This past weekend didn't pack the bombast of Red Bull Kumite and Texas Showdown, but it did feature a Capcom Pro Tour ranking event (Northwest Majors), one of Japan's biggest majors (KSB 2016), and a newcomer to the tournament stage, EGLX (Enthusiast Gaming Live Expo). This week's FGC Recap starts in the Pacific Northwest where some of America's very best converged upon Highline College outside of Seattle for the eighth edition of the Northwest Majors.
The Northwest Majors, a Capcom Pro Tour ranking event, played host to what is, what many hoped, the return to form of a legendary player within the fighting game circuit, Justin "EG|JWong" Wong. The King of Chinatown has had his shares of ups and downs within the past few years, yet it is clear that with the rising tide of Street Fighter V that Justin, a name synonymous with the highest of accolades within the FGC, is not screwing around. He came to play, and he came to win. He did just that at the Northwest Majors this past weekend.
Justin Wong was on the warpath the entire weekend, never letting up with a relentless onslaught of rekkaken, confirms, and so much Karin ojou-sama laughter. His consistency throughout the Capcom Pro Tour season thus far (the only other player that comes close in NA is EchoFox's Julio) culminated in him taking down the Trinity of Ken players (Julio, Chris T, and brenttiscool). His road to victory seemed assured as he rolled into Top 8. His spacing was impeccable along with brutal hit-confirms. He was putting on a Karin Kanzuki clinic all weekend and the rest of the field was along for the ride.
It started with an intriguing match with King of Fighters legend, Romance, in a Karin mirror that was soon followed by the death of the dream. That dream? Zangief in Street Fighter V. Red Bull's SnakeEyez, the man known the world over for being a Red Cyclone loyalist, switched over to Alex for his match with Wong. He fared far better against the luxurious assault of Wong's perfectly executed Karin play than he would have with the Russian grappler, yet it was to no avail. He fell 0-2 despite some close matches. It became clear, early on, that Julio (winner of Texas Showdown) was looking to face off against Wong deep in the tournament. Winner's Finals came and went and Wong remained dominant. Six consecutive games, folks. Julio got bopped.
PandaGlobal's Ryan "FChamp" Ramirez was strong once more with his Dhalsim play along with a surprise addition of Alex Myers' Cammy and LPN's Birdie into the mix. Julio and Chris Tatarian both continued to bring the pain throughout though ChrisT also fell to JWong's Karin. It set up a showdown in Grand Finals between EG|JWong and Fox|Julio.https://youtu.be/d7OacszWr4Q?t=1h17m56s
Julio took his lumps in his first meeting with Justin Wong in Winner's Finals, adapting well as he took an early lead. This was one of the first times during the entirety of NWM that the Wong Factor seemed to be wavering. What followed was a blistering set that featured superlative reads, a true masterclass in countering a shoto character with fundamentals, and the Wong Train rolled on to victory.
Chief among the takeaways from Northwest Majors 2016 for Street Fighter V? Grapplers can make it deep within tournaments and even the best of the best can be taken out. Notable names like EG|PR-Balrog, Liquid|NuckleDu, EG|RickiOrtiz, and RB|SnakeEyez didn't even get close to making Top 8. The parity present so far within the scene is refreshing and, thankfully, means the door is wide open for someone other than the supposed "Gods of Street Fighter" to make their mark on the Capcom Pro Tour (Infiltration's early year domination aside). Justin Wong, for example, has now moved to second place in the CPT Rankings with 332 points (as compared to 302 for the entirety of 2015). A complete Street Fighter V tournament compilation was made by XuxesGB that distills the entire weekend down into 10 minutes of hype and a bit of salt that's well worth a look.
