It has been quite a month of news in gaming already, in what is normally a relatively slow time of the year. The monolithic Activision Blizzard King acquisition by Microsoft looms over everyone’s heads. Nintendo has laid its future plans for the foreseeable future down in its latest direct. E3’s relevance is in question as strong rumours indicate that the big players aren’t making an appearance on the show floor.
Through all of this news, most people aren’t paying attention to the competitive eSports scene. DotA 2’s The International and League of Legends’ World Championship are well and truly over by now and haven’t quite ramped back up yet. However, in the fighting game space there have been quite a number of amazing storylines, fantastic top level plays, and an air of anticipation as we sit on the precipice of another generational shift.
Tekken World Tour 2022
For me this kicked off on February 4th as the 2022 Tekken World Tour (TWT) kicked off the final event of their competitive circuit in Amsterdam. The 20 top ranking players from sanctioned events over the past year join the 4 winners out of the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ) tournament in one final bracket. The combined 24 players duked it out to find out who would be crowned King of the Iron Fist, and take their share of the $100,000USD prize pool.
The TWT finals whittle down the field by dividing players up into 4 groups of 6 via a lottery system. One by one, players walk on-stage at the end of the first day (after the LCQ) to be placed into a group, where they will be fighting it out in a round robin style tournament to decide the eight best players advancing to the final bracket.
Immediately, spectators and players alike began to take note of a particular group. Of course every player at this level is a threat and real contender to win the whole event, but Group A in particular was shaping up to be a group worth paying attention to. Arslan Ash from Pakistan is widely regarded as the strongest player in the scene at the moment, and Knee from Korea is one of the greatest Tekken players of all time. Both made it into what was colloquially called the Group of Death. Neither player qualified into Top 8.
Instead, Chikurin from Japan made it out at the top of the group and Ghirlanda, an Italian currently living in Bulgaria slid comfortably into the losers side of the bracket. And Ghirlanda is absolutely one of the stories of this tournament. An unsponsored dad working two full time jobs with only 2 hours of online training per night, they made history as the first European to ever make top 8 in the 4 years of the event’s lifetime.
Ghirlanda ultimately ended up taking 4th place with the aforementioned Chikurin in 3rd, JeonDDing from South Korea in 2nd, and Atif Butt of Pakistan in 1st. Pakistan is not exactly a country well known for a pedigree of competitive fighting game players. But Arslan Ash changed that when he burst onto the scene at the Evolution Championship Series (EVO) in 2019. Suddenly all eyes were on Pakistan as more and more hidden talent got the opportunity to travel and showcase their skill. Ultimately it was Atif Butt who took home the 2022 TWT trophy and solidified Pakistan’s place as a place to go for the highest level of Tekken.
A truly fantastic event with promises of more to come. The next TWT was announced with Tekken 7 once more being the main game. This leaves Tekken 8 which was announced last year to likely not see a release before the end of the next world circuit. Bandai Namco also released a statement saying that they hope to see the next generation of Tekken released within the fiscal year of 2023, which many fans speculate to be an early 2024 release.
Capcom Cup IX
Fast forwarding a couple of weeks and dropping a whole dimension back into the side-on view of 2D fighters, Capcom Cup IX kicked off in Los Angeles. This time only 1 winner made it out of the LCQ to join the 47 other top ranked players in the world all vying for their share of the $298,500 USD prize pool. Perhaps more importantly for the history books is the title of the final Street Fighter V Capcom Cup champion with Street Fighter VI slated to launch June 2nd, 2023.
Taking their time and spacing the LCQ and elimination rounds out over a week, the top 16 players competed on February 19th. At this point, spectators have had a chance to see what kind of form the players were in, and many eyes were on the LCQ winner Zhen from China. At only 19 years of age, Zhen was one of the youngest competitors in the event. He reportedly followed his other friends who had qualified for the Cup to Los Angeles to support them and instead ended up with one of the hottest streaks in the whole week.
From the group stages of the LCQ all the way up to top 16, Zhen did not drop a single set giving him a dominant 12 set win-streak. This is truly the storyline that open tournaments are set up to tell – a relative unknown joined an open bracket and tore through the competition. While Zhen has certainly put up results in other Capcom Pro Tour (CPT) events before, the Capcom Cup IX LCQ was easily the most prestigious win in his career. He was a relative nobody, but now he was set up to go all the way.
A grueling and fantastic tournament played out for fans as a great capstone to the Street Fighter V series at Capcom Cup IX. In 3rd place was iDom of America, the winner of Capcom Cup 2019 and up until this tournament, reigning champion of the Cup due to global travel restrictions. 2nd place went to Zhen who stormed the competition and was ultimately only stopped by a single player. The top place at Capcom Cup IX and final champion of Street Fighter V was MenaRD of the Dominican Republic who is currently the only repeat champion of a Capcom Cup (after his first win in 2016).
Capcom follows up the close of the competitive season with exciting news for the next event. To support the new Street Fighter game and bolster interest they have announced a 2 million USD prize pool to Capcom Cup X with half of that total going to the winner alone. This is very reminiscent of 2016 when Street Fighter V launched initially. In a very successful bid to drum up support and interest in the game, they put up a prize pool of $350,000 USD, with $230,000 of that pot going to the winner alone. This saw a record number of participants at EVO of that year with over 5,000 competitors since the winner of EVO had a golden ticket into the final tournament without the need to jockey for points on a leaderboard.
Speaking of the “superbowl of fighting games”, EVO announced their mainline game series on February 21st. There are a lot of stories around every single one of the eight games to make the lineup this year. A lot of the usual suspects make the cut with expected titles like Street Fighter VI making its debut, and Tekken 7 returning for its seventh appearance at this event. Kudos and congratulations to every game and the community that made it. It’s shaping up to be a great event.
But with all of that said, what’s the best way to wrap up an article that started with Ghirlanda’s ride through the Tekken World Tour, Atif Butt finally bringing the trophy back to Pakistan, Zhen’s dominance in Capcom Cup IX only to be stopped by the now two-time champion MenaRD? Along with the seven mainline games at EVO which tend to be some of the newer and more popular games, they also run a throwback tournament. Something to rekindle old flames of passion in the community. This is a full mainline event with a minimum of $25,000 USD up for grabs in the prize pool. And this year it will be none other than the incomparable and one of a kind Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. So to answer the age old question of “When’s Mahvel?” this year it is on from August 4th to 6th at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. It would take a long time to explain how much excitement rippled through the community at this announcement, but I think this screenshot of the official MSI Twitter account captures it well: