The Dragon Ball FighterZ finals bracket at South East Asia Major (SEAM) 2019 in Singapore this past weekend featured a very rare sight: a time out victory.
After a day of tough competition, dark horse Filipino competitor Mico “Xanxus” Crawford-Perez and Japanese powerhouse Kei “BNBBN” Komada found themselves among the Dragon Ball FighterZ finalists who had survived the 51 other players in the early portions of the SEAM 2019 brackets. BNBBN was the clear favorite, but Xanxus’ competent use of a unique team featuring Super Saiyan Blue Vegito, Super Saiyan Blue Vegeta, and Super Saiyan Vegeta had helped him edge out strong players like Naoki “Matoi” Yasuda and Nicholas “Seo” Choo in pools. Both players entered their losers finals match with the threat of elimination looming overhead.
Xanxus opened strong, making smart use of Super Saiyan Blue Vegito’s annoying mixup tools and assists to put some serious damage on Kid Buu, a major part of BNBNN’s team. This forced BNBBN into early usage of Sparking—a mode that empowers and heals characters—to save Kid Buu, giving Xanxus an advantage later in the match. That said, BNBBN isn’t considered one of the best Dragon Ball FighterZ players in the world for nothing, and he soon began to make a comeback against the Filipino upstart.
With just 24 seconds left on the in-game clock, both competitors had been reduced to one character apiece: Super Saiyan Vegeta for Xanxus and Kid Buu for BNBBN. As has been the case since the game’s release, Super Saiyan Vegeta is an incredible assist character, but he otherwise falters when put into one-on-one situations, whereas Kid Buu excels in just about every stage of a match. Again, it seemed BNBBN would put this one away, but that’s when Xanxus employed a unique strategy in Dragon Ball FighterZ competition: running out the clock. By making smart use of his movement tools to keep away from BNBBN and going for lengthy combos, Xanxus was able to whittle away at the clock. As the seconds ticked down, BNBBN fought valiantly, but in the end, it was a losing effort. Xanxus took the round, grinning as the rarely seen “TIME’S UP” graphic appeared on the screen.
It’s certainly not as prevalent a tactic in fighting games as it is in, say, American football, where many games end with one team running out the clock while preserving a point lead, but every now and then, a fighting game match presents a similar situation. After all, the player with the most health left when the timer runs down in a fighting game will take the win, and thus folks who find themselves with a life lead in the final seconds of a game tend to have the advantage. This strategy isn’t always looked upon in the most favorable light, mostly in the Super Smash Bros. community, but it’s a viable tactic that makes great use of in-game systems to win at any cost.
Time outs are particularly rare in Dragon Ball FighterZ due to a variety of factors. First, the in-game clock is absolutely massive at 300 in-game seconds, which tick away at about the same rate as real-world seconds. That’s already five full minutes with which competitors are allowed to play. And unlike in other fighting games, time stops whenever characters perform supers which, if you’ve ever watched a DBFZ match, you’d know those get used all the time. Sure, the damage dealt per second doesn’t tend to be as high as one would expect from a three-on-three Vs. style game, but it’s enough to get the job done most of the time. I can’t remember the last time I saw a time out in serious DBFZ match, and the SEAM 2019 commentators were just as shocked by Xanxus managing to win with one.
It might seem anti-climactic, but in the fighting game community, a win is a win. This ethos permeates every level of competition. The in-game clock is there for a reason, and when it gets low, it’s well within a player’s rights to use that to their advantage if they have the life lead. Xanxus did not manage to beat BNBBN in the full set, but for one round, he took an incredible Dragon Ball FighterZ player to the limit and walked away the winner—even if only temporarily. And that’s something he can hang his hat on.
The return of fall also means the return of MASTERCUP, an annual team-based Tekken competition that often provides some of the scene’s greatest moments of the year. As a prelude, the organizers held a special event called MASTERCUP Try that allowed players to compete for the chance to get a professional esports license via Japan’s controversial system. With so much on the line, one player became quite emotional, particularly once he was forced to play against his friend and training partner in a pivotal, future-deciding match.
Genki “Gen” Kumisaka and Kouki Oyama are two of the best Tekken 7 players in Japan. While they don’t always make it to the finals, both have impressive resumes that include strong showings at important fighting game community events like Evo, Evo Japan, Thaiger Uppercut, and Summer Jam. Part of this success can likely be attributed to the two players training together in their home town of Fukuoka. Both had presumably entered MASTERCUP Try with their eyes on the prize: earn a JeSU license.
