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Everything you need to know about Red Bull Kumite 2019
Ahead of the fifth edition of the inimitable Street Fighter tournament, here's what to expect when it lands in Japan this December.
An esports tournament with more bang than a Zangief spinning piledriver, Red Bull Kumite has swiftly become one of the must-watch events in the Street Fighter calendar.
And while the championship has been held in France since 2015, it's now heading east to its spiritual home of Japan, where it's about to welcome an absolutely stellar lineup of competitors inside Aichi's Sky Expo centre.
All killer and no filler, expect matchups between World Champions, EVO winners past and present, former Kumite victors and also a couple of rising stars looking to make a name for themselves.
Meet some of the contenders at Red Bull Kumite 2019
It speaks volumes about Bonchan's popularity on the circuit that the reigning EVO champion is just as popular away from the big stage as he is on it.
Well-known for his generous personality, each year the Red Bull esports athlete travels throughout his native country for 'Bonchan's Road Trip', a series of tutorials and exhibitions he puts on to help expand the fighting game scene in Japan.
With a scholarly-like approach to his gameplay, drawing on theory, analysis, patience and experience-based play, Bonchan's style is the exact opposite to that of Punk (below), who is more intuitive and unpredictable.
Fujimura Atsushi was crowned Red Bull Kumite champion in 2018 and is arguably one of the most consistent Street Fighter V players on the planet.
What truly stands out when watching Fujimura playing is how everything he does is optimised and carefully thought out. He trains by recreating situations he encountered previously and then finds ways to use them to his advantage. Much like Daniel's training under Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid, Fujimura repeats the same moves again and again, so that they become second nature to him, even under heavy pressure from his opponent.
He plays Ibuki, a high school ninja girl who excels in scramble situations. Armed with projectiles to control space, good poking tools and able to teleport and confuse her opponents, Ibuki is an aggressive character and fits Fujimura's mindset perfectly.
Nicknamed 'The Machine', he might seize the opportunity of attending Red Bull Kumite 2019 to seek vengeance against Big Bird, the Emirati prodigy who defeated him during EVO 2019, effectively barring him from reaching the podium.
Daigo is considered to be the best Street Fighter player of all time. He was the very first Japanese pro gamer and he’s conquered so many tournaments on so many different games that it's become increasingly difficult to keep count of them. The 38-year-old has been playing fighting games since the early Street Fighter 2 days back in 1991, participating in his first tournament in 1995 and emerging victorious during his second one in 1997. In 1998, at only 18 years old, he flew for the first time to the United States to challenge the then-American-champion Alex Valle. Daigo won again, thus sparking a major rivalry between the USA and Japan in fighting games.
But what definitively cemented his legend is the famous 'EVO Moment 37', in 2004: while he was down to a sliver of health, Daigo managed to parry 15 consecutive rapid hits from his opponent Justin Wong, playing as Chun Li, before delivering a KO to his stunned opponent. The feat went down in history as the first viral fighting game esport moment ever. In the 2010s, the rise of streaming and fighting games allowed a broader public to discover Daigo and witness his skill, elevating him to star status.
Since 2017, Punk has been a true American star of the FGC tournament scene — playing on pure instinct during matchplay and boasting some of the fastest response, his greatest strength comes from his incredible, lightening fast reaction times.
Punk is considered one of the greatest in the game, and unlike many of his contemporaries, he's not afraid to be a showman – provoking the crowd and his competitors. But for all the theatrics, he's a true artist and – alongside Bonchan – a top pick to take home the ultimate prize at Red Bull Kumite 2019.
When Tsunehiro 'Gachikun' Kanamori started playing Street Fighter, he had no idea that pro players existed. He was playing for fun at his local arcade in Hiroshima, thinking it was a cool hobby, but with no intention of making a career out of it. As a Sagat player during the Street Fighter 4 era, he dominated the Hiroshima scene and eventually became aware of the esports movement. In 2016, with the newly released Street Fighter 5, he started travelling more often and got noticed by several observers of the Japanese circuit.
This earned him an invitation for Red Bull Kumite 2017, where he stormed the tournament for a second place finish. At Red Bull Kumite 2018, he participated in the last chance qualifiers and secured one of the top spots at the tournament. Again he delivered high level play, finishing in fifth place. A few months later he became a Red Bull athlete, soon after winning the Capcom Cup and as a result now finds himself as the Street Fighter World Champion.
