March Update

Howdy folks! I’ve been pretty busy with work, events, and other stuff, but I wanted to take a moment to update folks who enjoyed my previous writings.

I’ve been given the opportunity to write for Shoryuken.com. From now on, I will be writing features for them. This is no doubt, thanks to those of you who support me and my vision for what fighting game coverage should be. I want you all to know I am more motivated than ever to show the world what the scene is -really- about. From here on out, I am doubling down.

In the future, if a piece I have is unable to be run on Shoryuken.com, I will post it here. I have a lot of ideas, so be sure to follow, leave feedback, and let me know what YOU want to see.

Thanks,

Jazz

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…

http://streamable.com/peftt

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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14th_Winner

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!

Tenkaichi Budokai: A guide to Mikado’s upcoming Guilty Gear league

What is Tenkaichi Budokai?

Tenkaichi Budokai is an 8-man, league style Guilty Gear event brought to you by Mikado Game Center in Tokyo, Japan. Hosted by Jonio and the Mikado Game Center in Tokyo, this event offers viewers a chance to see league style, first to 10 sets from the top competitors in eastern Japan. This year’s Tenkaichi Budokai features an interesting mix of classic Guilty Gear players, masters of new characters, and fan favorites fighting for the title of “Best Under Heaven.”

Why should I care?

Unlike some leagues which are hidden behind  kanji paywalls or require ticket purchases on Niconico, you can tune in to all the action for free on twitch.tv/joniosan. Another major difference is that Tenkaichi Budokai is in person, live from an arcade. While most modern leagues are netplay based, Tenkaichi Budokai offers an offline league that seeks to capture the essence of the arcade experience. This year’s event will be broadcasted in HD through twitch.tv, and with live English (by Jazz aka Majinobama) and Japanese commentary (by Jonio). Whether you are a Guilty Gear veteran or a casual fan, Tenkaichi Budokai will give spectators a riveting example of what makes fighting games special, and why the arcade scene is so irreplaceable.

What do you mean by “league style?”

The 8 players of Tenkaichi Budokai are split into 2 groups:  The Spade League & The Heart League.  With 4 players in each group, the players fight one another in round robin, first to 10 sets. One player will emerge from each group based on win/loss differentials.  These winners will then advance to the final championship group. The second and third place finishers from each group will then fight each other for a chance at redemption and the third spot in the championship group.

Who are the Players? What are the groupings?

The Spade League

Roi ロイ (Character: Sol)

One of the classic Sol players, Roi has been training to bring his Xrd performance to the level fans of his GGXX series play would expect. With 3 top 8 placings at SBO Tougeki tournaments from 2006 to 2010, Roi’s history is quite decorated. Although we haven’t seen much from him in Xrd series tournaments (he often does commentary for events), he wants to make his mark on this league with a strong performance against the best in eastern Japan.

Roi Matches from Mikado

Nage ナゲ (Faust)

Top 4 finalist from SBO Tougeki 2010, KSB 2015 and 2016; Evolution 2015 Runner up. Faust sage and one of the top players of the game, he faltered in the A league during last year’s event (losing to Mike [Jack-O] and Karinchu [Johnny]), and no doubt looks to improve on those results this year. Nage recently clinched a spot in the Arc System Works Fighting Game Awards over his demon, Ogawa. This victory was surely indicative of his hard work, efforts, and ambitions to become the strongest.

Nage vs Machabo- and Omito at KSB 2016

Nage vs Woshige Losers Finals EVO 2015

FAB (Potemkin)

No introduction necessary. A fan favorite and legend of the game, if you don’t know who this is, you don’t know fighting games. His accolades include top 8 finishes in SBO Tougeki 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, Arc Revo 2013, 2015 and 2016. He came in 3rd in his group last year, and will no doubt look to add a win here to his list of achievements.

