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EVO 2016 – Day 3 Recap

Jeff Pannell / July 22, 2016 at 8:58 PM / eSports, Gaming, News

EVO Championship Sunday is a truly unique experience that has this magical air to it. It personifies all the best parts of the FGC and truly unites the segmented fandoms into a cohesive whole. EVO has transformed from the ragtag Battle of the Bay into the grandest stage of all to showcase the competition that so many adore. It has become such a mammoth spectacle and, this past weekend, it took a giant leap forward. I was but a humble observer, bearing witness to the moment in which the scene I have followed for years, was showcased for all the world to see. EVO 2016 provided a real watershed moment for the entire fighting game community, and I was so very proud to have been some small part of it. 

EVO 2016

The change in venue for Sunday championship matches to the Mandalay Bay Events Center felt like a tremendous upgrade over past years along with a stage setup that was remarkable. The stage that players faced each other on, shaped like the Evolution Championship Series logo, was topped off with gigantic screens to showcase the action. The audio/video that those streaming at home via EVO’s main Twitch channel was broadcast to the audience assembled there which meant the audience also got commentary along with the match footage. 

Mortal Kombat XL

Mortal Kombat XL. What a game. It took what MK9 did with actually turning the once nothing series, as far as competitive play goes, into a worthwhile addition to tournaments all around the scene. The “NRS Scene”, as it became known later once Injustice: Gods Among Us rolled around, has been defined by one player in particular, cR|SonicFox. His dominance is matched by few, no matter the game, and Mortal Kombat X was an easy transition for the young phenom to make. We’re now deep into multiple ESL Pro League seasons past us, and it appears, with Injustice 2 on the horizon, that the NRS scene will be moving on again. I’ll explore the phenomenon of MKX in the tournament scene, its brief life there and its legacy at EVO in a coming piece. This past Sunday, however, the likely swan song of the best Mortal Kombat game ever made (so far) was one hell of a way to kick off Evolution Championship Sunday.

First things first, shout-outs to the commentary duo of Lord Aris and UltraDavid for their stellar work throughout the course of Top 8 and into Grand Finals. MKX/NRS Scene personality, Tom Brady, would have likely been the fan-favorite but the combination chosen worked exceptionally well. David “UltraDavid” Graham’s analytical skills mixed with the dankest of color commentary from Aris “Lord Aris” Bahktanians. What’s for breakfast?! Be sure to check out Aris’ Twitch channel for more dank memes, FGC history and an utterly unique view on life in general.

I arrived at the arena on Sunday about 7:30 AM to make sure I could get myself a seat, get set up in a media room, etc. There was, well, an abundance of seating due to the early time. It isn’t much of a stretch to guess that most professionals in the FGC and the fans who follow them aren’t exactly morning people. The arena was sparsely populated when Top 8 for Mortal Kombat XL kicked off. That didn’t stop the hype train from rolling, though, as we leaped into the first match: cR|WoundCowboy v. PLG|Tekken Master

I’ll readily admit to not knowing much about the Bahrain native, Sayed “TekkenMaster” Hashim Ahmed. He’s clearly top-tier talent to make it to Top 8 at the biggest fighting game tournament on the planet, but I had no idea of just how smart his decision making was. WoundCowboy, fellow Critical Reaction teammate of SonicFox, is no slouch himself. His Bone-Shaper variation Shinnok has nearly defined the way the character has come to be played in the tournament scene and, frankly, it looked like a mismatch going in. D’Vorah, while a great character, has only seen visible high-level play with HoneyBee. He made his presence known immediately, forcing WoundCowboy out of his normally defensive style of play to become the aggressor and TekkenMaster took advantage. It set the tone for how TekkenMaster took Top 8 by storm, blasting his way towards Grand Finals to face off against the prodigal son, SonicFox.

Sonic began his road to Grand Finals with a showdown against Orbit/MTL|Hayatei. The Montreal scene for the FGC is quite strong, and this native son has been a Takeda loyalist since release. The Ronin variation, specifically, has been Hayatei’s bread and butter for ages now. The defending EVO champion didn’t go with his usual choices of Cassie Cage or Erron Black. He didn’t go with Acidic variation Alien (as many thought he would win the entire tournament) either. He picked Unstoppable variation Jason. People around me were all scratching their heads at the choice but then the match began, and it was clear to see that he made the correct choice. His corner carries work was stunning, forcing Hayatei’s normally active Takeda to the corner for the duration. Sonic, much like Infiltration for Street Fighter, seems to be amazing with the entire roster.