If Europe were a game, the UK's DC 'Infexious' Coleman would be its secret boss. Ever since the Street Fighter 4 days, the Manchester-born player has been described by his peers as the most frightening player you could meet on the continent. He's said to be a strong theoretician, a fierce tactician and above all, a stubborn opponent. If he has a game plan in mind, he will attempt to execute it until the opponent snaps and falls for it. His steadiness and talent allowed him to place third at EVO this year and third at Red Bull Kumite 2017 where he eliminated Daigo Umehara. On his day, he's simply unbeatable.
While his stone-cold face, deep voice and stoic attitude give him the air of a final-stage boss, he's actually a really sweet and caring soul. Formerly a lawyer in London, after a career crisis he went back to his hometown of Manchester where he felt the need to give back to the community. It should also be no surprise, considering he enjoys getting lost in puzzles and probabilities, that he's since gone on to become a mathematics teacher.
As an acknowledgement of his inspiring journey, Infexious was recruited to Daigo’s Cygames Beast Team last year.
Benjamin 'Problem X' Simon is currently the strongest player in Europe after winning several high profile international tournaments. It's a good continent to be a Street Fighter player on right now, with lots of great opponents and many tournaments in countries relatively close to one another; not to mention a great sense of camaraderie between fans when one of theirs achieves success.
However, becoming a professional player in Europe is harder than in the pro-friendly United States or the ultra organised Japan. Problem X noticed very early on that if he wanted to shake things up in the gaming world he'd have to throw himself heart and soul into it. He created his own brand, Problem X Promotions, as a way to sponsor himself and a friend so they could travel and share expenses.
Just like an entrepreneur, he invested all his earnings and job savings to travel around the world and get noticed by sponsors. In 2017, thanks to his results in several tournaments, he was recruited by German esports club mousesports and became a pro player.His new situation allowed him to focus on the game and it showed. He won EVO 2018 and placed second during Red Bull Kumite 2018 against Fujimura. The Englishman is currently ranked sixth in the Capcom Pro Tour leaderboard, and there's no doubt he'll fight tooth and nail to bring the Kumite cup back to his hometown of Manchester this year.
Considered to be one of the Five Gods of Fighting Games (alongside Daigo), Hajime 'Tokido' Taniguchi is not only an outstanding Street Fighter player, but exceptional at every video game he touches, placing top eight more than 24 times on various games at EVO.
Tokido has always considered that winning matters more than anything else. To achieve this goal, he's been known to pick the strongest characters and apply the most optimised strategies to deny his opponents the right to play. But after a while, Tokido wasn’t satisfied and he realised that he had the wrong mindset. He thought winning alone didn’t actually prove that he was the greatest player and felt as if he had hit something of a plateau.
He is now focusing on finding his own style and forging his very own path to greatness, applying strict physical training and zazen meditation to keep cool and focus. He's finished in second position at Red Bull Kumite in previous years, but never quite managed to get the win. Expect him to go all out to make his own bit of history.
The exciting Belgian wildcard entry Takamura came to FGC tournament scene after seeing Red Bull Kumite 2016, and says he now "feels honoured to participate".
Although his playing style has many commonalities with some of his Japanese contemporaries, he has a flair for the unpredictable—and has been known to switch modes from the methodical into a more fluid, instinctive playing style.
At only 19 years old his mentality is to be bulletproof, saying he "can't sit back” in the fight against top players including Bonchan and Punk as he heads into battle at Red Bull Kumite 2019.
Anel 'Big Bird' Anouche has been soaring in the Street Fighter V scene for the last four years. He first came to international attention at Red Bull Kumite 2016, when he entered the open qualifier tournament and beat several top players during the final day. At 18, his journey was only beginning and then, aged 21, he officially became a Red Bull athlete. This year, he placed second at EVO 2019, where he fell to Bonchan's Karin.
His character of choice is Rashid, a nimble fighter who uses acrobatic kicks and tornadoes to close gaps and maintain pressure.
The fighting game realm is one of the few esports communities where players keep competing even as they get older, accumulating years of experience, but Big Bird proved that with enough talent and work, you can mix it with the most seasoned players. By living in the Emirates and succeeding internationally, he's also demonstrated that talent can shine even from smaller local scenes.
As Red Bull Kumite is often stacked with professional players and prestige, it is easy to forget that Street Fighter V is, well, a game. One man who appreciates this more than most is Gustavo '801 Strider' Romero, an amateur player who appears as if he's just at tournaments to have fun. Unfortunately for his opponents right now, he's having a blast. Armed with his beloved character G, a comical but explosive fighter dressed like Abraham Lincoln, 801 Strider has placed high in every tournament he's entered this year.
