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Street Fighter 6: King of Fighting Games, But How Does It Stay There?

author
Femi Famutimi
15 min

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Street Fighter 6: King of Fighting Games, But How Does It Stay There?
Street Fighter 6 has started with a bang, but what will it take for it to remain on top

The anticipation was stifling. The crowd waited with some trepidation as their hometown hero, JabhiM took to the cage to fight against possibly the greatest fighting game player to ever exist. The list of Tokido’s achievements would fill a book, and his consistency even as he grows older is unbelievable.

However, JabhiM was no longer the wide-eyed challenger who had attended Capcom Cup IX and crashed out at the first hurdle. He was now a confident player, ready to take on the greatest challenge. 

The event was the Red Bull Kumite 2023 which was held in South Africa with 16 players duking it out for top spot and a cool cash reward. Among these champions were Tokido, Capcom Cup winner, Gachikun, CEO winner, Mono PR, Evo 2019 finalist, Big Bird, and Evo Japan 2023 winner, Oil King. These were the creme de la creme of the FGC and of all of these names, it is safe to say JabhiM’s was the most unknown. When he was drawn to face Tokido, many viewers concluded (although might not want to admit) that JabhiM’s fate was sealed. 

What we went on to witness is easily one of the most iconic sets of Street Fighter ever put on display. The thing about an iconic set is usually the story behind it, the individuals involved, and the stage which it is set. This had all three; a compelling story, check! Two competitors that fit the bill for a showdown of epic proportions, check! A stage big enough and with enough eyes to get people talking, check! Check! Check! 

JabhiM defeated Tokido 5-3 and and the hall erupted in shattering roars as the onlooking audience, made up mostly of South Africans, screamed themselves hoarse. The online sphere was alight and FGC Twitter was buzzing. Something was happening, a new memory was being made in FGC history. Will JabhiM’s victory be as fondly remembered as Evo Moment 37? Perhaps not, only time will tell, but what was clear was this: everyone was watching Street Fighter 6.

Tokido vs JabhiM

Capcom’s latest fighting game has met and surpassed expectations and as at the time of writing this article, has sold over two million copies in less than a month of release. Everyone is talking about it, and it is the King of Fighting Games right now.

This is true not only because of how well made and enjoyed it is by fans, but just by how many eyes are on it. The match between Tokido and JabhiM was watched live by just under 200,000 people across multiple platforms. The VOD of the set currently sits at almost 400,000 views. Red Bull Kumite South Africa had an average viewership of 81,000 people which is remarkable for a fighting game. 

Another recent tournament, Community Effort Orlando, also known as CEO 2023, had an average of 30,000 people watching and a peak of 117,000 watchers which again pretty impressive. For some context, the 2018 version of CEO had around 22,000 average viewers for Street Fighter and a peak viewership of 47,000 a far cry from what obtained in the 2023 iteration.

CEO 2023 Top 8

All in all, Street Fighter 6 is in a good place. However, this is not going to be the case for much longer as games usually have a section of their player base drop off as new games, and life in general gets in the way. Streamers will pick up something else, and all that would be left will be the creators and fans dedicated to the game. But, what Street Fighter 6 can do, is dramatically increase the number of people that stick around. This is ultimately for the good of the FGC as the more high profile the game stays, the more eyes will be on it, and the more potential it will have too become a sustainable ecosystem that benefits both the players and the game’s creators. 

As we go further, we will be examining what Street Fighter 6 has done right, some of the stuff that has come together to make it so phenomenal and some ideas that could help move the conversation around keeping SF6, and by extension, fighting games, at the forefront.

What Street Fighter 6 Has Done Right?

Street Fighter 6 is a beautiful game, but I won’t be bursting into song, as you have probably heard a million and one times how great the game is. However, what is interesting is how it has been able to garner some incredible support. 

One of the biggest things that happened recently was the Crazy Racoon Cup which saw some astonishing numbers. In the midst of all this was Daigo Umehara who is reaching mythical status within the FGC at this point. But the Crazy Racoon Cup was a tournament organized by the esports team, Crazy Racoon. They do the popular games like PUBG, Valorant and the rest, but they hosted something for Street Fighter 6 with some of the biggest gaming streamers in the country. Paired with professional fighting game players, they fought against each other. This meant, that viewers of these creators’ content got to see Street Fighter 6 in action and also got to see it played at a high level. At a point, there were over 300,000 concurrent viewers on Twitch and as a whole, the event saw over 500,000 views. A lot of those viewers were from Japan and they have embraced the game wholeheartedly. One of the reasons for this is accessibility as Street Fighter 6 is easy to get into. There is World Tour mode, and Battle Hub can be incredibly wholesome sometimes. All of this combined has made for a lot of interest generated in the game. 

Mortal Kombat is a very, very successful game, and this is due, in large part, to the casual community. What many people might not realize is that gaming is ultimately a leisurely activity. In esports, we get a chance to see what a game can look like in the hands of highly skilled individuals. But, these skilled individuals make up less than 5% of the player base and making a game that simply caters to them is just a really bad idea. Mortal Kombat was alive to this really early and they created game modes and content that was appealing to a casual audience. In World Tour, Street Fighter 6 has single player content that can draw even the scrubbiest of players in, teach them the basics of a fighting game in a fun way. 

There is an excellent video by Thorgi’s Arcade where he goes into greater detail about why World Tour is by far the best single-player content in any fighting game ever! In a nutshell, World Tour teaches you to play Street Fighter and fighting games in general in a fun and immersive way, rewarding you for doing the right thing. Obviously, you could finish with the game’s content and still not be the level of Punk, or Daigo, but you’ll be a lot better than you were when you got started. 

