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James Chen on Dragon Ball FighterZ, crying at EVO, why Street Fighter V might get left behind

by Colin McNeil Jul 21 2017

Podcast video topics and time stamps:

2:52 Recovering from EVO 2017
8:29 Where does Victor "Punk" Woodley go from here?
15:06 Surviving a weekend of commentating
20:28 Why isn't Street Fighter the biggest esport around?
31:13 Dragon Ball FighterZ
35:02 Street Fighter vs. other fighting games
44:54 Does Street Fighter need saving?
48:50 Please welcome James Chen's cat

The biggest fighting game tournament of the year has come and gone, and theScore esports Podcast was fortunate enough to talk with longtime Street Fighter commentator and all-around fighting game dad James Chen in its wake.

The FGC legend called in to discuss Hajime "Tokido" Taniguchi's emotional win at EVO 2017, the difficulty fighting games have breaking into the mainstream of esports and the declining perception of Street Fighter V.

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Following Tokido's stunning win against Punk in the Street Fighter V Grand Finals at EVO, the champion brought Chen to tears with a simple statement: "Fighting games is something so great." As Chen explains it, it was his long friendship with Tokido and the work he had put into Street Fighter over the years that sent him over the edge.

"When Tokido won... keep in mind, also, it was a very brutal loss for Punk, so I was very much emotionally there," he said. "Tokido has been a fan favorite forever. I've known him for almost as long as Punk has been on this planet, as I said to people. He came to EVO in 2002, I think he was even at B5, and I've known him for at least 15 years. So when he won, I was already getting a little emotional because I had seen the journey that he had, second-place finishes and such and getting so close. I was already a little bit misty eyed, I was dabbing my eyes.

"When he said it, you know he said it because fighting games gave him that moment," Chen continued. "And gave him that goal, and gave him that thing to fight for. When he said it, he said it from the perspective that, 'My life would not be this, I would not be on this stage, I would not be feeling the the feelings that I'm feeling and the world would not be able to share in that moment, without fighting games.' So when he said it, you know it came from a personal, 'I have no regrets,' kind of thing."

As hype as fighting games have been in the past week, they are not a premier esport in terms of viewership and playerbase. While EVO is now broadcast on ESPN2 and there are dozens of tournaments that one can watch on Twitch, the popularity of fighting games is lower than other esports, such as League of Legends and CS:GO. While there are a number of arguments as to why this is the case, Chen has a simple answer.

"It's just because, and I'm never going to sugarcoat this, fighting games are hard," Chen said. "Fighting games are really, really hard. And not only that, they're really brutal. I've always said to be good at fighting games, it's weird, there's this sense of self analysis. You really have to get into your own mind and your own heart to be good at fighting games."

Furthermore, Chen believes that the high difficulty curve of fighting games which often require hours of practice to understand a character, prevents newcomers from picking up and playing the game easily.

"With fighting games, it's like, 'This looks really cool. I'm going to go buy Street Fighter V and go online and get destroyed. I can't learn, this is too hard, this is discouraging,' and then you leave," Chen continued. "That's one of the hardest things about it."

Though Street Fighter V was the premier event at this year's EVO, it is facing stiff competition from a number of other fighting games that have recently been announced or been released. Dragon Ball FighterZ has commanded the attention of many following its announcement at E3 2017, while other series like Tekken and BlazBlue have been revitalized with new titles.

With such competition, is it possible that Street Fighter V can be left behind? For Chen, there's a chance that it could happen if the game is not changed.

"Right now, there's a chance that this could happen, probably a bigger possibility," Chen said. "Because unfortunately for Capcom, Street Fighter popularity, or the perception, the fuzzy warm feelings for Street Fighter and for Capcom are probably at the lowest they've been in a while, maybe ever. People are just so unhappy with the things that are going on in the game. In my opinion, I totally get it, there's a lot of things that Street Fighter V dropped the ball on."

"For me, having been playing fighting games for over 20 years, I can tell you right now that some of the games we love the most: Marvel vs. Capcom 2, CvS 2, Third Strike," Chen went on. "If they were released in today's day and age, with social media and training mode and the ability to research everything, those games would have been just murdered on social media.

Despite the public perception of Street Fighter V, Chen has not given up on the game. Unlike earlier Street Fighter iterations, where a bug or improperly balanced character could not be changed, Street Fighter V can be patched, and Chen believes that Capcom can make the necessary changes to make it better.

"I see Street Fighter V, and yes, I'm not going to sit here and pretend it's the greatest fighting game," Chen said. "It's got lots of problems. But so does every other fighting game. And I know that there is potential for this game to be tweaked."

Preston Dozsa is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.