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Why Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite won’t be at the biggest fighting game tournament of the year

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How Capcom took an audience for granted

Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite - Ryu holding up his hands in front of The Incredible Hulk Capcom

Evo, the most prestigious fighting game tournament in the world, has announced the game lineup for its flagship 2018 event. There are no real surprises there (aside from the unreleased, unproven and already controversial BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle), but one fighting game is notable by its absence: Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.

The Marvel vs. Capcom franchise (commonly referred to as Marvel for short) has been a fixture at Evo since the series’ inception. The cutthroat action, hypnotically flowing combos that never seem to end, the unbelievably high level of play in competition and even the glee with which it is commentated have always made it a crowd favorite. Marvel tournaments are a wild ride, even if you don’t always know exactly what’s going on during play.

Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is a solid fighting game with a healthy tournament crowd, despite its low sales. It’s also a fun watch, and quite worthy of top-level competition on a world stage for at least one year’s Evo.

But the situation surrounding it is more complicated than that.

What happened?

A bad reputation

It’s hard to escape bad first impressions, and Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite’s rushed development cycle seemed to generate them like a storm cloud. Infinite built itself a poisonous reputation approaching that of Capcom’s last major fighting game misstep, Street Fighter X Tekken.

Infinite’s first big reveal at PlayStation Experience backfired, introducing the world to Chun-Li’s worst photo angle. “Weird Chun-Li” was symptomatic of the game’s graphical issues, as it became clear once Infinite was released that most of the characters (and their models) were being directly reused from Marvel vs. Capcom 3 with minimal revision.

Without Marvel vs. Capcom 3’s heavy comic book-style shading, flaws of the old character models that were never intended to be seen were put on open display. If Infinite looked ugly and slapped together, that’s because it was.

Speaking of reused assets, there was also the roster. Nearly every character in Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite returned from Marvel vs. Capcom 3, with just five new challengers in the base roster. Six more, including bigger draws like Black Panther, were sold as DLC.

The characters played differently under a revamped fighting system and mechanics, but the game lacked any surprises to bring in casual fans. Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite seemed to only be targeting existing fans of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 — specifically, high-level players who could fully appreciate the new functions and put them to use.

That felt like Capcom was telling tournament players that they’d buy anything so long as the systems were solid. As in the case of Street Fighter X Tekken — which attempted to sell ability-enhancing “gems” for cash like a trading card game — fans were avoiding Infinite as a matter of pride.

Casual players dismissed Infinite’s lack of new hooks, while core players were split between those turned off by the graphics and roster, and those who saw the solid mechanics and were looking forward to competitive play. This did not add up to a best-seller, and a lot of people were eager to see the game fail.

Tournaments and Capcom’s dubious support

One of the most popular gaming brands in the world of fighting games should probably at least try for mainstream appeal. But Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite also stumbled when trying to appeal to the tournament and esports community. Neither side was happy with the game, or how it was handled.

Rather than including Infinite in its flagship Capcom Pro Tour along with Street Fighter 5, Capcom ran an event called Battle of the Stones alongside it. This pit a selection of well-known Marvel champions against players who had clawed their way up the hard way in qualifier tournaments. The twist was that qualifiers would be awarded Infinity Stones, which, as in Marvel comics, would grant players special privileges in the tournament to be used at their discretion.

Marvel is an anything-goes game, and the weird meta-rule was meant to spice up the action in that spirit ... but it also delegitimized the competition itself. How seriously can I take a tournament if I know that someone won a critical match by forcing the other player to change their characters to ones they’ve never used before?

There was a bigger problem, however. The Battle of the Stones tournament — probably, in retrospect, Infinite’s last chance to shine on a major stage — was scheduled at the same event (again, PlayStation Experience) and at the same time as the jaw-dropping Capcom Cup 2017 finals for Street Fighter 5. There was no question which game most fans were going to watch.

Capcom had scheduled its own struggling game to be ignored.

Despite Evo organizer Joey Cuellar’s odd statement that “I don’t think people are playing it, and that’s the problem,” tournament entries for Infinite have remained steady within the community.

This goes further back: Cuellar had expressed some uncertainty about Infinite’s fate in the tournament lineup as recently as December, describing himself as “torn” on whether to include the game.

It wasn’t bad — and there are certainly enough players to run the game at Evo — but it wasn’t well-liked, either. There’s no major reason to give it a slot, especially with …

Competition from Dragon Ball FighterZ

A certain spiky-haired fighter who was hungry for Marvel’s lunch also cast a massive shadow over Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.

It is impossible to talk about Dragon Ball FighterZ without talking about Marvel vs. Capcom. FighterZ’ three-on-three tag battles are clearly modeled after Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and 3. By borrowing core Marvel systems and simplifying difficult combos, Arc System Works created a much more accessible version of Marvel vs. Capcom than Capcom itself was able to deliver.

Plus, it has Goku in three different hair colors. That’s how you appeal to the mainstream!

With huge anticipation for Dragon Ball FighterZ, many fans found it easy to ignore a weak Marvel vs. Capcom entry and wait a few months for a game that looked like it was going to do the same thing, but better.

FighterZ didn’t disappoint casual fans or hardcore players, and the amount of people playing right now dwarfs anything the fighting game niche can come up with without Goku and friends. Dragon Ball FighterZ was a shoo-in for Evo, which made it even harder to justify Infinite’s inclusion.

Evo is not the only tournament

Though Evo’s omission of Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite clearly represents a lack of confidence, it is not a pronouncement of video game death that means its fans need to stop playing it completely.

The fighting game community has no king, and most fighting game tournaments are still grassroots efforts put on by passionate fans of particular games. Evo is one tournament (albeit a huge one) that has decided not to run Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. There’s nothing stopping anybody from putting on a tournament for Infinite anywhere in the world, so long as there are people willing to show up and play.

And Evo itself is a lot more than just its final day or its official events. It’s a massive gathering where fans from all over the world come together and represent the games they love, no matter what.

If I can walk over to AnimEvo, sit on the floor and play a total obscurity like Koihime Enbu against Japanese pros, you can surely find people playing Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. There will absolutely be an independently run side tournament for the game. If you really want to prove Evo wrong on this choice, the best way to do so is to show up, sign up and force Joey Cuellar to eat his words.

Who knows? Maybe it’ll be there next year. It took some time for Street Fighter X Tekken to be rediscovered, too.