You Can’t Escape: The 15th Cooperation Cup Experience

“As long as strong opponents and fierce battles excite me…As long as I possess the strength to move even one of my fingers… I will keep on fighting!”

-Ryu (Arcade 3s ending)

This character, motivated by nothing but the excitement, thrill, and the bonds created through the heat of battle.

Isn’t it so antiquated and corny? Isn’t it just so far removed from reality and cheesy?

Street Fighter 3: Third Strike is the third version of the Street Fighter 3 series. Almost 18 years old, this title still has what it takes to drop people’s jaws. If regional selectivity for fighting games exists, 3rd Strike was surely one of the games that the Japanese arcade scene really resonated with (not unlike a few other titles, such as GGXX). In reflection, we can’t deny this game’s influence on the scene, specifically through the video that inspired the first major FGC boom in the mid 2000’s.

The weekend of January 7-8 marked the 15th annual Cooperation Cup, a famous Street Fighter 3: Third Strike team tournament in Japan. The “Coop Cup” is divided into two separate 5 man team tourney events on two days: The Pre-Coop Cup and The Coop Cup. The Pre-Coop Cup is held the day before Coop cup, where players compete in teams based on what character they play. The Coop cup is the main tournament where players assemble their teams freely.

The Cooperation Cup represents what I like to call, “matsuri” (festival) style fighting game tournaments in Japan. In contrast to standard events which may host multiple titles (such as KSB), matsuri style events focus on a singular or closely connected group of titles. The atmosphere at events like these is more celebratory of the game and its respective scene. As a result, the events are often curated specifically to those grassroots scenes they host.

The structure of this tournament alone draws a contrast with the Western scene, where team tournaments are not really emphasized over singles (a notable exception being Smash). In games like 3rd Strike, Vampire Savior, Guilty Gear, and Blazblue, for example, matchups can be highly polarizing, so the team tournament format allows for strategic play in terms of character selection and team synergy. Also, Japanese players typically enjoy close proximity to one another, so people are able to easily make teams. Furthermore, these team tournaments have always made sense given the time staff can use event spaces, number of games being run, and the volume of players, while also considering player work schedules.

This was my 3rd time going to the Cooperation Cup. It has been interesting to see the event continue to grow (infographic courtesy of @jyazu), not only in terms of attendance, but production. The Cooperation cup is always an amazing event, but there were a few things that stood out to me about this year’s run.

-The New Generation-

This year’s Cooperation Cup was particularly noteworthy on the production side. Thanks to the Twitch.jp team and Zhi, English speakers all over the world (who might not know about or be familiar with an event like this) were able to tune in and enjoy a separate, live English broadcast. This stream featured commentary by foreign attendees and English speakers like Rkf, Duralath, Arlieth, Gunfight, Pherai, and others.

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This was significant because it broke down the omnipresent language barrier that has always plagued events like these, and also gave a clearer window into the scene for newer, more unacquainted players. For the new generation, players who joined the competitive scene after 2009 or 2016, this may have been the first time they watched the Cooperation Cup. Thanks to Twitch’s support, many of these first time viewers were able to get a clearer taste of the history, culture, and the spectacle the 3s scene offers.

Given the huge success of the live English broadcast, one has to wonder if a precedence has now been set. See, though Cooperation Cup is special, it is just one of about a dozen matsuri style events that takes place in Japan every year. From the Beat-Tribe Virtua Fighter tournament series, to the Judgement Day series for Vampire Savior, to the Transcendental Orchestra for Melty Blood, this move opens up the potential for other events in Japan to follow suit. This could potentially be the start of a new style of exposure for smaller or older titles to the new generation of fighting game players.

-Giants Attack-

The most thrilling part of this event is the spectacle of the game play and the crowd atmosphere. This single elimination tournament featured 465 players from 4 different countries besides Japan. For an almost 18 year old cult classic title such as 3s, you can imagine the kind of draw an event like this has for its players. As is the case with most matsuri style events, level of play ranged from newer players to old legends.

