Over 300 players arrived on an unseasonably warm November weekend in Seattle to play Street Fighter V at Red Bull Battle Grounds. Those players had to run a gauntlet to get a shot to play in the CPT North American Regional Finals, making for one hell of a unique CPT event and some fantastic storylines.
Land of the free no more
Team Liquid’s Du “NuckleDu” Dang has put the international fighting game community on notice: America is no longer free in Street Fighter.
NuckleDu has been one of the region’s best fighting game players over the last couple of years. At 20 years old, he represents a young generation who came into the scene with Street Fighter IV and that is now excelling in Street Fighter V.
Coming into Red Bull Battle Grounds, the online chatter was all about Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi gatekeeping the CPT NA Regional Finals. Despite NuckleDu’s win at Canada Cup, making him the first American to win a CPT Premier Event in two years, Tokido was the heavy favorite.
Tokido played through a heavily contested last chance qualifier tournament, earning himself a first round match-up against NuckleDu in the 16-player Regional Final bracket. Tokido looked strong, taking the match 3-1 and sending NuckleDu to the loser’s bracket.
The road to Grand Finals was a long one. NuckleDu eliminated the best North America had to offer in Peter “Flash” Susini, Denial Esports’ Chris Tatarian, F3’s Antwan “Alucard” Ortiz, Evil Geniuses’ Kenneth “K-Brad” Bradley and Justin Wong, and finally online newcomer Victor “Punk” Woodley. But for the second week in a row, NuckleDu needed to overcome an international legend , and he would need a bracket reset to do it.
The grand finals match-up between NuckleDu and Tokido went the opposite direction than their first meeting of the day. NuckleDu flustered Tokido’s Ryu with Guile’s Sonic Booms, V-Skill, and immaculate spacing, preventing Tokido from mounting any kind of offense. The last time we saw Tokido get bullied in such a fashion was by Team Razer’s Seon-woo “Infiltration” Lee earlier in the year.
Winning one 3-1 set against Tokido was an incredible feat, but NuckleDu continued to force Tokido out of his game plan. Tokido simply couldn’t get anything going against the young Floridian.
Nearly everyone in the venue wanted to see NuckleDu win, including his family sitting in the front row. The crowd gasped with every Flash Kick and combo NuckleDu landed. The venue got louder and louder with each game NuckleDu took from Tokido.
After resetting the bracket 3-1, NuckleDu had all the momentum. The second set was every bit as dominating as the first. It felt like the entire crowd was holding its breath as NuckleDu needed just one hit to close out the final round. He forced Tokido to jump into a standing medium kick and cheers erupted as the young hero defended his home turf.
Overlooked online warriors
Easily one of the best storylines of Red Bull Battle Grounds was the arrival of the online warriors Punk (Philadelphia) and Anas “Vagabond” Khan (Houston.) Both players qualified for the event by winning Red Bull Proving Grounds online tournaments, earning a trip to Seattle and entry into the last chance qualifier for the Regional Finals bracket.
At 20 years old, Vagabond got the biggest win of his young career with a huge comeback win over Daigo. After falling behind 2-1, Vagabond clutched out the final two games and eliminated Daigo from the last chance qualifier, proving that anyone has a chance to win in Street Fighter V.
Meanwhile, his online counterpart Punk awaited his chance to play in the Regional Finals bracket on Sunday. The 18-year-old Karin main shocked the world by taking out Panda Global’s Ryan “Filipino Champ” Ramirez, Chris Tatarian, and Justin Wong, sending each of those players to the loser’s bracket.
It’s remarkable to think two of the FGC’s biggest legends fell to online warriors. And it was almost three, as Punk took Tokido to the distance but ultimately lost 3-2
There’s no trophy for beating legends, but adding Daigo and Justin Wong to the win column of your resume can certainly boost a career.
RB’s last run
If you aren’t hardcore FGC, you might not know who Arubi “RB” Kao is. If you watched Red Bull Battle Grounds, you do now.
