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What's next Harada: evolving the fighting game genre and Esports

It's that time of the year again where E3 takes place, and although there isn't anything new to present for the Tekken or SoulCalibur side of things, figureheads from Bandai Namco were in attendance once again to do an E3 coliseum panel with Geoff Keighley. The panel for this year is focused on the strengths of Fighting games in the Esports business, but similar to the interview from last year, Geoff is slightly awkward since he doesn't have a FG background and throws out his ideas on where they could go or evolve into that might not really resonate with those inside the community. Video archive of the 'Strength of Fighting Games in Esports' session is now available for people to catch up over on YouTube. I also have a written transcript of the panel added down below so feel free to read that if you want to skip most of the 'soooo, uhhh, anooo' air time.

The Strength of Fighting Games in Esports ≫


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Geoff Keighley: It's great to have you guys here and Esports obviously everyone is talking about but Fighting games and Esports is something I've always seen as a huge oppurtunity cause you know, out of all these Esports, Fighting games is so easy to understand. It's a Fighting game and it's very clear and direct what's happening on screen. I think it's such an amazing oppurtunity to kind of grow not only Esports but also the Fighting game genre and Harada-san obviously ya know you've been involved with the genre for quite some time so I wanted to ask you guys about why do you think Fighting Games work so well for Esports?

Katsuhiro Harada (via Murray): The structure of the game lends itself well to Esports inherently because before Esports was this keyword, or something that so many people were involved with, we had our own tournaments for Fighting Games in general where people would get together with common interests and be fighting each other without sponsors or teams kind of thing.

The genre itself is as you said, lends itself well like Boxing or any of the other Fighting sports, it's easy to tell the type of match, who's winning, how the match is playing out so these elements really I think why Fighting Games lends itself well to Esports.

Geoff: Do you guys think Esports has helped Fighting games grow kind of out of uhh... you know, Fighting games have always been mainstream to some degree but do you think its helped expand the genre?

Mark Religioso: Yeah I definitely think of Fighting games as the OG of Esports right? So if you were born in the '90s or you played in arcades or on a grand stage but there were always it came from the arcades so it lends itself well really well right?

Cesar Solorio: Definitely agree, people would show up, go to arcades and they would compete there. That was their stage and often times you would place your quarter 'I'm next' and ya know it would be like King of the Hill—you win, you stay on until somebody beats you and then that person stays on until somebody else beats him.

Geoff Keighley: When you're designing a game now Harada, how much is Esports factored into the design of what you're thinking about in like the levels and stages and the characters and moves

Katsuhiro Harada (via Murray): We have to touch briefly on streaming as a platform cause that sort of lends to the growth of Esports. So for our titles like as he just mentioned it, you have two characters with 1 facing each other, side by side, you have the life bar gauges that tells you how the match is going but on top of that, for people watching the stream or watching the tournament in person, it's kinda hard to tell the defined nuances of the battle as it's taking place so with that in mind we design various elements.

For example Tekken, the one we're super proud of is the super slow motion that occurs when one player's life gauge is depleted to a certain amount that they're in rage and if they're about to be knocked out then sometimes the game will actually slow down and you'll see a super slow motion with the two fighters on screen trading blows and it kind of enhances the experience and makes it more exciting as a viewing experience.

Geoff Keighley: The future I think is really interesting for what's gonna happen with certain, you know, not only fighting games and Esports and the merger of those two but we've seen a lot of games now, what I think is interesting now is that we have a lot of new games doing well with Esports and a lot of classic games that people continue to enjoy. I'm wondering as we move forward, is it going to be the same thing where there's going to be this interest in like Smash where people are still playing the old ones and new ones, I mean we're seeing that with others so do you think that will always be a thing, the bifurcation of the new Fighting games and the old and both being good for Esports?

Cesar Solorio: I think that it will always continue to grow with new games, definitely people will migrate over to the newer games but the older games that tend to not die out use to have those big fans that tend to still migrate over to the older Tekkens, the older Smash Brothers so that won't go away but the thing with that is, you don't really get newer players so that's where it tends to fade out a bit but the new players are migrating over to the newer games and that's where you see the newer, younger generation try to you know, step in and really show off their skills.

