This week’s FGC Recap features the Fatal 8 (the first of many events focusing on Mortal Kombat X hosted by ESL), a meeting of the Japanese Street Fighter elite along with PIE|Smug at Topanga World League 2. It is rare to have a single weekend in which there is not only so much activity in the FGC but the span of talent spans not only the United States but across the globe as well. Let’s get started shall we?
The Fatal 8, the invitational exhibition tournament (hosted by ESL) sought to bring together eight of the very best Mortal Kombat pros on the planet. It overwhelmingly proved to be an excellent showcase of not only what truly high-level play looked like but also a great glimpse at NetherRealm Studios’ next iteration of the franchise.
The “Fatal 8”, as they were dubbed, consisted of CR_SonicFox, Ryan “Ketchup” Neal, Tony “Tony-T” Pert, Elijah “Hitbox|Tyrant” Williamson, Christian “KIT|ForeverKing” Quiles, Malik “MIT” Terry, Ryan “Prodigal Son” Hart and Carl “RZR|Perfect Legend” White. The gathered talent features numerous EVO championship wins, a new prodigy in CR_SonicFox and some of the more decorated FGC veterans around.
Mortal Kombat X was a bit of a wild card in regards to what it might bring to the table. The series has never been known for fast-paced fighting nor some of the standards of the scene like footsies and the like. The game itself seems to flow much smoother than the last version. It was a delight to watch these pros duke it out as they brought the thunder with old favorites like Scorpion and Kung-Lao along with newer characters like Kung-Jin and Erron Black.
The overall production value was polished and professional. That is to be expected considering not only the ESL backing this event but Microsoft making sure that Xbox One was the exclusive console for future events. The crowd was hype, the stream was poppin’ (over 70k viewers during semis and beyond) and it was, aside from a few cringeworthy moments, a spectacular tournament well worth watching (even after the fact).
One of the best matches, by far, came in a back-and-forth slugfest between RZR|Perfect Legend and MIT.
The Prodigal Son, Ryan Hart, has earned that name for a reason. He is one of the most consistent, intelligent and established players across numerous games. Perfect Legend has staked his reputation as a professional on superlative play in the Mortal Kombat scene for more than a decade. This was one of those matches that Jim Ross, venerable former WWE commentator and BBQ sauce huckster, would have called a slobber knocker.
Carl (Perfect Legend) asserted himself early with Kung Lao using the Buzzsaw variation. He took a quick lead (2-0) but it wasn’t long before Ryan Hart’s Kung-jin responded with his Bojutsu variation. It was a match the personified just what makes the competitive fighting game scene fantastic. Two pros at the top of their game, attempting to gain every inch they can. It is here that the MK footsies game can be seen. The jockeying for position results in exploiting just the tiniest of openings leading to destructive combos that could quickly turn the tide of battle. It was an intense battle that proved to be every bit as hype as any of the matches prior or any to follow. Then the Double KO took things completely over the top.
Perfect Legend would finish things off, taking the momentum and winning 5-2 (All matches except Finals were First to Five) but he had to earn every single round.
Held At Gunpoint
This leads us to SonicFox and his character of choice, Erron Black. If you’re, at all, familiar with the prior entry Mortal Kombat (the ninth) you’ll recall that corner combos, much as they’ve been in past games, are powerful tools that can turn the tide of a match quickly. SonicFox and his rush down approach to fighting games, in general, tends to overwhelm would-be foes. His championship wins at EVO for Injustice and MK9 alone show just how dynamic a player he is. That blitzkrieg approach was tempered some when it came to his disposition in the matchup he entered into with MIT in the Grand Finals.
The young man, 17 years old, might very be well the new prodigal son as far as NRS (NetherRealm Studios) are concerned and he certainly showed it here. He was far more defensive in these matches with MIT’s Scorpion. Whenever he put together a combo, though, pure magic happened. The strings were marvelous and, of course, pushed Scorpion back to the edge of the stage where his defeat was assured each and every time. It was a stellar capstone to a ridiculous run through the competition. The entire tournament Mr. McLean dropped a single round. He never lost a single game.
A Gory Future
It did, however, showcase just how much depth is present in MKX (review forthcoming) when it comes to the roster and the three variations possible for each. There are tradeoffs and benefits for different matchups and it will clearly feed into the overall competitive meta-strategy going forward as future ESL events and larger scale majors feature Mortal Kombat X among the list of fighting game pools offered. Switches to variation proved important to some as MIT’s alteration to Scorpion’s variation midway through the tournament proved to be a huge success.
Overall it was a very successful event that not only gave us a glimpse of what ESL has in the works for this pro league for MKX but also an idea of just what is in store for the FGC in general when it comes to this game. Could this be the game that does enough to merge the NRS clique into the general populace of the fighting game community? Time will tell. This, however, was a fantastic tournament. All matches can be seen via the ESL YouTube page on this Fatal 8 playlist.
Topanga World League 2, a direct follow-up to last year’s event featured numerous of the Street Fighter elite from Japan and other fan-favorites like EVO 2014 champion Luffy, Poongko from South Korea and what many consider to be one of the absolute best American players on the scene, PIE|Smug. He was truly thrown off into the deep-end in Tokyo with the sharks this past weekend for four consecutive days of Ultra Street Fighter 4 madness. The event also had a bonus twist of being offered “Pay-Per-View” style that had to be purchased through Japanese stream giant Niconico. It was a bit of an ordeal for players really wanting to purchase access outside of Japan and even required a bit of a walkthrough from terrific human being and FGC veteran Arturo Sanchez.