Over 200 other competitors had also entered MASTERCUP Try with the same agenda. The Japanese eSports Union (JeSU) and Tekken 7 developer Bandai Namco elected to provide professional licenses to the top three competitors. Holding a JeSU license is necessary for Japanese fighting game players to earn money at official events. That’s because of competitive gaming getting classified as gambling according to the country’s existing laws. These licenses are a coveted item for most competitors who are looking to make a living through esports.
The promise of a license made the fourth-place match a dramatic moment in the MASTERCUP Try tournament. The winner would go on to earn a JeSU license no matter where they placed in the top three, while the loser would just barely miss out on official recognition. And, wouldn’t you know it, that crucial Tekken 7 match came down to Gen and Kouki, the two training partners from Fukuoka. After eliminating his fellow Japanese player Keita “kagemaru” Takemoto at fifth place and realizing who his next opponent was, Kouki first laughed and then collapsed into Gen’s arms, the enormity of the moment seemingly overcoming him before they even sat down at their arcade sticks.
Sometimes, fighting game matches between two players who know each other as intimately as Gen and Kouki do can be nonsensical to the average viewer, since the competitors already know the proclivities of their training partner and can often counter in unusual ways. This MASTERCUP Try match, however, was an absolute treat for fans of Tekken 7 from beginning to end. With newcomer Shaheen, Gen managed to take control of the match early, utilizing smart parries and slides to put Kouki on his back foot. That said, Kouki’s Julia was more than enough to even the playing field, and the players went into a third game tied 1-1.
From there, Gen and Kouki would trade rounds, neither one appearing to have a huge advantage over the other. Kouki’s defense proved difficult for Gen to break through, but Shaheen’s strong damage output meant that when Gen was able to get a hit, it would hurt. Still, Kouki persevered, clutching out a strong near-perfect round leading into the final round of the final game.
The crowd, sensing the importance of this moment, could be heard cheering loudly via the live stream. Gen seemed to feed on that energy. Whenever Kouki would gain a slight advantage, Gen would push back to regain momentum, a strategy that eventually earned him a third round, third game victory over his training partner. Gen leaned back in his chair at first, but then got up to console Kouki. The two players held each other as the latter sobbed.
“That says it all right there,” commentator Majin Obama said on the English broadcast, his voice rough from a full day of streaming. “That’s the homie set. That’s how it feels, win or lose. The license is a piece of paper; it has no value. But you get on a stage, you get in front of a crowd that’s making noise the way this one is from all over the country, you get to play your homie on a big stage like that—that’s what it’s about.”
Playing fighting games competitively is an emotional experience, especially when an important match comes down to you and someone you care about. You can learn just as much about someone from sitting down for a long set of Tekken 7 as you can from a conversation, and when you spend day in and day out training with them, a bond is formed that can’t really be quantified. Gen and Kouki clearly have that kind of bond, and these moments at MASTERCUP Try show just how important it is to both players.
Super Smash Con, a Super Smash Bros. tournament and convention, has announced they will no longer be permitting a controversial competitor to attend the event in Chantilly, Virginia this weekend due to his alleged history of causing trouble in the community, which includes a recent incident at a tournament in Florida.
Super Smash Con has steadily grown into one of the most important Super Smash Bros. tournaments of the year since being established in 2015. The event regularly features competition in every official Smash game, as well as side events like the Super Smash Bros. 64 combo contest, and this year the event surpassed 3,000 attendees for the first time in its relatively short history. When pool assignments were released, however, several players noticed James “Osiris197” Grolig was going to be in attendance. Some began sharing their misgivings about him on social media.
Players described Grolig’s past behavior in various terms, ranging from him supposedly doing “dumb stuff” to harassment. The most recent incident involving Grolig was a physical altercation at the Florida-based fighting game tournament Community Effort Orlando. During a confrontation with fellow competitor Michael “RiotLettuce” Heilman, Grolig threw a punch, forcing event staff to break up the two attendees and escort Grolig out of the tournament. Both players made statements online about the fight afterwards, and although neither seemed to agree on who started it, Grolig did acknowledge wrongdoing and partially blamed his actions on alcohol. He then promised to restrict his drinking at future events.
When Heilman realized Grolig would be attending this year’s Super Smash Con, he reached out to the organization for a response. He shared an alleged screenshot of his private conversation with Super Smash Con on Twitter earlier today that indicated the event would allow Grolig to attend but that he would be subject to a “very strict one-strike policy” to keep him in line. Kotaku has not been able to verify this information with Super Smash Con itself, but Grolig has confirmed to Kotaku that this was the deal he was given since he had already booked travel arrangements.
