By the time the third Red Bull Kumite came around, the event had established itself as a premier invitational fighting game tournament. It wasn’t a part of the Capcom Pro Tour, but it had the prestige of Evo and a production polish rivaling the biggest esports events. The biggest success, however, was how Red Bull Kumite built up the reputation of being a players' tournament through and through.
And Red Bull Kumite was right in the middle of it.
History of Kumite – part 2
The 2017 Red Bull Kumite reflected those changing times with its lineup. There were still Evo champions of the old game in attendance. Daigo, Luffy and Infiltration represented that group, with the latter representing not only the 2016 Red Bull Kumite champion, but the Evo 2016 Champion as well. Bonchan and Tokido were in attendance, along with Nemo, who missed out on Red Bull Kumite the prior year, and was largely absent from the circuit in general. Xiao Hai, RB, and PR Balrog were first-timers to Red Bull Kumite, but players who represented their regions in SFIV well.
However, it was the less established names in the FGC that showed up ready to prove their mettle. Names like Phenom, Mister Crimson, XYZZY, Gachikun, and Infexious were ready to bring it to the old timers. Even the names in the Last Chance Qualifier gave rise to some newer talent for France’s local scene. The stage was set for a shift in power.
The two setting the tone for the new stars were Gachikun and Infexious. Infexious had a rough start, losing 2-0 to the Kumite Champion Infiltration, but bounced back to not only eliminate Infiltration from the event, but take out PR Balrog, XYZZY and Daigo along the way to a third place finish at the event.
Gachikun showcased even more dominance. He stayed on the winners side of the bracket throughout sending Xiao Hai, Tokido, Infiltration and Nemo to losers. With a Grand Finals finish secured, the Red Bull Kumite championship was within Gachikun’s reach.
The old guard of Street Fighter wasn’t going to give up their crown so easily, however. In fact, it would be the veterans of Street Fighter who showed the strength of the game’s recently released DLC characters. Both Nemo and Daigo came into the event with new characters — Urien and Guile, respectively. Daigo bounced back in Losers after a first round loss to XYZZY, defeating RB, Tokido, Phenom and Bonchan, showing just how effective Guile could be. But it was Nemo, the salaryman who balanced his work life and being a top competitor, that ultimately showed up for the old guard.
With his newfound tool in Urien, Nemo gave the crowd a spectacle. Phenom and PR Balrog got the early taste of what Nemo would bring to the tournament, losing to him in the early stages of the tournament. The first Red Bull Kumite champion Bonchan was the next victim as Nemo headed to the Winners Finals. Gachikun would steal back some of the thunder, beating Nemo in the Winners Finals, but Nemo bounced back, cooling off Infexious in an intense Losers Finals bout. The Losers Finals match gave Nemo enough time to adapt and outplay Gachikun in the grand finals to become a Red Bull Kumite champion.
For now, the players that were heroes in SFIV continued to dominate in SFV. But that wouldn't last forever.
The New Era Is Here
By the time the 2018 Red Bull Kumite rolled around, the shift in power was apparent. The reigning Capcom Cup Champion was a young man from the Dominican Republic named MenaRD. The Evo Champion, UK’s own Problem X, as well as other young players like Fujimura were securing key tournament victories. This time around, Red Bull Kumite came later in the year, right before the Capcom Cup Finals. It could serve as a preview of what was to come, an All-Star game for Street Fighter V.
The guest list for this tournament featured the most newcomers of any in the past. Mainstays like Tokido, Daigo, Bonchan, Nemo and Luffy made their appearances as usual, but the newcomers were a combination of champions and fan favorites that were too good to ignore. Making the list this year were Rashid specialist Oil King, the CEO 2018 champion Fujimura, Smug and his one-two combination of Balrog and G, a legend who was finally finding his footing in SFV in Poongko, the incredible French Alex player Gunfight, longtime Marvel competitor Filipino Champ and AngryBird, who was beginning to make waves as a competitor in the EU region.