Due to the nature of this game and the players that were in attendance, there was an incredible amount of big moments. For a game that got a lot of hate in its heyday for being boring and slow, the Coop Cup sure felt exciting.

The Pre-Coop Cup came down to Team Ken Masters vs Team Ookunitamajinja, Ken vs Chun-li respectively (how appropriate for 3s, no?). Interesting to note is that this is the first time Ken Masters made an appearance in the Pre-Coop Cup grand final, despite being (generally agreed upon as) top 3 in the game. Team Ken Masters consisted of Shie, Matsuken, Hirai, Koosee, and Deshiken. Team Ookunitamajinja consisted of Mochi, Oryu. Paaru Rice, Tarokichi, and Rikimaru. Several of the players on both of these teams have storied tournament histories, including SBO/Tougeki championships. Before they did battle, Rikimaru and Deshiken even had words with one another, each expressing their desire to beat the other. It wouldn’t be long before their wish came to pass…

Deshiken in particular had been having a good day, with some intense bouts earlier in the tournament. The crowd during this championship match was particularly boisterous. As Deshiken stepped up, I heard people shouting “kill him!”(crazy thing to hear people in Japan say) and even barking (the 犬 in Deshiken’s name means dog)! As if according to script, of course Deshiken and Rikimaru come to play for the Pre-Coop Cup championship.

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With Deshiken’s win, the crowd erupted. For me, it is always cool to witness people here wild out and express themselves this way. Living here day to day, people (especially in Kanto area IMHO)  can sometimes seem eerily emotionless, robotic, or just uninterested in other people. Moments like these are special because, in my opinion, it provides a small moment for Japanese people to freely express their feelings.

While all of this was surely dramatic and exciting, keep in mind this was not even the main event! The following day, the 15th Cooperation Cup’s main tournament took place!

The main tournament had too many huge moments to break down appropriately. The best advice I can give is to watch the event in full for yourself here. If I can offer an appetizer, the clip that had the most viral activity was probably this one.

Even spectators new to Third Strike could recognize players present on some of the teams in top 8. For example, Team “Home Ground” featured some familiar faces from the Capcom Pro Tour. This team was made up of MOV, Haitani, Momochi, joined by their partners Vanao (an awesome Ryu player with a top 4 SBO/Tougeki 2009 finish under his belt) and Saru. In round 1 of top 8, they faced off against Team “4 35 year olds and a 38 year old,” which consisted of Tominaga, Match, Boss, Furo, and K (a very scary team with a strong history of awesome tournament performances in major Japanese tournaments for 3s). Tominaga vs. Haitani was a particularly significant match because they both happen to be masters of one of the most deadly characters in Third Strike.

Riding a huge wave of momentum after defeating Team Home Ground, Tominaga, Match, Boss, Furo, and K were also able to defeat last year’s Cooperation Cup champions, “K.O. Family” (K.O, Kashi, Hirai, RX, and Yakkun, another dream team of 3s legends). With this win, they punched their ticket to the grand finals.

Waiting to face them on the other side of the bracket would be another familiar face for those who might not be familiar with 3s players. “Z Soldiers,” which consisted of Genki, Kuni, Sho, Tokura, and another one of the 5 original fighting game gods, Nuki (the other being present at this tournament being Haitani, of course). Their first match of Top 8 was against the “Holy Thanatos Academy,” which featured fan favorite Thanatos, a top Oro player. After overcoming the Holy Thanatos Academy, Z Soldiers then faced Team “Master Course.” Master Course was made up of Cabbage, Nitto, Moto, Rikimaru, and Game Center Arashi. This team is another noteworthy alliance that united several SBO/Tougeki champions from several different games. Fresh off of their victory over Team Cherry Blossom (yet another mammoth team composed of legends), the stage was set for Team Master Course to face off against Team Z Soldiers to earn the right to challenge Team “4 35 year olds and a 38 year old” for the title of Cooperation Cup 2017 champion.

The gravity of some of these player match ups is really hard to capture in text. Literally decades of arcade gaming culture in Japan from across multiple titles collided in this tournament, one after another. Chun mirrors in 3s are a meme at this point, but if your heart isn’t pumping watching Nuki and Rikimaru dance with cr.mk in that range, there is a good chance you are already dead.