Mark Religioso: I also think that as Esports and Fighting games evolve to the kind of presentation and format and kind of the life cycle of the game will actually improve too right? To be a longer life cycle you know, we might be able to keep the fan-base longer so that's definitely something that I feel like will evolve into.

Geoff Keighley: The other opportunity I think with a lot of these Esports games and Fighting games is allowing the viewers to be participants in the experience and right now with 1 on 1 battles, there's that but then there's the environmental elements and spectating mode, do you think it's gonna be a lot worser if the viewer can become sort of like a participant inside of the game in some way to help out their certain favorite fighter or get more involved like trigger things in the environment I mean, do you think there is an opportunity there instead of going against the idea with pure skills going head to head and eliminate that. I'm curious Harada if you think of those types of things.

Katsuhiro Harada (via Murray): To incorporate that kind of viewing experience into the game, he (Harada) understands where you're going with it but the way he sees it is a bit different and perhaps even comparing it to sports like Boxing or MMA where you see the match and maybe sometimes you don't know what's going on, so the stream or the TV or whatever you're watching on will show the stats for that particular fighter or show past kind of highlight reels of when they fought that opponent in a  previous match or something like that so he's currently interested in if there's some kinda way to show that in-game between the matches to kinda give that background info on the fighters.

Geoff Keighley: You guys know these tournaments, the fans are sort of super into these matches in Evo and things like that, there's so much energy. How do you guys see the fans becoming a bigger part of the sort of experience around a Fighting game's Esports or are they strictly gonna be observers?

Mark Religioso: I definitely think you know, on the platform-kind of streaming side of things that you know, a lot of these platforms will have APIs, plug-ins to actually let the viewer or observer interact, so they can donate bits and stuff like that. So I definitely think as things kind of progress, obviously we have emerging platforms too coming in the near future, as we see kinda the whole streaming generation take off we see how people interact right? So I don't see how in the future that you could cheer for your favorite fighter while they're competing or donate whatever it be and show different ways you could support them.

Michael Murray: That's one thing interesting we've noticed as well is that, not everyone wants to go to a tournament and be a top player. A lot of people just like you, not everyone wants to go to the UFC and be a fighter, a lot of people are interested in watching the match itself so we have a lot of people that don't even play Tekken that'll tune into the streams and they talk about how they love our commentators and they love the top players and even some of the top players or commentators who're good at marketing themselves will provide t-shirts or whatever they're really able to build up a fan-base and so we're seeing them support their favorite commentator or player much like someone would be supporting Michael Jordan or whoever their favorite athlete is.

Geoff Keighley: Harada I'm curious to get your perspective on the genre in general but I think it ties into Esports, you know the idea of 1v1 is such a key tenant of Fighting games we've obviously seen other you know, Smash, other games have more players in them. Do you see moving forward, do you think the genre will evolve in different ways with the rise of cloud platforms and sort of more open-worlds, do you think that the nature of a fighting game will sort of start to change to get bigger or broader involving more players or just the genre and how that could tie into Esports.

Harada: ... そうですね, 難しいおれ... (laughs)

Geoff: He's thinking about it

Harada: I don't know why I have a carrot in my hand

Geoff: Carrot? I was like does he have a little bag of carrots in his jacket or something?

Harada: I don't know why

Geoff: You can eat it if you want

Harada: Should I eat?

Geoff: Yeah just like a little bunny, first guy to eat a carrot in the coliseum.

Katsuhiro Harada (via Murray): So he was just saying that he doesn't see the basic format changing that much similar to the fact that in FPS, the core mechanic that's enjoyable about it is the aiming on your opponent and shooting. As such, that kind of basic mechanics of Fighting games is probably not going to change that much but there are ways to enhance the experience with new technology for example; Cloud gaming or even if you pair it with AI something like that, everyone knows that a Fighting game is probably the most enjoyable when you're playing your opponent on a similar level and so if technology is further improved then you would have all these different parameters in the background and they would be used to match you against a more suitable opponent or maybe it even gets to the point where you don't even know if your opponent is a human or an AI just because it's done so well and provide such a tailored experience to.

