As the first Major of Street Fighter V’s life came to a close last weekend, the only conclusion to draw is that it certainly didn’t disappoint. Final Round 19 had the perfect mix of high-level play, character distribution and player origin – plus a little bit of stick-related drama on the way. But if you were to look back on one aspect of the competition, putting aside some minor organisational hiccups, it would be the strength of both hemispheres throughout the tournament.
A perfect summation of this can be found in the top-eight composition: Mago, Tokido, Haitani, and GO1-3151 from Japan; Nando, Brenttiscool, and SonicFox from the US; and, of course, Infiltration from South Korea. There’s also a delicate balance of old hands and new to be found, with SonicFox and GO1-3151 picking up the first eight Capcom Pro Tour points of their careers last weekend.
So what did we see in the biggest clash of East and West in SFV yet?
Well, first of all, every character is viable. There is always a worry that tier lists will arrive to outrank personal ability so early on into a fighting game – in Street Fighter IV it was Sagat, Sagat, Sagat and in Ultra IV it remains Evil Ryu and Yun. That those with familiar characters returning from older series will have such a distinct advantage as to render all other options obsolete. But looking through the field in Atlanta last weekend we can see such a glorious rainbow of fighters making the higher ranks. And that’s not just counting, of course, Nando Tovar’s Rainbow Mika.
F.A.N.G is an extremely divisive fighter for pros this early on. To see him during a tournament is extremely rare, to see him at this level is rarer still. As if that’s not enough of a challenge, SonicFox managed to get the flappy poison merchant into the top eight while simultaneously competing in the Mortal Kombat XL tournament in the other room – a tournament which he won, by the way. Seeing a character this derided getting into the pros’ faces, going as far as to put out Liquid’s NuckleDu in the final 16 bracket, was wonderful. But being played by a fighter from so many other games Street Fighter faithfuls have frequently looked down upon is inspiring.
Secondly, while the character choice was so diverse, grapplers are still chronically under-represented. Of the top 16, only two were seen: Haitani’s Necalli, and Snake Eyez with Zangief. Even Laura didn’t make the cut at this event, despite a concentrated showing at Cannes Winter Clash last month. Grapplers are somewhat underpowered in SFV compared with IV, as command grabs have a slower startup time by a couple of frames in almost all cases. However hybrids like R. Mika can still find a lot of purchase against the other fast movers in the mix.
No-one exhibits the speed at which SFV must be played better than Final Round champion Infiltration. Using Nash’s dashes to their ultimate advantage he was able to move in and out of combat with staggering efficacy. Combined with the long range of some of his attacks, as well as a V-Trigger almost built for getting out of the corner, the distance game was always his. Many of the heavier grapplers find it hard to play footsies, but Mika has aerial superiority to her advantage, and Necalli’s walking speed is one of the fastest in the game, letting him control distance a little easier.
Both sides of the world showed an understanding of the need to mix up close combat and throws with the spacing mind games that SFIV built upon. And though American fighters are usually more at home with beefier characters with close-quarters toolkits, neither relied heavily on grapplers going into SFV.
But Japan and South Korea topping the bracket is a real fist to the face of the homeground turf. All this without the usual arcade advantage Japan normally has over America at this point in a Street Fighter release calendar. There are definitely scores to be settled at CEO and EVO now. And while Infiltration’s win proves that the old gods still have the upper hand, SonicFox, Brenttiscool and GO1-3151 in the top eight are proof that this is a chance for a new generation of heroes to make their mark.