The road there, though, was an interesting one. Another challenger clearly stood tall among the rest of the field, and that was PG|Scar. Panda Global’s Brad “Scar” Vaughn was easily in the running to make Top 4 or possibly win the whole thing. His Demolition variation Sonya Blade is out of this world and one of the best performances with the character I’ve ever seen. The clear knowledge of every nuance of the variation of Sonya by Scar was a delight to see, and his matches were all so fun to watch. The traps, be they offensive or defensive, were impressive but more bombastic still were the full-screen conversions he was able to rattle off at a moment’s notice. If TekkenMaster had been knocked out in pools before Top 8, there is a good chance Scar could have been the man of the hour. 

Bahrain’s native son, TekkenMaster, and SonicFox came to blows in Grand Finals. He has clearly paid attention to one of the few weak spots the EVO 2015 champion has, and that is War God variation Kotal Kahn. Sayed didn’t just reset the bracket (a feat I’m not sure has been done against SonicFox in a Grand Finals match), but he obliterated SonicFox in that first set of games. Dominque (SonicFox) began with his standard, Cassie Cage, only to feel forced into switching to his most well-known character choice, Erron Black. The white hat gunslinger simply wasn’t enough as all the usual traps and tricks weren’t working. TekkenMaster avoided the game plan entirely, hitting SonicFox with a tidal wave of offense. 

The bracket had been reset, and SonicFox appeared visibly rattled. This young man, winner of Injustice at EVO in 2014 and Mortal Kombat X in 2015, seemed to have finally found a worthy competitor. It was at this point that he did something no one has ever seen him do in competitive play. He assumed his Final Form and battled back from a deficit with the suddenly self-assured and confident play spectators have come to expect, but TekkenMaster would NOT go down. His switch to Blood God variation with its offensive/defensive totems proved enough to keep SonicFox at bay for another game. The phenom then turned to his ace in the hole, Acidic variation Alien. It came down to a few small mistakes that ultimately served as the difference between EVO gold and second place. A few whiffs on necessary punish and minor fundamental hitches in TekkenMaster’s game, and it was all over. If this was to be Mortal Kombat X’s final year on the main stage for Evolution, then it was sent off in grand fashion. 

EVO 2016

Screengrab from SRK-Productions/Twitch

Congratulations to the EVO 2016 Mortal Kombat XL champion, Dominique “SonicFox” McLean!

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3

IT’S MAHVEL BAYBEEE! Yipes and the First Lady of Mahvel, Persia, on commentary? Justin Wong, ChrisG, Apologyman and KBR in Top 8? It can only be Evolution 2016. This year’s Top 8, though lacking in some of the names most have come to expect such as FChamp, RayRay, Clockwork, Cloud805 or Jan.  Two of the three Gods of Marvel in one Top 8? Check. KaneBlueRiver back to defend his EVO title? Check. Youngbloods such as Priest, Angelic, and DualKevin in the mix? Check. 

I found myself wandering a lot across the convention center floor on Saturday. Part of it was due to there being zero available seating to watch one of the three main monitors but also because I wanted to see the Gods of Marvel compete. I wanted to see the savagery of pools, the challenges for money matches later that evening and see if some recent upstarts such as Jabrill (Zero May Cry team), IronGod and the like. It was immediately apparent that Christopher “ChrisG” Gonzalez was on the warpath. His play in pools was, to be blunt, godlike. He wrote the book on the Morrigan/Doom/Vergil (referred to as MorriDoom most of the time), and it seemed as though every time I checked in he was in the midst of dispensing yet another beatdown. He was playing like the Chris Genius of 2009-2010. This was the player that should have gone to the mountaintop several times over yet, much like Dan Marino, never quite made it there.

Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is the sort of game that will live on far longer than most assume it would. It does, however, feel as though it might have finally lost just enough steam to push it off the Sunday main stage at EVO. That hurts me to say, honestly, as someone who can’t get enough of the game and have championed just how amazing it is on the competitive scene for years but facts are facts. If this could be, indeed, the final year of its immediate relevance in the main stage capacity then it went out with a BANG! Well, a Foot Dive is more like it.

It isn’t just that ChrisG and Justin Wong had a match that had so many shades of their earlier showdowns complete with improbable Wong Factor comebacks with single characters such as Akuma or Storm but that through it all Chris never lost his composure. He’s been one of the Golden Gods of this game since its’ release, and he showcased why. He’s always been precise with his combos, leading into TACs (Team Aerial Combos) with the greatest of ease yet on this EVO Championship Sunday it felt different.  

The man that many have said helped bring about the downfall of the game that resulted in so many cookie-cutter copycats in regards to team composition is the same one that an entire arena ended up chanting his name when Grand Finals rolled around against the defending champion, Chile’s own KaneBlueRiver. His team of Hulk/Sentinel/Haggar proved to be nigh unstoppable in tournaments past, and he broke the streak of United States champions in the game last year. His dominance has been unquestioned until recently with the Vancouver series and now with EVO 2016 Grand Finals. If anyone can come up with answers for the composition that has perplexed so many others? It’s ChrisG.

It all started with, well, a fairly typical KBR round. Gamma Tsunamis and Gamma Charges to take out the fighter on point, Morrigan in this case, and then Team Supers into catching Doctor Doom in the mix-up. It’s a lethal combination that has served KBR well for a long time now. But the download had commenced, and it wasn’t long before Morrigan was pumping out massive bullet hell damage with Astral Vision (That Sister/Sister action) and going for the throat with impeccable confirms and combos with the Latverian dictator, Doctor Doom. It wasn’t long before the bracket was reset and then a tidy cleanup of the match followed. It seemed as though KBR was stunned by the whole ordeal, simply not putting together his usual work with the Mayor of America and Hulk specifically against ChrisG’s Morrigan/Doom team-up. 

He did it. The most hated man in Marvel had suddenly become the People’s Champ. The man who has done so much for the scene, stuck by it through thick and thin and never abandoned this so-called “dead” game had reached the pinnacle: Evolution champion. ChrisG ascended on Sunday morning, and the entire arena was blasting their praise to the East Coast native. There was a bit of a weird moment where a random fan made it on-stage, challenged Chris to a money match (for fifteen dollars) immediately after but he handled it all with grace. He told him “Sure. After I get my medal, we’ll play.” Security escorted him out of the building shortly after that. 

EVO 2016

Image courtesy of Gail Fisher (ESPN)

Your EVO 2016 Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 champion, Christopher “Chris G” Gonzalez! Marvel Lives and ChrisG has no plans of stopping anytime soon. He’ll still be attending every tournament he can, supporting this game and continuing to be the FGC heel we deserve. This past Sunday, though, he was rightfully treated as the Marvel God that he is. Congratulations, buddy.

BONUS: Mai Neenja, yet again, has already put together a meaty hype compilation of the best moments from Marvel 3 at EVO 2016. Please consult your physician if you can’t handle the TACs, sick Hawkeye mix-ups, and Deadpool shenanigans.

Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR-

Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- featured a lone American, PandaGlobal’s Kyohei “MarlinPie” Lehr, along with a Korean player, Yu “TopGaren” Gyungwoo, standing toe-to-toe with some of Japan’s absolute best players in Guilty Gear. It was a mixture of OG players such as Ogawa, coastal rivals in Omito “Omito” Hashimoto and Nakamaru and the favorite to win it all, Masahiro “Machabo” Tominaga.

MarlinPie and TopGaren both bowed out in seventh, but it was Kazunoko, eliminated from Street Fighter V‘s Top 8 by LIJoe, which made some real waves within the finals of Guilty Gear. His character choice, Raven, was impressive for the fact that it was a newer face to the roster, and that meant that even the stalwart arcade players that filled the Top 8 were unfamiliar with a lot of the facets of the matchup. His first match, against Rion, started off shakily but soon the wily veteran began nailing big-time throws. Kazunoko’s buttons with Raven are downright ridiculous, but it all came down to a single blitz from GGP’s Ryouta “Kazunoko” Inoue that lead to a thundering Super from Rion. 

