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Capcom's new licensing rules are a victory for community advocates, and an important lesson moving forward

As this controversial subject seemingly comes to a close, there’s something the community can learn.

There’s been an update to the ongoing Capcom esports licensing debate, one which seemingly closes the book on the issue with the owners and attendees of community events in a more favourable position than they were this March.

In an official post published on the Capcom USA website, revisions to the original rules have been laid out, alongside an explanation on why these changes have been made and a short series of quick elaborations on certain sticking points that were a source of frustration. All in all, it seems as though the vast majority of major problems have been at the very least lightened up, which in turn provides smaller events like your typically regional monthly tournament or weekly boozy bar gaming session more breathing room.

A selection of major changes were also listed out in the article, which we’ve included below:

  • Increased prize pool limit from $2,000 to $10,000 per event
  • Removed the yearly $10,000 prize pool limit
  • Increased sponsorship limit from $5,000 to $6,000 per event
  • Increased sponsorship limit from $20,000 to $30,000 per year
  • Changed spectator fee restrictions
  • Changed venue restrictions for bars
  • Removed Licence Grant-back for video/photo content captured at events

The first thing that stands out is the gargantuan shift to the prize pool limitations, which now allow bi-weekly or monthly events with great turnout to remain within community event boundaries. Sponsorship limitations are more lenient too, as are blockades preventing the stress-free hiring of photographers, camera operators, or hosting your event at a bar.

Meltdown London is one of many excellent venues who would have struggled under the prior agreement
Meltdown London is one of many excellent venues who would have struggled under the prior agreement | Image credit:

As for why these changes happened, the post elaborates that: “We want to thank our passionate fans for the feedback we received after the first version went live. We hear you. Honouring the grassroots tradition of the Street Fighter community is incredibly important to us. To this end, we have updated the Street Fighter V Community License Agreement, taking into account the feedback we received from the community while maintaining our original goal to provide a no-cost license.”

These aren’t locked in quite yet, with continuous monitoring of the situation from Capcom happening over the coming months. The reaction from the community seems good overall – aside from those who don’t understand the need for licensing in general, who remain confused at the purpose of set brackets separating your Universities’ Street Fighter weekly tournament with a free Subway as the illustrious prize, and massive events like Combo Breaker and VsFighting over here in the UK.

Professional photographer Robert Paul is one such thankful community member, who had previously claimed they’d refuse to work at future Capcom events if the prior version of the agreement went ahead (which would allow Capcom to use their work freely). As it stands now, Capcom will need to reach out and request permission for photographs taken by Robert and others, which is a valuable position to be in as a creative working in fighting games. Or, indeed, as a creative working in any field.

But why does this all matter? It’s good for tournament organisers and those looking to start their own events in the space, sure, but what makes this worth writing a whole article about? Well, it’s an important lesson moving forwards for the fighting game community, or any growing grassroots community in the video game space. There is room for making your voice heard, for demanding certain core values remain intact, and for upholding the self-interest of those who’ve dedicated time and effort into games events that – ultimately – the publisher will benefit from, anyway.

Shortly after the original agreement was revealed, I read a piece over at titled ‘Tournament licenses are a necessary step in taming eSports' Wild West’. It makes a convincing argument to the merits of implementing License Agreements to what he characterises as a sort-of taming of the lawless lands where money matches and other acts unfitting of Capcom’s desired perception have been going on while the menu music for Street Fighter 5 is blaring in the background.

This is right, to a degree. There will come a time when an event will have to put on a smart shirt and tie and enter the professional world. Evo, the fighting game communities’ biggest event (with roots as Battle by the Bay back in 1996), has not been “grassroots” for over a decade now. It traded in debauchery such as straight-up gambling on the show floor, alongside anything considered “thuggery” for an improved relationship with these publishers, and in turn has grown to be a fighting game Christmas of sorts.

The Evo 2017 commentary desk with Sajam and James Chen
Tune into Evo these days and you'll see dapper fits on some of the best in the bussiness.

While the removal of more adult themes and behaviour comes hand-in-hand with increased sponsorship and publisher involvement, the dangers of letting companies take the wheel and guide the direction of a scene is dangerous. The aforementioned thuggery rules were met with mockery and raised eyebrows during its time, especially since those ‘thugs’ had grown the very tournaments Capcom was using for its Pro Tour events.

What some consider thuggery can be interpreted by others as community culture, and washing that all away in the hopes of reaching some League of Legends-style spotless money generator is all well and good… until you consider what else could be lost in the process. Is Capcom some giant evil corporation looking to run fighting games? Obviously not. But it is a giant company, which means it can often be blind to some aspects of the community that has held up its games in the pursuit of growth.

Take another recent example based here in sunny old England. Back in April, Capcom had planned to feature zero commentators from the UK and Ireland in Capcom Pro Tour events – including events based in the UK and Ireland. A small thing for some, but a massive indicator of the lack of thought paid towards the grassroots. A vast variety of UK commentators have passionately championed UK Street Fighter for years, and were silently replaced with others who fit in better with what corporate interests probably believe better suit the event. This, again, was met with passionate community response, and support was poured over those affected. When the UK & Ireland Capcom Pro Tour event happened, we had UK lad Jammerz on top 8 commentary. Was this the result of a tantrum? Are we throwing toys out of the pram when we expect UK voices to present games played at UK events?

WSO Logan on commentary for Street Fighter 5
Logan (right) was one such commentator swept to the side

It’s so crucial that we continue to use what sway we have over companies to maintain aspects of the communities we are part of, otherwise what we lose could cut fattier chunks away from scenes that have survived decades. The open bracket – where players who train hard enough could get an opportunity to fight against some of the world’s best on the tournament floor – are a core pillar of the community. But, you could argue, from the publisher’s perspective, that it takes away time from pro-player matches, which is what the fans really want to see. Let’s just scrap it in favour of E-League of Red Bull Kumite style events.

Or what about streaming matches from tournament pools where unknown players duke it out for an audience of spectators over the internet? Or, why have our major tournaments at multi-game events anyway? We want people to focus on our game, so how about we just isolate it from everything else. Oh, we wouldn’t want our players to get known for playing our competitors games! Lets implement a Riot Games 2013-style exclusivity clause. All of the above could be argued for in the pursuit of growth, for the publisher, yet all would be immensely damaging to these global communities.

Cowboys still have sway ‘round these parts. Fighting games are still in a transitional period – heading towards the squeaky clean esports environment that will inevitably happen – but while there is some power in the hands of community members, it’s crucial to make your voices heard, before the community which built the foundation for this growth is buried under it.

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