The 2018 Last Chance Qualifier was expanded to three spots, as the Capcom Cup Champion MenaRD was unable to attend. This made way for HotDog29, JuniorLeo and the runner up from last year’s Red Bull Kumite, Gachikun, to make their way into the main event. The opportunity was ripe for new stars to emerge, and they delivered.
Problem X, the Evo Champion, was sent to the losers bracket very early on by previous Red Bull Kumite Champion Nemo. But that was only the start of one of the best losers bracket runs the tournament had ever seen.
On his way up the ladder, he took out Bonchan, Oil King, Tokido, Smug before getting a rematch against Nemo and sent the returning champion home without a chance to repeat. Standing in the way of his chance to reach the grand finals was Daigo. The tightly contested match gave us a comeback from Daigo that could rival the FGC icon's legendary 3rd Strike parry. Ultimately though, flashes of “The Beast” could not stop Problem X’s run to Grand Finals, setting up a match against one of Japan’s new elite players, Fujimura.
Fujimura was dominant throughout the tournament, convincingly handling FChamp, Oil King, Luffy and even Daigo in his run to the grand finals. His career in Street Fighter V was already marked with moments of technical efficiency, and that prowess was on full display at Red Bull Kumite.
This wasn’t the first meeting between Fujimura and Problem X. In fact, Fujimura previously secured a key victory over Problem X to become the CEO 2018 champion. Problem X would then have his revenge at EVO, demolishing Fujimura in a 2-0 sweep with his pocket character, the monstrous Abigail.
Problem X’s Abigail was primed to dispatch Fujimura once again, but this time Fujimura had the right answers. He stayed nimble in the match, optimally punishing Problem X’s mistakes and turning them into wins. The beating forced Problem X to reconsider his character choice, switching back to his main character M. Bison, but it was too late. Fujimura finished with a 3-1 victory and came out of the event as the Red Bull Kumite champion, the last champion for the event’s run in France.
Red Bull Kumite 2019 marked the biggest change yet for the invitational tournament, leaving behind its home in the Salle Wagram auditorium for the Aichi Sky Expo in Japan. Going to the mecca of fighting games meant one thing: the event had to go bigger in its celebration of them. Explorations of the Japanese arcade scene were a must, and getting a glimpse of both the international and local players' thoughts and experiences made the event feel right at home in its new location.
Longtime attendees Bonchan, Daigo, Tokido and Luffy continued their streak of featuring in the grand dance, with Bonchan coming into the event as the Evo Champion for that year. Returning from previous years were Big Bird, Gachikun, Infexious, Fujimura and Problem X, all now well-established in the FGC.
As for first-timers, Kichipa-mu and Haku represented the new generation of top players from Japan, while YHC-Mochi, a veteran of Japan’s FGC, got a chance to compete in front of his home crowd. Two players represented the US — 801 Strider and Punk — the latter of whom many had been waiting to see perform in the Red Bull Kumite cage. Takamura, a player who had begun to make significant strides in Europe, would also get a shot at showing what he could do.
Before the main event, we were treated to one of the most stacked Last Chance Qualifiers of any Red Bull Kumite. Names such as HotDog29, Infiltration, Jyobin, Moke, Gunfight, Dogura, along with a wave of talented Japanese contenders made for a crazy day of competition. But it was StormKubo who would rise to the top of the ranks in the LCQ, making him the 16th representative at the year’s Red Bull Kumite.
Matches at Red Bull Kumite 2019 lived up to the hype of the LCQ. The mainstays struggled to overcome the new crop of talent this time around, opening up more opportunities for new faces to take center stage. Takamura and 801 Strider were standouts in the event, with Takamura taking down Punk and Problem X and 801 Strider rallying to third with wins over StormKubo, Kichipa-mu, Takamura and even getting the better of Evo Champion Bonchan.
It would be Fujimura’s budding rivalry with players from the UK that ultimately took center stage, however. The Ibuki powerhouse continued where he left off in 2018, clearing a path to the finals, beating both Takamura and Tokido convincingly. His rematch with Problem X went in his favor once again, with a 2-0 victory over the 2018 Evo Champion. Standing in the way of his repeat victory was the machine, Infexious.