Another aspect of Street Fighter’s brilliance has been in its communication. The game fully explains how each character works. Offline, players are made aware of any downtime very quickly and it is back up and running in no time. There is so much more I can point to, but that isn’t the point of this piece. 

The point is: Can Street Fighter 6 remain at the top? Theoretically, yes. Of course it can! But what will this look like, and that is what we need to have a look at.

The Way Forward

I cannot by any means claim originality regarding this topic as it was this excellent video by Jiyuna, (or Animeilluminati) that got me thinking. In it he makes a very hard-to-take assertion: high-level tournaments are not enough. They are fun, and they provide some iconic matches, but they will not do enough to sustain Street Fighter 6 as the top fighting game. 

I was privileged to speak to the host of That Blasted Salami, Arya Tayebi, and FGC commentator extraordinaire, Jammerz asking and they had some similar ideas that I will be incorporating into my thoughts regarding the matter. 

Cosmetics

Personally, I never really understood the appeal of cosmetics in games. So, skins, costumes, tags and all the other stuff. But, I have since learned that people LOVE them. Capcom seem to have cottoned on to this as since Street Fighter 5, they have allowed people to design outfits. For instance, Gachikun and iDom had Capcom Cup winning outfits designed for them and added as an option within the game. There was also one done for Juri where fans competed for the best design and the winner was incorporated into the game. This was so much fun. There was also what was done with Street Fighter League Japan jerseys (we’ll talk about SFL in a bit) where the team jerseys of each team participating in Street Fighter League Japan was put into the game and could be purchased and unlocked. This was also a welcome move as it gave people a way to identify with their preferred team. The Capcom Pro Tour 2022 also introduced a new stipulation which unlocked a new color for a character if the character won the CPT in a region. Again, this was a way to prompt fan participation. 

This concept could be replicated in Street Fighter 6, and perhaps even progressed. Maybe by simply watching the event on a platform could unlock access to a character accessory or color, or something. Street Fighter has already implemented this, so keeping it up would be a great move and will definitely ramp up interest and engagement with the game. 

Community

Community is the lifeblood of any fighting game and it has single handedly kept several games alive. Within the FGC, the Skullgirls community is a great example of a group of people whose passion for the game has kept it going for over a decade. Killer Instinct has also enjoyed a long life thanks in large part to a very supportive community. But here’s the thing, ideally, a community should never have to carry a game on its own, and the perfect balance is when there is a thriving community and clear communication and engagement from the game developers. Fans weren’t pleased with Street Fighter V’s early stages precisely for this reason. With Street Fighter 6, it seems Capcom have learned from their past mistakes and are taking concrete steps to improve relationships with the community. The Battle Hub is also a great space and some of the interactions are so wholesome. There are avatar battles, tournaments and so on. But could Capcom be doing more? Maybe. One of the suggestions I received was if Capcom incorporated some sort of calendar that informed players of tournaments like the CPT schedule and so on. It would help players to be more connected to some of the stuff happening in the real world. Capcom could even host watch parties in-game for big tournaments like Evo. So imagine for a second, everyone plugged into the game, watching the Evo finals in Battle Hub with their friends from far and near. It is one of the things that get people invested in the game.  

Tournaments

Now, we have a LOT of Street Fighter 6 tournaments already and some will even argue that there are a few too much to keep up. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but something Jiyuna said in his video which resonated with me was the idea of different types of tournaments. We see the open bracket system with all the top players all the time. They are hype, they are fun, and they are exhilarating at times. However, there must be other forms of tournaments. A great example is the Crazy Racoon cup. It saw streamers from other games receive coaching from top talent and then take that to task. This is reminiscent of the AT&T Annihilator Cup Tournaments which pitted gamers against one another in different games. The games were interesting to watch and it introduced more people into Street Fighter. With SF6 the opportunity abounds. Thankfully, there will indeed be an AT&T Annihilator Cup later this month for Street Fighter 6 and it will be interesting to see how well it is received. Other tournament formats are viable including one involving only commentators, or more team style tournaments. 

That said, one of the biggest potentials to my eye is…

Street Fighter League

Street Fighter League currently has three iterations: SFL Japan, USA, and EU. All of which have been so interesting to watch and I personally believe it has so much potential because of tribalism. I watch football (or as the Americans have decided to call it, Soccer) and one of the biggest traits of the sport is the area of support. You have a team you love and you stick to them to the exclusion of all others. This intensifies your joy when they win and your despair when they lose, but it is a beautiful thing and something that if developed in Street Fighter League could do so much for its followership. SFL Japan currently has a weekly format that sees between 1-2 broadcasts where we can watch some of the very best players Japan has to offer duke it out for points on the leaderboard. The fact that it is live makes the stakes feel much higher and the addition of team jerseys into the game was also a welcome addition. I believe the popularity of Street Fighter League could potentially make it the biggest FGC tournament and could offer quite a few financial rewards. I believe there should be more investment in it, perhaps expand the number of teams even more (there are currently 9 teams up from 8 last year and from 6 a couple of years ago) and maybe add a bit more fanfare to proceedings. 

Street Fighter 6 has started out well, and there is such big hope for its future. Viewership is going to drop, but if Capcom keep doing what they are doing and go that extra mile for the game, we could be looking at a whole new world for fighting games that we have never seen before.

I’ll love to see that.

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