Finally, we arrive at grand finals. Team Z Soldiers vs Team “4 35 year olds and a 38 year old.” Each team selected their respective Yang players to get things started off. Tokura (8th Cooperation Cup Champion, Top 4 at the 11th Cooperation Cup, 2 time Cooperation Cup Runner-up in 2014 and 2016, and SBO/Tougeki 2012 Top 4) who has teamed up with Nuki before on big stages, would face Furo (Top 4 finish at the 13th Cooperation Cup).

With Tokura taking game one over Furo, Tominaga then steps up to the plate. Tominaga would EX oroshi Tokura off the cabinet, beckoning Kuni. For Kuni and Tominaga, this moment is yet another chance to finally be a Cooperation Cup champion, as their tournament histories at this event are filled with 2nd place and top 4 finishes. Kuni manages to bury Tominaga with an awkwardly timed Denjin Hadouken to close the final round. K steps up to remove Kuni in the next game. With both teams exchanging blows up to this point, Sho steps in for the Z Soldiers. With some really awesome composure, he outplays K to win, even scoring a perfect in the first round. This leads to Match vs Sho. Match, a fan favorite and legendary Gouki player sporting 2 Cooperation Cup championships (including the 1st Cooperation Cup!) as well as a 2nd place finish at SBO/Tougeki in 2006, found himself simply outplayed by Sho’s anti airs, pressure, and Genei Jin confirms. Thus, Sho then had to face…the Boss.

Boss in particular is a rare case in 3s, in that he has performed at the top level with 3 different characters. For this event, he used his Yun. Undeniably one of the most decorated players when it comes to tournament results for 3s in Japan (too many to list; several Cooperation Cup and SBO/Tougeki Championships), Boss is a legend in this scene. Although Sho had the momentum, Boss was able to cool it and remove Sho from the cabinet. With Boss as the opposing anchor (a scary thought) and all that stood in their way to a Cooperation Cup championship, the Z Soldiers still had the benefit of the lead. With nothing to lose by saving Nuki, the Z soldiers send in the “X factor.”

Enter, Genki.

One of the most terrifying players in 3s, simply because of how his Alex works, especially in the 1 game team format. As a player, he is known for his confirms, and his ability to create momentum shifts in a match. Although he also uses Dudley, his Alex play is what gained him notoriety in various 3s events over the years. Most notably, perhaps, was his 2nd place finish at SBO/Tougeki 2012.

3s is strange in that, as is the case with many classic Capcom fighting game titles, it has rather rigid tiering. For 3s, however, we often observe that at the highest level, these tiers compress somewhat. It isn’t to say the characters have deeper strengths, rather, the emphasis is more on the player skill. 3s has a lot of depth execution wise, so player ability and game knowledge can push even weaker characters to great heights. Despite this, Alex vs Yun is generally considered a pretty bad match up (3:7). Newer Capcom games are typically more balanced than their predecessors, so when new generation players throw around the term “9:1 match up,” it makes me wonder if they understand what numbers like those really imply…

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Fighting back from the point of death in the second round, Genki’s wakeup super, Standing Fierce, and throw was all it took to create the chance for a miracle. With momentum on his side now, he finds a surprise stomp from a disadvantageous position in the third round. Boss, cornered after a good offensive sequence from Genki, goes for the crouching medium kick to check Genki’s jump-in landing, only to find that Genki read it. With the ensuing throw, Genki overcame the odds to beat Boss, securing the win for the Z Soldiers and finally take home a Cooperation Cup title. Overcome with joy, his teammates embrace, and 3s fans around the world are given an awesome display of what makes this game so special.

-Fight for the Future-

Every year around the time this tournament happens, especially since the advent of modern Capcom in the late 2000’s, lots of players get nostalgic. Twitter banter usually turns to jokes like “now is the time of year when everyone pretends they like 3s” or similar quips. While true, this fond reminiscence will only last a few weeks out of the year, that doesn’t make it any less special.