EGLX, a newcomer to the circuit, featured tournaments spanning numerous genres but the two we care about? Super Smash Bros. (Melee/Wii U) and Street Fighter V. The Smash scene is, without a doubt, one of the biggest in the FGC. Entrant numbers at major tournaments such as EVO and both game's presence on the Main Stage (for example) show that the demand for high-level Smash play continues to grow.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScCp3IGLvio
Classic rivalries came to a head yet again with Liquid|HungryBox and C9|Mang0 meeting in Grand Finals of Super Smash Bros Melee for what feels like the millionth time. It never fails, however, that the animosity between the two always creates great matches and EGLX 2016 was no exception to the rule. This might be the first time, at least that can be seen from the match history of the two going way back, that HungryBox and his devastating Jigglypuff has ever laid down a 3-0 beating to Mango. It is a rarity, honestly, to see anyone outdo Mango when it comes to Fox, yet Mew2King managed to do so, same with Armada (EVO 2015 Champion). HungryBox has certainly leveled up, though, in the past few months and has turned the tables as of late. We're a few months away from the big show once more (EVO 2016), and you have to wonder what will happen with these two longstanding rivals.
The bigger story, though, came with the return of Leffen to competitive play outside of Europe. The ongoing saga of immigration law, eSports athletes, and the absence of the scene's biggest rising stars made EGLX all the better as the Swedish-born phenom was back in the saddle again. His dominating run in the latter half of 2015 seemed to signal the ushering in of a potential new era of dominance from the Team Solo Mid athlete, but P1 Visa issues reared their ugly head as he was en route to Big House 5. The community sprung into action, sending petitions, emails and getting in touch with folks who could make wheels turn and the Canadian tournament would be the first in North America to feature Leffen in some time. His ascension to Godslayer status didn't quite reach the heights many would have hoped for. His resiliency to stride back onto the world stage was something to behold, but his mistakes were painful to watch at times. Samus continues to be a big problem for him as Duck bounced him out of the tournament in seventh place. Major tournaments continue to dot the calendar to Leffen to head out to in North America and only time will tell whether he can return to form once again.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOUxowytn_Y
Super Smash Bros for Wii U also had the usual cast of characters out in force for EGLX 2016 including Liquid|Nairo and Boreal|Ally. It was a dominating performance by Team Liquid overall for the weekend with Liquid's duo of Nairo and HungryBox both taking first place for Melee and its Wii U counterpart. Ally's reset of the bracket was surprising considering just how dominating Nairo had been overall throughout the tournament. Shout outs to Mew2King for making yet another strong showing in SSB4 grabbing third place (along with the same finish in Melee).https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-X2ijwLPXU
The weekend also held a Street Fighter V invitational featuring the likes of Dieminion, EG|kBrad, Mr. Trite, and other local Canadian elites all came together to put on a good show. Another notable bit about the invitational was commentary featuring none other than Woolie "I Got Bodied At EVO" Madden (member of the SuperBestFriends). His work on the mic was fairly laid back; he knows the game well but just needs a bit more experience behind the commentator's desk. The invitational itself, however, was a chance for Kenneth "EG|kBrad" Bradley just how good his Cammy could be. Dieminion, known the world over for his superlative Guile expertise in past titles, is on the precipice of stepping back into the scene for Street Fighter V with the pending clearance of Guile for tournament play as of this coming weekend in Dreamhack Austin.
KVO of Japan and Team St1ckBuG partnered once again to deliver one of the major tournament weekends for Japan all year with KSB 2016. Misono Universe in Osaka played host to all sorts of anime fighters, 2D and 3D competition, and the first ever King of Fighters XIV. The entire weekend was streamed thanks to the globetrotting TS|Sabin aka NYCFurby via the TeamSpooky channel. Arturo, one of the best Dhalsim players in North America these days and perhaps globally, will likely take the torch in the absence of Spooky himself considering he has a swanky new job with XSplit.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJHRDMl4Fs0
The newly rebranded SNK showcased its upcoming title, King of Fighters XIV, at KSB 2016 despite an incomplete roster. It wouldn't be a KoF tournament, however, if every team didn't feature Iori, Kyo or both of them. This field of competitors certainly didn't disappoint in that regard and, more importantly, gave the world an advanced look at what the game (still a work in progress) has to offer. Those deeper into the King of Fighters scene might recognize some of the names in the field, though the significance comes not from who won or lost but just how the game appears to play.
