Street Fighter V continues to build esports momentum for fighting games

Chun-Li (left) takes on a challenger in Street Fighter V. Provided by Capcom

The release of Street Fighter IV seven years ago sparked an entire fighting game renaissance. It brought hordes of new players, and revived the drive of many to play again. The ceiling for this former grassroots community is unknown due to the resurgence.

We've officially reached the breaking point for new ground in fighting games. On Feb. 16, Street Fighter V launches to the public with the possibility for further community growth and mainstream appreciation for the genre. With the new game creating big headlines across gaming media, it's a great time to be a fighting game fan. This is truly the calm before the storm.

The storm: Street Fighter V

Capcom released the Street Fighter V (SFV) beta to create hype around its new property, allowing rabid fans a sneak peek of what's to come. The downside of releasing this content so early includes gut reactions and criticisms, complaints and speculation from the die-hard community.

Instead of a negative attitude, Alex Valle, one of the longest-standing fighting game competitors, community leaders, and the founder of his production group LevelUp, is excited for the new challenge.

"It's a new Street Fighter," Valle said. "I have always been excited. It may not work for a lot of people because they may not know how it was to fall in love with a different game. For them, Street Fighter IV was their first game."

Valle can testify to being "around the block." For the majority of his fighting game existence, he has been a top player and influence for North America. There have been epic highs in the Street Fighter: Alpha series, and moderate successes with the modernized Street Fighter IV series. To love a game and see something new pop up is a sensation that the majority of the new fighting game community lacks.

The look of SFV is familiar, but refreshing. Street Fighter IV was a nice start to the kind of game Capcom wanted to make, but this is the real gift to the community. It has dashes, a lower-execution curve, and high-damaging combos for minimal effort. The character variety is strong for the low number of combatants (16). You have your signature grapplers, shotos, and keepaways, but with a breath of new life thanks to the new mechanics of the game.

"For now, it's barebones because everyone is expecting more," Valle said. "We're all trying to see if it plays like its predecessors, but it plays like SFV. It's not exactly anything else but a culmination of popular games in the past."

Valle continued to explain that the game's mechanics are unique to itself. From the crush counters, the fast dashes, and the void of chip damage when the life bar is at its most critical, it merely samples fighting game engines from before. Perhaps the most intriguing feature in the game is the gray life that a fighter takes when blocking strong attacks and specials. Valle would compare it to a guard-break system -- a feature that allowed a person to block only until a specific meter depleted (it would then "break" and allow for a damaging punish; the meter would refill afterward).

With a small cast and only a handful of new features, the game does lend itself to be a rather bare edition after the robust Street Fighter IV series.

"It's better to be minimal" Valle said. "If there's too many things in the beginning, it would be too difficult to balance out. People will figure out crazy strategies, but those will come into play later."

What it means for the scene

The timing for SFV could not be better in today's connected world. There is more media on gaming and its culture than ever before. Competitions, organizations and big-time sponsors are entering the fray. Fighting games might be one of the oldest competitive genres in gaming history, but they recently moved out of the ballroom and into the big leagues for the annual Evolution Championship Series; the finals will be held at 12,000 seat Mandalay Bay Event Center. With a very marketable game and a passionate community behind it, the publicity writes itself. It certainly helps that Capcom's latest moves all point in an upward direction. The creation of the Capcom Pro Tour in 2013 was the company's way of helping provide structure and legitimacy to Street Fighter. With its Sony exclusivity deal, those who play the new SFV will be united under one banner instead of any kind of console superiority war. With all these moves, sponsors and media publications are starting to see the potential.

For those who came from the arcade scene, this is unfamiliar territory. Online, SFV will work across PlayStation and PCs, meaning everyone can play everyone. Growth demand unity.

"The game will be molded by the players. Capcom will deliver and make it a great experience. The patching and the delivery service for balances will be faster. They used to take their sweet time," Valle said with a laugh. "We're all under the same umbrella finally. No segregation with consoles, and better net code. All features that will blow up the community larger than ever before."

As an added note, Valle predicts that stick players will be the rare breed when SFV drops. "Pad players will be the majority because the game will not be in the arcade." Instead, the world's arcade will be online instead. Valle says he wants to cultivate this new group of incoming players and keep them in the community because it's crucial for growth. As of now, there is no standardized online event like a Capcom Pro Tour, but in the future that might change.

"Community members need to release online events to get to the new audience," Valle said. "I'm hopeful more people will create more events. I'll do what it takes to get them to play. If there are no new players, the scene dies."

Valle didn't get to his position and influence by being subtle. He has been growing and pushing the California community (where he's from) since he started playing fighting games. His group, LevelUp, hosts weekly events, and even major tournaments, that motivate players to improve and compete as well as offering a consistent place to play. Many of the new blood in the community can thank Valle's steadfast dedication to growing the new player base. It's a job he loves.

The possibilities for continuing improvement and growth is there with SFV. It's truly a great time to be a fighting fan.

"Personally, I wish it came a while ago when I was a competitor," Valle said. "We're finally out of the ballroom -- now we're in arenas."