RB is a Taiwanese player who mained a few different characters in Street Fighter IV: Rufus, Guy, Rolento, and Hugo. He is also responsible for one of my all-time favorite matches. Playing as Hugo for Team Razer at SEAM 2015, RB took a tight set from Kentaro “Misse” Nakamura’s Makoto. The loss left Misse so salty he could do nothing but sit in his chair with his arms folded for 20 seconds.
However, in 2016, we hadn’t heard much from RB. He hadn’t placed higher than 17th at a CPT Premier Event. Reportedly, he chose to do a fundraiser livestream to earn enough to get him out to Seattle for Battle Grounds.
The gamble paid off. He showed up in a Stone Cold Steve Austin “What?” t-shirt and steamrolled through the last chance qualifier with Urien, losing only to Tokido in winner’s and grand finals. But because he and Tokido were the top two players from the last chance qualifier, that made RB eligible for the 16-player Regional Finals bracket on Sunday.
RB lost right away 3-1 to Justin Wong but managed to battle his way through the loser’s bracket into top 8 for the second day in a row. He left fan favorite Ryouta “John” Takeuchi, Echo Fox’s Julio Fuentes, and Evil Geniuses’ Ricki Ortiz in his wake before falling to Wong again in the runback.
What makes his appearance in Seattle and his performance so special is RB is reportedly considering retiring from competitive Street Fighter. RB told commentator James Chen that dedicating the time needed to compete at a high level was becoming too much for him.
RB has been one of the most exciting players to watch in recent memory. Maybe he’ll consider his options for CPT 2017, because it would be unfortunate to not see his Urien crushing next year.
Beasting on Daigo
Take this with a grain of salt — casual sets don’t usually translate to much in tournament (unless we’re talking Punk versus Tatarian, evidently) — but watching Daigo get bopped by Seattle local Danny Pham’s Zangief was incredibly entertaining.
As part of a “Let’s Play Daigo” exhibition, Pham was first in line to challenge Daigo. Pham stepped up to the stage, with a friend ready to record the match for posterity.
Pham proceeded to Spinning Piledriver Daigo on the ground and in the air. The next thing you know, Pham took two games off the Beast.
Hilariously, Pham looked around with his hands up to see if he was supposed to play a first-to-two or if it was first-to-three. It didn’t matter. Daigo answered the question by immediately hitting the button to go into a third game.
Rarely do you see emotion from a player like Daigo, but I couldn’t help but feel this burning Evil Ryu-like aura coming from his seat. There might have been a little bit of salt going into game three.
Unfortunately for Daigo, it was more of the same. Pham stymied Daigo with SPDs and hit him with the hard reads by jumping with Daigo and catching him with EX SPDs. Pham 3-0’d Daigo and he hadn’t even played in his first major tournament yet.
You have to have Hart
Ryan Hart was on my shortlist of players on the bubble for qualifying for Capcom Cup. Well, Hart owes NuckleDu a fruit basket, because he is now qualified for Capcom Cup thanks to NuckleDu’s victory.
Hart is actually in a similar position to RB. He’s struggled to play at the highest level because of the commitment and a relocation to Germany, leaving him with less than ideal options for training.
Yet the “Prodigal Son” has done his best to compete throughout the year. It seemed like he was finally settling into a groove towards the end of the CPT, but he really needed a win somewhere to boost him up on the Global Leaderboard.
Luckily, he put in enough work to be a factor on the European Regional Leaderboard. NuckleDu’s win at Canada Cup and the NA Regional Final opened up two spots on the Global Leaderboard, moving Nathan “Mister Crimson” Massol into Capcom Cup and freeing the regional spot up for Hart.
Michael Martin was not able to defend Seattle at Red Bull Battle Grounds, going an uneventful 1-2 in the open tournament. Follow him on Twitter @Bizarro_Mike.