Summer Jam 2021 in Cherry Hill, NJ showed that the fighting game community is ready to get back into action, and we spoke to a few pros to see where the FGC is headed.
When thinking about video game communities most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the competitive fighting game scene surely ranks near the top of the list. The inability to run offline LAN events, the need to depend on fighting games' notoriously inefficient online capabilities, and the unfortunate revelations of last summer put the FGC on the ropes. However, as Summer Jam in Cherry Hill, NJ shows, the community is ready to get back into action. We had the opportunity to speak with a few players at the event, getting their thoughts on the state of various popular fighting games in 2021.
Guilty Gear Strive: Smell of the FGC Game
The most recent addition to the fighting game world is Guilty Gear: Strive, which is quickly becoming the biggest game in the genre. The game's popularity is peaking at the right time now that live events are coming back. For RISE | K7_Showoff a big reason for that is the people making it.
"The game right now is in a really good spot, and a big part of that is Arc System Works," Showoff said when we spoke to him at Summer Jam. He credits the team's transparency and regular community updates, naming the detailed explanation of the recent August patch and the preview of the October patch as very important to the fanbase.
"That should be the goal of any fighting game: be transparent with the community and keep us informed on what's going on," Showoff says. "I definitely think the game is going well right now and if they keep this up the game will only get better." As for how he felt about that August patch, Showoff admitted he didn't get a chance to play it too much--Summer Jam's Strive tournament was played on a previous patch due to being so close to the update's release--but he did have one bit of praise: "Thank God for Sol nerfs!"
The future of Guilty Gear Strive may depend on that developer/fanbase relationship to survive, but no matter what happens, taking the final results of that Summer Jam tournament into account, Showoff will be a part of that future one way or another.
Virtua Figher 5: Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny
Another recent fighting game launch was actually a blast from the past: Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown. This refresh brought 2009's VF5 back to the forefront. VF5: US did have a small presence at Summer Jam, one admittedly dwarfed by other games like Guilty Gear Strive and Tekken 7, but the players are there.
One Summer Jam participant, Jumaani "Maestro" Haskins, thinks the VF community is just getting started but acknowledges that there is work to be done. In fact he's broken down his thoughts on what is needed to keep VF5: US's community going to three simple tenets: resourcing, visibility, and people simply playing the game.
When it comes to getting people to play, Maestro realizes that's the most obvious answer but still puts emphasis on it. "Having people play the game is the most important thing," he said via email after Summer Jam. "Tournaments are always going to be a mixed bag, but having people play the game at multiple levels is always the first and foremost thing."
Resources is what will keep playing wanting to stick with the game, and for Maestro that starts with online presence. He calls websites and wikis dedicated to Virtua Fighter "invaluable", giving players options other than social media or apps like Discord for information on the game. "Making helpful, social community spaces available is important," he says, "but you should always have that wiki site so people have the tools necessary to learn on their own."
Finally, on visibility, maintaining streams, YouTube videos, and regular events will also contribute in growing the community. While the VF5: US tournament at Summer Jam did not have a dedicated stream, YouTube VODs of matches from the event will still give the game that visibility. "Having content for the game is super important," he says, "and the community’s been doing a fantastic job with that."
Rise Up and Look Ahead to the Future of Street Fighter
Unlike Guilty Gear and Virtua Fighter, a mainstay in the FGC is nearing the end of its lifecycle. Street Fighter V has anchored the competitive scene since it launched in 2016, but with the final DLC character on the horizon, it's time to look at what's next. Joe "LI Joe" Ciaramelli also attended Summer Jam--as a spectator, not as a competitor--but the longtime Street Fighter player shared his insight on what the future of Capcom's top fighting game could hold.
Despite it being in the sunset of its lifecycle, LI Joe thinks SFV is, right now, the best it's ever been, citing the "large cast and lots of ways to play" as a big reason. The newest mechanic, V-Shift, was a big addition for him, as "a lot of people were complaining about too much offense so they included a defensive mechanic that a lot of people liked."
Like Showoff with GGS, LI Joe credits the Capcom development team with opening up and being more transparent with the game's progress in the last year through their seasonal updates. "[The update videos] were informative and interesting, they were very transparent with what they were doing with the game," he said. "I love when companies show us what's coming and let me know what's going on, especially when it's something we love."
As for the prospect of a Street Fighter VI, LI Joe says that because of the current stage of the SFV--and not how it launched--he's very excited about the next game in the franchise. "I think SFV didn't start off great for a lot of people, it had a rocky start and didn't take off with a lot of people," he said. "However they did fix everything and learn from what they did, which makes me think that when SFVI comes out it will launch much better."
Shattering All FGC Expectations
Coming out of the pandemic online era of fighting games, the future looks incredibly bright. Games like Guilty Gear Strive are carrying the mantle now for games in their twilights like Street Fighter V and Tekken 7, while other games like Virtua Fighter 5 and Dragon Ball FighterZ are trying to reinvigorate their audiences with new releases and transformative balance patches. There's even a few new releases that could mix things up, as Melty Blood: Type Lumina and King of Fighters XV look to punch their way into the scene. Fighting games are back, and the future is brighter than ever.
For more on the FGC, check out our look at the 40 players entering the Evo 2021 Showcase live from Las Vegas in November