       Danger Time

He almost killed Jonio

Summit サミット  (Chipp)

One of the top Chipp players in Japan, Samitto is looking to make a statement, and add another accomplishment to complement his SBO Tougeki 2007, 2009, 2010 Top 8 finishes, as well as his GODSGARDEN 2015 championship. Samitto finally clinched his spot through combat, in overtime, over fierce rival Nakamura. He is looking to challenge Karinchu, and add the title “Best Under Heaven” to his name.

        Slash Series: Top Garen vs Samitto

 

 

The Heart League

Kazuki 押田撲滅委員会会長 “Oshida Extermination Committee Chairman” (Dizzy)

Kazuki is one of the classic Dizzy players from eastern Japan. With Dizzy’s recent addition to Xrd this year, you can see he has been hard at work in the arcade, quickly ascending the ranks as one of the top Dizzy players in Japan. It is his wish to destroy FAB in front of a live studio audience at Tenkaichi Budokai.

Kazuki Matches from Mikado

Zadi ザディ (Raven)

With Raven’s release, Zadi has exploded with awesome performances using this character. This year, he qualified for toushinsai, had a 3rd place finish at Godsgarden 11, and has made a lasting impact in Mikado tournament play with this character. His terrifying, dynamic style of play that incorporates Raven’s tools in unique ways is sure to be fun to watch!

Zadi Matches from Mikado

 

Haaken ハーケン (Sol)

A former Potemkin player who changed to Sol since the first version of Sign, Haaken has been having a great year. He achieved the highest rank in the arcade rankings, won the Mikado ticket to Toushinsai, got top 8 at Toushinsai, and qualified for Tenkaichi Budokai in the qualification tournament in exciting fashion. Known for being a scary player in tournament, his footsies heavy style, coupled with his awesome defense and acute decision-making are sure to keep you on the edge of your seat!

            Tenkaichi Budokai Qualification Tournament: Haaken vs Nakamura

Karinchu かりんちゅ (Johnny)

This is the hidden boss of Guilty Gear in Japan. As the 2016 Tenkaichi Budokai champion, and one of the most terrifying players in east Japan, Karinchu aims to once again claim the throne. Who will rise this year to challenge his title as the best?

The best under heaven

When is it?

The schedule has mostly been decided and can be seen here:

(All times are JST)

Note that some of these match dates and times are subject to change. In order to keep up with schedule changes, please follow Jonio and Jazz on twitter.

♥January 8, 2017 4:00 PM Karinchu vs Kazuki

♠January 21, 2017 6:00 PM FAB vs Summit

♥January 22, 2017 Haaken vs Zadi (subject to change*)

♠January 28, 2017 6:00 PM Nage vs Roi

♥January 28, 2017 9:00 PM OR January 29, 2017 7:00 PM Kazuki vs Haaken

♠February 4, 2017 6:00 PM Roi vs Summit

♠February 5, 2017 6:00 PM Nage vs FAB

♥February 11, 2017 6:00 PM Haaken vs Karinchu

♥February 12, 2017 3:00 PM Zadi vs Kazuki

♠February 19, 2017 6:00 PM Summit vs Nage

♥TBA Zadi vs Karinchu

♠TBA FAB vs Roi

 

Which matches are you looking forward to the most? Who do you think will win? Feel free to leave feedback either here or on my twitter account.

Thanks for reading!

Jazz aka Majinobama

Sidestep: Thoughts on the Tekken 7 FR King of Iron Fist 2016 Finals

There used to be a time when, as a fighting game player, you could look at the calendar and know the 3-4 major events that happened between Evolution and the end of the year. As individual titles have developed their own cycles and schedules throughout the year, fall and winter slowly became a very cluttered time of year for fighting games…

With most major outlets focused on the Capcom Cup, one event that was overlooked (at the time) was the Tekken King of Iron Fist Tour grand final event. It took place on December 10, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan, and was the climax of over half a years worth of qualification rounds and competition. While many major outlets covered the Panda/Kuma reveal as well as the grand finals, a lot of them missed some of the finer points for discussion this event gave us.

