"The story here is this guy cannot be stopped," said commentator Aris, as 23-year-old Arslan Ash mopped the floor with EVO 2018's Tekken 7 champion. Tekken 7 had an exciting grand final at this year's EVO fighting game tournament, but not because it ever really looked neck-and-neck. South Korean champion Knee, who won EVO last year and has been a powerhouse in the Tekken scene for years, never looked like he had the match under control.
Knee scrapped his way through a few rounds, but Arslan pressed on relentlessly, and then all of a sudden it was over: With a perfect sidestep and two quick jabs, Arslan was the new EVO champion. The excitement was in knowing just how hard it was for Arslan to get to that point.
Arslan Ash is undoubtedly, in 2019, the best competitive Tekken player in the world. Earlier this year he beat Knee and the rest of Tekken's finest at EVO Japan, ragged from two-and-a-half days of air travel across five flights. Arslan is from Pakistan, and has had trouble getting visas for countries like Japan and the US just to compete. Pakistan has a huge Tekken community, according to Arslan, but few of its players compete internationally, and his sudden dominance over the last year has taken the Tekken world by surprise.
Dominance really is the right word: Arslan stayed in the winners bracket through all his EVO 2019 matches, beating Knee in the semifinals and another Tekken favorite, Anakin, to make it to the grand final. And then he took down Knee again, without a bracket reset (meaning Knee, fighting from the loser's bracket, couldn't take enough rounds to force a second set, which often happens in nail-biter grand finals).
And it's not like EVO and EVO Japan were Arslan's only accomplishments. He won another tournament in Vegas the day before EVO, casually tweeting that it was a good warm up. Since winning EVO Japan in February he's been gaining attention, and the fighting game community has rallied behind him—a project called the EFight Pass helped Arslan get a visa to travel to the US.
Arslan Ash 🇵🇰 #EVO2019 pic.twitter.com/ZxRCeyrlE3August 5, 2019
"He is now the guy to watch out for," commentator Mark Julio said as Arslan celebrated his victory on the EVO stage. "But like many champions in the past, once the mark is on you, everyone's going to come after you. So Arslan Ash, I'm sure you were ready already, but everyone's going to be gunning for you."
In Tekken, at least, Arslan is the first winner of EVO Japan and EVO Vegas in the same year. Last year, Knee—who Arslan has now beat time and again—took EVO Japan and the Tekken World Tour championship. Arslan has an unprecedented shot at a triple crown, and while he fights for it he's lifting the rest of Pakistan's Tekken community up along with him.