This proved to be an unpopular decision. Top player Jestise “MVD” Negron publicly called Super Smash Con’s ruling “garbage,” and several members of the community reacted similarly, asking the tournament to rethink its decision to allow Grolig to attend. It only took an hour for the Super Smash Con organizers to release a further statement on Twitter explaining that they would be reversing their original decision. This move that seemed to please previous detractors.
“[James “Osiris197” Grolig] will no longer be attending Super Smash Con 2019,” the message reads. “Safety of our attendees is the absolute priority. We have heard your feedback on how his presence will make many attendees feel unsafe, which is the last thing we want as an event.”
Speaking to Kotaku, Grolig said he understands Super Smash Con’s decision and doesn’t blame them for having to do what they did. That said, he also explained that he feels his ongoing punishment for previous incidents is “excessive and ridiculous.”
“I’ve already been disciplined by my college for what happened at Community Effort Orlando,” he continued. “I’ve had to enroll in rehab and therapy sessions and have done a few already. I was suspended from a school team and banned from everything within 200 miles of me. I would not even think about doing anything to stir up issues or draw attention to myself at this point, too much has been lost over stupid and unnecessary decisions by me. I was not planning to drink or get involved with anything like that whatsoever at Super Smash Con. I just wanted to compete, top my past major placement, and see my friends.”
Attendee safety has been a major concern at fighting game tournaments since the tragic shooting at a Madden event in Florida. Many major events have instituted bag checks, and some have gone as far as to set up metal detectors to screen attendees before they enter the venue. Last year, the organizers of SoCal Regionals at one point decided that they were even going to ask players to unscrew and open their arcade stick peripherals so that staffers could check inside of them. That policy ended up getting reversed before the event.
Grolig ended his statement by saying that he doesn’t believe people are “genuinely” scared of him but that they are calling for his banning out of spite. “I don’t know at what point that stops,” he concluded.
Evo 2019’s Mortal Kombat 11 tournament ended with Dominique “SonicFox” McLean lying on stage, his weekend of competition finally over. He was once again the king of Mortal Kombat.
Although SonicFox has competed in multiple games over his career, NetherRealm Studios franchises have always felt like his home. He first made his mark on Evo history by winning Injustice: Gods Among Us in 2014 before earning back-to-back Mortal Kombat X championships in 2015 and 2016. SonicFox’s focus strayed a bit with the release of Dragon Ball FighterZ, which he won at Evo 2018, but he can never be counted out when it comes to the games where he first found huge success.
Heading into Evo 2019, SonicFox had two apparent goals ahead of him: defending his Dragon Ball FighterZ championship and winning the event’s very first Mortal Kombat 11 tournament. He barely missed out on the former, losing a close grand finals match to Japanese rival Goichi “GO1″ Kishida on Saturday afternoon, but followed that up shortly afterwards by qualifying for the Mortal Kombat 11 finals. SonicFox would have one more shot at Evo gold before the weekend was over.
To say SonicFox made the most of this opportunity would be an understatement. He tore through the bracket, sending up-and-comer Julien “Deoxys” Gorena to losers and fending off a brief challenge from Evo 2017 Injustice 2 champion Ryan “Dragon” Walker in winners finals. When it came time for their rematch in grand finals, SonicFox pulled off an incredible 3-0 sweep, collapsing on the stage behind them afterwards. His day of competition had started at 10 am, and now, over 12 hours later, he had an Evo trophy to show for it.
Mortal Kombat 11 is still relatively young, and there’s no telling whether SonicFox will be able to maintain the stranglehold he currently has on the playing field. Several players have proven they have the potential to rise up and knock him off his throne, so it should be exciting to see how competition in Mortal Kombat 11 develops after this first Evo appearance.
Dragon Ball FighterZ is in a very different place than it was in 2018, especially when it comes to the Evolution Championship Series. The shine has worn off the game a bit due to various factors, and attendance dropped considerably compared to 2018, relegating the once-beloved game to a Saturday finals placement rather than a spot in the arena on Sunday. But all of that outside noise fell away as soon as the Evo 2019 finalists took their place on stage.
Much of the fighting game community was looking forward to seeing a rematch in the high-profile Dragon Ball FighterZ rivalry between Evo 2018 champion Dominique “SonicFox” McLean and Japanese legend Goichi “GO1” Kishida. Spectators got their wish when both players qualified for the finals without any losses, setting up an eventual winners finals match after SonicFox finished playing with his food in an impressive effort against Japan’s Hirohiro.
