In the fighting game community local meet-ups are the cornerstone of the grass roots scene. While other eSports may have feeder leagues, or academy set-ups, for the FGC, it’s all about the local community, and getting into the same room to compete. This is true all over the western world, but over in Japan these community meet-ups are becoming increasingly rare. In previous years, players would head to local arcades to practise on the early Street Fighter titles, but now that seems to be a dying pastime and the local community is suffering because of it – the latest, Street Fighter V, isn’t even out in arcades.
That is why our very own Takahashi "Bonchan" Masato decided to go on a Road Trip. The professional Street Fighter player hosted multiple events across Japan, bringing Street Fighter V set-ups along with him where fans got the chance to play against each other, and of course, Bonchan himself.
Bonchan’s Road Trip was incredibly popular with the locals, with plenty of players turning out to compete in some games and meet the star player, all while building up a community feel to bring players together – all a part of Bonchan’s own mission. To get a feel for what it was like to attend the event in person, we caught up with the pro player himself about his latest endeavour.
How did you enjoy your trip around Japan?
I’ve enjoyed it very much. Red Bull helped me secure interesting venues for this project like University Campus and Ito Yokado mall, so it’s fun doing events in rather weird places like that.
What was the most surprising thing you saw during your trip?
I was surprised to see so many new faces. A lot of the participants told me that it was their first experience ever to play somebody offline, so they were not even in the arcades before and started playing Street Fighter from V. It was relieving for me to see them enjoy the event.
How far does the love of Street Fighter stretch? Did you expect it to be as far reaching around the country as it is?
We decided not to take registration for this project so people could just casually show up to the venue and leave whenever they want, but I was really worried that nobody would come, or people who would come to the event wouldn’t really enjoy the event. But I could really see that there are actually many players that are hungry for this type of event.
Do you think the gradual decline of arcade popularity has contributed to smaller and smaller communities?
I think it is more about the fact that SFV is not in the arcades. I am not sure if there is a decline in arcade popularity. But the fact that SFV is not in arcades definitely changed the way we train, and it definitely changed the way communities are built and developed.
Were you surprised by the turnout of each event?
Yes. I had set my personal goal of this project and it was to proactively communicate with every single person that came to my event. I was happy to hear everyone’s opinion about the scene and I enjoyed the event myself. I honestly did not think so many people would come and I am very grateful for everyone that came.
Do you hope to see the skills of players evolve? Is your dream to see a player at one of your events rise up the Capcom Pro Tour ranks?
I actually heard and saw a lot of tweets that this project motivated them to play SFV and it actually helped them increase their LP drastically so I think it is helping them evolve their game skills. I personally don’t think Capcom Pro Tour ranks is everything, and I know a lot of Japanese players cannot join CPT tournaments even if they want to, because the majority of the tournaments happen outside of Japan unfortunately. So I just want them to really enjoy being a part of the scene and the community.
Where do you think you’ll take your road trip to next?
I am planning with Red Bull to bring the project to the Hiroshima area and Okinawa area so far. I am reading all the tweets about the project, and in our feedback form I also received a lot of requests to come to Tohoku Region, so if we could add one more stop to the calendar, that would be great!