG the chance to be played, I had a lot of fun playing a game with ~10 people. Now? It's amazing to me, seeing just how many people are making it out to any given tournament. People from other countries, the literal other side of the world, coming out to enjoy my favorite game the same way I did, for the same reason. Because they love the game.
Now, let's turn our heads to the current state of the FGC as a whole. “You gotta play big” is one of the most pronounced beliefs held by many in the community today. I'm fairly certain this belief started sometime around the introduction of SF4. While I got into the community with the rest of the '08ers (I just wasn't an active member until SG), I have a completely different outlook on what I play. If I learned anything from playing SG, it's that there's nothing wrong with playing a smaller game. People like to throw around the word “alive” when talking about communities. “That game's dead”, “I want a game with an alive community”, yadda yadda yadda. Listen... a game is only dead when people stop playing it. The local I played SG at, that scene only died when there wasn't a player 2 for me to challenge. Two people is a scene. Expanding is fine, wanting to grow is fine, but don't lose sight of this fact. If there's someone you can play regularly nearby, that's enough to keep your scene for your game of choice alive.
The FGC is, at its roots, niche. While there were many aspects of the early FGC that are cringed at today, like the unwelcome treatment of newcomers or the harsh attitudes and verbal nastiness, they were okay with and proud of being small. In early FGC, people were okay just playing a game in a small roomful of friends and rivals. Keep this in mind and take a look at today's attitude. It's just odd hearing people say they need to play the biggest game when coming from a background of a proud niche community. Any game today without hundreds or thousands of players at every tournament is considered a dead game and/or not worth playing by many people. A scene is only dead when it never gets played, even just two people playing each other is enough to keep a game alive. This is a sentimentality that has been lost by many community members and it's honestly sad to hear.
Now, I don't want to seem ignorant to current state of eSports and its surge throughout the community. Many people and communities are embracing it, the “gotta play big” attitude. Take, for example, the Smash community. The shift from “niche outsider to the FGC” to “eSports powerhouse” was a relatively sudden change. It's to the point where some tournaments won't host Project M, the fan made game, because they're siding with eSports and companies that don't want the game held rather than the hundreds of players of the game. I don't think TO's are in the wrong for excluding Project M for more benefits for themselves, the official games and the players of those games, but there's something to be said for such a tangible loss for the people who love playing Project M. Could another company, say, buy out the “rights” for tournament slots, disallowing games from other companies? Perhaps a tournament like EVO could even only have enough tournament slots for companies that bought their way in, thus excluding the chance for games with loyal fanbases from being played. Excuse my doomsday ramblings, but I can't help but worry what could happen if we lean even more heavily to the concept of “you gotta play big”. I don't necessarily think playing to be big is bad, but it shouldn't dissuade you or anyone else from playing and having the opportunity to play a game they enjoy.
Going on to the “if you wanna play big, you gotta play Street Fighter V” attitude, my disagreement would be roughly the same as my “you gotta play big” response. Though, honestly, I would look at any “If you wanna play big, you gotta play (fill in the blank)” attitude the same way. I'm going to quote my team member's article one last time: “Game companies, in this case Capcom, hold all the cards for a franchise.” This is a sentimentality that gets passed around for many franchises in many genres, not just fighting games. However, in fighting games, I believe it to be even less true. Capcom doesn't control what players play, the players do. Me and you do. Any game that's big is big because we make it big. It's not big by nature, and therefore we must play it. A company puts a game out and the players decide what to do with it. Capcom or Namco or Nintendo pushing for a game to be in any given tournament doesn't matter if no one wants to play it. If everyone chose to play their favorite game instead of choosing from available tournament fighters, there would be less of a funneling towards specific games with the most money behind them.
Of course, if you like SFV and like playing it, that's one thing and if you just need to feel like there are people to play, that's fine, too. However, If you don't like a game, don't play it. There are dozens of other games with an active fanbase if you look. Every day, there are more people on Fightcade playing SF2 or Jojo or Mark of the Wolves than there were on some of the best days I had playing Skullgirls on Xbox Live. If I could stick with SG for... going on four years now through worse conditions than were on Fightcade, you can play whatever damn game you want. Find a game you like, find one person to play with and go from there.
This has been Zidiane, and as always... play what you love and love what you play.