How Echo Fox can push fighting games into primetime esports

Yahoo Esports
Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi, posing with his SEAM 2016 trophy, recently signed to Echo Fox (Michael Martin)
Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi, posing with his SEAM 2016 trophy, recently signed to Echo Fox (Michael Martin)

Where were you on Tuesday, January 4, 2017 at 10 AM PT when Echo Fox sent a shockwave throughout the fighting game community?

While people were eating breakfast, taking in their morning news and coffee, or just getting settled into work, Echo Fox put the FGC — and esports — on notice by signing several huge names. On one hand, the organization wants to make a lasting impression on the overall competitive fighting game scene. It wants to contribute to pushing the FGC over the hump and into primetime esports.

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Echo Fox took Street Fighter players Justin Wong, Yusuke Momochi, and Yuko “ChocoBlanka” Momochi away from Evil Geniuses. They signed Tokido, a guy I knew was biding his time, waiting for the right offer to come along. That blew me away. Momochi and ChocoBlanka make sense with the connection to Wong and former EG manager Antonio Javier. But Tokido, Wong, and Momochi all on the same team? They could’ve stopped there.

But they didn’t. They picked up two of the best Mortal Kombat X players on the planet, Dominique “SonicFox” MacLean and Brad “Scar” Vaughn, and up-and-coming Smash 4 player Leonardo “MKLeo” Lopez Perez.

In recent history, Evil Geniuses may have been the biggest supergroup, featuring Wong, Momochi, ChocoBlanka, Ricki Ortiz, Eduardo “PR Balrog” Perez, and Kenneth “K-Brad” Bradley. All were managed by Antonio Javier before he left the team earlier this year. This was the FGC Dream Team. People had  been comparing it to the current generation Golden State Warriors or the three-peat championship Los Angeles Lakers that Rick Fox played for.

What makes what Echo Fox did so remarkable is that the org  acknowledged more than Street Fighter V and Smash. They’re going all in on Mortal Kombat X and Injustice 2 when it releases. They’re primed for Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite (assuming Wong transitions to it) and they’re not done in the long-term, as Javier mentioned when speaking with  Yahoo Esports about the possibility of adding to the FGC division in the future.

While it may seem like Rick Fox is trying to buy trophies by assembling this FGC Dream Team, it isn’t just about the money.

The FGC has been wary of unfamiliar personalities or organizations bulldozing their way into the scene and either jilting players or creating dubious marketing ploys. Recent examples include Capcom Cup 2015 champion Ryota “Kazunoko” Inoue’s team Zeveron imploding barely a month after he signed on,  or Bud Light’s spectacularly awful All-Star campaign, culminating in one of the most cringeworthy streams featuring  Ryan “Filipino Champ” Ramirez and former NBA champion and NRG Esports co-owner Shaquille O’Neal.

It’s fair to look at the Echo Fox deal and be concerned this is a money grab. For all we know, Rick Fox and his team will have spent so much money, and lose money in its esports ventures, that it could close up shop. Of course, the same could be said about this all being a massive success and a boon for FGC esports.

“From day one, our goal has always been to build the premier esports organization in the world, setting the new standard for professionalism, team achievement and player development and wellness. Today’s announcement demonstrates our willingness to think big, think global and execute a strategic battle plan,” Echo Fox founder Rick Fox told Yahoo Esports in a statement at the time of the announcement.

Echo Fox has the opportunity to push for a new standard in FGC esports. If we’re to take them at their word, they want to build something bigger for the FGC than an all-star team that will (and probably should) bring home many trophies over the next year and beyond. Echo Fox isn’t trying to be EG 2.0. They want fighting game esporst  to be on the same level as CS:GO, League of Legends, or Dota 2.

Most people who aren’t hardcore into the FGC might know of Daigo and Justin Wong, likely because the two are inextricably linked to Evo Moment #37 or the Daigo Parry as it is sometimes called. Echo Fox hopes to change that by building its players up to be more than competitors who wear a jersey with a logo on a live stream.

For players like SonicFox, Scar, MKLeo, and returning Street Fighter V pro  Julio Fuentes, it’s a chance to create personalities that extend beyond their esports. When you look at traditional sports, it’s the all-star players like Lebron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant who are the faces of the league. It sounds to me like Echo Fox believes its players can do more to contribute to the FGC as a whole by increasing awareness of its players.

Wong can rebuild the once great stream following he had that has since fractured due to his responsibilities as a competitive gamer, a full-time employee at Nvidia, and everything else he does with the rest of his free time. ChocoBlanka and Momochi get to continue their work with Shinobism, a training program for younger/newer fighting game players designed to make them into top players and professionals. This was a key element for the recently married couple.

People speculate that ChocoBlanka and Momochi came as a package deal to EchoFox, and you know what? They’re right. ChocoBlanka didn’t come to Echo Fox in the hopes of winning an Evo or a Capcom Cup with the likes of her more accomplished teammates. She’s there to continue working on Shinobism, according to Javier, which in turn pushes the agenda that Echo Fox wants to help build the FGC up. Now it remains to be seen what and how they do it Stateside but if the support inspires other top players and leaders to do the same, it’s a win for the FGC.

Some people might not be drinking the purple and orange Echo Fox Kool-Aid and that’s fair. But I believe there is something greater at work here than rich guy buys the best fighting game division in esports that money can buy.

“I want to see the FGC grow to levels yet unseen. I think it is a completely undervalued and underutilized category in video games. It has much deeper roots in esports or competitive gaming than just about every other category,” Hall told Yahoo Esports.

Right now, Echo Fox might be the New York Yankees or the old school Los Angeles Lakers buying up the top talent, but its moves should inspire competition in and out of game. If Echo Fox follows through on its lofty goals, teams will need to reevaluate what they’re doing in the FGC space within their means. It shouldn’t be enough to just exist. Echo Fox took a major step towards the FGC going primetime and now we get to see how current and new teams will respond.

The game hasn’t changed with Echo Fox. It just got more fierce.

Michael Martin is looking forward to how the FGC evolves in 2017. Follow him on Twitter @Bizarro_Mike.

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