Do I have to follow track and field closely to still be blown away by Usai Bolt’s speed every 4 years at the Olympics?

For players new and old, everyone can watch an event like this and be taken in by the spectacle of it all. While players who are still avid 3s heads might find this sentiment irritating, the truth is they should be proud that their game and community can still put on such an awesome show, years after its golden era. The Cooperation Cup is special because it speaks to the enduring strength of the arcade scene, the game, and the history of Third Strike.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Third Strike is a weird game on multiple levels. It has always had interesting dualities to it that are difficult to completely comprehend. The community around the game, especially in the West, has always had a kind of hipster feel to it, for example. Despite the Evo Moment 37 influence, many have awful, boring memories of top 8’s featuring Chun whiffing back fierce full screen.  Furthermore, the Street Fighter 3 series was infamously shunned by many “OGs.”

In spite of this awkward reception, it found its following. Consider how the saying, “Play 3s, it’s a good game” reached its meme-like status (the original video is deleted?). The Southern California scene was particularly noteworthy when it came to things like match recordings, commentary (Rockefeller and Sanchez were some of my personal favorites), and high level discussions, and showcasing high level play in the early to mid 2000’s, when the digital side of things started to develop (think early youtube, pre streaming). I know for a lot of the FGC, these projects were influential at the time.

On the other side, this scene did suffer from a kind of hubris. A lot of the players that got serious into 3s, became jaded, unable to recognize their own game’s faults. In my opinion, the genre of fighting games benefits from people being able to appreciate what different titles offer to the genre experience. Every game has flaws, but different games build on different concepts, and are engaging in different ways. New game or old game, 3d or 2d, the best part about fighting games is the variety and depth across the genre; There is something for everyone.

Even if I don’t agree with how they sometimes elevate their game on a pedestal (a fault by no means exclusive to 3s), one cannot deny the 3s scene’s passion for their game. Conversations like these always make me think of “Shallow Hal.” For half the movie, he is convinced this woman is a dime (spoilers: Tony Robbins uses pagan sorcery). No matter what other people had to say, for Hal, he could only see her as Gwyneth Paltrow. Of course, George Costanza goes and fucks it all up, but you get the idea. You have to respect their resilience and undying love for their game, even in the face of criticism. On some level, I have to respect the devotion of a person that is insane enough to look the world in the eyes and say “to me, this is perfection.”

The 15th Cooperation Cup was a breathtaking event packed with awesome performances and a storybook ending. So what was the prize? What was it all for? What reward awaited the champions? A new car? 230k pot bonus? E-sports chairs?

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T-shirts…? In this “e-sports” era, the grand prize is…a…t-shirt…?

Don’t be fooled.

The true prize for these players was the chance to prove themselves the best. The chance to claim victory in the game they love. The opportunity to express themselves in the game they revere.

After a year of drama concerning the controversial nature of Street Fighter V, the 2016 Capcom Pro Tour, and the community reaction to Capcom’s incompetence regarding the title’s support, this event offered a clear reminder of the values we are slowly moving away from. True, there is no growth without sacrifice, and the incredible path the scene has taken in the past 10 years is something few people imagined would come to pass 15 years ago. However, watching this tournament, where the only thumbs up given were to communicate a job well done, I can’t help but wonder if we are losing sight of what makes the FGC special in the first place. If that aspect of our scene is lost in the process, is it really worth it?

For the new generation of fighting game players who watched this event, the Coop Cup was a visual kaleidoscope of what passion for fighting games looks like. When you watch the Z Soldiers embrace after Genki’s throw, you can see what it’s all about. Watching these old men leave it all on the cabinet time and time again, their message to the next generation is clear:

Be true to yourself, and play the game you love to play. As long as fierce battles still excite you, don’t stop fighting.

“What’s the matter? Is that all you’ve got?” -Ryu to Alex, Third Strike

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“Get Ready!”

Sorry for the cliches, and see you next time!

-Jazz

P.S. Disagree with some sentiments? Had a favorite moment from the event? Feel free to express yourself in the comments!

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