In a new interview this week with Gamesindustry.biz, Street Fighter series producer at Capcom Yoshinori Ono talked about what makes the classic 2D fighter so well-suited for a global event like the recently announced Intel World Open, which will see tournament play from global competitors in Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition as well as Psyonix’s soccer-adjacent Rocket League.
Capcom knows that the Street Fighter series has worldwide appeal and wants to parlay that into more esports opportunities, starting with the Intel World Open Esports Tournament in partnership with the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“I travel around the world,” Ono told Gamesindustry.biz in the interview. “Everywhere I go, if I do the fireball hadouken pose, everyone knows how to do it–it’s one of the universal languages of gaming. That’s why I was very happy to work with Intel and the [International Olympic Committee] to make sure this is a tournament that truly anyone can enter.”
The Intel World Open is really aiming to be an open competition, with the initial qualifying rounds held online so that players from around the world have the opportunity to try and compete in Tokyo in 2020 (perhaps there will be some improvements to the game’s online environment by then). According to Intel’s EMEAA comms manager Mark Walton, this decision is meant to showcase the “accessibility” of esports by offering an opportunity to amateur players as well as established professional competitors.
“If you look at any other professional sport and how you get into it, there are significant barriers there,” he says. “The great thing about esports is it’s really a level playing field. Anyone can enter if they have a PC–or in this case PS4–and just pick up a copy of the game and play,” Walton said during the interview.
Ono elaborated on Walton’s explanation by adding that they “do appreciate there is a potential barrier to entry, whether it’s the high level of play that’s happening from the start or just the fact that–speaking financially–if you’re going to do the Capcom Pro Tour and travel around the world taking part in different events, you need to have the capability to have maybe a sponsor taking care of your finances, costs of travelling around, that kind of thing. It isn’t the sort of thing you can just decide to do one day.”
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— Capcom Fighters (@CapcomFighters) October 10, 2019
Ono expressed how much the Intel World Open can mean for players who don’t have access to sponsors or heavy travel. “We were really happy to partner up with Intel on the World Open and make it an event which anyone can take part in because the first rounds of qualifiers are all online–you just need to have Street Fighter V in order to take part. Once you get going around the world, everything else is taken care of by the tournament. That idea of people being able to take part regardless of their situation is closer in feel to the Olympic spirit of participation.” The Olympics have a history of being restricted to amateur competition, though the IOC now allows individual sports federations to choose whether to allow professionals to participate.
Intel had previously hosted a StarCraft II tournament alongside the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018 in South Korea, and this new collaboration with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for Tokyo’s 2020 games is one critical step towards making esports an Olympic medal event.
“We’re doing this as a real effort to show how great esports can be,” Walton told Gamesindustry.biz. “It’s great to have the backing of the IOC, for us to put something out that–while not an official Olympic event–is backed by them. For us, it’s really important to have these two things side-by-side and show this is a hugely growing sport. It’s also to demonstrate to the IOC that this is viable, and that in the future we may see esports–whether it’s Street Fighter or whatever–becoming part of the Olympics.”
Even though Yoshinori Ono knows that Street Fighter V and fighting games in general aren’t as successful as other esports genres like League of Legends, the game, its characters, and its core mechanics have the potential to attract a large audience with the backing of an international event like the Olympics.
“It’s one of those games where it doesn’t matter how deeply into video games you are, or whether or not you’re into them at all; pretty much everyone around the world knows what Street Fighter is and has a basic understanding of it,” Ono explained. “[After 30 years,] there are three generations of players who are playing it now.”
Ono believes too that unlike some other popular spectator titles, anyone at any level can visually follow who’s winning or losing when watching a fighting game. “Matches are about two to three minutes maximum in length. It’s quite easy to understand on a basic level what’s happening while you’re watching the game. Even if you don’t yet know the deeper strategies and moves, you’ll always be able to understand two characters on the screen fighting each other and it’s easier to appreciate when someone has won, someone has lost. I think that makes it a perfect match for the spectation side of esports.”
The Intel World Open Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition begins the first rounds of open online qualifiers early in 2020, with a live qualifier in Katowice, Poland in June.