The event opened with introductions of the players, and then the staff. Like most official Namco Bandai sponsored events, Harada, Hameko, and Nakatsu introduced themselves and gave player introductions. On the English broadcast, Tasty Steve, Aris, Markman, and Michael Murray were there to help the foreign audience keep up, and provide commentary. Given the players and personalities present, this tournament was a big deal for the Tekken community. For the unacquainted, or new fighting game fans who aren’t familiar with Tekken, this event may have served as a decent introduction into the personalities, (most of the) top players, and the energy of the modern Tekken scene.

As someone who lives in Japan and enjoys Tekken casually, I decided to go and spectate live. The show was really entertaining from start to finish, and gave a really strong impression of the scene’s growth going into the console Tekken 7 release. For me, I was able to enjoy and define the significance of this tournament through the lenses of time.

-Memories of the Past-

Initially, players were placed into 8 man groups where they ran round robin, best of 3 sets against the other players in their groups. The top two players from each group would then proceed to a top 16 bracket.

Even casual fighting game fans can recognize names like Knee, Saint, Nobi, Gen, Mr. Naps, & Anakin, all of whom were present at this stage of the King of Iron Fist 2016 Finals. Given the intense competitive nature of the Tekken series, it should come as no surprise that with ramped up efforts by Bandai Namco to drive their tour style championship series forward, champions of past and present would heed the call. From Evolution, to SBO/Tougeki, to Tekken Crash, to the Mastercup series, the King of Iron Fist 2016 tour collected an interesting variety of champions from various events worldwide.

Knee, Nobi, and Saint are particularly noteworthy competitors at this stage because of their legacies as champions of Evolution 2013, 2015, and 2016, respectively. These 3 players represent top talent from Asia in Tekken, with major wins on the world stage (across several versions of the series). Nobi, as the King of Iron Fist 2015 champion, had added pressure to perform and defend his title, after he defeated Knee in dramatic fashion last year. Notably absent was JDCR, the Evolution 2014 champion, who did not qualify for this event.

Speaking of Evolution 2014, one cannot help but recall Gen’s incredible performance, which ended with him taking home 2nd place to JDCR at that tournament. However, we will touch on Gen and his significance later.

For followers of the North American Tekken scene, Mr. Naps and Anakin should be familiar names. Both of these players boast numerous North American tournament wins and high impact performances over the years. As paragons of the Norcal and ATL scenes, respectively, their presence covers 2 major pockets of the North American Tekken community. For classic Tekken fans, it was surely a treat to see storied players like Furumizu, Tissuemon (his 2nd consecutive year qualifying for the Grand Finals), Take, and Chikurin reach this stage of the tour.

With such an incredible collection of players, expectations were set very high for what would be the most important Tekken event of the year.

-Battles of the Present-

Given how players had to qualify for this event by attending and performing at qualifier events, it should come as no surprise that even the pool play was very intense.

Group B got things heated up early on, with Mr. Naps taking on Knee in what was, in my opinion, one of the most intense sets of the year (in any fighting game).

This set has some interesting layers of significance. This was a high profile international match-up featuring the top players of their respective countries. Knee in particular, is famous for his Bryan play. However, for this year’s King of Iron Fist tournament circuit (as well as the 2015), he used Devil Jin.

The pools action at this event progressed quickly, and before we knew it, we had arrived at the top 16 bracket.

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The main tournament kept things heated up, with Knee and RushCash facing off in the first round to get things started.

In a huge upset, Knee found himself on the loser’s side, set to face another fellow notable Korean player, LowHigh. In what was an amazing display of talent and play from the Korean Tekken scene, Knee, last year’s King of Iron Fist 2015 tour runner-up, was eliminated from the tournament.

