"This is literally the Street Fighter vision, isn't it? You pick a character and you fly around the world kicking everyone's ass. And now, the vision is fully realised, where you as a competitor are literally playing World Warrior right now."
Fighting game veteran and author Ryan "Gootecks" Gutierrez
Eight years. That's a long time in video games. Think of all the other big games that came out in 2008. Grand Theft Auto IV, Metal Gear Solid IV, Fallout 3, Burnout Paradise, Braid, Mirror's Edge. It was a hell of a year. And yet one game eclipses the lot, a game that gave an entire genre a thick-soled, US Air Force boot up the backside. It didn't just improve its scene in terms of quality and competition, but also encouraged the community around it to grow and embrace new technology, while providing exposure to a grass-roots, almost punk-rock underground circuit. The game moved from bouts on a battered arcade machine sat in the London Trocadero to independently-run sessions in local bars, all the way to a gigantic, neon-lit stage in San Francisco in front of thousands, with $120,000 going to the competition's winner. That game was Street Fighter IV.
And now it's gone. Well, gone from the biggest stage of them all, anyway. The titles set to make up the world's biggest fighting game gathering, July's Las Vegas-held EVO 2016, also the biggest stop on the Capcom Pro Tour, have been announced – and there is no sign of Ultra Street Fighter IV, IV's fourth and swansong iteration. After a massive 2015, perhaps the biggest year yet for Street Fighter, and so much amazing skill displayed by its finest professional players, USFIV isn't going to appear at EVO. It's not a sign of the game being dead and buried – the community will be playing it at many other events in 2016. But it's definitely a sign that the Capcom Pro Tour wants Street Fighter V to be front and centre in its launch year.
As a massive fan of all things Street Fighter, and someone who's put countless hours into Street Fighter IV and its updates, I'll obviously miss the game at the fighting community's biggest events. And I'm not alone in feeling that way. I spoke to several players of IV to find out how the game's impacted on their lives, and where they feel Street Fighter is heading with the arrival of V.
"When Street Fighter IV first appeared, I played it in an arcade. When they still existed! The camaraderie and the crowds and that arcade element were still around. [The arcade scene] was limited then, and now is pretty much completely gone. That's how I was introduced to the game. The scene has kind of matured and grown up to a point where we can do things [like the Capcom Cup], but the roots of this stuff was very much in the arcades. There was a lot of aggression, and that's not necessarily a bad thing – sports need that. You had to earn your respect through getting good."
Fighting game YouTuber Maximilian "Maximilian Dood" Christiansen
"For me, this is literally a childhood dream. I can straight up say that. I still remember conversations when I was seven years old, and my brother would yell at me because I didn't want to go outside and play football with the bigger kids! I wanted to stay indoors and play video games! When I see these pro-players and they're getting flown out, getting media coverage, getting sponsorships and salaries to play Street Fighter – it's a dream come true."
Pro-player and Fighting Game Community partnership lead at Twitch, Mike "Mike 'Mike Ross' Ross" Ross
"I only got into the fighting game scene with IV. Year on year, it's grown. EVO every year has gotten bigger and bigger. The major events around the world have gotten bigger. Stream viewerships have grown, sponsorships, everything. It's all getting bigger. For me, it's been an explosion of community. All of those things don't happen unless you've got people who want to consume it or take part in it. The thing that SFIV's done is bring so many people – like myself – to that community. We weren't involved beforehand. It's been an incredible thing."
Street Fighter commentator and analyst Logan Sama
The fighting game community grew exponentially during the lifespan of Street Fighter IV. Other titles, from series like Mortal Kombat and Killer Instinct, have communities that are in rude health, and it's hard to imagine those games being released and being as high quality as they are without Street Fighter IV's influence. And it's only going to get bigger, too. Mortal Kombat X sold five million units in 2015, the biggest fighting game sales to date. Twitch viewerships are up for tournaments. YouTube numbers are growing.
"I do feel like things like online, actual community scenes and giant events held by Capcom, which just wasn't a thing for the longest time, have got us to where we are today. It's much grander exposure, but my whole thing is that we don't forget the old stuff. I still collect old arcade board and restore them. You shouldn't forget that this stuff came from a bunch of dudes in sweaty room around an arcade cabinet. That mentality is still there, but it's in a Twitch chatroom."
Even though Street Fighter V's been on the horizon for a while, the last year of IV competitive play has suggested that its predecessor could easily run for another 12 months or so, in tournaments both large and small. Players like Infiltration and Xian have gone with less-than-obvious character picks, and perfected them to an absurdly high standard. It got the scene thinking: maybe we're yet to see the very best that Street Fighter IV has to offer, all these years after its emergence. We now know this isn't going to be the case, at least on the biggest stages. But perhaps, much like Super Smash Bros., where the soon-to-be-15-years-old GameCube release Melee still rules the roost, the community will make enough noise to keep the older game alive.