In his second appearance at Red Bull Kumite, Infexious left destruction in his wake, not dropping a single set against opponents like YHC-Mochi, 801 Strider and the 2018 Capcom Cup Champion Gachikun. His terminator-like precision played well for the crowd, but Fujimura was having none of it. He handed Infexious not only his first set loss of the day, but defeated him in both Winners Finals and Grand Finals to become the first back-to-back Red Bull Kumite Champion. Red Bull Kumite had its first hometown hero.
Out of the Cage, Into the Underground
In 2020, the global pandemic brought the FGC to a standstill. Without the online infrastructure to facilitate global competition, the tournament scene was kept to a very strict set of regional matches. It would take a full year before the type of international competition that the Street Fighter scene is used to would come back. But return it did, in the form of Red Bull Kumite 2021 at the Red Bull Gaming Sphere in London.
With the triumphant return of international in-person competition, we got an entirely new format that featured group stages, a team tournament and a showcase of Guilty Gear -Strive- that added more fuel to a heated rivalry between the competitors. Gone was the octagon that many were fond of, replaced by gritty decor reminiscent of the London Underground. It was intimate, and left room for only one thing: high-class matches.
Three players continued to have perfect attendance at Red Bull Kumite with Tokido, Bonchan and Luffy answering the call to compete again. Punk, Problem X, Takamura, Gachikun were all reprising their roles as top competitors, while Mister Crimson and Smug showed up for the first time in years for another shot at Red Bull Kumite glory.
Newcomers were a mixture of players with high potential in Kawano, Hurricane, VegaPatch and Capcom Cup Champion iDom, who was getting his first real shot at competing internationally. Two homegrown talents, Shaquille and Boltstrike, would get their big chance in the main event after fighting their way through the Last Chance Qualifier.
Red Bull Kumite gave us two new features, a round robin group stage and a team tournament, changes that led to more matches for spectators to enjoy. The team tournament, which had players in their respective groups team up to face off against other groups, ensured that players at least had an opportunity to play against each other before the knockout stages. The group consisting of iDom, Mister Crimson, Gachikun and Boltstrike ultimately won the team tournament, taking their success into the main event.
Mister Crimson and iDom made it out of their group convincingly with the latter going 3-0 in his group on the way to the finals. Bonchan was another player to go undefeated in his own group with Hurricane, Punk, Phenom, Luffy and Takamura making it out with one loss apiece. As a result, the top 8 was set with only one former Red Bull Kumite champion left in play.
The format for the bracket was single elimination, but what made things special was the increasing number of sets as the bracket went on. The finals bracket consisted of first to three sets for the Quarterfinals, first to four sets in the Semifinals and a final first to five set for the Grand Finals. Longer sets give players even more opportunities to adapt and that adaptation was especially good to Mister Crimson. After his thrilling, popoff-laden match against Punk, he took on Luffy in a back-and-forth matchup, eventually winning 4-3 and getting a shot at the Capcom Cup Champion iDom in the grand finals.
IDom continued to dominate in the finals bracket. He defeated Phenom in a close 3-2 match and followed up with a sound 4-1 victory over the EVO Champion Bonchan, securing a spot in the Grand Finale against Mister Crimson.
The battle between iDom and Mister Crimson would go the distance, with each competitor pushing ahead with slight leads until the final game. The final game went to the very last round and when the dust settled, Mister Crimson was the last man standing. A French player would finally become the Red Bull Kumite champion.
The Invitational That Lasted
There have been many invitationals in the lifespan of Street Fighter V, but Red Bull Kumite is one of the few that have become an unquestioned part of the FGC. The event’s ability to keep the focus on competition while introducing the FGC to a unique tournament experience has garnered the respect of competitors and the adoration of fighting game fans across the globe.
Red Bull Kumite’s next destination will be the United States, home to many of the young talented players that dominate the Street Fighter V landscape today. Many see its arrival in Las Vegas as a chance to make a statement — and as it has done so many times in the past, the octagon is ready to provide that opportunity.
Tune in to watch the next evolution of Red Bull Kumite, live from Las Vegas at 1pm PST on November 13 and 14. Stay tuned for coverage of the event all weekend long.