Street Fighter V Welcomes a New Challenger

Akuma incoming! How does the release of new characters in Street Fighter affect the meta?

Chun-Li & M. Bison Cosplayers watch Battle Grounds
Chun-Li & M. Bison Cosplayers watch Battle Grounds© Cameron Baird

SEATTLE — Capcom dropped a huge bomb at Red Bull Battle Grounds this weekend, revealing one of Street Fighter's most popular characters, Akuma, is on his way to the latest iteration of the franchise. Adding characters to any game isn't a seamless task, however.

Capcom has been gradually releasing DLC characters throughout Street Fighter V, but with the release of any character a lot is taken into consideration. Making a character tournament viable without making the character overpowered is a fine line for developers to walk, but what developers like Yoshinori Ono are most concerned with what their communities can make happen with the characters and figuring out strategies themselves.

The stage for Red Bull Battle Grounds
The stage for Red Bull Battle Grounds© Robert Paul / @tempusrob / rmpaul.com

Ono gets excited when he sees what players do with new releases. "When I watch and see something new I immediately ask, ‘is this going to be okay?'" Ono says. "But then people always figure out how to counter that, then people figure out how to counter that counter. So that’s kind of a learning experience." Ono thinks the community has a way of counterbalancing the game themselves, but knows sometimes the developer will have to step in. "If there is something uncounterable, then that’s where I think we might need to make a change."

In Street Fighter IV, there were some issues with the balance of new characters, specifically with the release of the twins Yun and Yang. When released, the characters were immediately brought to the top of the tier list, and while the community found decent counters, there was no doubt they were the best in the game. In Street Fighter V Capcom has done a much better job making sure the characters aren’t overpowered, but perhaps to their detriment. The characters are often not even mentioned when talking about the higher tiers of characters.

"Most of the DLC characters have been bad, fortunately enough for us as tournament players we don’t have to learn too much about the character. That takes a lot of time," Du "NuckleDu" Dang says. Alternatively, Darryl "Snake Eyez" Lewis thinks that the most important thing about the new characters has been their V-Trigger, and countering them lies in figuring that out. "They’re not really neutral characters, they are V-Trigger characters. Pretty much all of them," Snake Eyez says. "Every time a DLC character comes out, you have to learn what their V-Trigger does."

Spectators watch group play
Spectators watch group play© Robert Paul / @tempusrob / rmpaul.com

A few of the pro players recognize that some of the threat of the new characters could be untapped potential. "After the DLC characters come out, I think they all suck," said Hajime “Tokido” Taniguch just before the Red Bull Battle Grounds. "But it might be my misunderstanding. I feel that, because the 16 original characters, compared to DLC, we have had a lot of time to create strategies. I think some of them have potential over time. A good player from Texas, Hsien Chang, played so well against Bonchan and Gamerbee. Maybe later they are good."

Some of the characters have found success from bringing fighting styles from past games. "We already know Guile as a character. Like NuckleDu already knows him since he played Street Fighter IV," Tokido said. "Urien, he is a lot different. Maybe he has a lot of potential to improve, maybe he gets better over time."

Tokido made these comments prior to the Battle Grounds open qualifier, and he had the opportunity to watch his statement come true. Arubi "RB" Kao, a Urien player from Taiwan, blew everyone away with his devastating mixups and resets this weekend. Utilizing Urien’s V-Trigger to it’s full potential, RB was one of the flashiest players at the tournament, beating Alex Myers, Daigo and Bonchan twice to take one of two spots available for the Capcom Pro Tour North American Finals. With a widely underutilized character, RB made it work.

Cosplayers invade Battle Grounds
Cosplayers invade Battle Grounds© Robert Paul / @tempusrob / rmpaul.com

The announcement at Red Bull Battle Grounds by Capcom to add Akuma to the roster also fits Tokido's claims about Guile's viability, and Du has been able to put in amazing work with his old character, including defeating Tokido at the Red Bull Battle Grounds. Just like Du, Tokido may be able to slip easily into taking on the new character as his main, and come back even stronger with his previous main. If his damage output and rush-down are anywhere near as threatening as they were in Street Fighter IV, Tokido will feel right at home, as will many other players. Capcom may try to find a happy medium for the character like they did with Guile, or they may make him as strong as he was in Street Fighter IV. The addition of his dive-kick could be a game changer, and may be difficult to balance.

With this addition, it’ll be interesting to see how soon players are able to realize the full potential and who will be able to take the new character to the highest level, like RB with Urien and NuckleDu with Guile. Whoever makes it happen, Ono will be watching with excitement. "I feel like that is actually enjoyable; watching people figure out new techniques to counter the techniques that other people come up with."

By Craig Alphonse and Anne Ellis