Capcom Cup wrapped up a year of Street Fighter V over the weekend with an explosive grand finals match between Japanese powerhouses Kanamori “Gachikun” Tsunehori and Hiromiki “Itabashi Zangief” Kumada. The players were incredible, but the tournament itself was a bewildering mishmash of poor scheduling and tiresome padding that unfortunately encapsulates the issues with Street Fighter V and its official competition thus far. It fell to the competitors themselves to make up for Capcom’s shortcomings.
On the surface, the year-end event serves as a capstone of the Capcom Pro Tour, giving players the opportunity to make huge amounts of cash after months of hard work. But behind the glitz and the glam of the event’s new Las Vegas digs and the $250,000 prize pool (plus additional DLC bonuses), a consistent wave of discontent with Capcom still shone through in fans’ social media posts. It’s no secret that the developer has been on shaky ground within the fighting game community, and things haven’t improved thanks to unpopular changes to the Capcom Pro Tour qualifying system and the clumsy implementation of in-game ads.
Capcom Cup 2018, then, wasn’t just a test for the players but also for Capcom itself. Would they close out the year on a high point or continue to make the same confusing mistakes that have dented Street Fighter’s reputation in the competitive community? And as is typical for Capcom, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
Things got off to a rocky start right away, due to issues with the start time. Capcom had previously announced that the Sunday finals would begin at 1 pm local time. However, after an entertaining Super Street Fighter II Turbo exhibition featuring old-school players, viewers watched that 1 pm start time come and go with little indication as to when competition would start. It took a tweet from American finalist Justin Wong to explain that the Street Fighter V matches would actually begin at 2:30 pm, which completely undercut any sense of intensity the pre-show had managed to build up.
Capcom then spent the next two hours broadcasting a disappointing musical performance from Deltron 3030, whose vocalist at one point seemed to forget his own lyrics, and a dance routine from Super Cr3w, winners of America’s Best Dance Crew all the way back in 2008. What either of these acts had to do with Street Fighter is still up for debate. Deltron 3030 wrote G’s theme, but neither performance was explicitly themed after the franchise. What we do know, however, is that Deltron 3030 is Capcom senior director of esports and licensing John Diamonon’s favorite band, and it was ostensibly his decision to hire them. Very cool for him!
Street Fighter V play began in earnest around 3 PM, two hours after the originally advertised start time and half an hour after Justin Wong’s estimate. From that point on, things went great. Well, apart from the random turntable scratch sessions that broke up the matches and also had nothing to do with Street Fighter, but yeah! Mostly great! Gachikun tore through the bracket with Rashid, raising the character to heights that hadn’t been seen in high-level play before. Itabashi Zangief stole matches left and right with destructive giant Abigail. Atsushi Fujimura, the heir apparent to the Street Fighter V throne considered by many to be the best player in the world coming into Capcom Cup, ended up falling short and placing third. The event also featured incredible performances by folks like Justin Wong, who broke his Capcom Cup losing streak by making it all the way to fifth place, and Amjad “Angry Bird” Al-shalabi, the surprising Emirati upstart who defeated 2016 champion Du “NuckleDu” Dang en route to the Sunday finals.
Around two hours into the broadcast, however, fans’ attention was drawn elsewhere. Whether by accident or design, Street Fighter V’s latest patch got pushed out to PlayStation 4 early, making balance changes available and providing a sneak peek at the game’s next character, Kage. Before this point, social media had been a flurry of conversation concerning player strategies and performances at Capcom Cup, but after the patch dropped, the atmosphere radically shifted to talking about this mysterious new character. Stream viewing numbers did not appear to be drastically affected by this turn of events, but it was clear from community reactions that the Street Fighter V tournament had just moved to second place in most people’s minds. Why watch an outdated version of the game being played when there was something new and shiny to explore?
When it came time for Street Fighter producer Yoshinori Ono to officially reveal Kage to the world, he tried to play the situation off as an intentional preview, but it didn’t really land. The announcement was definitely not as exciting as it could have been.
The grand finals came down to Gachikun and Itabashi Zangief, and they did not disappoint. Surging from the losers bracket, Itabashi Zangief won three straight matches against Gachikun, who himself had appeared unstoppable leading up to the championship bout. After the bracket reset, Gachikun completely turned the tides in his favor with a smart mixture of rushdown and careful baiting of Itabashi Zangief’s Abigail, who the latter had proven is capable of winning just about any match over the course of the tournament. In the end, Gachikun would defeat Itabashi Zangief by a score of 3-1, giving Japan its first Capcom Cup victory in the Street Fighter V era. In the post-match interview, Gachikun gave a shout out to his fellow players in his hometown and humbly explained that he would probably be spending his massive payout on a house.
Street Fighter V is in a weird position. The game itself is decent and provides its fair share of exciting tournament moments, but everything else surrounding Capcom’s flagship fighter tends to be headache-inducing. It’s fallen to the competitors to make the game worth fans’ attention through their high-level play. If you hope to find any enjoyment out of Street Fighter these days, keep your eyes fixed firmly on players like Gachikun, Itabashi Zangief, and Fujimura rather than Capcom’s development and esports divisions, because at least the competitors will always put on a hell of a show.
Ian Walker loves fighting games and writing about them. You can find him on Twitter at @iantothemax.