Despite the depth of any single Dragon Ball FighterZ bracket, all eyes are, perhaps negligently, glued to what SonicFox and GO1 get up to. It makes sense; in addition to being two of the best players in the world, they’re also polar opposites, with SonicFox focused on smothering offense and GO1 seemingly capable of defending against just about any mixup an opponent throws at him. The crowd at Evo 2019 would be treated to a few more chapters of their story over the course of the finals bracket.
That doesn’t mean the rest of the bracket wasn’t full of killers. Dragon Ball FighterZ World Tour champion Ryota “Kazunoko” Inoue made it to the finals in the losers bracket, but was immediately eliminated by Shoji “Fenritti” Sho. Meanwhile, Joan “Shanks” Namay of Spain carried the entirety of Europe on his shoulders, managing to defeat both Christopher “NYChrisG” Gonzalez and Hirohiro en route to a semi-finals berth. That said, it would be Fenritti that advanced to a losers finals match, but he too fell to SonicFox despite at one point going up 2-1 against the previous champion.
If last year’s Dragon Ball FighterZ championship was like a glorious anime finale, Evo 2019’s grand finals was the rerun you can’t help but watch again. There’s just something special about a SonicFox vs. GO1 match, and they didn’t disappoint when it came to their final match of the tournament. There was no apparent favorite; the crowd roared just as loud for both players, only interested in seeing the best Dragon Ball FighterZ competitors in the world do what they do best.
In the end, there could only be one champion, and today, GO1 was the better player. With all his championships, Evo is essentially SonicFox’s turf, but GO1 managed to come back from an 0-2 deficit, winning three straight games to finally defeat his eternal rival. The story of Dragon Ball FighterZ revolves around these kinds of matches, and no matter the future of the game, GO1 and SonicFox can hold their heads high knowing they authored some of the most exciting moments.
Evo 2019 hosted a special panel titled “The Women of the FGC,” allowing female members of the community the opportunity to speak about their experiences within the competitive fighting game space. While the hour-long discussion would touch on a variety of topics, there was one clear through-line expressed by the women on stage: “Listen to us.”
For the past few years, the Evolution Championship Series has expanded from simply being the largest tournament for fighting game competition in the world to also including discussion panels about varied related subjects conducted by community members. In addition to panels on streaming, applying for sponsorships, and learning frame data, an hour was set aside for a group of women to talk about how the scene can further improve its inclusivity.
The women invited to speak came from a variety of backgrounds, including competitors, event organizers, community supporters, and everything in between. Samantha “Persia” Hancock and Carolyn “MamaDao” Dao have established organizations like XO Academy and Combo Queens to give women the tools to excel in the fighting game community and find support from other female competitors. Sherry “Sherryjenix” Nhan has played Street Fighter for close to a decade and now helps foreign players gain visas to play in the United States. Ricki Ortiz is perhaps one of the most accomplished competitors of all time, and she was joined by up-and-comer Mahreen, who participated in the XO Academy program and is attending Evo thanks to support from the Street Fighter subreddit. Caitlyn “Eidelonn” Thiher is co-director of Combo Breaker, arguably the second-most important fighting game event of the year after Evo. Emily “NyxRose” Tran owns Equinox Gaming, a competitive gaming team that supports a handful of Street Fighter V and Tekken 7 players. And finally, these women were also joined by special guest Junae Benne, an esports host and streamer who provided her own takes on the gaming scene.
To say these women are important to the fighting game community would be an understatement, but there was still some pushback online when the panel was announced, with some questioning why the panel was necessary. In the days leading up to Evo, Carolyn Dao reiterated that the panel was meant to “inspire more women to get into the scene.” Eventual Soulcalibur VI finalist Marie-Laure “Kayane” Norindr similarly defended its necessity on Twitter, writing, “I’m grateful to live in the FGC, but I also had to face some toxic attitudes. I can understand why some women are intimidated to join us.”
Come the day of the panel, the room was packed with attendees who wanted to listen to these women tell their stories, including a few of the Evo head honchos themselves. The women immediately opened the floor to questions, which were fielded by Dao in the audience and then relayed to the group on the stage. These inquiries ran the gamut, from basic inquiries about what the fighting game community can do to improve its events for female attendees, to questions about how to overcome the ubiquitous hurdles of competitive ambition. This allowed the panelists to share their experiences in the scene and offer suggestions on what can be done to improve a community that, while more inclusive than the rest of esports, still has work to do with regard to how it treats women.
