Change is in the air. Street Fighter V’s elite competition is evolving, and that’s a scary proposition for Capcom Cup hopefuls.
It’s fair to call Team Razer’s Seonwoo “Infiltration” Lee the pound-for-pound best Street Fighter V player in the world. He shows up, he downloads, and he wins. Infiltration decided to take a brief hiatus from the Capcom Pro Tour after his impressive Evo 2016 victory.
While Infiltration is away, however, many players are finding their identities in the game. Two in particular — Daigo “The Beast” Umehara and Team Liquid’s Du “NuckleDu” Dang — a legend and a wunderkind, respectively, have set themselves apart from the pack and look poised to challenge Infiltration as the best in the world.
Daigo has had quite the eventful year.
His former team, Mad Catz, got out of the FGC sponsorship business, leaving him, Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi, and Kenryo “Mago” Hayashi as the highest profile Street Fighter free agents in years. Like everyone else, he got a clean slate to work with for Street Fighter V.
Yes, he lost that (in)famous exhibition with Lupe Fiasco before the game launched. He didn’t look great at Red Bull Kumite, where he finished ninth out of 16 players.
But while Tokido was showing everyone what a top Ryu looks like, Daigo was plugging along. He finished seventh at Stunfest 2016 in May, his first Premier Event of the year. In early June, Daigo finished third at CPT Ranking Event Tokyo Button Mashers before falling to 13th at TWFighter Major 2016 a week later.
A week after finishing in fifth place at Dreamhack Summer 2016, Daigo made his first highly-anticipated North American appearance at CEO 2016, where he started to look like the Daigo fans have loved over the years. He showed up strong at Evo 2016 as well. Although We didn’t get the Daigo versus Justin Wong dream match-up in top 8 (that happened in the round of 64 and Wong got the best of Daigo), it was good to see him competing on the big stage.
Daigo isn’t worried about the wins and losses. His motivation is simple: keep improving. Every single game he plays contributes to that. In the early months, Daigo wanted to pressure players, taking advantage of Ryu’s superb damage output. He wanted to take the game to his opponents. Now, it feels like he’s settling in with a solid game plan every time out.
He’s content to play a little more old-school. Let the opponents come to him. Use the fireball game to his advantage. He’s a machine when it comes to his timing and spacing. And if all of those things aren’t enough to worry about, he sets his opponents up for the kill with that filthy standing medium kick confirm into V-Trigger/Critical Art.
His patience is paying off. Daigo was indeed a beast in August, finished second at Well Played Cup 2016 and winning both a Esports Festival Hong Kong 2016 and OzHadou Nationals 14. He has been in dominant form, including a remarkable 11-1 run in top 16 at Esports Festival Hong Kong. He looked far more mortal at OzHadou, winning a series of 3-2 sets against Jonny “Humanbomb” Cheng and Zowie’s Bruce “GamerBee” Hsiang.
But Daigo came through in the clutch, and winning the close sets may be just as important as shutting his opponents out. The Beast is back.
For someone who claims to not like fighting games all that much, NuckleDu is certainly good at them. He is one of the few competitors to successfully transition from Ultra Street Fighter IV to Street Fighter V at a high level. We figured the former Guile player would bide his time until Guile returned in Street Fighter V, but Nash and R. Mika appear to suit him just fine.
He has been a consistent top 8 finisher in Ranking and Premier Events in the U.S., yet has flown under the radar compared to some of the other Street Fighter V players making headlines. Evil Geniuses’ Justin Wong, Echo Fox’s Julio Fuentes, or EVB’s Chris Tatarian have all made waves for their remarkable wins and their flashy play on the Pro Tour. Yet here’s NuckleDu, chipping away at the competition on the CPT.
He started out the year placing ninth and fifth at Final Round and NorCal Regionals, respectively. He surprisingly finished in 17th place at Northwest Majors, but rebounded by taking second at Dreamhack Austin and fourth at Combo Breaker.
By the time CEO 2016 rolled around, NuckleDu’s pocket R. Mika was arguably as strong as his Nash. He was the only American in top 8 at CEO, where he finished in fifth for the second time at a Premier Event this year.
Unfortunately, Evo didn’t work out for NuckleDu this year. He took a respectable 49th (out of roughly 5000 players), but 49th gets you nowhere on the Capcom Pro Tour.
Like Daigo, NuckleDu elevated his game in the month of August. He placed second at Defend the North, losing to Evil Geniuses’ Ricki Ortiz, a long-time demon. A little over two weeks later, NuckleDu got his revenge by beating Ortiz to win Summer Jam. A week after that, he stormed through the loser’s bracket at Absolute Battle, winning grueling sets against Ronin’s Alex Myers, Red Bull’s Darryl “Snake Eyez” Lewis (who finally cracked a top 8 at a CPT event), and Flipside’s Antwan “Alucard” Ortiz.
My first CPT win of the year. Slow start, but at least I know I can du it! >:D pic.twitter.com/qpYtAsp3KN
— Du Dang (@LiquidNuckleDu) August 22, 2016
What’s changed in NuckleDu’s approach? Not much, actually. He’s been a model of consistency and was bound to win at some point, just like he did last year when he won USF4 at Combo Breaker.
He’s patient when he needs to be. He’s not afraid to rush his opponents down with either Nash or R. Mika. If he’s fazed by adversity, he never shows it. His clutch performance at Absolute Battle speaks to that.
NuckleDu is in great position to qualify for this third straight Capcom Cup with 436 points on the Global Leaderboard. But he needs to be able to beat the best international competition if he wants to challenge the likes of Infiltration. The last thing he wants is to be eliminated in top 16 for the third straight year at Capcom Cup.
Winning on the CPT isn’t easy. Winning consecutive events is even more difficult. The Street Fighter gods can be fickle. Next month, they might bless other players with good fortune at events. But for right now, the path to victory goes through Daigo and NuckleDu.
Michael Martin covers all things related to Street Fighter V and the Capcom Pro Tour. Follow him on Twitter @Bizarro_Mike.