Casuals: Liquid'NuckleDu, The People's Champ

NuckleDu's bold Street Fighter persona belies the humility outside of competition.

Liquid'NuckleDu USF4 Apex 2015
Liquid'NuckleDu USF4 Apex 2015

Look up Guile Street Fighter videos online and you'll likely come across the name Liquid’NuckleDu. He just happens to be one of the best newer generation Street Fighter players in the United States. On weekends, he puts on his ‘sexy white Team Liquid jacket’ and earns his living competing in major Street Fighter tournaments. His victories with are stacking up, earning him the respect and adoration of the fighting game community. Some people misconstrue NuckleDu’s character based on his unique brand of Guile play, which some might call brash, but he’s a young man who has tremendous respect for the game and the players. Win or lose, he’s doing it on his terms.

NuckleDu NorCal Regionals
NuckleDu NorCal Regionals

Humble Beginnings

“I thought fighting games were the stupidest thing ever,” NuckleDu said, citing only being able to move left, right, up, and down as the reason. Competitive Street Fighter players have NuckleDu’s uncle to thank for getting him into Street Fighter. His uncle forced him to play and beat him repeatedly until he went out and bought a PlayStation 3 to get good enough to beat his uncle. Nobody bothered to inform him the PS3 wasn’t even the best version to play on competitively. NuckleDu credits his uncle for teaching him the basics of Street Fighter and getting him involved in tournaments.

The beauty of Street Fighter today is how the scene has developed. Back in the day, it took a good local scene at arcades to help the competition get better and grow. Online play changed the dynamic and allowed access to competition for younger players who might not have ever stepped foot in the mostly extinct arcade scene as old-school players know it. NuckleDu put his work in primarily online because the Street Fighter scene in Tampa is non-existent and it’s paying off.

NuckleDu and Justin Wong on stage at Combo Breaker
NuckleDu and Justin Wong on stage at Combo Breaker

A Player for the People

A few years ago, NuckleDu’s dream was to see videos of featuring himself on YouTube. Considering the ubiquity of the video-sharing website, that seemed like a pretty humble goal. A search for him now brings up an assortment of highlight matches and compilation videos come up. Hop into his Team Liquid live stream for an evening and you get to experience his daily routine, playing Street Fighter and engaging his supporters. He doesn’t have thousands of viewers like some of the more popular streamers have. It makes for a more intimate setting to allow casual players and fans to get to know him. It’s a humbling and honest look at a high level Street Fighter player.

On any given day, he could be eating chicken wings with chopsticks between rounds, while checking the stream chat to acknowledge his viewers. NuckleDu won’t turn anyone away for a chance to play him on stream or in person. “I never make people money match me,” he said. “I appreciate anyone that comes to my streams. I want to make them feel welcome.” Come major tournaments, he realizes the rooms fill up with spectators and the live streams have tens of thousands of viewers. Through it all, he maintains a cool and collected exterior. However, sometimes, he’ll style just enough to get under his opponent’s skin or to pump himself and the crowd up.

Liquid'NuckleDu playing casual USF4 at Apex
Liquid'NuckleDu playing casual USF4 at Apex

No Disrespect

Most Guile players take a turtling defensive approach to Street Fighter, choosing to zone opponents with Sonic Booms and Flash Kicks while waiting for an opening to sneak in some offense. Recognizing Guile as mid-tier, it would make sense if NuckleDu subscribed to a similar tactic. Instead, he prefers what he calls a ‘reversed play style,’ where he uses Sonic Booms, forward dashes, backhands, and overhead roundhouse kicks to pressure his opponents. It’s one of the more unconventional Guile’s you’ll ever see. “He’s capable of winning tournaments,” he said. “He’s like Ryu. He’s not cheap. It all depends on the player making reads.” His pressure is a thing of beauty when he’s on point with his reads, as he can score a perfect round in a matter of seconds, making Guile look much better than mid-tier status.

Then the shades come out. “I get a lot of negative feedback for putting on the sunglasses,” he said. “Guile is the only character that can accessorize himself. Why wouldn’t you do it?” He jokes about it but he is emphatic about the fact he means no disrespect to his opponent when the aviators come out. “I’m either trying to get the crowd on my side, wake the crowd up, throw my opponent off their game, or to help myself if I’m losing.” It’s all about mind games. It doesn’t always have the expected effect, as some players get better when they’re angry. But one thing’s for sure in a NuckleDu match, the shades are coming out at some point.

No Pain, No Gain

As someone who wants to be feared when looking at a bracket, he’s making a strong case for himself with his recent play. “I don’t know if I’m there yet, but I know a lot of people don’t want to play me.” Coming into Combo Breaker, NuckleDu felt he earned a reputation as a player who couldn’t win the big one. He might have scored one of the biggest wins of his young career at NorCal Regionals if he hadn’t run up against a red hot Daigo “The Beast” Umehara. In fact, it was likely a case of counter-picking Daigo’s Evil Ryu with Decapre that put NuckleDu in a tough situation. He lamented overthinking his character choice based on how well he thought Daigo knew the Evil Ryu versus Guile matchup. “When it comes to deciding when to use a character, I tend to lose. I’ve lost a lot of matches because of that.”

Combo Breaker was an important victory for NuckleDu on a personal and professional level. He exorcised the demons of not finishing first as well as earned much needed Capcom Pro Tour points. In another moment of humbling honesty, NuckleDu admitted that his family has struggled financially and the money helps. He’s also been playing hurt after being involved in a car accident that injured his back to the point his sponsor and a chiropractor recommended he not take the trip to Chicago for Combo Breaker. He fought through a great deal of pain throughout the weekend, though it never showed on his face. His injury isn’t life-threatening and it won’t prevent him from attempting to win CEO 2015 and qualifying for Capcom Cup. He stopped short of saying winning either. “I think I have about a 15% chance of winning CEO.”

NuckleDu Takes First at Combo Breaker 2015
NuckleDu Takes First at Combo Breaker 2015

NuckleDu has quite the competitive Street Fighter resume going. He’s finished top eight at numerous events dating back to 2012. His strong performances at NorCal Regionals and Combo Breaker pushed him into the top 10 in the Capcom Pro Tour standings, with hopes of qualifying for Capcom Cup 2015 and a chance for a better showing than his ninth place finish last year. He’s faced some of the biggest killers in the competitive Street Fighter and established himself as a favorite among American players by endearing himself to the fighting game community and fanbase. Not bad for a guy who didn’t even like fighting games a few years back.

Check back next Thursday for another installment of Casuals and follow @RedBullESPORTS on Twitter for more Street Fighter coverage.