Ricki Ortiz and Sherry Nhan, for instance, have both dealt with stalkers due to their prominence in the fighting game community. Nhan in particular said she was worried about going public after receiving little help from the authorities and tournament organizers. It wasn’t until she made a YouTube video describing the harassment she was receiving that events began taking steps to keep her stalker out of tournaments.
The panelists also provided clear, concise suggestions to the folks in attendance. “Listen,” they implored, after explaining that women have been open about these issues but have previously had their concerns fall on deaf ears. “When a girl at your local comes up to you and says they have a problem, take them seriously and then go talk to the person that did something bad,” Caitlyn Thiher said. “The biggest thing that I, as a tournament organizer, experience is women coming up to me, and they don’t just talk to me about what happened to them at the huge event that we’re at. It goes all the way back to their locals. Just listen and take it at face value.”
They also stressed the importance of keeping fellow tournament attendees in check, in essence saying something in response to casual and overt misogyny, especially if the person doing that is one of your friends. The panelists explained how little things like this contribute to an unwelcoming atmosphere. Making it clear that the community isn’t going to stand for that kind of nonsense could go a long way towards making the space more inclusive.
The fighting game community has long been lauded as a diverse space in the world of esports. Any number of factors could have contributed to this, but it’s clear walking into a tournament like Evo and being greeted by a wide array of faces that the fighting game scene includes people of many different ages, races, and backgrounds. That said, it’s still very much a dude thing, despite there being no inherent “men only” rule. The Women in the FGC panel at Evo 2019 was an important step towards improving the fighting game community for everyone, and if the scene is going to grow, the folks on stage need to be heeded both by those in positions of power and by the average Joes going 0-2 in pools.
If you want to check out video of the full panel, archives are available here.
Ultra Fight Da! Kyanta 2 is the brain child of Japanese developer Suzuki Katsunari, known online as Haramaself. A prolific artist and musician, Haramaself has applied his talents over the last few years to establishing a portfolio of indie games, each one absolutely exploding with a unique aesthetic that lies somewhere between a fever dream and the absurdist anime series Pop Team Epic. The fighting game community is nothing if not receptive to eccentric, slightly weird approaches to the genre, many of which get labeled as “kusoge,” a Japanese term that roughly translates to “shit game.” As such, Ultra Fight Da! Kyanta 2 has managed to cultivate a relatively small yet dedicated competitive fanbase.
“Ultra Fight Da! Kyanta 2 is probably the best kusoge ever made,” Matt “MiniMatt” Leher, fighting game player and commentator, told Kotaku. “It’s not just a weird game, it’s actually a very, very good weird game. If you get past the goofy sound effects and the MSPaint look, the game itself is solid. The system is something I would enjoy even if it wasn’t a free meme game on Steam.”
Leher first encountered Ultra Fight Da! Kyanta 2 a couple of months ago through his friend’s Twitch stream. It looked “ridiculous,” he explained, but the ease with which he was able to pick up and play the game thanks to its simplified controls—not to mention the fact that it’s free—gave him further incentive to see what it was all about. Since then, he’s attended small local tournaments and participated in online matches, first by using the pseudo-online client Parsec and then through the game itself when an update added netplay. “It’s got the best [online play] of any game,” Leher added. “It’s unbelievable that this game, of all games, has the best netplay I’ve ever seen.”
“Unbelievable” is a word Leher used throughout our interview, and it’s easy to understand why. On the surface, Ultra Fight Da! Kyanta 2 looks and sounds like a complete joke, with eccentric character designs and sound effects comprised entirely of Haramaself’s own voice. Still, there’s something special beneath the somewhat unnerving aesthetics: a competitive fighting game that gives every character something scummy with which to annoy and frustrate opponents. Also, the game’s simplified control scheme, which is devoid of inputs like quarter-circles and dragon punch motions, makes Ultra Fight incredibly accessible to players of just about any skill level.
At the character select screen, players are given the option to build a team made up of one, two, or three characters, similar to the system utilized in Skullgirls. Additionally, players choose a “type” for each character, reminiscent of the groove system seen in Capcom vs. SNK 2. These types run the gamut from a simple HP boost to an entirely unique Demon mode that replaces the ability to use super moves with unlimited EX attacks during the mode’s duration. One example of smart Demon usage Leher provided is with Tsukinami, who can activate and lock the opponent down with continuous, Zangief-like lariats until their guard breaks, leaving them vulnerable for further punishment. “That’s the kind of stuff you just have to accept when you play Ultra Fight,” Leher explained.
