The Capcom Pro Tour has become the standard for competitive fighting game leagues. The amount of events and the players attending them has ballooned in 2016 thanks to the accessibility and novelty of Street Fighter V.
But that explosive growth brings with it some significant problems.
As much as I love to watch competitive Street Fighter, there are too many events, not enough strong competition, and a distinct lack of representation from certain regions. Upon the conclusion of Capcom Cup 2016, Capcom should assess what did and didn’t work on the Capcom Pro Tour and do what it can to keep the product fresh and entertaining.
Oversaturating the Pro Tour
There are 73 events on the Capcom Pro Tour 2016, which is nearly 30 more than the previous year. With the continued growth of the CPT and the launch of Street Fighter V, it seemed a no-brainer Capcom would add more events.
However, more events don’t necessarily lead to a better product. Take traditional sports, for example. The NBA regular season spans 82 games, beginning in late October, concluding in April, with a post-season running through June. But not all of those games are meaningful. If you’re an NBA fan, the general consensus is the season doesn’t really heat up until after Christmas. By then, the season is roughly two months in and teams are positioning themselves for playoff runs.
Historically, FGC tournament seasons ran through Evo, our Super Bowl where competitors traveled from around the world to prove they were the best in their respective fighting games. It still kind of is for certain scenes, but most popular games now have their own seasons or Pro Tours lasting the better part of the year.
Once we get past Evo, the CPT sort of grows stagnant as we wait roughly two months between Premier Events. Players aren’t traveling quite as much outside of their regions for Ranking Events, unless they’re specifically looking to farm Global Leaderboard points (an issue I’ll tackle later.)
More events is great in that it gives players more chances to compete. But it also dilutes the product. It’s hard to get excited about Ranking Events week after week.
I’m sure tournament organizers are lighting their torches and sharpening their pitchforks. To be clear: I’m not against having more events in general, just not necessarily on the CPT. Every game in a 16-game NFL season is meaningful, and I’d like to see the CPT get closer to that.
Scaling back on events and/or spreading Premier Events out more evenly would lend gravitas to each moment. It also might help Capcom get involved to raise the bar on production values at events, bringing some of the bigger tournaments more in line with other major esports events like The International.
1001 ways to qualify
Walk me through all the ways players can qualify for Capcom Cup. I’ll get comfy, because we’re going to be here a while. The process is a convoluted mess.
Players can automatically qualify by winning Evo, one of eleven Premier Events, or one of four Regional Finals. That makes up half of the 32 available spots. The other half are comprised of the top eight points leaders on the Global Leaderboard and the Ranking Leaderboards. It seems simple enough, right?
Well, what if someone wins multiple Premier Events? Or multiple Ranking Events? What about someone winning multiple Ranking Events in different regions?
In 2015, it was far simpler. Win one of 15 Premier Events and Evo and you qualified. The next 16 players earned a berth based on the point standings. It got a little more complicated when the same players won Premier Events. Capcom revised the qualification rules by making fourth place the cut-off for any double elimination tournament (because there are two fifth-place finishers in double elimination) and if the top four players are already qualified, the spot was opened up to the leaderboard.
This year, if a player has already won Evo or a Premier Event, the automatic bid goes straight to the leaderboard. That sounds fair and avoids any potential messes like a fourth-place player qualifying.
But the Ranking Events side of things is a spider web of rules and technicalities. If a player wins a Ranking Event, they earn points, which is great for their standing on the leaderboards. That player is also qualified for the Regional Finals; the winner of that qualifies for Capcom Cup. Regional Finals takes 14 players from Ranking Events on the CPT. The other two spots in the 16-player brackets comes from an open qualifier for the Regional Finals.
Now if a player wins a Ranking Event and has won one previously, the spot goes to the next highest placing player who hasn’t already qualified. Basically, it’s the same idea as last year’s Premier Event qualifying rules with the exception of none of these spots get opened up to leaderboards. So a fourth, fifth, or sixth-place player could get into the Regional Finals.
Let us not forget the Red Bull eSports Proving Grounds and Battle Grounds — or basically, qualifiers for qualifiers for a qualifier. Proving Grounds are a series of monthly events held in multiple North American cities with their own points-based system design to send players to Battle Grounds, which is where the Regional Finals takes place. Players then have a chance in a 1,024-player bracket to qualify for the actual Regional Finals.
Is it bad to offer more chances for a player to qualify for Capcom Cup? Absolutely not. It’s not uncommon to hold qualifiers for events. We’ve seen it throughout the years in the FGC. Players had to win events to qualify for trips to Japan for Super Battle Opera or to Evo. But this is some next-level, mind-numbing stuff going on here and it’s mucking up the entire process.
I didn’t mind how it worked last year. Capcom could have simply made it a matter of automatic bids plus leaderboard qualification. Instead of giving the automatic bids to the next highest placing player, Capcom could have just opened it up to the leaderboard.
Players traveling for points because they were on the bubble made for great storylines towards the end of the year. That might be less of an issue now because of the myriad ways a player can get into Capcom Cup.
This brings me to my final point. By splitting the CPT up into four regions – North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia – Capcom hoped to share the wealth. In 2015, one of the best storylines of the CPT was Keoma Pacheco winning the Brazilian CPT Premier Event over Tatsuya Haitani to qualify for Capcom Cup. It’d be great if we could replicate that kind of story, but it’s becoming less and less likely.
That’s because players seem to be traveling even more than last year, a natural side-effect of more events on the schedule. But in doing so, Latin America is suffering. Of the nine Latin American Ranking Events held to date, three North Americans and one European have won or taken those spots for the Regional Finals. Evil Geniuses’ Justin Wong and Kenneth “K-Brad” Bradley won two of the events, while EVB’s Chris Tatarian qualified by winning one as well. France’s Jean-Baptiste “Will2Pac” Wilfried took second behind Justin Wong at one of those events, granting him a spot in the Latin American Regional Finals. This is pretty steep competition for Latin America, a smaller region, to deal with.
Now, it’s fair to note that Asian players have been coming West and winning our tournaments for years, so none of this is new. Players travel and win tournaments in other regions. But I don’t think Capcom anticipated the extent some players would go to compete for placement in Capcom Cup.
If Wong qualifies through the Global Leaderboard via points (he’s currently in second place with 852), he could gatekeep either of the Regional Finals. For him, there is a strategy to all of this madness if he were to play it out. He can lock out a competitor from Latin America, making it so that region less chance of representation at Capcom Cup. I highly doubt that’s something Capcom wanted when they came up with these regions.
In addition to all of that, where’s the love for the Middle East? Last year, the only event representing the Middle East – which has some great underrated talent – was CPT Premier Event KO Fighting Game Festival in Kuwait. In 2016, the Middle East lost a Premier Event and the only tournament representing the region is Games 2016, a Ranking Event held in the United Arab Emirates.
If there is any region that feels underserved by the CPT, it’s definitely the Middle East. Because it got lumped into the European Region, players have to travel further out for a chance to automatically qualify, and that isn’t always easy for those who face visa or travel issues.
There is no easy solution here. If you create events in one region, you have to take some away from another. We definitely want the most competitive Capcom Cup possible. Making it so players who aren’t on the same level as the best players in the world from NA, Europe, or Asia can qualifier easier doesn’t make sense.
But at the same time, we want the ability to see if these players deserve a shot at the big Capcom Cup prize, and that can’t happen if a region doesn’t have enough events or is being squashed by foreign players.
Michael Martin covers Street Fighter V and the Capcom Pro Tour. Follow him on Twitter @Bizarro_Mike.