What Capcom’s Partnership with Skillz means for gaming

The news that Capcom subsidiary developer Beeline Interactive is partnering with mobile esports company Skillz was announced to little fanfare recently. But there are a number of reasons this association could turn out to be pretty significant, not least because along with this news, Capcom has announced a brand new game in the Street Fighter series for mobile platforms, described as “a wholly unique and competitive Street Fighter experience on mobile.” It’s this game’s release, and potential popularity, that could have far-reaching effects on the burgeoning esports scene, and the games industry as a whole.

A specialized company

Launching its mobile platform on Android in 2013, and then on iOS in 2014, Skillz has grown significantly since the meager ten titles its tech was initially behind. The company calls itself an esports management system, but what does that actually mean? Well essentially, Skillz provides a utility product for mobile games developers, an SDK that can be integrated with their in-development or existing games to allow players to compete with each other online in arranged competitions, either casually or for real money. Skillz trumpets the fact that their software can be integrated fast (competitions can be added to a game within a day, they say), making it extremely appealing to developers who want an off-the-peg solution that can be implemented quickly. Skillz also handles the running of the tournaments, and can even stream them using their Skillz Streamer Network to a potentially global audience of millions.

Developers have certainly taken to the service Skillz offers: by December 2016, Skillz had partnered with more than 3,000 mobile game developers. Also by the end of last year, the company announced that it had not only run more than 100 million esports tournaments but that it had awarded over $60 million in esports prize money, with $5 million being awarded to players every single month.

Founders Casey Chafkin and Andrew Paradise describe the rationale behind Skillz as an attempt to make the emergent esports industry more democratic by enabling all players, not just the elite few, to compete. Clearly, with their swiftly expanding business, they are going a long way to accomplishing that goal on their own. But with this new partnership with Capcom and the Japanese giant’s undeniably high profile, they’ll be able to reach new levels of visibility, and, consequently, many more players than ever was possible before.

A significant deal

On the face of it, this certainly seems like a marriage made in heaven. Skillz is already highly specialized in the mobile sector, with a huge wealth of tournament integration and organization experience gained from the comparatively few years it’s been active in the market.
For Capcom, who, with the Street Fighter series, have one of the hottest esports tournament properties in their stable, it’s a no-brainer for them to want to build on the already huge successes in the competitive gaming market. And it could prove to be a prudent move to utilize Skillz and its unique expertise to build a competitive presence for their property on mobile platforms, rather than try to go it alone. Capcom’s previous releases (at least in a fighting game sense) have been limited to Street Fighter X Tekken for iOS, which, though popular enough, didn’t have the esports focus that is motivating this new push into mobile.
Also, there is an almost total dearth of what could be seen as tournament esports games on mobile. If Capcom focus on creating a great game that is also robust and competition-centric, and Skillz bring their finely honed, tournament organization knowledge, together they could completely dominate the sector.

A wide-ranging effect on the games industry

We’re constantly being told that esports is on verge of becoming truly mainstream. Figures point to the viewership of some of the most popular games eclipsing that of actual real-world sports by some margin. The esports industry is expected to be worth in excess of $4 billion in 2018.

It’s certainly true that esports is more popular than it’s ever been. Viewership on services such as Twitch has increased exponentially over the last few years, and esports news sites seem to be popping up on an almost daily basis. There’s an incredible amount of money involved, too: according to the latest figures from esports finance tracker esportsearnings.com, over $33 million in prize money has already been awarded to players in 2017. Sponsorship of the larger esports events is increasingly dramatically, with a greater number of recognizable companies becoming involved. The teams themselves, once largely self-funded outfits, are now backed by huge sponsorship deals. Recently there’s been a rise in teams being set-up and solely owned by real-world sports franchises, with those established and financially solvent monsters clearly seeing an opportunity to be associated with a movement that is relatively new and fresh, with a cool, contemporary image that appeals to young people in a way that their often traditional and stuffy establishments never could.

But to describe esports as becoming mainstream is premature, and somewhat misleading. Mainstream in the games industry and mainstream for the average person are two different things. For esports to really be part of the global public consciousness, it must touch all walks of life, rather than its current state, where a comparatively small section of people watch a disproportionately large amount of content and only elite-level gamers participate in the most lucrative tournaments.

With Capcom’s recognizable brand and experience in making popular franchises with mass appeal, and the fact that a huge proportion of the population in the developed world own a mobile gaming-capable smartphone, this could be the moment where the public at large get involved with large scale tournaments, either for fun or money. And if these tournaments are as well-implemented and run by Skillz as the company suggests it is able, a well positioned, cleverly marketed game could launch to near-Pokémon GO levels of popularity. And if even a fraction of that audience develops an interest in the esports scene at large, the growth in viewership could be astounding, even beyond the already massive predictions.
How do you think Capcom’s new venture will shake things up for mobile gaming? Would you play a competitive fighting game on mobile? Let us know in the comments!

Andy is a freelance writer for Game With Your Brain. You can follow him on Twitter here.