Photography by Gareth Dutton
The UK’s Capcom Pro Tour Premier event has jumped from tournament to tournament over the past few seasons, with this year going to the Unequalled Media team and their annual event at EGX in Birmingham. As esports grow and the fighting game community grows alongside them, Premiers like this are starting to enjoy the kind of production quality you’d expect from a marquee event in the CPT calendar.
It wasn’t just the aesthetics that made this an important event. Top name players from across the globe travelled to Birmingham to try and grab that Capcom Cup automatic qualification spot. Gamerbee from Taiwan. Snake Eyez and K-Brad from the States. Onuki and, of course, the legendary Daigo Umehara from Japan. All present and vying for that prize alongside Europe’s finest. Players like Cobelcog, Luffy, Infexious and many of the London scene—Problem X, Hurricane and Packz, to name but a few. The Premier was stacked with talent, and there'd be no doubting the skills of whoever made it to the final day.
There’s a real regional pride that comes out at events like this. International players are out here, trying to take ‘our’ spots and points and it’s up to ‘our’ players to defend home turf. A lot of the players who attend London weekly Bracket Reset were sat together, running sets on the casual terminals before their matches. The French contingent were sat in the middle, creating an awful lot of noise when one of their players managed to win a game.
Despite this rivalry, this is the fighting game community—and it's a community first and foremost. Competitors were all sat with one another, pro players walking around the Street Fighter area playing sets with fans and being generally approachable. Daigo appeared to pose endlessly for photos when he wasn’t sat playing Hearthstone while waiting for his next match. When players won a match, there was a group of excited competitors waiting to discuss the finer details of what just took place. When a player lost, the same groups offered commiserations. As the FGC grows and tournaments like this get even bigger, it’d be a true shame to lose this aspect of the community—that 'friends at the arcade’ feeling.
The tournament ran two days of pools to boil the entrants down to a final 32, which ran on Sunday. All of the travelling major names made it through (with the exception of K-Brad, who failed to make it out of pools in Europe again) alongside a 'who’s who' of the European scene. First round matches included Luffy vs. Daigo, Ryan Hart vs. Snake Eyez, and the only European Premier winner to date Phenom vs. wildly popular streaming hero Imstilldadaddy.
The first major match of the day came in the winner’s round of 16, when Ryan Hart met Daigo. Playing the classic Ken vs. Ryu matchup, Ryan Hart managed to defeat Daigo and sent him to the loser’s bracket. The crowd was fiercely pro-Ryan Hart and the way he beat Daigo—forcing Daigo to do a wild Dragon Punch that Hart fully saw coming and countered—was decisive and pulled a proper roar from the gathered masses.
Daigo’s run through loser’s bracket was a very strong performance. Beating Infexious, Packz and Phenom back to back before coming undone against Onuki (who is regarded as one of the best Chun-Li players on Street Fighter III: Third Strike, playing Chun again in SFV) was impressive and, although many would consider this first season of Street Fighter V a bit of a weak year for The Beast, he has still qualified for Capcom Cup via points and could still finish 2016 on a high.
Ryan Hart went all the way through to the winner’s final after his match with Daigo, where he met Gamerbee, who won the Japan Premier event at TGS a week prior to EGX. Gamerbee is obviously on a hot streak right now and sent Hart into a loser’s final match against Onuki. This is where the drama really kicked up a notch.
Ryan has played Ken in SFV and Onuki is a career Chun-Li player. Chun-Li, for reasons that are worthy of their own article, is pretty much the best character in the game right now—to the point where it’s almost frustrating to watch some matches. On the character select screen, Ryan Hart selected Guile. Few had seen his Guile, and no one knew what to expect from this choice of character.
It was dominant.
Hart used Guile’s normals and Sonic Booms to keep Chun-Li and bay and when he got the opportunity to land a punishing combo, he made every single one of them count. It was looking like he was going to ride this momentum straight into the grand final but then, disaster struck. Onuki’s fightstick malfunctioned and the event was forced to take a considerable break while things were sorted out. Momentum gone, Hart clearly irritated by the whole situation, could he keep his head and close the match out?
The final round may have been the most impressive of the lot. Clearly galvanised by the whole situation, Hart used his brilliant Guile to gain a rematch with Gamerbee and a chance at winning the Capcom Cup place.
The final match played out slightly differently to their first encounter, as Hart tried to use his Guile against Gamerbee. Gamerbee’s ruthless Necalli play forced Hart to pick his main instead and eventually secured the tournament win. Gamerbee did an ‘Infiltration’, winning two Premier events in two weeks, and putting a considerable spanner in many people’s Capcom Cup plans. The season is approaching its end and soon players are going to make big decisions about where they're going to attend tournaments to try and sneak one of the last remaining places.
The grind never ends. Once prizes had been given out and the main stage had shut down, a considerable group of the finest UK players were gathered around one of the casual setups watching some fascinating new Ken tech. High level, extremely advanced stuff that could be the difference maker in whatever tournament they enter next. Those who weren’t privy to this were all scattered around the area playing sets against others. K-Brad was playing endless sets with as many quality EU Laura players as he could. Bonchan, Snake Eyez and Luffy, the International Red Bull team, were all drilling Street Fighter against players they may not usually have the opportunity to play, and the only reason this came to an end is because the event itself closed.
One can only imagine what the UK Premier might be like next year if the FGC continues to grow. Attracting talent from all over the globe and with the production to match, EGX is starting to look like the UK’s answer to EVO.