Things were taken a step further when it came time for Nobi to face Saint. Surely, this was one of the most highly anticipated, international match-up between the 2015 and 2016 Evolution champions in the newest version of Tekken 7. With lots of Korean and Japanese fans in the crowd, there was a heightened sense of excitement in the arena.

20161210_142309.jpgIn the end, Nobi would send Saint to the loser’s bracket with a decisive 2-0 win. However, Nobi’s own run through the winner’s bracket would be cut short soon after. Show and Chanel would also face off in an Alisa duel, showcasing some of the best Alisa play from Japan vs the best from Korea. A tight match that came down to the bitter end, which had Chanel clinch it. Chanel then moved on to face Nobi, the result being a a loss for Nobi.20161210_161319.jpg

Eventually, Chanel triumphed over RushCash and emerged on the winner’s bracket side. Thus, on the loser’s side, RushCash, Nobi, Karei, and Saint were left fighting for a chance to challenge Chanel for the title.

In what would be a true gift to the audience, the Evolution 2015 and 2016 champions, Nobi and Saint, would fight again in the loser’s bracket. What unfolded was a high stakes, double jeopardy match-up for survival, this time with some hardware changes for Saint (he used a battop joystick this time around, the standard for Korean arcade play as opposed to the balltop setup used by Japanese arcades). For Nobi, the opportunity to defend his title as King of Iron Fist. For Saint, this was the chance to stamp his name on the year 2016, and take the title home to Korea.

With his win over Nobi in loser’s, Saint then had to face the final remaining Japanese player of the tournament, Karei. After a decisive 2-0, he then moved on to face RushCash in loser’s finals. Another close set that went down to the wire, RushCash fell to Saint, which set the stage for the grand finals: Chanel vs. Saint.

After a brief intermission, Tekken fans were treated to brief performances by voice talents Taketora (Akuma) and Yumi Hara (Kazumi). From here, Chanel and Saint were introduced to the audience by former Pride Fighting Championships announcer, Lenne Hardt. Before their bout, Chanel and Saint were given an opportunity to speak to the audience, where they assured spectators of their resolve to win. With this, viewers from all over the world were treated to (yet, another) amazing set that people will be talking about for a long time.

After being sent to loser’s in round 1, Saint went on a tear through losers, and this momentum carried on into grand finals. After taking the first set 3-0 over Chanel and resetting the bracket, Saint continued to post a dominant performance to go up 2-0. However, when most mortals would have submitted, something stirred within Chanel. He battled back to win 2 games in a row, pushing Saint to the limit. Little by little, the crowd came back to life, as if in response to Chanel’s restored fighting spirit. The tournament went down to the last round of the last game, but in the end, Saint triumphed over Chanel, closing out the final round with a body press. With his win came the title of King of Iron Fist 2016 (the second consecutive year when the Evolution champion also claimed the title), a championship ring, and 3,000,000 yen (about $25,000 USD).

Saint’s matches with Nobi, Chanel, and RushCash were fantastic, but there were other aspects of this event that made it a promising one for Tekken fans.

-Hopes for the Future-

After such a dramatic finish, it is easy to overlook some of the other stories of the tournament. The truth is, this event was proof that the Tekken scene has a lot to look forward to.

This upcoming March will mark the 2 year anniversary of the initial Tekken 7 arcade release. After a full title upgrade and several revisions, the West is still waiting on the console release date of Tekken 7. One of the challenges of being a Tekken fan is dealing with the Bandai Namco release cycle. However, thanks no doubt to the influence of folks like Michael Murray, Markman, and the overseas divisions of Bandai Namco, players in North America, and Europe were given opportunities at various grassroots events to play recent versions of Tekken 7: Fated Retribution.

For players who do not yet have access to the game to stand toe-to-toe with some of the strongest players from Korea and Japan is nothing short of remarkable. Their performances at this event should give overseas players a large confidence boost in the strength of their own respective top players as we approach the console release of Tekken 7.