That may sound cheap, but Ultra Fight Da! Kyanta 2 is built on a foundation of scumbaggery. Every member of the cast has some nasty attack or setup that would be considered overpowered in any other fighting game, even pseudo-joke character Masao, who can still kill an opponent with one combo if he has the necessary meter. As such, the Ultra Fight meta is matchup-focused rather than having a definite individual character tier list. When creating a team—and yes, you’ll want a team of three fighters, because even the best characters can be countered—smart players focus on covering two important factors: being able to dish out as well as defend against the overpowered shenanigans.
Evo 2019 is something of a coming-out party for Ultra Fight Da! Kyanta 2. While its superior netplay has made it easy to grind out matches against likeminded opponents, an event like Evo is where players truly establish a game’s reputation. “I’m excited to see people do stuff I’ve never even thought of,” Leher said. “I want to see what the most busted thing in this game is. I’m going to be running the characters I think are extremely broken and can deal with every team, and I’m looking for someone to prove me wrong. I’m excited to see extreme bullshit, because that’s what makes the game fun.”
The Evolution Championship Series is special, not just because it’s the largest fighting game tournament in the world but also because you’re sure to find at least one other person interested in the same fighting game as you, no matter how obscure it is. Ultra Fight Da! Kyanta 2 seems like it would fit neatly into that niche, with its bizarre art style and gameplay, but its 64-player bracket makes it one of the more popular side events on the show floor.
“Ultra Fight comes together in a way that’s so much more than the sum of its parts,” Leher said. “If anyone doesn’t download it and give it a try, they are doing themselves a disservice. It’s unbelievable that one dude making this wack MSPaint game actually did a better job of making it easy and accessible for new players than any other fighting game at this point.”
Desk, one of the most creative and technically gifted combo video creators in the fighting game community, has outdone himself with his latest project. Controlling both Ryu and Ken in Street Fighter Alpha’s Dramatic Battle mode, using one hand for each character, he beats the snot out of devilish dictator M. Bison and defeats the two-player cooperative mode by himself.
In addition to regular versus and story modes, the Street Fighter Alpha series is unique in that it allows two players to team up via the Dramatic Battle mode to take on a computer-controlled opponent. While it would expand in future games, allowing players to use every character in the game, the mode’s first iteration in the original Street Fighter Alpha was limited to Ryu and Ken as an homage to their final fight with M. Bison in Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie.
Unlike in the movie, however, M. Bison doesn’t even get a chance to breathe in Desk’s latest combo video. By combining the talents of both Shotokan masters, he delivers devastating attacks strings that keep the computer opponent locked down indefinitely. At various points, Ryu and Ken pin M. Bison between them, knocking him back and forth before ultimately finishing him off with a super attack. Desk even manages to fit some taunts in there for good measure.
The video is made even more impressive due to the fact Desk is playing two characters at the same time, with just one hand afforded to each. Plus, since there isn’t a training mode to practice these combos, Desk also had to learn how to deal with the artificial intelligence controlling M. Bison, which is known to be especially difficult in order to provide a challenge for two players.
According to Desk, it took him a week to put this all together, but he’s still ready to do it all over again in Street Fighter Alpha 3. In that game’s version of Dramatic Battle, players can pick any of its 30-plus characters, thus providing an enormous amount of possible combinations.
“It was fun but super frustrating at times,” Desk added in the video description. “Really happy I did it though, and I’m super satisfied with how the video turned out.”
Samurai Shodown is a brutal fighting game, where matches often hinge on landing one good attack. That said, Samurai Shodown also gives players a few cheap ways to mercilessly style on an unsuspecting foe, one example of which blew up spectacularly in a competitor’s face during a major United Kingdom tournament last weekend.
VSFighting is arguably the biggest fighting game tournament in England, and as such it featured Samurai Shodown talent from across the globe, many likely trying to get in as much practice as possible ahead of the Evolution Championship Series and its $30,000 pot bonus next month. The bracket featured over 80 players in total, with matches getting much more intense as the event moved into the finals with just 8 competitors remaining.
Where many fighting games permanently glue a character’s weapon to their hands, Samurai Shodown is a little different in that the various blades wielded by its roster of fighters are treated as separate entities that can be knocked out of their grasp, usually with attacks known as Weapon Flipping Techniques. However, players can also manually drop their own weapons with a special input if they want to settle things with their fists. Since most Samurai Shodown characters are weaker without their swords, this is essentially a way of saying, “I can beat you with one hand tied behind my back.”