The build on display in the video above, featuring 24 of the planned 50 characters at launch, included more than a few that past footage had yet to reveal. Franchise mainstays such as Ryo, Kyo, Vice, and Kim played much as they always have while Iori felt far more blended in his design according to those on site. Iori was in nearly every team composition throughout the tournament's duration save for one player who made Top 8.
The game, due out for launch in August, still needs some polish as it seemed that the speed was near or on par with past games, but character jumping looked rather floaty while certain animations felt stilted. The much-bemoaned transition from 2D sprites to 3D hasn't been an easy one for the series to take but, ultimately, appears to be shaping up quite nicely. This is still, most assuredly, a King of Fighters game and it plays as such.
Yung Art Returns?
Arturo "Sabin" Sanchez has been a fixture of the fighting game community for a very long time now. His transition to more of a community figure and organizer during the days of Street Fighter IV (especially the latter half of it's time) helped bring about the rise (along with Spooky of course) of the infrastructure needed to bring tournaments to fight fans every single weekend. His character of choice has always been Dhalsim, and he's been a loyalist to the Yogi since time immemorial. Something happened last year, though, as Arturo stepped back onto the main stage and started showing that even in a game as long in the tooth as Ultra Street Fighter IV was that Sim still had some tricks up his sleeve. The Yung Art movement had begun with his performance at Final Round that year and his representation of the anime fighters within the FGC continued to expand. He had returned to the golden years of his early career when his confirms were magnificent; his execution was on-point, and everything just seemed to work.
Flash forward to 2016 and the release of Street Fighter V. Dhalsim isn't the same afterthought he once was in this game. He's even considered top-tier by many, and in the hands of Sabin he is deadly. His charge to the top of the CFN (Capcom Fighter Network) leaderboards in League Points and ranking with the character is a testament to just how committed the long-time player is. Others within the scene followed suit, standing tall within the wake of Arturo and his devastating dealer of Yoga Flame. Sim's tournament viability, something which is not in doubt now with the play of Sabin, PG|Fchamp and more, has been proven over and over again with consistent Top 8 showings. Arturo has been hanging out in Japan as of late, playing with many of the Gods of Street Fighter on a regular basis and paying his dues all over again. The results speak for themselves as a stacked roster of killers stood in his way at KSB 2016's Street Fighter V tournament this past weekend.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=An18HXu_Cbs&list=PLAft8u1jfIo5ZO6KZF2TgR7mh_Td_uAQQ&index=9
Top 4 rolls around, the bodies of the supposed superior Asian elite at the feet of those who remained, and Sabin was among those still standing. Is it proof that America is finally starting to bridge the gap between the upper echelon of Japan's talent and itself? Tournament after tournament so far this year, KSB 2016 included, has shown that the "skill gap" is getting smaller. Kazunoko, a major demon for nearly any and all who face off with the legend, fell to Sabin's marvelous execution. MOV's Chun-Li would eventually defeat Arturo's Dhalsim, but not without one hell of a fight. 3rd place in a Japanese major for an American player is simply unheard of within the FGC, so shoutouts to Yung Art for getting the job done.
KSB 2016 also played host to some fantastic Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator, BlazBlue CentralFiction and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U action that showcased a rising star in Kamemushi (one of the very best Mega-Man players in the world) and showed that it's not all about Bayonetta or Zero Suit Samus in Smash 4. His Grand Finals performance against Komorkiri's Cloud was a great example of just how strong a character the Blue Bomber can be in the right hands. His win netted him a paid trip to an American major, and let's hope that he gets to face off against the likes of Mew2King or Scatt soon.
That will do it for this week's FGC Recap. Pack it up! We'll be back next week to talk Dreamhack Austin and ThaigerUppercut.