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"It just led to more mistrust and confusion" - Fighting Game TOs speak out on Capcom's new licensing agreement

Following last week's reveal of new rules for fighting game events, we spoke to tournament organizers on their thoughts on the new rules.

Last week, Capcom released a new Community Licensing Agreement directly aimed at tournaments for Street Fighter 5: Champion Edition that attracted the ire of passionate players and tournament organisers throughout the competitive Street Fighter community. We’ve already covered the situation as a whole on VG247, with Alex’s feature covering Capcom’s attempt to incorporate the grassroots scene into a more controlled, formal esports scene.

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While the sentiment among your average competition-minded fighting game player is easily found on Twitter, we wanted to reach out to the tournament organisers whose businesses and livelihoods would be directly affected by the implementation of this new licensing agreement to find out their initial reaction, what parts of this new agreement are of particular note to them, whether this affects their ability to run Street Fighter events, and their hopes going forward.

We first reached out to Brandon "SHIN-A" Hurley, tournament organiser for both weekly and monthly fighting game events in Cork, Ireland. On a week-to-week basis, the meetups bring in 10 regulars, while monthly events pull in around double that – with friends and competitors travelling over from around the country to enjoy the event. It’s your classic, community-focused meetup that you can find at the heart of communities all over the world. While Brandon isn’t too worried about the effect on small- to mid-level events, he has some concerns.

“My initial reaction was actually to not read too much into it. When I saw the tweet regarding it, it seemed like something that would only apply to CPT events and majors (Evo, CEO, Combo Breaker, etc.) I read more into it when I saw the reaction, but what really stood out to me was some of the wording, which is where I think some of those issues come from.”

“I saw worries about the prohibited behaviour section, which included ‘Intentionally delaying, slowing or manipulated gameplay’ being read as ‘no timer scamming’ (when a player intentionally stalling out a game to win), which I don't believe it is. When they say delay I believe they mean it literally, in terms of online events and manipulating your connection to your opponent. I also saw worries about prohibiting the use of Capcom Assets on sold merchandise where not given permission, however, I'm fairly certain this only applies to T.O's for the events this would concern, so any fan artists and trade hall regulars should be fine, as far as I'm reading it at least.”

This may be the largest point of friction for tournament organisers: the lack of clear-cut examples that forces a level of assumption and guessing on behalf of those who organise and run events across NA and EMEA regions. While Brandon would opt-in for the licence if Street Fighter draws in a crowd at Cork weeklies, there’s an overall confusion at why this has been implemented in the first place.

“If there is demand for SF5 at my events, I feel I will be able to run them just as well as before. I don't think we are quite on Capcom's radar as of yet. If that does become the case, then we would just apply for the licence. I think despite how little of an overall impact this might have on most events, it would be better for everyone – at every level – if this process wasn't in place. For Capcom's fighting game division, it always feels like one step forward, two steps back in terms of public perception.

“My main concern is if this does start affecting smaller scenes while carrying over to SF6, which I imagine it will. The FGC, both in Ireland and the rest of the world, seems to go through it's major changes and chapters along with whatever Street Fighter game is in at the time, I expected 6 to do the same, so if these rulings had an effect during that, it'd be a serious blow and detriment to our scene. Not the end of the world, but it would certainly be felt and I hope to not see this from Capcom”.

At the time we talked to Brandon, Capcom Fighters had released their follow-up statement (below) following community backlash. This claimed the aim of the new guidelines was to make running events for Street Fighter 5 easier, shortening the approval time for community events, building relationships with tournament organisers and encouraging safe spaces at events.

“It was impressive to see so many words put in a paragraph without actually saying anything. It just led to more mistrust and confusion, especially with one of the people involved being sent out to claim they would answer any questions regarding the licence forms, then responding to zero of them. It's making them feel disconnected and alien, while [Capcom's] competition like SNK is doing the exact opposite”.

While Brandon provided an insight into the thoughts of those running smaller tournaments, what about larger events? Major tournaments who have already far surpassed the limits set by the new agreement, run by staff will have to play ball with Capcom in the future and work around these rules? It's worth noting that many of the largest events already establish permission and partnerships with developers and publishers in order to run these massive tournaments, but how these new guidelines affect the relationship between Capcom and tournaments is yet to be seen. We reached out to numerous tournament organisers of majors in the NA and EMEA regions to discern their takes on this recent development.

Many of these tournament organisers did not comment on the matter, stating that due to internal conversations (or simply a desire to wait and see what future developments there'd be from Capcom), they'd rather hold off on commenting publically and damaging their relationship with the publisher.

Alex Jebailey from North American fighting game major CEO declined to comment on their specific thoughts on the new licensing agreement. However, they did go on the record to say “the community will always have your back and will speak for you when it matters most. I'll always help be a voice behind the scenes to create the best tournaments & events possible for the FGC."

Another tournament organiser, choosing to remain anonymous, shared their thoughts on the overall impact of this new licensing agreement.

“The greatest issue with this approach is actually the quantity of TO’s at all scales in fighting games. Enforcing this release will take a massive community team and potentially a constantly active legal team (which is no small investment) from Capcom. The awful expectation this puts photographers and videographers under, much less streamers and commentators, whose work Capcom should gain no ownership of this bluntly, is also unworkable.

“The available return for Capcom, who have not routinely charged for licences to the organisers this release impacts, particularly those at scales to be advertising resources for them, is also tiny enough given most FGC event margins that this is a generally confusing approach.

“The install base is still too small. If followed to the extreme I would just expect there to not be SFV at the Salt Mine Leagues and CEO’s of the future, which is not a future I want to be a fan in.”

We reached out for Capcom for a statement on whether they had seen these concerns from different sized tournament organizers, and if there was some consideration for those who would be negatively impacted by these rules. In response, a spokesperson for Capcom pointed back to the follow-up statement released via official socials, and emphasised that "we appreciate the feedback from the community, we are reviewing it with the wider Capcom team and will follow up with more updates soon".

So, with that in mind, it's clear that this issue is not going to be a one-and-done topic for the global fighting game scene. With revisions to the agreement sure to come in the future, paired with a community of organisers paying close attention to any new rules coming down the pipeline, it's sure to be an evolving subject over the coming months.

What the long-term consequences of a new and imporoved set of rules will be – and the scale of any changes that will actually be made – remains to be seen.

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