He takes pride in being a regular guy with a normal job, as opposed to being a professional player. He separates his professional life from Street Fighter and despite doing so, still manages to beat some of the best players in the world. To him, tournaments are vacations and Street Fighter V is a hobby that you can be good at by training smarter, instead of spending countless hours simply bashing buttons. An advocate of work-life balance, 801 Strider thinks a player's wellbeing shouldn't be tied to a game that can change every year or so, but instead to more certain things.
His invitation to Red Bull Kumite 2019 is proof that the roads leading to success are varied and that the fun, amateur path is just as valid as another.
YHC-Mochi is the most elusive player at this year’s Red Bull Kumite. His real name is unknown and the western public will have barely heard of him, given how he never travels outside Asia. Even outside of the Tokyo scene he still remains a mystery for a lot of Japanese players. What is certain however is that YHC-Mochi is the strongest Dhalsim player in the world. To the inexperienced viewer, Dhalsim might seem like a defensive character, playing from a long, relatively safe range. However, YHC-Mochi is a very aggressive foe, known not only for managing space but also for his violent comebacks.
Living in Shimane prefecture, by the sea north-west of Tokyo, he's been a constant online threat for the last 10 years, often ranked at the very top of the leaderboard. It was during the Street Fighter 4 era that Daigo Umehara said about him that “he's the Japanese player I wouldn’t want to meet in a tournament”. Unfortunately for Daigo, Shimane’s final boss adapted perfectly to Street Fighter 5 and it’s his time to shine.
Olivier 'Luffy' Hay started his Street Fighter journey in 2009 and quickly became the player to beat in Europe. For his first international tournament in 2010, he placed third, only losing to Daigo and Fuudo, which was of course no mean feat. From this moment on, he knew he had what it takes to win the world's most prestigious tournaments and would prove his legitimacy time and time again. In 2014, perhaps to everyone’s surprise except for the French contingent of the fighting game community, Luffy won EVO, defeating a dozen of high-profile Japanese players including the then-favourite Bonchan, who'll also be at Red Bulll Kumite 2019.
Despite looking dead serious while playing, Luffy is a rather carefree. He enjoys joking during tournament interviews and thwarting his opponents with unexpected plays. His main character is R.Mika, an unpredictable grappler who complements Luffy’s tricky playing style. Over the past few months he's also started training with Kolin, a character good at feinting and deceiving her opponent. His controller of choice can also be somewhat surprising: unlike most competitors who favour massive arcade sticks, Luffy plays with a Playstation 1 controller.
While he's a bit of a maverick, Luffy is a major threat who should never be underestimated.
Haku is the current Japanese Street Fighter League champion. He's also what fans call a 'character loyalist', which means that he plays the same character no matter the opponent or the stakes. Whereas most players in the highly competitive Street Fighter 5 scene hop from one character to another when they feel their fighter is too weak to compete, Haku has been playing for years now using F.A.N.G, a goofy assassin that has long been treated as the weakest character out of the entire roster. What could have been a setback became the key to Haku’s success.
With the help of his two team-mates, Haku managed to win the Japanese Street Fighter League this year, beating several players with the underdog F.A.N.G. His success allowed him to become a professional player and earned him a spot in the next Street Fighter League where one of his new team-mates will be none other than Gachikun himself. Who knows, the two partners could end up fighting each other during Red Bull Kumite 2019!
There's something truly special about players focusing on a single character archetype, which is the case with Hiroki 'Kichipa-mu' Asano. He's been a threat on the Japanese scene since 2014 and quietly remained under the radar of the international scene until this year's EVO, where he reached the top eight – an impressive feat, particularly as it's often considered impossible to win without a well-rounded fighter.
Indeed, Kichipa-mu is a character loyalist. He only plays short range – but explosive – characters. In Street Fighter 5, his character of choice is Zangief, a difficult-to-handle, but also powerful grappler who deals plenty of damage if he ever manages to get up close and personal with the opponent. Fortunately, Kichipa-mu is an expert at reading and predicting the opponent’s actions and figuring out a counter attack with which to respond. Zangief’s sparse but devastating blows fit this esports athlete's playing style perfectly.
However, Kichipa-mu’s competition will be rough at Red Bull Kumite. Some of the strongest players, such as Daigo Umehara and YHC-Mochi, are masters of keep-away (zoning) and fireball play and would prove a bumpy ride for Kichipa-mu if he's to take the next step at Red Bull Kumite 2019.
Excited? Try this teaser on for size...
Le teaser du Red Bull Kumite 2019 au Japon !