MarlinPie, the lone American and Zat0=1 stalwart, faced off against the player who helped define the way to play Zato and his demon (Eddie), Ogawa. The defending EVO 2015 champion in Guilty Gear showcased why he’s always a threat to take a tournament anytime and anywhere. Panda Global’s Guilty Gear star managed to defy the odds and make Top 8 in a tournament that no one expected anything but an all Japan finals. It’s one of the best stories to come out of EVO 2016 though it got overshadowed in the hype of Melee and SFV. MarlinPie showed that it was possible. America can make a dent in the Guilty Gear scene, but there’s some definite work to do. Get to the lab, folks.

Johnny, another relatively new addition to the game thanks to the -Revelator- update, is the best character in the game right now. He has amazing normals, unblockables that are just disgusting and has answers for many situations. Omito’s work with Johnny throughout the tournament was the stuff of legend, and it was only fitting that the road to Grand Finals lead to a showdown against his nemesis, Machabo.

Machabo and Omito represent a coastal rivalry within Japan. East Coast vs. West Coast. One arcade versus another. There is far more than just EVO gold on the line here but a matter of national pride. Who is the best Guilty Gear player not only in Japan but the world?  Machabo’s Sin is transcendent, a freight train of incoming damage that seems to have zero brakes. What happens when two hurricanes of ridiculous anime cool clash? These Grand Finals.

Machabo, seeming untouchable the duration of EVO, immediately took a 1-0 lead against Omito. Johnny fires back with a hasty corner carry to reset. Machabo counters with a PERFECT! round. It is ludicrous to see how much damage Sin is capable of doing even compared to the powerhouse Johnny is. Machabo takes a 2-0 lead by this point.

The two titans of Guilty Gear are slugging it out at this stage with Omito doing full-screen corner carry moves that are gorgeous while Machabo has reads that are otherworldly. There seems to be a possible swing in momentum, though, as Omito manages to dig out of the early deficit. His confirms are far better than in past rounds, and he seemed to be gaining confidence leading into Game 5. 

Omito’s will to win is casting great flames onto the crowd surrounding the stage, the intensity coming from him in such strong waves we could feel it in the stands. The pallor of battle has fallen upon him, and his decision-making is so clutch in key moments, finding all the right spots to slip in and score combos against Machabo. The odds-on favorite, though, isn’t done and manages to fire back so quickly. These are two men who had ascended far past any of the foes in their wake. Tournament point or bracket reset. Heaven or Hell! LET’S ROCK.

Omito is quickly pushed with his back to the wall, but he claws his way out. A small whiff and a punish leading into a 2-4-5 combo that chips out just enough damage to secure the victory. Machabo has done it. He’s defended not only the pride of his arcade but the coast he represents too. His ability to enforce his will, matchup knowledge and overall mastery of Sin (cheap moves and all) were simply too much for even Omito to handle. 

EVO 2016

Image courtesy of Gail Fisher (ESPN)

Congratulations to your EVO 2016 Guilty Gear Xrd -Revelator- champion, Machabo.

Super Smash Bros. Melee

I’ll fully admit that I came into EVO with a basic understanding of just why Smash Bros. Melee is held in high regard. I watched The Smash Brothers, I’ve followed the majors throughout the year in reporting on them in Recaps. It wasn’t until the waves of cheers and utter hype swept over me in Mandalay Bay’s arena that I finally “got it”. The setup for the game, compared to most in the Top 8 (aside from Marvel vs. Capcom 3 with an Xbox 360), requires not only a Nintendo Gamecube but also a CRT television. The chants begin as one of the SRK Crew carried a CRT set onto the main stage and began hooking up the necessary AV cables, “C-R-T! C-R-T! C-R-T!” It was louder than anything I’d heard prior that day aside from the crowd roaring for ChrisG in Marvel

The ruckus of Smash fans only grew louder and, eventually, into a cacophony of cheers as the intro video played and Top 8 got started. The crowd was so hopped up for Melee. The cheers transformed into jeers as the scene’s most polarizing figure, Team Liquid’s Juan “HungryBox” Debiedma stepped onto the stage. He was to face Panda Global’s young upstart, Justin “Plup” McGrath. HBox, leading into Top 8, had some shaky play in Top 16 and seemed to make it barely on the sheer “cheap” tactics of Jigglypuff alone. Plup made such quick work of him with Sheik that it seemed a foregone conclusion that this would be another year that HungryBox would fail to take the crown and to Loser’s bracket he went.

