Final Round XX Recap
It’s hard to believe it's already been nearly a month since Final Round XX took place in Atlanta, but here we are with some questions answered, other questions raised, and enough hype and interesting storylines to last until the next Falcons game. While we won't get too in depth for all the tournament results(which can be found on smash.gg), here’s a few highlights from the weekend and points of interest that came from one of the south’s most renowned fighting game events:
For Honor is esports now?
It was making the rounds before, but it wasn’t until the game’s inclusion in the official lineup of this year’s tournament that Ubisoft’s medieval team based combat game For Honor showed its true colors: a genuine fighting game, with little bits of inspiration from MOBAs and FPS stalwarts like Battlefield and Call of Duty. While it certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel and still has some wrinkles to iron out, For Honor’s combat style heavily relies on fighting game fundamentals. It features spacing, meter management, and move canceling which, in tandem with a defensive system that is like a 2D fighter’s emphasis on directional blocking, may give the title some legs in the FGC. For how long remains to be seen, but Ubi’ has a potential cult hit on its hands.
Tekken is going to be fine
Yeah, Tekken 7 has been out for a few years in Japan, and the game's US release has been delayed (yet again) until June, but the game's showing at Final Round only proved that the newest iteration of the King of Iron Fist tournament is one that is going to be good quality entertainment, both for players and audiences. The addition of rage arts(a la Critical Arts in Street Fighter/X-Ray Attacks in Mortal Kombat) and super armor(which allows some moves to “tank” a hit uninterrupted) to the game has made stronger, slower characters more viable in competitive play, and, combined with other additions and improvements, has shifted the focus of the game to more exciting sequences and key moments. Namco's done a great job of shining a spotlight on climactic finishes, slowing down the pace and zooming in when a critical trade or last hit may get through, and that means a game that is more spectator friendly and capable of more memorable highlights.
Further, Tekken 7 has seen a good mix of characters have strong showings in competitive play, with Jack-7 making a surprising push into the top eight, and a grand final showdown of SpeedKicks's Hwoarang falling short to JDCR, who avenged an earlier defeat by his grand finals opponent by switching from Heihachi to Dragunov, a tactical decision that helped JDCR sweep six straight matches to take the crown.
With the game's support from the community, strong commentary from the likes of Aris, IFC Yipes, Markman, and Tasty Steve, plus a strong showing from US players for a game that still hasn’t been released stateside, the future looks bright for competitive Tekken, and it looks like we'll be getting ready for the next battle for quite some time.
K-Brad steals the show…again
One of the Street Fighter community’s most interesting and entertaining characters over the past few years has been Evil Genius' Kenneth “K-Brad” Bradley. He’s been known for injecting life and outspoken hype into tournaments and live streams, including a few memorable stints on the couch of Cross Counter’s “Excellent Adventures of Gootecks & Mike Ross” and a grand entrance in Community Effort Orlando’s 2015 edition - where Bradley’s homage to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin drew headlines and some respect from the Texas Rattlesnake himself. Fast forward to 2017, and we see a K-Brad that has fought and fallen just short in tournaments, most notoriously in the Frosty Faustings tournament against Josh “Wolfkrone” Philpot, who easily beat K-Brad’s Cammy with his Laura before washing his hands of his foe and shooing him off the stage. When the two had their rematch at Final Round, the entire room took notice, and a crowd of people gathered around the two competitors.
It might not be the first time you've seen the video that made the waves on social media(and made a meme out of FGC mainstay PR Balrog's reaction) but in front of a crowd that included top Street Fighter players like PR Rog, L.I. Joe, and Filipino Champ, K-Brad exorcised his demons, playing an aggressive yet controlled game which struck the perfect balance between pressure and patience to make all the right reads and punish every mistake and whiffed attack that Wolfkrone threw out at him. Through a strong neutral game and Cammy's high damage potential, the end result was K-Brad’s own sweep of Wolfkrone in the round of 64. When Bradley jumped out of his chair and into Wolfkrone’s face, it was a clear, resolute response to an insult, a moment of pure vindication, and will stand as one of the Street Fighter scene’s biggest highlights in 2017, and possibly beyond. It'll be interesting to see where the rivalry goes from here, but needless to say, it's provided must-watch viewing for the competitive gaming community.
Top tier isn’t god tier
Drama aside, one of the biggest storylines coming into the weekend for the first major tourney for Street Fighter V’s second season was the expected dominance of the top tier of characters: Urien, whose damaging moveset and Aegis Reflector combos have placed him as the character to beat since his release in Season 1; Laura, whose mixups and frame traps have caused havoc to many players’ defenses; and Cammy, an aggressive rush-down character that, even with a series of nerfs during the balance patches of Season 2, has potential for heavy damage from practically anywhere on screen(just look back at K-Brad's performance for proof). After Final Round, however, competitive players may need to keep their eyes peeled elsewhere.
Traditionally a character that’s seen as low tier, Zangief was taken all the way to top eight by Hiromiki “Itabashi Zangief” Kumada, who used the Red Cyclone’s hard hitting normals, array of super armored moves, and ever-present threat of spinning piledrivers to put fear into the hearts of every opponent he faced down. Since Season 2, talk around the community is that Gief is finally good, and ItaZan proved that Muscle Power is indeed a threat.
One of the strongest showings of the tournament was from one of Team Liquid’s representatives, Du “NuckleDu” Dang, a long time Guile player who showed off some interesting tech using Sonic Booms and an overwhelming offensive barrage atypical to Guile’s history in the series, leading NuckleDu to have the US’s top finish in 3rd place.
However, NuckleDu’s tournament was ended by a familiar face from Season 1 who many thought was nerfed back to mid-tier for Season 2: the Rainbow Mika of Japan’s Keita “Fuudo” Ai. While R. Mika is usually a command throw heavy character, Fuudo got more use out of Mika’s normals, her Flying Peach attack, and some timely saves from V-Trigger and tag team partner, Nadeshiko, to keep pressure on Fuudo’s opponents while minimizing the damage he took in return on the way to a 2nd place finish. Wrestling isn’t dead.
That said, no one was quite as dominant as the tournament champion, Team Razer’s Xian. The famed Gen player from Street Fighter IV took Street Fighter’s resident kunoichi, Ibuki, and left a trail of destruction with technical combos, strong mixups, and clever use of Ibuki’s bombs in V-Trigger to not only extend combos, but mask his character’s movements to set up for more damage. While many thought Ibuki had potential back in Season 1, her arrival late into the season meant that she was somewhat overlooked. Judging from Xian’s strong showing in the opening event of the Capcom Pro Tour, it’s clear that Ibuki can be firmly placed in the upper echelon of characters in the hands of a skilled player, and may well challenge for the top ranking character in the game.
Fast forward a few weeks, and Capcom has already been at work tinkering with the secret formula, testing out patches that will likely go live at the end of April. While there's a lot of changes incoming, the biggest story at the moment are some nerfs which may potentially bring Urien back down to earth and force Guile back to his more traditional defensive playstyle, and some buffs and new moves added which could make Zangief an even bigger threat. Will the Russian skies be defended once again? Will Ibuki still overwhelm the competition? Or will a dark horse character rise up? More on that coming soon.
In summary, Final Round answered a lot of questions, raised others, and has, in conjunction with games like Killer Instinct (whose KI Cup ran parallel to Final Round), Guilty Gear, and King of Fighters XIV, has shone a light on the potential for a resurgence in fighting games in 2017. Things are getting exciting, and it'll be interesting to look back at the end of the year and see whether early predictions and assumptions are proven true or shot dow