eSport Spotlight: Forgenjuro -- Where East Meets West


Posted August 2, 2012 - By Heidi Kemps

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Street Fighter IV

Matt Dahte has lived in both the US and Japan for extended periods of time, and has been an active participant in the fighting game cultures of both countries. He saw a major difference in the way both community gatherings and tournaments were held – the Western tournaments were more personable, with a stronger social and community aspect to them.

Final Roundbats – our organization – is basically just a big party,” says Dahte, better known amongst the fighting game community under his handle, Forgenjuro. “Several of us met up on shoryuken.com, and since we were all fighting game fans, we decided to start holding these get-togethers… eventually, the idea came to sort of team up with Final Round in Atlanta and organize these tournaments as well. About two years ago, we finally established Final Roundbats as a series of regular tournaments here in Japan.”

While the competition is a main draw, they’re not the sole focus of the events. “More than anything, we want the participants to have fun. It’s not just video games… there’s lots of drinking and conversing to be done.”

With a popular US-style tournament series running in Japan, a question comes to my mind. It’s commonly said that the Japanese fighting game players often come to the US tournaments because they prefer the sort of fun, hype-filled atmosphere our events provide. Is there any truth to that?

“I think so,” replies Forgenjuro. “If time and money wasn’t a problem, you’d see many more Japanese players eager to come to Western fighting game tournaments… most of these Japanese players have ‘real’ jobs. A lot of people can’t even get the time off to get a passport.”

“Plus, the cost of living in Japan is too expensive to live strictly as a hardcore gamer. You can’t actually make money from tournaments here, so there’s no real incentive to devote your life to playing these games unless you can make your way to the Western tournaments and win the pots.”

Forgenjuro and his partners in Final Roundbats, Scott Popular and Bull420, have been helping to send Japanese players to compete abroad in tournaments such as the affiliated Final Round. But there are some hurdles to overcome besides the obvious timing and money issues that arise.

“Most of these guys lack a passport, and they don’t have any knowledge of international travel. So somebody has to help them through the process. When I took everybody to EVO 2012, two or three guys out of the six didn’t have passports until a couple of weeks before we were planning to leave!”

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3

Are the players nervous when they play in unfamiliar territory? It depends on the game, explains Forgenjuro. “In general, they’re usually pretty excited about it. Street Fighter players, maybe not so much… just because you can get high-level Street Fighter play in a lot of the major cities here. But for something like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 that isn’t so popular in Japan, it’s different.”

I ask if watching YouTube videos and streams from around the world is adequate preparation for the players before they travel. “There’s really only so much you can learn from those videos,” Forgenjuro points out. “Most players have watched US matches, but I don’t think too many of them have really studied the play styles in-depth.”

Japan has long been considered a Mecca of high-level fighting game play, producing some of the most skilled and famous players to ever grace the scene. It’s also a place where the fighting game culture is different from the West, Forgenjuro explains. “To generalize, Japanese people are much more introverted. They’re not as loud or aggressive as their US counterparts. Even if you go to the arcade, you won’t see a lot of people conversing – just playing games. You usually play on machines set up face-to-face, where you don’t even see your opponent. It doesn’t lend to talking to your opponents much. Even players who are good friends don’t really converse beyond a few words before going back and playing again.”

“Again, though, the personalities of players vary across games,” he explains. “It’s the same in the US as it is in Japan. An UMvC3 player has a different personality than a Street Fighter player. UMvC3 players here are a lot more outgoing than players of other titles. Console-only games like that don’t offer opportunities to meet up much, so when you do have a local gathering for those titles, it’s almost like a paradise to the players. They’re more excited, more willing to talk to people.”

UMvC3 is an unusual case in Japan – the game has a small, but devoted following despite never having an arcade release. Arcades are traditionally where fighting games live or die in Japan, but more and more games are skipping coin-op entirely and heading straight to home consoles first. Does this make the games less popular?

“There are two things to consider: arcades further dying out here in Japan – as has been happening recently – and whether or not companies can make good netcode for their game. Those things can determine the success of a console release here.” But a lot of console-only fighters can still draw devoted Japanese fanbases. “Take Soulcalibur, for example. Ever since the second game, it’s had a very devoted following. It might not draw the biggest crowds, but it has some of the most dedicated players among games I know.”

Street Fighter IV

For a long time, Japan’s Tougeki – a single-elimination, multi-game fighting tournament with qualifiers held in Japan and abroad throughout the year – was regarded as the most prestigious tournament on the planet. Recently, however, players have begun to voice dissatisfaction with elements of Tougeki, from the way qualifiers are run to the “one-and-done” format. I wonder: has EVO supplanted Tougeki in appeal and prestige, even in Japan?

“Tougeki’s run for several years now. There are players who don’t really like Tougeki, for various reasons… For me, Tougeki has history, so that means a lot. I don’t think there’s a de facto ‘best tournament.’ Tougeki’s going to be the best in Japan, and EVO will be the best in North America. But I think that given a choice, most people would rather go to EVO for its fun atmosphere. It’s in Vegas, after all!”

In regards to the issue of single-elimination competition – a factor that seems to scare off a lot of international entrants – Forgenjuro believes that Japanese players aren’t terribly happy with the format, either. “They’re kind of apprehensive about ‘one and done.’ It might be traditional, but they want to play more games. In my opinion, though, that style has some merit. Because you have fewer chances, it forces you to become a better tournament player. A lot of the famous Street Fighter players – Daigo, Tokido, and such – they all grew up in the Japanese arcade and tournament scene.”

Street Fighter IV is credited for rejuvenating the fighting game scene in the West. In Japan, however, fighting games are still struggling to regain the mindshare amongst consumers and arcadegoers they had in their heyday. Many of the current crop of Japanese fighting game players aren’t newcomers to the genre at all. “Street Fighter players have been around for a while,” he points out. “Many of the Japanese UMvC3 players were originally from the Guilty Gear playerbase. Most of these players are in their late 20s, so they have had a youth of fighting game experience.”

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3

I point out how this contrasts with the wave of “09ers” in the Western fighting game scene – people who got started in the scene with the release of Street Fighter IV, fairly young and new players. But fighting games in Japan are having great difficulties attracting these sorts of gamers.

“Well, at least in the media, it’s been reported that there are less people playing videogames in general in Japan,” he replies. “I don’t know if that includes cellphone games and such, as they’re the big moneymakers right now. Otherwise, they just stick to Monster Hunter, Dragon Quest, and Mario. They don’t branch out further.” But he thinks the bigger problem is the sluggish economy. “It hasn’t been going well for Japan for quite some time. The work hours are longer than most other developed countries, so a lot of people can’t afford or make time to play games, which are a pretty expensive hobby. If it was better, people would be able to pursue leisurely activities more. I think that’s the big problem.”

Forgenjuro is optimistic about the future of fighting games. “As long as fighting games have a place in the gaming world – and as long as companies don’t flood the market again – there will always be an audience.” With fighting game tournaments growing bigger by the year – and organizations like Final Roundbats promoting worldwide competition – there’s still a lot of potential places for the genre to go.

Tags: eSports, Features
eSport Spotlight: Forgenjuro -- Where East Meets West


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