Adam “Armada” Lindgren, the Swedish-born Peach specialist and defending EVO 2015 champion, walked to the stage with some definite swagger as he sat down to face off against one of the other Gods of Smash, EchoFox’s Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman. The man who strives for “frame perfect” play had some difficulty finding his footing in the early going though his edge guards and efficiency got better as the minutes wore on. Armada is one of the masters of the crouch->cancel into Down-Smash and he showed why he, too, is one of the Five Gods. The turnip work with Peach was just ridiculous too. Doubt seemed to be creeping into Mew2King’s face with every stock lost. His trajectory leading towards EVO 2016 seemed to be on the rise but some of the same issues he’s dealt with before in regards to the mental aspect of the game? They seem to be present at least to some degree. Down goes Mew2King.

Tempo Storm’s Johnny “S2J” Kim is one of the best Captain Falcon players in all of SSBM (alongside Wizzrobe) and those knees are mighty scary. G2 eSports’ Weston “Westballz” Dennis, who’s shine combos are crazy in their right, is normally well-versed in this matchup. S2J managed to win in convincing fashion with two consecutive knee spikes to send Westballz out in seventh place.

Cloud Nine’s Joseph “Mang0” Marquez is one of the absolute best that has ever played the game and definitely in the pantheon of the games’ deities. His first Loser’s bracket match was against Counter Logic Gaming’s Kevin “PewPewU” Toy who’s Marth is one of the best around. There is, however, a legend regarding Mang0 once he’s knocked into Loser’s bracket. Woe to those who stand in his way as the Fox player just goes Beast Mode with his back against the wall. The spike setups were simply too much for PewPewU to handle and he joined Westballz in seventh place. 

Armada quickly dispensed of the less experienced PG|Plup in Winner’s Finals with such ease, and it seemed EVO was his to lose. HungryBox and S2J took to the stage next in Loser’s Quarterfinals, and it became apparent immediately that Southern Californa’s Smash scene lacks any great Jigglypuff players. S2J’s stiff Falcon knees were no match to HBox’s rampage. 

Mang0 v. Mew2King was up next, and a clash of Gods commenced. Mew2King seemed to shake away the doubt after dropping Game 1 to get his juggle game going with reads that were sick. It wasn’t long before the series was tied up but, ultimately, a minor execution error from M2K lead to Mang0 advancing on to face his long-time rival, HungryBox.

The two have met so many times that it seems like clockwork at this point though as opposed to earlier in the year where Mang0 was exorcising the demon of Debiedma he simply didn’t have it against the ravenous Team Liquid Pro. The runback was in effect, and the crowd is now completely behind HungryBox. Those that were showering him with hatred before are now showing respect and elation at just how on-point everything he attempted was. The momentum had swung heavily for HungryBox leading into Grand Finals against Armada.

The defending champion versus the contender to the throne that has taken second place two years running and third before that. Two of the absolute best in the scene duked it out this past Sunday, and the results were no less than spectacular. Armada jumped out to an early lead which HBox immediately answered back with a quick win. If anyone wants to take a look at some of the top-tier technique required to play Smash at this level, then look no further than this set as the third game was nothing but jockeying for space on the left-hand side of Final Destination. Armada managed to sneak in a side-Smash for the game. Tournament point up now for Armada and they’re just dropping stocks to each left and right until a beautiful sequence of two Up-Airs followed by an impeccably timed Rest to take it to Game 5. The arena is on the verge of going supernova at this point.

