When the Capcom Cup 2016 culminated in its last match, the result was to the surprise of many spectators. Competitors Du “NuckleDu” Dang and Ricki Ortiz made up the all-American grand final–a landmark moment for not only their careers, but the North American fighting game community as a whole.
It was the first time two American players were facing off in the grand final of a world class event in the modern era, and while NuckleDu’s path to the stage had been clear cut, Ricki Ortiz’s had been more of a pleasant surprise. Although Ortiz’s performance throughout the Capcom Pro Tour had been good, she had hitherto not placed higher than 7th at a Capcom Pro Tour Premier event throughout the year. Speaking to me an interview, she correlated those results with her lack of structured practice.
“Since I’m travelling a lot, I don’t get as much time to practice as I would like… basically, what I would do is I would practice at tournaments. But it wasn’t the optimal practice that I always like,” Ortiz explained. The Capcom Pro Tour had kept her busy, seeing her travelling every two weeks throughout 2016 to compete at events. But she was determined to change it up for Capcom Cup–and the results spoke for themselves.
In the short time leading up to the CPT finale event, Ortiz made the decision to fully dedicate herself to practicing.
“I promised myself that for two and a half weeks straight I would practice hardcore with [Ryan “Filipino Champ” Ramirez] and just focus on practicing completely to get the sharpest I could in the game. I wasn’t sure how much I could improve until Capcom Cup, but I knew I had to put my all into it,” she said.
The practice paid off, with the first character match-up swinging heavily in her favour.
“Especially my first match against [Bruce Yu-lin “Gamerbee” Hsiang]. I had invited [Michael “IFC Yipes” Mendoza] to help with practice because they both play the same character, Necalli. I knew if I’d practiced that match and I practiced being sharp I would do pretty good in tournament. I wasn’t sure how good I would do, but I knew I would perform pretty well.”
Like many of the old school players in the scene, Ortiz had grown up playing in gaming arcades. With Street Fighter V the first game of the series to skip an arcade release, many players were forced to turn to local events or go online to practice against other players. But for Ortiz, her practice sessions throughout the year had not been not ideal.
“It wasn’t the optimal practice… I feel like when you’re at a tournament and you’re practicing you can’t really have a private session per se. You can, but you get lot of friends messaging you, wanting to come and play with you, you can’t really get a nice good match going.”
The alternative of practicing online was not appealing, either.
“I’m not much of an online player,” Ortiz admitted. “I just don’t prefer online. I don’t like the lag. I can’t compensate for it… it’s like I’m playing blind almost, because you’re taking my best attributes away.”
However, the two-and-a-half week bootcamp evidently paid off, taking Ortiz all the way to the grand final.
The American dream
On the topic of having an all-American grand final at Capcom Cup, Ortiz described the moment as “monumental.”
The effects were certainly felt throughout the crowd, who chanted “USA! USA! USA!” when she defeated Tatsuya Haitani and cemented her position as one of the last two remaining players in the tournament.
“I definitely feel like America is catching up to Japan,” she said. “I think it’d be wrong to say that America is better than Japan, because that’s definitely not true at all. But I do think that the top caliber level play is definitely equal to Japan. I think our best players can compete with their best players and you sometimes won’t know who will win, it’ll be a fifty-fifty toss-up.”
Capcom Cup 2016 could be interpreted as indication of the closing skill gap between regions–North American player Kenneth “K-Brad” Bradley sent Daigo Umehara to the loser’s bracket early on, NuckleDu took out first place, and of the 32 players participating, eight represented the United States.
Season 2 and dropping Chun-Li
With Street Fighter V’s Season 2 release upon us, Ortiz is entertaining the possibility of dropping her main character, Chun-Li. The introduction of five new characters to the game also brings with it new opportunities she is curious about.
“I think if I don’t like Chun-Li, I’ll definitely drop her. A lot of people are asking me if I’m going to stick with Chun-Li in Season 2, and I’m like yes, if I like her and she’s competitive I will. Chun-Li is my favorite Street Fighter character so when a new game comes out I always pick Chun-Li first because I want to see how she plays… so I’ll do the same thing in Season 2,” she said.
“I want to see how players do in the game now. I want to see if the tiers stay the same, I want to see if the same caliber players are still winning. Because the way they made the game in Season 2 it’s like blatant that they nerfed all the best characters and they really enhanced all the bad characters… I want to see who these new characters are. If they’re doing that much tweaking and buffing, I feel like these characters have to be really cheap. So maybe I’ll play one of them. We’ll see how it goes. We all know what happened with Yun and Yang in Street Fighter IV. Maybe it’s going to be like that again!”
Getting into Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite
Ortiz’s zest for practicing Street Fighter V will eventually take a backseat to Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, however. She cited the early Marvel Versus games as close to her heart, being where she first started her competitive career.
“Even before I played Street Fighter, I always played Marvel. I loved that game so much. It was X-Men vs. Street Fighter, Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom, and Marvel vs. Capcom 2 as well.”
“I think to get comfortable with the game to a point where you just have to work on being sharp takes about two years. Two years of solid playing, entering events, just knowing every situation. By the time Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite comes out, I’m planning that I’ll already be really sharp in Street Fighter that I can kind of put it on the back-burner for a little bit… that’s what my plan is. I can juggle both games.”