This type of posturing came into play during VSFighting’s losers bracket when local Samurai Shodown competitor Joshua “Rycroft” Podesta found himself in an advantageous position against Japanese visitor Yota “Pekos” Kachi. Rycroft had just landed a massive super with his fighter, Charlotte, leaving Pekos’ Haohmaru with just a sliver of life left. Apparently sensing that this was a good time to showboat, Rycroft dropped Charlotte’s fencing sabre and rushed forward, needing just one more solid attack to win the match, despite his now-limited moveset. The commentary team immediately took offense to this decision, both repeating, “I hope he dies!”
Their wish would be granted moments later.
Pekos, seemingly unfazed by his opponent’s ostentatious attempt at grandstanding, blocked Rycroft’s desperation overhead and countered with a short but damaging combo. Rycroft then made the mistake of rolling into the corner, allowing Pekos another opportunity to grab him and dish out an even more punishing combo. With one final uppercut from Pekos, Rycroft’s fate was sealed, and Pekos went up in a match he would eventually take with a clean 2-0 sweep. Rycroft was eliminated in fifth place, while Pekos would go on to place second after losing to fellow Japanese competitor Ryota “Kazunoko” Inoue in the grand finals.
Part of what makes fighting games so entertaining to watch is the way they allow competitors to breathe a bit of personality into their gameplay. Samurai Shodown may include weapon dropping as a way to easily gain access to a character’s separate, unarmed move list, but players also see it as a way to inject an extra level of hype into a match by way of purposefully burdening themselves with limited options. Rycroft may not have won his match against Pekos, but his ultimately futile decision to throw away his character’s sword made for an entertaining bit of schadenfreude that helped the match stand out in an already exciting tournament.
Community Effort Orlando has grown to become one of the biggest fighting game tournaments in the world, putting it just below the Evolution Championship Series in terms of both size and importance. The event’s 13 different fighting games were exciting to watch, but in a few cases, the excitement got to be a bit much. One Mortal Kombat 11 match ended with a heated confrontation between the players; a Smash match resulted in the winning player picking up his chair and slamming it onto the stage multiple times; and, elsewhere, two players exchanged punches. CEO’s tournament staffers have not yet responded to Kotaku’s request for comment about these incidents or weighed in on whether CEO intends to make any changes to its safety guidelines for players and attendees.
Post-match celebrations are a hallmark of fighting game competition. Known colloquially as “pop-offs,” these bursts of energy can be fueled by several different emotions. Joy, frustration, and anger have all been known to provide excellent pop-offs, but the best are the ones that are borne of real life rivalry and conflict, as long as they don’t get too heated in the process. One such pop-off at CEO 2019’s Mortal Kombat 11 tournament definitely looked heated.
Leif Boisvert, who has played under the names “Buffalo” and “Daddy” in tournaments, is an up-and-comer in the NetherRealm Studios community. He first made a name for himself in 2016 with the release of Mortal Kombat X, and has since gone on to find success in Injustice 2 and Mortal Kombat 11. At just 16 years old, Boisvert has a bright future ahead of him, and he added another accomplishment to his resume at CEO 2019 when he defeated Brad “Scar” Vaughn, one of the best Mortal Kombat players in the world.
While beating Vaughn was an achievement in and of itself, Boisvert likely found it satisfying for more reasons than just that. Last month, the young player faced Jarrad “Ninjakilla” Gooden during an official online Mortal Kombat 11 tournament and, after sending Gooden to losers, Boisvert found himself on the receiving end of what could be construed as criticism from Vaughn. In a post that simply read “Ft2 boyz,” Vaughn appeared to be insinuating that Gooden wouldn’t have lost had the format been expanded to first-to-three (which remains an ongoing discussion in the NetherRealm community). Boisvert didn’t take too kindly to that comment, responding, “Are you really gonna discredit me?” When CEO 2019 rolled around, Boisvert had an opportunity to defend himself in the best way possible: fighting his detractor in the Mortal Kombat 11 bracket.
The match was close, but Boisvert managed to defeat Vaughn on Saturday. Boisvert immediately stood up and got in his opponent’s face. It’s unclear what was said, but Boisvert looked heated. Vaughn, for his part, simply stared up at the much taller player, taking a moment to flip him the bird before the pair got separated by staff members. All in all, the encounter lasted around 20 seconds, but its impact reverberated throughout the fighting game community. The stream clip circulated on social media, and a series of incredible shots of the staredown taken by CEO photographer Stephanie “Vexanie” Lindgren was quickly compared to the iconic artwork of Ryu and Akuma staring each other down from Street Fighter Alpha 2.