Armada has switched away from his usual, Princess Peach, to Fox by the second set. Typical bread-and-butter combos await him from HungryBox with those deadly side-Air kicks that are so typical of Debiedma’s style. Armada answers with a shine spike and then as though it ends as it began with HungryBox pressuring Fox out to the side, puncturing any defense with those surgical side-air strikes to take the win. America has taken back the crown for Smash. Armada, devastated by the loss, sat on stage for a long while with his head in his hands. So long, in fact, the EVO staffers on stage had to usher him to line up next to the other Smashers for the awards ceremony. HungryBox, much like ChrisG, was the sort of player that most would assume would have won the big one yet year after year he fell just short. Evolution 2016 was his for the taking, and he certainly earned it, clawing through a bracket full of killers and adversity to take the win. 

HungryBox, in interviews right after, credited much of his success to his coach, Captain_Crunch, for helping him through the mental aspect of the game. It might not be a traditional fighting game, but there is no lack of mind games going on at the highest level of play and Juan’s missteps through pools and, later, in finals left him feeling doubtful. Crunch, hired by Team Liquid for the express purpose of analysis and coaching, was a “humongous help” according to Debiedma. Perhaps a new trend in the scene? Coaches for the top-tier players? We’ll see. Maybe Nintendo should provide a pro league/circuit for their rabid fanbase too? Smashers can dream, I suppose.

EVO 2016

Congratulations to your EVO 2016 Super Smash Bros. Melee champion, Juan “HungryBox” Debiedma. 

Street Fighter V

ESPN2. Mandalay Bay arena. 12,000 and then some in attendance and hundreds of thousands more watching at home. This was, to say the least, a huge step forward for not only competitive Street Fighter but for the entire fighting game community. Never before has a single event based around fighting games been seen by so many people. 

Yoshinori Ono, executive producer of the Street Fighter series, announced that Juri would release at the end of the month (26th of July to be exact) and then brought out Katsuhiro Harada, the man behind the Tekken series, to announce EVO Japan. More info will drop at the Tokyo Game Show in September. 

Team Razer’s Keita “Fuudo” Ai (R. Mika) and Jo “MOV” Egami (Chun-Li) kicked off the Top 8 with Winner’s Side action. Fuudo’s R. Mika isn’t the all-crazy all-the-time Mika that most tend to go with. His shimmy game is impressive but, further still, his decision-making on when to go in for confirms into command-grabs was downright scary. EX Peach was the move of the night for Fuudo. MOV showcased some of those same skills that many felt should be banned entirely in the Third Strike days with Chun-Li, but it simply wasn’t enough. 

Atsushi “Yukadon” Fujimura (Nash), a member of the same gaming house that fellow finalists MOV and Eita live in, showed out in a gigantic way. Evolution 2016 was his first international tournament. The well of talent runs so deep in Japan,  doesn’t it? He had the unenviable task, however, of facing off against Fuudo’s teammate, Seonwoo “Infiltration” Lee (Nash). Infiltration is this generation’s Daigo Umehara. His domination in the latter half of the Street Fighter IV era and Street Fighter X Tekken along with his total mastery so far in the early stages of Street Fighter V are the stuff of legend.  

The Nash mirror match is one that requires such clear spacing and finding the smallest of openings to slip in a Sonic Scythe or confirm into Critical Art. Yukadon, as stellar as he was for the entirety of pools play into Top 16, looked out of his league in comparison to Infiltration’s Nash. Mr. Lee’s mobility with the character is already hard enough to deal with, but he also possesses a rare quality even amongst the very best in the scene. He has an adaptability to his gameplan that does not simply cover mistakes when they happen but, rather, always finds a way to continue moving forward, changing as necessary and pushing towards victory. It was in this match that I kept thinking back to last year’s EVO 2015 Top 8 performance from Infiltration. The man made use of nearly every character in the book and played all of them to a level that is unheard of yet he didn’t win, Momochi took it that year. Why? Was his heart not in it? Was he simply not playing to his full potential? Were the weighted training clothes still on and he just needed to shrug them off and let his chi flow? It wasn’t that he just beat Yukadon, who did show signs of life late in the third game, but that he decimated him with sick reads, punishment of any mistake, and the right decision at the right time in nearly every instance imaginable. What a fun match to watch and, honestly, it served as a precursor for what was to occur later.

Joseph “LI Joe” Ciaramelli, for those who weren’t aware before Sunday, is a non-sponsored long-time member of the FGC and Nash player (formerly a Urien loyalist) who also happens to run East Coast Throwdown. He’s also been a pillar of the FGC for so long now that he’s an institution like Alex Valle, Watson, James Chen or Mike Ross. He managed to stun everyone by clawing his way through his brackets on Loser’s side to beat the likes of F3|alucarD, Chi-Rithy (who also managed to knock Justin Wong down into Loser’s before he was eliminated by finalist Goichi “GO1” Kishida), OmGItZAndrE, BXA|Squall and GGP|Kazunoko (the defending Capcom Cup champion) to make it all the way into Top 8. He was the lone American representative in a Street Fighter V finals dominated by mostly Japan and South Korea.

The hype for Smash, prior to this, was ridiculous but the cheers that enveloped me as LI Joe entered the stadium to battle against one of the best Ken players in the world HM’s Hiroyuki “Eita” Nagata(winner of Thaiger Uppercut 2016 and has made Top 16 in eleven of the thirteen tournaments he’s played in). There was a slight flub as they sent the wrong player out instead of Eita first (GO1-3151). Each of the entrants had their entrance a la the walks professional wrestlers or MMA fighters take. The only thing that was missing was unique introductory themes for each. Maybe next year!

Eita is no joke. He has won a ranking tournament this season, and his style of play with Ken is far more cerebral than the usual Trinity approach of nothing but offense all the time. LI Joe came into this match with the expectation, from most I had talked to, that he might put up a bit of a fight but would likely get bounced out immediately into seventh place. This was not the case. What followed was one of the most intense matches I had watched all weekend. Most would assume he was at a talent deficit in comparison to the Japanese elite player yet Joe, as he does, played with the adaptive and very reactive style that has personified him since the beginning of his career. He was learning with each wakeup DP from Eita, studying the habits of his opponent and finding openings as the rounds wore on. The crowd was starting to believe it too and then it happened.

This was not just a big moment in the career of an American pro but a big moment for the fighting game community period. This was exactly the sort of Rocky Balboa moment that not only does ESPN want to squeeze out of such an event like this but then Joe’s father walking up and joining the interview like that? The flashback to when took his son to arcades when he was younger, putting those quarters down to let them know “He’s got next.” and the crowd chanting “Daddy Joe!” was the perfect distillation of the community’s beating heart. This is a scene that is built upon not only a mutual love of fighting games but of the individuals who populate it. If you love and play Street Fighter? You’re a part of the FGC. Are you an MK fanatic or Melty Blood aficionado? You’re in the FGC, my friend. 

It was, pure and simple, one of the best things to happen to the community in a long time. It helped showcase what we’re about on such a big stage globally, and it got people who might have never picked up Street Fighter V to give it a shot. A lot of new members of the family were created this past Sunday evening, and LI Joe is a humongous part of why that happened. If anyone can serve as an ambassador for us? He’s one of the best we could ask for. 

GO1 (Chun-Li) vs. Alienware’s Naoki “Nemo” Nemoto (Vega) was a clash of styles. MOV’s Chun-Li is precision personified while Nemo’s Vega is far more reactionary. A few moments of brilliance by Nemo with a few confirms into EX Roll or Critical Art, but Goichi wrapped this one up fairly quickly with Air-Legs into EX confirms. 

LI Joe, after stunning the arena and the viewers at home, was back onstage for a mirror match (Nash vs. Nash) with Yukadon. Joe, unlike his last match, was always at a deficit for most of the set. He dug himself out of numerous holes with jump-in scythes and quick V-Trigger work but, ultimately, the frame traps were too much, and Yukadon bounced Long Island’s native son out in fifth place. What an EVO 2016 run for Joe!

MOV and GO1-3151 with Chunnel Vision (Chun-Li mirror match) followed with continued precision from Goichi to confirm a back throw into Critical Art to finish off the other best Chun-Li in the world. Yukadon, the youngblood of the group and training partner to MOV/Eita, despite his earlier run-in with Infiltration, seemed to gain more confidence as the night wore on. He went into the matchup with GO1 looking like an entirely different player compared to his last battle. He was fearless in his offensive approach, scoring big combos off fantastic reads along with fatal mix-ups and intelligent play to close out the set top crack Top 3.