Geoff Keighley: Oh that's pretty cool, yeah oh it's based on a great player when they're kind of like modeling that player to fight against ya know this legendary player and track their moves, pretty cool. Is there much difference between the fighting Esports genre in Japan versus the West? I'm curious.

Katsuhiro Harada (via Murray): He was just mentioning that the laws in Japan are quite strict regarding prize money et cetera, it's kind of difficult to do it in the same manner that you do in the West which is hampering the Japanese Esports a little bit but then, another side of it is also when Harada himself when he goes to various game shows he receives awards like cultural awards for gaming et cetera. The viewing of Gaming cultural is different, in Japan it's not as respected, it's actually something that you would want to refrain from in order to study or do whatever you should be doing. Abroad it's more like a respected pastime or even culturally relevant pastime like that.

Michael Murray: But also personally, in Japan the arcades were alive for so much longer than the West that you still kinda had tournament scene in the arcades where in the West you had different venues and Esports so it kinda grew in a different manner until even more recently in Japan there's a noticeable decline in arcades and you also have Japanese players going abroad and they want to bring the same experience back to Japan so they try to replicate it but it's a lot harder in Japan to go out and rent a venue as one person rather than a corporation than it is for example in the US. There's a lot of these cultural differences that make it more difficult.

Geoff Keighley: To wrap up here, when you think of ya know the Fighting game genre 5, 10 years from now, it's tied to Esports a little bit but it's the genre in general Harada I'm very fascinated, I'm sure you're not gonna tell us much about what you're working on but at least tease us maybe about where you see the genre going in the future and how much Esports will be apart of how you're thinking about you know, future installments of the Bandai Namco Fighting game series.

Katsuhiro Harada (via Murray): So he was just mentioning that he sees Esports continue to increase in speed of how it develops over the next 5 to 10 years just because we've seen a lot of outside parties that have shown interest in Esports in Gaming and working together makes more things possible. The more relevant problem is perhaps increase the game population as a whole whether that's through implementing Story Modes or some of these features where it might not directly be related to Esports just so we have a lot more people enjoying our game and obviously you're gonna see a portion of those kind of migrate to the Esports scene.

Geoff Keighley: What would you guys like to see Harada do, like in terms of Fighting games where would you guys like to see the genre go.

Mark Religioso: That's a tough question you know I think, obviously as we move on, character design is one thing I think that's very important to a lotta people obviosly in Fighting games we're rich and sometimes have over 30 Fighting game characters in the game so each of the top Fighting games out right now have a list of iconic characters that have been in each game. I'm excited to see what kind of designs and everything we can produce as well as other publishers and developers too. That's one special thing about Fighting games like you can really resonate yourself with one character, it might be the design, it could be the personality, the back story apply to it. But you know there's someone for everyone and the game is balanced so it's equal playing field so you could really pick whatever you choose and whatever you wanna be.

Cesar Solorio: Yeah, continued growth. I wanna see definitely just continued growth from the community, just keep embracing these Fighting games. Seeing even those that don't really play like I always give an example is my mom growing up, she's old school, always telling me not to play as many video games, 'put those down and do something else' but now, she actually watches these tournaments with me because she's so into it because it's easier to just watch because you know what's going on, 1 versus 1 but yeah, just growing the community even embracing it from an outsider ya know, somebody on the outside looking in but yeah just that continued growth is what I'm excited to continue to see

Geoff Keighley: What's next Harada?

Harada: (laughs)

Michael Murray: Tekken.... X Street Fighter...? (laughs)

Harada: Maybe Tekken X Street Fighter

Michael Murray: He said 2020 before right? I think? A long time ago?

Katsuhiro Harada (via Murray): Obviously we have many things in the works that we can't really talk about today uh, when the time and place is right obviously, you guys will all be the first to know.

Geoff: Very political. You can have your carrot now.

Katsuhiro Harada (via Murray): For example, VGA perhaps, one of your other side gig. If you call us, maybe we'll prepare something. (laughs)

Geoff: Okay, we'd love to have you there a few years ago so have your carrot, enjoy it. Alright. Thanks guys very much, more E3 coliseum coming right up.

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