Another highlight of this event was the high impact performances from the female players. A noteworthy performance came from Canis, a Korean player using Claudio. In what was a significant upset, she beat Take, a Bryan veteran (with strong tournament history in the Mastercup Series, back to back top 8 finishes at EVO 2015 and 2016, as well as a runner-up finish at this year’s Toushinsai event where he teamed with Nobi and Yuu). She then moved on to face Princess Ling in the first round of loser’s bracket, where she won. However, her next opponent, I’m so hot, would end her run in the final bracket. Yamato was given a special award at the end of the tournament, no doubt because of her performances against Knee, Mr. Naps, and Goraebob. Tanukana, who was recently sponsored by Cyclops Osaka, also made an impression during group play against Anakin, Chikurin and Chanel. Yuuyuu (who qualified for the second straight year), Kobore and Hengbok all played well in pools, but were also unable to make it to the final bracket. Although the female players qualified for this event through female only competitions, it was refreshing to see women on stage playing against the best not because of their looks or costumes, but on the merits of their gameplay.

This tournament’s most enduring message, however, is one that might elude casual forum goer’s or reddit heads in the West. Consider the memes and tired rhetoric of Tekken being an “old man’s game” or “no one cares about dead games like Tekken.” The point these people miss is that Tekken, along with Gundam Vs. and Blazblue, are consistently the three most active titles in arcades in Japan. Tekken’s following, competitively and casually, is huge in Asia, and is a titanic cash cow for Bandai Namco in arcades. This success is the very reason why Bandai Namco has to be so careful with timing and how they release the game on consoles.

The most enduring message this event and tour sent Tekken fans was that Tekken has a future. The success of young players like Gen, Princess Ling, and AK, in a difficult series like Tekken (even considering lowered barriers introduced in Tekken 7) is inspiring. One of the greatest concerns for competitive fighting game scenes that have higher difficulty ceilings like Tekken or Guilty Gear, is how often young people are able to transition from casual fans into new competitive faces. Fresh blood and having new talent at the top is important for driving competition forward and community growth.

Consider Gen, Princess Ling, and AK. All three of these players, from 3 different countries, are 20 years old or under. Gen, the Evolution 2014 runner-up and Mastercup veteran, qualified for last year’s event and lost to Knee in pools. This year, in the group stage, the young Japanese phenom beat Tissuemon, a storied tournament veteran nearly two times his age. He faltered against LowHigh and Nobi, narrowly missing qualifying for the top 2016 bracket. Princess Ling, a 20 year old Xiaoyu player from California, won one of the last qualifying spots from North America to secure his spot in the grand final event in Japan. In the group stage, he lost a close set against Karei, but won his other matches to become the only player from North America or Europe to make it to the top 16 bracket. He lost to Canis first round, but his performance was remarkable given the time North Americans have had with the game thus far.

When it came to young players showing the world what kind of future awaits Tekken, PBE AK had the entire arena talking– again. The Japanese and Korean audience is already familiar with AK through Tag 2 events over the years, and his performance in the 2015 King of Iron Fist grand final when fell during pools to the famous Japanese Tekken streamer, Shudy.

AK started the day off facing Saint in his group. After losing a close set, he then went on to defeat the other players in his group to secure his losers bracket position in the final bracket. Starting out on the loser’s side, he got wins over Tsubumi and Show. These sets got the audience into it, but the subsequent double jeopardy set with Saint left them breathless. His performance in the top 16 bracket would net him a consolation prize in the closing ceremony of the event.

-Looking Forward-

Looking towards the imminent console release of Tekken 7, there is a lot for the Tekken scene to be excited about. The King of Iron Fist 2016 tour was a stronger, more improved, developer sponsored tour. With Bandai Namco (seemingly) committed to driving this new competitive tour based model forward, we eagerly await the King of Iron Fist 2017 experience.

 

What do you think? Did something else stand out to you about the event? Who was your favorite competitor? Feel free to leave your thoughts and feedback in the comments!

Thanks,

Jazz