Competitive gaming in 2016
Over the course of Christmas and New Year, PC Gamer Pro will be exploring the moments that defined all of the biggest competitive games in 2016. Check back every day for another look back at this exciting, vibrant and growing aspect of PC gaming.
It has been quite the twelve months for the fighting game community. The games are bigger and better than ever, there’s more choice and it is more freely available. There’s tournaments that rival anything else in the larger esports picture and there’s even some mainstream coverage beginning to appear. And yet, despite all of these positives, there’s always something to moan about. Complaints like “Chun-Li is too good”, “R.Mika is cheap”, “no one plays the game I like the most!” and, of course, “it’s a real shame Capcom screwed up the launch of Street Fighter V”.
This first year of the Street Fighter V Capcom Pro Tour threw up loads of memorable moments, but cast the net further afield than just Ken, Ryu and friends and you’ll find even more incredible moments in the genre. Some of competitive gaming's most hype highlights happened in fighting games in 2016 and with 2017 about to add Tekken 7 and a new Marvel vs. Capcom game to the fray, it’s only going to get better. In keeping with fighting game traditional tournament structure, here are my top eight moments of the FGC in 2016.
FChamp, KaneBlueRiver and a lesson in extreme hubris
Marvel is coming out on PC next year, so the Marvel door has been kicked open for coverage on this site and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve waited all year to talk about this clash of MvC masters, as it remains one of the most hype matches of the year.
There was a bit of competitive beef between FChamp and then-EVO champ KaneBlueRiver ahead of this first to fifteen at Winterbrawl X in January. FChamp dominated early on, and despite a spirited fight back by KBR, Champ won the match. Acting something of the heel, FChamp rubbed it in a fair bit. At one point, he even forfeited one match just so KBR had a win on the board. It was the very definition of a ‘bad winner’ (even though I do love Champ’s shenanigans, personally.)
The next evening, during the actual UMvC3 tournament that took place, KBR and FChamp met in Grand Finals. Unbeknownst to FChamp, fighting game karma was about to bite him hard on the ass. KBR, who was playing out of his mind in earlier matches (including an incredible sequence against Noel Brown) took first place, causing the entire room to completely lose their minds. Champ looked like someone had broken into his house on Xmas Day and pissed on his presents.
Related: Yipes singing ‘We Are The World’ and then stating that FChamp should feel ‘Every inch of that Gamma Crush in his ass’ is without question the commentary event of the year.
Infiltration’s early dominance
The first half of 2016 belonged to South Korea’s Infiltration. He won back-to-back Premier events at the start of the year, then won the Red Bull Kumite event, before taking first place at EVO. It was at this point that no one looked like they could stop him. Tokido managed to win CEO 2016, finally besting Infiltration in the Grand Final, but this is after he had lost quite a few times to Infiltration in the early tournaments of 2016.
Qualifying several times over for Capcom Cup at this point, Infiltration disappeared for a few months and when he did reappear, his results were mixed. He was playing as loads of different characters, rather than his main, Nash, and finishing outside of the top 8 regularly. Was it because his motivation had all but gone due to his early qualification? Maybe the community simply figured out the Nash matchup, as up until EVO Nash did look like he was going to be a problem. When Capcom Cup finally came around, Infiltration went 0-2 and washed straight out of the tournament, which in in and of itself was one of 2016’s most shocking results.
Which Infiltration will we see in 2017?
That time Marn entered the ‘group of death’...
...called Mago ‘free’, and went all the way into the Top 8 at NorCal Regionals, ending up on the front page of ESPN the following day. EVO 2010 Tatsunoku vs. Capcom champion Marn beat CJ Showstopper, Saionide, Mago, K-Brad, 801 Strider, Kazunoku, Filipinoman, Ricki Ortiz, and finally eventual Capcom Cup winner NuckleDu to win the Group Of Death—a big group full of all the players who didn’t sign up in advance. Genuinely the most impressive streak of 2016.
L.I. Joe: a real American hero
With EVO’s top 8 getting actual TV exposure on ESPN, they needed a greater hook than ‘hey look it is Street Fighter’ for this year’s finals and Long Island’s L.I. Joe gave them exactly that. Beating 2015 Capcom Cup winner Kazunoku to make it into the Top 8 itself was an incredible feat, setting him up as the only American player left in the tournament. The pressure was on.
No one told him that his dad was going to be in the crowd watching him on the biggest stage of them all that following evening. Going into his first top 8 match against Eita, he was already a hero—he’d made top 8—but he sent the Mandalay Bay crowd crazy when he managed to defeat him and progress in the tournament. It was like a goddamn Rocky movie. The moment where ESPN cut between Joe, sat with his head in his hands as he was about to begin the final game and his dad, adopting the same pose presumably because of the sheer tension in the room, is likely to be replayed again and again as Street Fighter becomes a bigger esport. They really couldn’t have asked for a better spokesperson for Street Fighter on national TV than L.I. Joe—well-spoken, modest and gracious in victory and defeat. We should all be thankful to him for not screwing up the first impression.
There was also his priceless reaction when his favourite character, Urien, was announced for the game.
Match of the year: Imstilldadaddy vs. MOV at Milan Games Week
There’s been some great matches in 2016. Daigo vs. Sako at Capcom Cup was the meeting of two masters that could only be settled by a crushing mistake. Ricki Ortiz’s run to the Grand Finals in the same tournament was full of tense matches that went right to the wire and showcased some of the highest level Street Fighter imaginable. In MKXL, Sonicfox vs. Tekken Master was a monster of a Grand Final at EVO, with Sonicfox showing that not only is he the best MKXL player in the world, but also that he had the ability to adapt and not crack under extreme pressure.
For my money, the most hype match of 2016 was when Imstilldadaddy, one of the world’s best Guile players who has had a huge surge of popularity internationally in 2016 with his addictive salty streams, squared off against Japan’s MOV, a top 8 EVO finalist and arguably the best Chun-Li player in the World. Chun-Li, of course, being an extremely strong character during the first season of the game.
Check it out.
Sonicfox bossing everyone at Mortal Kombat XL
In 2016, according to Shoryuken.com, Sonicfox entered 12 Mortal Kombat X/XL tournaments. He won 10 of them. He finished no lower than 4th in the other two. Two of the ‘tournaments’ he entered and won were ESL MKX Leagues, meaning he had to play many, many matches to eventually win the Grand Finals. He did that twice in 2016. One of them was EVO, the biggest bracket of the year. It's not even the first time he has won EVO, as he now has back to back MKX titles at the event. An incredible feat, and he’s just eighteen years old.
He’s been dabbling in Street Fighter V, but with mixed results. Sonicfox is the king of NeverRealm games and with Injustice 2 being released next year, he will no doubt be looking to continue his dominance there. His adaptation, understanding of the game and ability to play multiple characters on the roster cement him as one of the best players in the world.
The kids are alright (at fighting games)
Now this is something that could affect 2017 just as much as it did this year, but some of the best talents in the world right now are under 21 years old. Phenom, John Takeuchi, BigBird, SonicFox and of course, NuckleDu are all looking like top players and still have so much room and time to grow and get better, which is an absolutely terrifying prospect given their current skill levels. All of them have had marquee wins against big name players in this first season of Street Fighter V and are all now truly established as names to look out for at any Capcom Cup event. To close out, here are some of their best matches.
Phenom vs. Daigo Umehara
John Takeuchi vs. Bonchan
BigBird vs. Gamerbee