James Chen is a long time caster in fighting games, whether it is in Street Fighter or Marvel vs. Capcom. He even flexed and casted the Classic Tetris World Championship last year.
After the IGEC panel about the history of fighting games, James spoke with Inven Global about his thoughts of the community, whether the Capcom Pro Tour needs to be like other esports leagues, and what's next for the FGC.
Growth of a Community
What are your thoughts on the history of the FGC (Fighting Game Community) from where it was before to now?
Kind of like in the panel, one of the things I like about the FGC so much is that we have done a good job kind of preserving the old culture of the FGC. It is more important to play offline, it is more important to have face-to-face interaction, and have that personal interaction. That's also partly because the online has never been that great in fighting games. At the same time though, it might even be a blessing.
It keeps people more focused on interpersonal interactions. To be honest with you, I'm really happy with how a lot of the old school guys have maintained the culture, even though the FGC has grown. We have a non-dominating esports.
In fact, I've personally made changes to try to fight that. For example, I used to do all my commentary in shirts and ties. Nowadays, I don't even do it anymore because that's not us. I don't want anyone to think that we're this thing where you dress up. I want to be genuine and honest. I want to keep it as human and grassroots as possible.
What are your thoughts about the current state of the FGC? For example, we've seen EVO go from a hotel ballroom to the Mandalay Bay arena in recent years. There's also the Capcom Pro Tour and Tekken World Tour.
One of the best things about the FGC right now is that we are still grassroots. We see these stories with these investment companies — like this investor dropped out and Echo Fox had to drop all these players. If you look at Evolution, there are no investment backers to fund it. Nobody can take Evolution away from the people who run it. They can fund their own booth space with ticket sales, venue fees, etc.
The FGC is still very grassroots. This is a topic I can go 7 hours on. There's no governing body in the FGC and I want to keep it that way. The fact that everybody is held responsible by each other is more important.
We've seen other esports leagues like the LCS and Overwatch League where teams and players have a set arena and schedule every week. Do you think the FGC can head towards that route with the Capcom Pro Tour and similar events?
The beautiful thing that Capcom did with the Capcom Pro Tour — they set the precedent since they are the first fighting game league to do this — they piggybacked off the existing FGC events. They didn't create their own events, try to take over, and do these things. They were invested in being a part of FGC events like Combo Breaker, CEO, SoCal Regionals, and EVO for example. They piggybacked off the community.
It still allowed the community to have power to the point where Capcom can't go to an event and dictate how tournament organizers will run their own event. Capcom doesn't have that power and that is a good good good thing that we can maintain. Having this kind of autonomy allowed other games to thrive.
You've been involved in the FGC for the longest time and not slowing down at this point. What are your favorite experiences so far in your career?
There's the obvious one, the Daigo parry. That was the first time I had ever seen a room roar like that. We were in Cal Poly Pomona and the floor was shaking. I can't describe it to you. There's no question why it's like one of the best esports moments ever.
Of course, there's also when Tokido won EVO and said, "Fighting games are something so great." It made me cry. That was also a super memorable moment for me.
Inclusion and Diversity
What do you think makes the FGC so unique from other communities like League of Legends and Overwatch?
It's the family aspect of it. It is the fact that we are not behind VIP banners. We are not separated from you. If you're at an event, you can play. When you play, you start in the pools just like Daigo and Justin Wong. Like I said, they're always walking around in the venue. When I have commentary breaks, I try to make it a point to walk around the venue because I never ever want to feel like I'm not a part of the community. Everybody is a part of the community. Everybody is equal in my mind.
When you get to other esports, it's literally like here's this player — he's untouchable. When they come to the stage, they come through VIP ropes. The FGC is not that. You can love someone like SonicFox as much as you want, but if you sit next to him in your pool, you better be trying to beat him.
You all talked about inclusion during the panel. What can the veterans of the FGC do to further push that initiative?
One is that the FGC is fantastic when it comes to ethnic diversity — it is the most diverse esport out there. It is the gender diversity that we're having problems with. In my opinion, I am not in a position to say how to fix that problem. That's why we need more women in higher positions.
As long as we get more women in higher positions — when you get a Persia (@Persia_xo) showing the ropes and paving the way so that other women feel like they can do it. When a woman becomes a TO (tournament organizer) for an event or a strong player, those are the people that we need to talk to in order to find out how to create the better gender inclusivity.
I don't want a bunch of dudes sitting around, trying to tell women like this is what you need at a fighting event. That is absolutely the wrong way to approach it.
We need to talk to the women and get them into the positions of power. Obviously, we want to make sure they qualify for it — I'm not saying just throw someone up in there for no reason — even women don't want that. If you can find someone like Persia, VikkiKitty (@VikkiKitty), or one of the students Chelsea — she's been doing a lot of work with Level Up, helping them run WNF (Wednesday Night Fights).
As long as they're in these positions and given these opportunities for the growth, that is going to help since they are the ones in charge. Clearly, they will have a better idea of how to have more women enjoy fighting game tournaments than a bunch of dudes.
To wrap things up, what do you think is next for the FGC?
Honestly, keep growing. If you told me that we would be in the position where we're doing tournaments at Mandalay Bay in 2018, I would have laughed at you like 5 years ago. Now that we're here is amazing. I still think slow and steady will win the race.
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