The format of the tournament was round-robin featuring a first-to-5 format that, with the top-shelf talent assembled for the event, would undoubtedly result in some very hype moments. This proved to be the case each and every day. Here, however, are some of the very best moments from the Topanga World League 2 tournament. The assembled warriors for Topanga World League 2 include Daigo Umehara, Xian, Momochi, Bonchan, Poongko, Luffy, Smug and Sako. What a stacked roster of killers! LET’S GOOOO!!
Poongko the Machine
A word of apology for the quality of video as on-demand options are limited due to the “PPV” format on offer.
Poongko, a player mentioned in past Recaps, is always a joy to watch. His mixture of anger and intensity with the sheer lunacy of a character like Seth almost always results in matches worth watching. His work against HORI|Sako was typical for those who’ve been watching him for years now. His penchant for just poppin’ that shirt off when mistakes are made and losses hit the board is well regarded as truly hype every time it happens.
Poongko’s fantastic reads and usage of Red Focus attacks with Seth drove home the point that Poongko is a dangerous competitor at any tournament he attends. Later in the set he also found himself at a humongous deficit but that didn’t matter as he performed a wakeup Ultra One into a thunderous show of force that netted him the victory. This was just Day 1 of the tournament. The video above highlights some of the very best moments from the Korean man who is, more than likely, actual fighter’s rage personified. Whether it’s his victory against Sako, his work against Bonchan’s superlative Sagat or the DOUBLE PERFECT against Daigo “The Beast” Umehara it was a good showing for r/Kappa’s favored son.
America’s Hope: Smug Da Beast
Smug is an interesting player for sure. He not only plays what many consider to be a lower-tier all-star in Dudley (one of my personal favorites) but he has shown moments of sheer brilliance against any and all opponents. His showing at NorCal Regionals 2015 was tremendous until he butted heads with GamerBee’s Elena. He was clearly caught off-guard by GamerBee’s Elena and was eliminated from the tournament far sooner than most would have liked.
He did his homework, though, in the time between NCR and Topanga and came far more equipped to deal with Elena. HORI|Sako’s play of the character is, however, truly frightening even compared to the expertise of GamerBee. He showcased why many feel he’s one of the strongest players the United States has in a scene dominated by Japanese players. His reads and offensive acumen pushed the fight towards a ninth and final match. He would ultimately fall to Sako, but he made him earn that victory.
His overall record was 3-5, finishing in 7th, but truly his showing at such a stacked event where legends like Daigo, Sako, Momochi and Bonchan are wrecking shop? That is definitely the best an American player has ever done when stepping into the lion’s den of Topanga League. The future is BRIGHT for this young man from the East Coast.
Daigo Umehara’s Rampage Continues
Daigo “The Beast” Umehara has been proving himself more than worthy of the MadCatz sponsorship he’s had for a while now. He’s considered one of the Five Japanese Gods of Fighting Games for good reason. He’s responsible for some of the very best moments in the history of the sport and even in 2015 (well into his professional career when most guys would have dropped off by now) he only seems to be getting better. He is, for sure, an anomaly, but he is so fun to watch.
He stuck with Ryu long after he was “tournament viable” and his transition to Evil Ryu was a natural one. One could say he’s just going with the strongest character but, time and time again, he proves why he is still one of the absolute best at what he does. His reads are impeccable, his combos ridiculous and his ability to adapt to his opponents is uncanny. The video above is just one of the many examples in Topanga World League 2 alone where Daigo’s continued dominance in 2015 is on display. Both players came into the match 5-2 with only one walking with the tournament victory.
The amount of respect both had for each other going in is impressive. The footsies are stellar with a full 20 seconds passing before either commits to going in. Daigo is caught off-guard in one game by a strange turn of events thanks to a stun brought on by a Xian Ultra. Daigo’s furious button mashing gets him out of the stun and he manages to block the inevitable follow-up.
The Canada Cup saw Daigo making use of Evil Ryu’s Super Combo finisher, Raging Demon, but he hadn’t exercised that option much as of late. He made use of it against Xian and the back and forth between these two warriors continued. Daigo, eventually, won the day thanks to an EX ax kick that opened the window just enough to get in there with a fierce DP at the end.
Each and every player at Topanga this past weekend had their own EVO-esque moments that, frankly, were so varied and numerous that there just aren’t enough words to describe them all nor enough time to cover it all. It was, by all accounts, one of the strongest exhibitions of Ultra Street Fighter IV so far this year. It sowed the seeds for Daigo’s continued dominant performance, showed that Smug can hang with the very best and affirmed for me why Poongko is one of my absolute favorites on the scene right now.
Things We Learned
- Daigo Umehara’s nickname of “The Beast” is well-earned as his performance at Topanga was top-tier.
- Smug’s Dudley is still the best in the world and he should be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
- SonicFox is bonkers when it comes to MKX and the rest of the Fatal 8 showed just how viable a tournament game NetherRealm’s latest is.
- ESL can put on a good show.
- Changing variations can, potentially, be game-changing in tournament settings and the coming ESL pro league should be fun to watch.
- Erron Black is broken as hell
- Poongko is, indeed, a machine and is probably a cyborg sent from the future and is, no doubt, equipped with a Tanden Engine of his own.
That’ll do it for this week’s FGC Recap folks. I know that Spring Fighter also popped off this past weekend at NYU but, frankly, it just didn’t carry the weight of the other two events covered here. We’ll be back with more hype, fight games and general ridiculous moments soon with the Northwest Majors with every major game imaginable being played April 24-26. Also coming soon? An interview with one of the FGC’s most decorated players. Who? You’ll find out soon enough.
If you want to get salty with Jeff over the FGC, gush over how EG|Kbrad is a national treasure or just get way too hyped about Mahvel? Hit up the comments below or via Twitter (@ScrivenerJeff). Don’t forget to keep it locked to @APGNation for the latest in gaming news, reviews and hype interviews.