Sometimes, hard work doesn't pay off. Sometimes, everything can go according to plan, but you still manage to lose. Some players put their heart and soul into a career-defining match, placing their hope into every press of a button, or every flick of their joystick, and still come up short. This is the nature of all competition, and the world of fighting games is no exception.
The setting is July 17, 2015, at the Bally's/Paris Las Vegas hotel and casino—the final day of Evo 2015. That evening, the top 8 for Ultra Street Fighter IV's final appearance as an Evo headliner took place. It was a very stacked group of contenders. Evil Geniuses' PR Balrog managed to force his way into the finals after being sent to losers before top 32. Team Liquid's NuckleDu slid his way in after experiencing his first loss in top 16 winners. Accompanying them on that side of the bracket is Black Eye's Nemo and AverMedia's GamerBee, who had announced his consideration towards retirement some months prior. r/Kappa's AiAi and Mad Catz's Tokido both strolled in casually on the winners bracket along with recent former champion Infiltration, who was unsponsored at the time, and Evil Geniuses' Momochi. The biggest thing to note about these finalists is that none of them, except Momochi, were part of the previous year's top 8. Evo 2014's champion, Luffy, didn't even make it into top 32. It was a near-complete reshuffle of last year's deck, and it was anyone's game.
Right off the bat, AiAi and Tokido were sent to losers by Infiltration and Momochi, and PR Balrog and NuckleDu were eliminated by Nemo and GamerBee, respectively. Immediately after, Nemo and GamerBee proved to be blood-thirsty sharks infesting the losers bracket, dominating once again by eliminating AiAi and Tokido. Together, the Japanese Rolento player and Taiwanese Adon main denied four people any wins in the top 8. However, in losers semis, one of them was going to have their turn.
GamerBee soon came out on top in a rather decisive manner, beating Nemo 3-1. From there, he waited to encounter the loser between Momochi and Infiltration in winners final. After a close game, it's Infiltration who is unfortunately chosen to be the sacrificial lamb to GamerBee's ambition. After another close game, Infiltration is sent packing. Grand final had arrived, with Momochi sitting safely in his advantageous winners bracket spot and GamerBee looking up from the losers bracket below. The bout that soon began would end up being possibly the most dramatic, suspenseful, and emotional grand final of Street Fighter IV's entire Evo tenure. GamerBee already had one second place finish weighing on him, back at Evo 2012, where he lost to Infiltration, who he had just defeated in a long-awaited Evo finals revenge match. However, could he finally reach out and grasp the big win on the world's biggest fighting game stage?
The first game of grand final began, and the mutual respect between the two players was immediately apparent by the way they play: slowly, patiently, and cautiously. Neither one wanted to make any unnecessary movements, nor take any unnecessary risks. Momochi's Ken tried to zone his opponent out, and GamerBee's Adon wanted to get in. No flashy combos, no rushing down—only impeccable neutral game. Momochi was the first to get a point on the board, but momentum swung entirely in his opponent's favor, and GamerBee soon took three straight games, resetting the bracket and bringing Momochi down into losers with him. Now, the playing field was truly even, and Momochi was beginning to feel threatened. This caused him to switch out Ken for Evil Ryu and hope for the best.
During the second set, both players began to fight a bit more aggressively. They exchanged wins until the scoreboard sat at 2-2, with GamerBee very narrowly avoiding two lost rounds during the fourth game while Momochi was sitting on match point. The energetic, amped-up crowd began to chant GamerBee's name in unwavering support as both players began to exhibit signs of weariness and mental exhaustion. Playing with such consistently good spacing and reactions would be taxing on anyone.
The first round of the final game started and soon goes to Momochi, and people begin biting their nails in anticipation, as this once again puts him on match point. However, something completely unexpected happens: a fightstick malfunction. Momochi's stick disconnects ten seconds into the second round, forcing the game to pause abruptly. After a discussion on-stage with tournament organizers about how to proceed, the game is unpaused, and rules dictate that GamerBee takes the round by doing just enough damage to Momochi's Evil Ryu to win on time out so he doesn't receive a huge advantage the following round with full EX meter. The next several minutes of this unforeseen disruption had Momochi looking for a replacement stick to continue the match. He soon found one, and the final round of the final game began, but it doesn't last long, as Momochi took it in under 50 seconds.
GamerBee was immediately heartbroken, but still managed to shake his opponent's hand out of respect. Momochi stood to very modestly celebrate, as if he was deep down very dissatisfied with his overall performance and/or how the match ended. However, GamerBee was still shown the admiration he deserved, as he's given hugs by his peers who acknowledge how incredibly hard he worked during the set. But the most emotional reaction was by GamerBee's tearful fiancee, who knew better than anyone else how much effort he put into the game. The crowd showed their support one final time during the award ceremony by once again chanting his name.
The conclusion of the match begs a few questions, such as: if the malfunction didn't happen, would GamerBee have kept momentum and won? Or would it still had been Momochi? What if the malfunction happened twenty seconds earlier and put GamerBee on match point instead? Obviously, we'll never know. Despite all of the hard work be put into pushing through the gauntlet of other skilled players to reach that final match, GamerBee came up short. He didn't come out of the tournament as a champion, but he sure as hell put in the work that made him look like one.
Did you watch this emotional and tense grand final? Where does it rank among your favorite Evo grand finals? Let us know in the comments below!