The two Razer teammates turned competitors squared off in Winner’s Final. R. Mika versus Nash. Notice the outfit change from Fuudo on the grappler to something, somewhat less revealing? This was a mandated change from ESPN due to the risque nature of her default outfit. That aside this kicked off like any other Fuudo match. Standard mixups and corner carry shenanigans, the big claps followed by EX Flying Peach to take Game 1. Infiltration adapted and yanked the second game away out of Fuudo’s grasp.The third was punctuated by heavy bursts of offense from Mika, but strong defensive play by his opponent leads to a 2-1 lead. The tag in from Nadeshiko off hit confirm equated to victory for Fuudo and shortly after that a Game 5 victory with nothing more than standard Mika mix-ups and lots of EX meter usage for Flying Peach to knock Infiltration back down to Loser’s Finals against Yukadon.

The newly rejuvenated Yukadon serves as the aggressor against the seasoned veteran, Infiltration. Few people can stare down Infiltration and not blink, but this young upstart is one of them. Infiltration cannot be denied, though, and immediately battles back despite a life deficit in Game 2 to even the score. A quick shimmy into confirm and Critical Art takes the third game for Yukadon. Fundamentally sound play and upper-level decision-making leads to a series tie at 2-2 soon after by Infiltration. The runback is real folks as those Nash buttons are nothing to screw with and Infiltration lands himself back in Grand Finals against the very Mika that denied him earlier. 

The time had arrived. The entire weekend of sorting through 5100 plus people in Pools Play in the biggest Street Fighter tournament ever to determine who is the best in the world. The crowd was buzzing with anticipation and the Infiltration run back would be no easy feat with the need to win six games against Fuudo’s seemingly untouchable Rainbow Mika. 

Fuudo rolls right on with an Irish Whip into EX Peach. Footsies, neutral game and nearly everything else seemed to be on-point for him the entirety of finals. Infiltration fires back with pure aggression that nets him a PERFECT! KO. Fuudo answers with the Irish Whip into corner carry with EX Peach yet again. Strong buttons yet even stronger senses of when to go in with Mika that so many other pros seem to lack with her. Fuudo takes the first game with style.

Infiltration continues to lay it all on the table, firing off another PERFECT! round only to be rebuffed by some Mika lunacy immediately after. The normally stoic nature of Fuudo seems to be cracking ever so slightly. The mind games are starting to take their toll. Infiltration scores yet another PERFECT! round to finish out Game 2. Fuudo was showing signs of worry by this point.

The third game was all about spacing with Infiltration gaining the upper-hand time and time again despite Fuudo making him pay for getting in just a little too close. Infiltration takes the lead and continues to spearhead this new approach, using effective shimmy work into command grabs at the absolute opportune times to take it and reset the bracket. 

James Chen remarked earlier that “if anyone can reset the bracket and come back? Its Infiltration” and the South Korean pro has proven the erstwhile sage of the FGC right again. Fuudo was so visibly rattled at this point in the match that it was easy to see that the momentum was completely in favor of his opponent. This is not just a game of execution, combos or sick super moves but it is mental acuity. It is chess with split-second decisions required constantly. Infiltration slowly transformed his gameplan into a far more defensive one, punishing Fuudo for attempting to go in and command grab with such consistency. The Mika Vortex, however, is mighty strong, and even the Fort Knox of Nash is susceptible now and then. Fuudo shows signs of life and takes the third game only to trade blows with Infiltration in the next game. The defense was too, strong, however, and it all came down to a standing medium punch followed by a crouching fierce. Download Complete.

Congratulations to your EVO 2016 Street Fighter V champion, Seonwoo “Infiltration” Lee. 

Evolution 2016 Championship Sunday was an utterly mind-blowing event to experience in person. This FGC correspondent will be going back next year and subsequent years after that as this is the biggest the FGC has ever been. It’s only going to get better from here. Get in the lab, get good and stay tuned for more from EVO and the road to Capcom Cup Finals in December. Stay free, Internet.


Jeff Pannell

Staff Writer

Defender of waifus. Fighting game aficionado. Nearly 100% anime nonsense at this point. IT Specialist for the US Government by day but by night? JRPG/MMORPG addicted, constantly grinding in the lab to get better at Street Fighter and spending his time thinking critically about the medium he adores so.