Opinions on the encounter were mixed. A fair majority of the reception was positive, with many fans happy to see such an exciting, emotional moment connected to a Mortal Kombat 11 match, but some had a less-than-rosy outlook on the situation and worried that the pop-off could have escalated to violence. Vaughn laughed off the idea of taking a swing at Boisvert “over a video game,” but would a different person have reacted the same way to having a much larger person screaming in their face, even if that person is only 16 years old?
While the pair were eventually separated by CEO staff, the confrontation was definitely allowed to go on for a very long time. The tournament’s official policy states that it expects all attendees to “behave in an adult manner” and “control yourself and treat others with respect.” It’s not entirely clear how these guidelines apply to pop-offs—and CEO staff has not responded to requests for comment—but it might be time for the community to examine this vitally important aspect of competition before things get ugly, like it very nearly did after a different match during the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournament.
Eric “ESAM” Lew has been a high-level Super Smash Bros. player since getting his start with Melee in 2007. Since then, he’s been a constant fixture of competition, and with the release of Ultimate late last year, he’s continued to dominate the tournament scene with his Pikachu. Lew ended up tying for ninth place at CEO 2019, but much earlier in the bracket, his reaction to winning an important match against a character he’s struggled against in the past garnered attention for its intensity.
Peach has been a thorn in Lew’s side for months, so after beating Antony “MuteAce” Hoo, who is one of the best Peach mains in the United States, Lew was obviously emotional. That emotion manifested itself in a very physical pop-off that involved Lew grabbing his chair and repeatedly slamming it down onto the stage, apparently injuring his hand in the process. At one point, the chair appeared to buckle under the onslaught, and at another, one of its legs appeared to hit a staff member observing the match on stage. A clipboard appears to have blocked the chair from doing much damage to the judge, but it was clear that things could have been much worse had that small piece of wood not been in between the seated judge and the chair that Lew was slamming down.
Unfortunately, the lack of chill at CEO 2019 wasn’t confined to pop-offs. Canadian competitor Kelsy “SuperGirlKels” Medeiros claimed there was “no security” when she observed a fist fight take place in the venue. In her post, Medeiros also claimed that “a lot of people in the venue are drunk and high,” which could have led to the altercation. The players involved, Michael “RiotLettuce” Heilman and James “Osiris197” Grolig, eventually came forward with their versions of events, with the latter admitting that he had in fact been drinking at the time. While Kotaku hasn’t been able to independently verify everything that happened, their statements provide some picture of the altercation.
In a Twitlonger statement, Grolig admitted that he had been drinking, and that at one point he had knocked a jug of water out of another attendee’s hands in a misguided attempt at humor. Grolig says he realized his mistake and apologized to the attendee and that the two “dapped each other and moved on from it.” That anonymous attendee got in touch about the water jug incident with Heilman, a personal friend. That then led to a confrontation between Grolig and Heilman in one of the event’s bathrooms. (Heilman also posted his own Twitlonger account of the situation.)
Both Grolig and Heilman agree that, after a bit of posturing during which onlookers tried to break them up, Grolig threw the first punch, which sparked Heilman to retaliate with punches of his own. The players were supposedly then separated by staff member Nicholas “Chez” Gary. When Grolig returned to the area to try and resume the fight—purportedly calling Heilman a “bitch ass nigga” in the process—he was then escorted from the venue by staff and barred from returning. Again, CEO did not return a request for comment, but both players have told Kotaku that they will not be pressing charges against the other.
Competition is an emotional pursuit. Win or lose, the feelings that well up within players often need an outlet, and oftentimes, folks aren’t thinking straight enough to make the best decisions. By most accounts, attendees had an excellent time at CEO 2019, apart from some hostile interactions with the locals, and the three isolated incidents described in this article certainly don’t mean the entire event was a violent free-for-all. There was even a wedding proposal! Pop-offs are an important part of fighting game competition that I never want to see hampered or eliminated altogether, but damn, sometimes folks need to just chill out, y’know?
Regardless of whether CEO implements any type of added security or internal rule change, Grolig for his part wrote in his statement, “I’m not drinking at any tournaments I go to from here forward. Or at the very least will restrict it to only in my room, or have some kind of cut off… This type of shit happening sucks so yeah, I’ll do my part to not have it repeat.”
Ian Walker loves fighting games and loves writing about them even more. You can find him on Twitter at @iantothemax.