With the ELEAGUE Street Fighter V Invitational underway, Slingshot’s Vince Nairn caught up with Neidel Crisan, Capcom’s director of esports, to talk about the event, its schedule, and how the game translates to TV.
Vince Nairn: Street Fighter V got off to kind of a shaky start, but since then there’s been a lot of growth and such. How would you sum up the state of Street Fighter esports?
Neidel Crisan: I think to be completely honest, Street Fighter V has always had a really strong presence in the esports space. I think to the casual user and some others it was off to a rocky start, but the competitive community really embraced it. I think most impressive is the amount of players, but also amount of new talent in the scene. NuckleDu, Du Dang, won the Capcom Cup last year. And then there’s Punk, who is 18, competing in ELEAGUE as well. I love seeing that new blood in there as well. Growth with players. I love seeing viewership growth as well. Not only just through Twitch, but also linear.
VN: How did this event come together with ELEAGUE? What was the process like of putting this all together?
NC: When this really kicked off, I don’t really remember when it happened, but it’s been in the works for a while. I watched a lot of the CSGO broadcasts they did. Just the level of production and professionalism around the broadcast was super impressive. It was kind of a no brainer to do Street Fighter. We see this amazing stuff and amazing stage and what they’ve done in the past. Bringing that level of prestige has made a lot of sense. Already, they’re doing great job in taking care of the players. The stage looks amazing. They’re producing really cool content around the game. It’s been a blast so far.
VN: There was a bit of a mixed reaction when the announcement came out for the ELEAGUE event, which surprised me because of how overwhelmingly positive ELEAGUE has been received by the CSGO community. What did you guys make of that initial bit of questioning or uncertainty?
NC: I think everybody was just kind of shocked, right? The past 2-3 years, the scene really has exploded and grown tremendously in the last few years. (The reaction) was like, oh my god, is this actually happening? It takes a few days to digest everything, and people pinch themselves. And also, when you have any sort of broad announcement, like we have this big thing going on, but not many details, people are always ready to just sort of question it. Once more details came out, players, format, all that, it all really came together. The community really rallied behind it. (Turner) did a great job with CSGO, and we’re excited to see how it goes for us.
VN: How did you go about mapping the schedule for this event? The finals, of course, are the same weekend as Combo Breaker and another event.
NC: We really thought it’s just going to be an amazing weekend for Street Fighter. With Combo Breaker, finals are on Sunday. Red Bull Kumite, it’s on Sunday as well. There’s just a lot going on. We worked with the Turner guys to work out all the flights so (the players) could leave that night (of the ELEAGUE playoffs) or the morning of, so that option is there. For the spectator, it’s gonna be great to be locked in as a Street Fighter event. Turner has been super awesome with accommodating the players and getting them where they need to be.
VN: When ELEAGUE got into CSGO, they spent a lot of time working with people well known in the scene to kind of understand that game because it was foreign to them. They wanted to be authentic. Has there been a similar kind of outreach to you at all about trying to learn the ropes of Street Fighter?
NC: Absolutely. I think a lot of that was my job, now that you bring it up. I’ve been a part of the Street Fighter scene for almost 20 years now. I’ve produced EVO for two years running. I was able to help guide Turner and say, “This is what to expect. This is authentic. This might work. This might get a little backlash.” There’s been multiple calls per week with both me and the licensing team here to figure out the best way to present this thing. Turner’s attention to detail is also awesome. Having Capcom Pro Tour players in the field really helped because there’s a lot of footage from the last seasons they can use for packages and stuff like that. Beyond that, they also came to the first CPT event (this year). They were on ground floor at FInal Round in Georgia.
VN: What were the specific things you thought were most important about the Street Fighter community that you thought they needed to know?
NC: Obviously a lot of that stuff can be abstract. A lot of it came down to format. What’s the type of format the players would like. Player selection. Commentary teams as well. Again I think the sort of abstract thing. It’s Street Fighter. It’s not your typical esports game. It’s always been underground. It’s been closer to hip-hop culture. It’s a little different. Just preparing them for that. They have a lot of strong personalities out there, and (ELEAGUE) shouldn’t do anything to try to limit that because I think that’s one of the best parts about the scene. Just telling them that they need to captivate that. Judging by what we’ve seen so far, they have definitely done that.
VN: Likewise, did they consult with you on talent? How was that decided in terms of picking the talent they did?
NC: We threw out pretty much all the names in the community right now. There was a lot of discussion in who made the final cut. They had to lean us a little bit. We also had to lean on them for a bit in terms of what works on TV. Richard Lewis is a good example of that. I was aware of his presence in the Counter-Strike scene but asked if he was going to (be able to adapt). They said, “Trust us, he’s a true professional. He’s really gonna do his homework and stuff.”
He did a terrific job (in Monday’s first broadcast), I thought, and you can tell that taking their advice on having someone who is anchored in their studio, has that experience under his belt, really helped tie everything together. It’s collaborative. It’s a give and take.
VN: How do you think Street Fighter projects for TV?
NC: I think objectively it’s the easiest game to watch out of all the esports. I watch everything and play everything. I love all this stuff. But when I think about casual person trying to sit down and watch, you have two big, bright colorful characters on the screen and two big life bars. The name of the game is to deplete the other guy’s life bar. It doesn’t get much easier to understand than that. It also has this stickiness to it. It spans generations and is a bit of a cultural phenomenon. So maybe you’re flipping channels, and you think, “Oh, I used to play this game. What is this?” Other games are a little newer, so you have people in their mid to late 30s who don’t even know what these (other) games are. Street Fighter makes a lot of sense. I actually think CSGO made a lot of sense, too. It was a lot easier to understand than many of the other FPS games. In general, I think Turner has done a really good job of bringing in the right games.
Cover photo courtesy of Capcom/illustration by Slingshot