John Takeuchi headlines Street Fighter V's next generation

Ryouta “John” Takeuchi at Red Bull Battle Grounds (Michael Martin)

Capcom’s goal for Street Fighter V was to give players a clean slate, but in making a game that was more accessible, Capcom paved the way for historically top players to dominate the Capcom Pro Tour 2016. Team Razer’s Seon-woo “Infiltration” Lee, Daigo “The Beast” Umehara, Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi, and many more continue to win, just like they had in previous years.

Despite their success, young players like Ryouta “John” Takeuchi burst onto the scene, proving Street Fighter V isn’t just for the old guys.

The first time I saw Takeuchi in person was a few days before the start of Red Bull Battle Grounds in the lobby of the Hyatt in Seattle. The 18-year-old from Tokyo could have easily been mistaken for a child based on his slight build and youthful face.

I introduced myself, but without a translator, we couldn’t hold much of a conversation. He mostly kept to himself, even after tagging along in a shared ride to the venue, where staff was busy setting up and players lingered as they waited for interviews with Red Bull.

He was a long way from home, where he made a name for himself as an upstart Rashid player (long considered a bottom tier character) who managed to beat some of Japan’s most revered fighting game legends.

“The first tournament I became known was the Topanga Cup charity tournament,” Takeuchi told Yahoo Esports. “I beat Haitani and Fuudo. Nobody had heard of me before.”

The significance of those matches was clearly evident to Takeuchi and his teammates as he tossed his hat and let out the most primal screams with each victory. It’s rare to see that kind of emotion from Japanese players.

Takeuchi’s antics caught the eye of FGC subreddit r/Kappa (which has sponsored players via crowdfunding over the years), and a campaign was launched to send him to Puerto Rico for First Attack. For the first time in the young man’s life, he was traveling around the world to compete in Street Fighter V.

“When I went to Puerto Rico, my parents asked why I was going abroad for a video game,” Takeuchi said, adding that his parents had never even heard of Puerto Rico before First Attack. “Once I won First Attack, they understood I was good at the game and they’ve been very supportive.”

First Attack was just the beginning. Takeuchi followed that up with strong finishes at Japan Cup (ninth), The Fall Classic (fourth), and Canada Cup 2016 (fourth again.) He certainly wasn’t the first high profile Rashid main but he was one of the first to show the viability of the character in high level play. His momentum-based style confounded many of his opponents and it made many pundits rethink Rashid’s low tier status.

Unfortunately, the extensive travel prevented Takeuchi from training as much as he would have liked. It showed at Canada Cup as he struggled against tougher match-ups and more seasoned veterans.

“I was nervous because I was competing against players I had never played before like Xiao Hai and Phenom,” Takeuchi said. “I have a habit of running into someone I haven’t played before and my movement becomes stiff if I don’t know how they move.”

Takeuchi was one of many young players who made an impact at Red Bull Battle Grounds, site of the CPT North American Regional Finals. His win at First Attack qualified him for the 16-player bracket and one last shot at getting into Capcom Cup.

Takeuchi didn’t qualify for Capcom Cup, finishing in 13th place. However, now that his season is over, he can spend some time training, which is something he feels he didn’t do enough because of the CPT travel grind.

“The one thing I really want to do is practice. I haven’t had time to sit down and grind match-ups to keep improving,” Takeuchi said.

Ryouta “John” Takeuchi (middle) sits between FGC veterans Daigo Umehara and Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi (Michael Martin)

Keep improving. That’s the mantra of almost every high level fighting game player. Despite his mentality, almost everything about Takeuchi is an anomaly compared to the rest of the Japanese fighting game scene. He’s young, he’s emotional, and he plays with a pad. He’s already a fan favorite.

The future is bright for young Street Fighter V players, many of whom have sights set on pro gaming careers. Takeuchi may be young but he has the veteran mentality.

“If there’s an opportunity to be a pro gamer full-time, I would do it,” Takeuchi said. “The image in Japan is if you mess up once, that’s it. You don’t usually get a chance to keep going or improving.”

Michael Martin has a son older than Takeuchi, believe it or not. Follow him on Twitter @Bizarro_Mike.