(Photo: Michael Martin)
It was high noon and the organizer for Pool B14 was calling for check-ins. I let him know I was “BBC|Bizarro13″ and I hung out for my first match.
To be honest, I didn’t want anyone I knew to watch me play. I’m decent enough at Street Fighter V, but I was pretty sure I was about to embarrass myself. I had no idea who my first opponent was. I just knew he was from California and that the most notable name in my pool was Evil Geniuses’ Eduardo “PR Balrog” Perez.
Twenty-five years of Street Fighter should have prepared me for Northwest Majors. I was a freshman in high school when Street Fighter II released in arcades back in 1991. Since then, I’ve played various versions of Street Fighter II, Street Fighter III, and Street Fighter Alpha in arcades all throughout the Seattle-Tacoma area. But when I was at my most competitive, back when we huddled around arcade cabinets for hours on end in dingy, crumbling arcades, we didn’t have a local tournament scene like you see these days.
The fighting game community wasn’t esports back in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. I wasn’t much of a player by the time Street Fighter IV came around, so Street Fighter V was a chance for me to start over and see just how competitive I could be with a new game.
I practiced more the week before Northwest Majors than I had since the game came out. I was on nightly for at least a couple hours.
Things weren’t going well. Playing Ryu can be challenging. Karin, R. Mika, and my number one demon, Nash,were trouncing me regularly. Good players can keep me out and I struggle with finding openings to generate offense. Sometimes I’m being too safe and not pressing hard enough. Other times I’m being pressured so hard I don’t know how to get out of it and I make bad decisions, like pushing buttons when I shouldn’t be.
As Northwest Majors drew near, I had no idea what to expect. I kept telling myself, this is no different than stepping up to an arcade cabinet and dropping quarters against a stranger. Winner stays on. It’s as simple as that.
Round 1: Fight!
ITS|BCFLY20 was my first opponent. We sat down and he went to Cammy. As much as I didn’t want to start on a bad mental note, I wasn’t confident with that match at all. I don’t play enough Cammy and I knew it would be tough.
It was. I took a huge lead in the first round of the first game and I almost blew it. But my opponent had me downloaded. He knew he could keep pressuring me with Cammy’s dive kicks and I couldn’t find my way out. My anti-airs weren’t working and I eventually abandoned them altogether.
I didn’t take another round after that. As the match progressed, I definitely felt the tournament jitters. You don’t want to go 0-2, and I’m already in the losers bracket after my first loss. As I waited for my next match, ITS|BCFLY20 needed to play and he didn’t have his own fight stick. I loaned him my stick and immediately tweeted a joke about me losing to someone and loaning them my stick.
Round 2: Fight!
My next match was a nightmare scenario: I was playing a Nash player.
I lost the first game, but it was close. I lost the first round of the second game and I was in danger of being eliminated. Even though I expected to go 0-2, I closed my eyes and said to myself, “Not like this.”
And suddenly, I turned it around. I adapted to his play style. I noticed a pattern in his attacks and looked for opportunities to punish or gain an advantage. I also used throws more in my offense since it was obvious he wasn’t teching them. I took the next two rounds, and could feel the momentum shift when I closed out the third round by hitting my V-Trigger as he tried to EX Moonsault Slash me. The V-Trigger read gave me enough time to land a Dragon Punch for the kill.
For the first time in the tournament, I pressed my game plan. I hit most of my anti-airs and I baited him into situations I could punish or put myself at an offensive advantage. When I closed it out, it felt like the weight of the world slipped off my shoulders, especially after he told me I wasn’t good.
I wasn’t going 0-2. I was still in the tournament. Mission accomplished.
Round 3: Fight!
My next match was against an M. Bison player. A good M. Bison player can rush me down and I struggle with it.
We went into the first round and he dropped his first combo. Then I landed a couple of sweeps. He wasn’t pressing me and I knew at that point, I had it. I jumped in on him as much as I could because I didn’t think he would anti-air. I landed an absurd amount of Crush Counter sweeps, allowing me jump in or throw. I like to think I had a couple of Justin Wong-like shimmies in that victory.
Nobody wants to go 0-2. Anything above that is a success for someone playing in their first major tournament.
(Photo: Michael Martin)
Round 4: Relax
My run ended at the hands of a Ryu player with one of the best handles in the tournament: Diego Spidero.
Technically, I went 3-2 because my very first opponent got disqualified for not showing up. As we say in the FGC, “We take those.” PR Balrog could rest easy knowing he wouldn’t have to contend with me.
I’ve been around high level competition and have spoken to a lot of great Street Fighter players over the years, but playing in a tournament was eye-opening. You won’t see me contending for championships, but getting some real world tournament experience and going through the highs and lows gives me a new respect for pro players. The pressure to win is amplified, and that isn’t something you can see from an outsider’s perspective. You have to sit in the chair next to or across from your opponent and execute. You have to have a strong mental game, something I learned only when the threat of going winless reared its head.
If you’re a fan of competitive Street Fighter V or a player who wants to improve, I can’t recommend taking part in an events strongly enough. You’ll learn far more playing people in person as opposed to playing online. I didn’t wake up the next morning feeling like I a world beater, but I felt more confident my Ryu wasn’t the disaster I thought he was. Maybe I don’t have to abandon Ryu for Guile just yet.
Michael Martin can officially retire with a winning record at major Street Fighter V tournaments. Follow him on Twitter @Bizarro_Mike.