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"I guarantee you there will still be a huge community of people in the scene who still play Street Fighter IV. As many people started playing fighting games on that as they did on Street Fighter II. So many people are familiar with it, and have stuck with through its multiple iterations, that they're going to want to play that game. Why would you play something new and suck ass at it when you're really good at the older one? It's going to be a game that's supported by the community. Is it going to be supported officially? No, because you're not selling any more copies. It'll still be at tournaments. Like 3rd Strike is, and Alpha 2. It might be that we're playing it in small groups at tournaments, in dingy arcades or with the 150 or so players on Fightcade. But that'd be the coolest thing ever!"
"Looking at Street Fighter IV itself, like the actual gameplay, I dunno... Focus Attacks? Like we're going to look back fondly on those? Maybe not. But looking at the big picture, it was a return to form, or resurrection of Street Fighter, and all of the things that we learned from IV are fixed in V, in terms of stuff like communication, the community or different events. And no Focus Attacks, thank god. Let's get that shit out of here! I mean, IV will always be played in the same way 3rd Strike or Super Street Fighter II Turbo are played, but if I never have to watch another Street Fighter IV match again... Once V is out, I don't see myself playing IV again as long as I live!"
Street Fighter V, which was released on February 16th, is currently in the midst of a few launch-period teething troubles. With a lack of single-player content and server issues plaguing its multiplayer side, we're currently left with an astonishingly good fighting game that nobody can quite play properly right now. It's a problem, because Capcom has made it very clear that SFV is designed to be a much more accessible game, designed to grow the community and grab a chunk of that lucrative eSports market. Something that will no doubt have a knock-on effect for those creating Street Fighter content, and those looking to compete.
"I guess I look at SFV as a fresh start, and SFIV as kind of the beta test for all the stuff that we wished we could've done back then, but just couldn't. Every single mistake that could've been made in IV is rectified with V. Right now, on YouTube, we have a base of 130,000 subscribers, which is big in terms of fighting games, but small compared to big-name YouTube channels. However, with the release of SFV, it seems like the game is going to be big enough that the player base is going to double, or even triple. When you got into SFIV, if you didn't already know that there was an active scene or community, you just existed kind of by yourself. We're trying to prepare for the growth and put out more content that our audience would be into."
"I never really got into Street Fighter IV, partly because of real-life responsibilities. It's tough when you're an adult to do this kinda stuff. Also, there are certain things in Street Fighter that I am familiar with – footsies, anti-airs all that – but the mechanics of SFIV effectively eliminated those things. SFV is kind of like a reset button, a new game, and each time Capcom makes a game there's a chance it's one I will enjoy. I went to Twitchcon and tried it out, and it clicked with me immediately. Many kids, like BJUnchained, who just turned 23, started their gaming careers with Street Fighter IV. I've been there and they are excited, but with SFV for me it's kind of like it could possibly be the final chapter in mine. I have always had love for this community and the people in it. Some look at me as a rival right now since I'm doing well, but honestly I'm a 40-year-old guy that hasn't played seriously in nine years and just wants to see all these people again. I haven't been this happy in a long time. If I don't do this now, ten years from now when maybe it's not possible to come back, I'll ask myself why I didn't try one last time."
Returning Street Fighter pro-player Graham "GrahamWolfe" Wolfe
"SFV will continue to bring in new players in the same way IV did. I hope SFV continues to bring in players who want to compete at the highest level and be the best, because that's the best part about video games you can play competitively. Knowing that you have things like that Capcom Pro Tour means that people can aspire to be on those platforms – being the best means something."
"We're already riding this avalanche of Street Fighter. Seeing it grow from being in a room with only 12 people watching to, what, 255,000 people on Twitch watching EVO this past year, it's not going to detour at all – it's going to keep rolling down the hill. It's just a matter of whether people are going to want to stand in the way and get caught up in it or start running away! That part we don't know yet!"
Street Fighter IV changed everything. Everything. Not just fighting games, but the people who played them. It was a key part in building a huge community that is set to get so much bigger in the coming years. It laid the foundation for what could be an entire eSport. It launched careers. It brought people together. Everyone involved in fighting games has something to say about how Street Fighter IV changed their life.
"Of all the things it has done, I think SFIV's legacy is creating a new generation of players. From top to bottom. From your Xians and Infiltrations and Poongkos to your newcomers playing online for the first time, with their Xbox pads, they're all happy. I hope SFV can build on this."
"SFIV has consistently put me in the right places at the right times to meet the right people. I wasn't doing anything, but SFIV was the only thing I cared about and I put everything I had into it. Through that, I was able to travel the world – and I didn't even know I liked to travel! But I've been so many places because of this game. I've met so many amazing people. I mean, I've met people who are really close to me in my life and I met them because of this game. I'm sure I'll meet a whole lot of other people because of SFV but, y'know, that's the part of it I'll always feel was the most important. Winning, losing, competing, whatever, that's great, but it's separate from the community that is built around the game, and the places that it'll take you when you're following your passion. It's really easy to look now and go, 'Street Fighter is about to blow up, there's so much money, blah blah blah,' but who cares? That shit doesn't matter. What matters is the people that you meet, the places that you've been and the experiences that you've had."
"When people look back on IV they're going to remember that is was the game that allowed people to branch out and become something. It was a game that gave birth to a lot of people – it gave birth to an industry. They're going to thank Street Fighter IV for everything. No matter what, this game did so much for a community. It did so much for everyone."
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