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Why gamers in Asia are the world's best eSport athletes

Andrew Groen | May 15, 2013
Hardcore games, ubiquitous tech, and Asia's economic rise helped the PC trounce consoles to become the dominant pro gaming platform.

Arcades in the '90s offer a striking parallel to modern PC Baangs: Both foster a fierce competitive/collaborative environment that cements their territory's dominance in the sport. So what went wrong with console fighting games?

Despite the great potential of fighting games and the community that emerged around them, the fighting game scene has long been marred by a complete lack of leadership. Whereas Blizzard Entertainment and Riot Games aggressively encourage fan engagement with competitive PC games like StarCraft and League of Legends, the company that owns all three of the top fighting game franchises--Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom, and Street Fighter X Tekken--has shown no such initiative.

"Compared to Blizzard or Riot, the support that Capcom gives [to its competitive community] is nowhere near as inclusive," said Ryan Gutierrez, a competitive fighting-game veteran and CEO of Cross Counter TV, a fighting-game enthusiast network. "For the longest time, they didn't care at all about what was going on in the fighting-game community."

Inexplicably, in the past Capcom never seemed to care that tens of thousands of people in the United States and Japan were so in love with Capcom's games that they would spontaneously gather for huge tournaments and competitions. By failing to encourage or even acknowledge competitive fighting-game culture, Capcom let the opportunity to dominate eSports slip from its grasp.

These days, Capcom does a better job of acknowledging the value of the competitive gaming community, but the company still fails to funnel resources into promoting competitive play and hosting international fighting game tournaments the way Blizzard and Riot do for PC games.

That's partly because Capcom isn't as wealthy as it once was--console games are a tough business--but it's also because Capcom just doesn't understand the international competitive scene.

Constraints on gambling in Japan hamper competitive gaming

"Ultimately, [Capcom's USA branch] is subservient to Capcom Japan, and they don't really understand," said Gutierrez. "There's a difference in culture. The major difference in the way that it's evolved [in America as opposed to Japan] is that in Japan they can't really play for money."

In Japan, strict gambling laws outlaw many forms of competition for monetary gain. The government has carved out exceptions for major sports like baseball, but fighting games haven't reached that stature yet. This poses a problem for fighting-game fans, as Japan has been at the epicenter of the fighting-game scene. All of the best fighting games are made there, and most of the best players are Japanese. But with top talent unable to advertise and promote itself--and with little or no support from the game's creator--the financial growth of the competitive fighting-game business has been slow over the years, enabling the PC to dominate the professional gaming market.


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