Monday, July 20, 2015

EVO 2015

I do not know if it possible to encapsulate the three hours of Street Fighter that brought both James Chen and Seth Killian to un-ironic tears last night. James in particular, whose love of fighting games in general cannot be debated, could not contain himself. What he, Seth, everyone in person and the thousands of people on the stream had witnessed was exhausting, exhilarating, triumphant and heart breaking. It was more than James could handle. Hell, it was more than I could take in and I was two time zones and half a continent away.

Going over all of top 8 for Street Fighter is impossible. There are more stories there than I am qualified to report on. If I must highlight one disappointing early exit, PR Balrog being ousted in seventh was a disappointment for the home team. Nothing against Nuckledu, the only other American, but a win by PR Balrog would have torn the roof off of the building. This man only recently said he was going to retire, then remembered that he loved the game and that he was one of the best in the world. In the end his special brand of randomness did not pan out. Not long after Nuckledu was eliminated, leaving most of the crowd without a clear horse in the race. They needed someone new to pull for.

That someone became Gamerbee. National allegiances were cast aside and the crowd chose their champion.

Gamerbee is not at all new to EVO. He gained early fame by defeating Justin Wong with a character that no one thought was any good. Since then his stock has risen and fallen, and he too flirted with retirement, then decided that he was putting too much pressure on himself and that it was time to play for fun. Playing for fun brought him to losers finals on the biggest stage in the world and his opponent was a man whose business it is to win: Infiltration.

Infiltration doesn't have a main character. He knows them all and counter picks when appropriate. Gamerbee of course is aware this, and he has a secondary character in Elena that may or may not work, depending on who Infiltration chooses. This kind of stalemate at the character select screen would take forever to resolve so one of them, probably Infiltration, requests a blind pick. Each tells a judge who they would like to use before sitting down.

Gamerbee - Elena
Infiltration- Chun Li

Not a surprise for either but a good opening for Infiltration as the numbers say Chun Li beats Elena. But the numbers say a lot of things.

Elena is unique among the cast in that she has a healing ultra. She can gain back a significant chunk of health, depending on how charged the ultra is and how long the ultra is actually held before it is canceled. She also has very good, very fast normal that can, through several very difficult links, lead to good damage. Infiltration's plan is to harass with fireballs and then use Chun Li's long range normal attacks to whittle Gamerbee away, to wear him down until the drops his guard. It doesn't work.

Gamerbee absorbs all the fireballs, charges his ultra, and restores his health. He does this between two and three time per round. Infiltration is forced to beat Gamerbee twice each game without making any mistakes. Nothing comes easy for either of them as each game goes the distance in both time and rounds. The first three matches of this best of five end with Gamerbee up 2-1 and both players drained. They stop, look at each other, and Infiltration slumps over his controller.

He has to make a change but has so many characters to choose from that he doesn't know what to do. Paralyzed by indecision, Infiltration waits for as long as he can. He waits until the EVO staff tap him on the shoulder and give him sixty seconds to choose. He waits, hovering over different characters to the cheers and jeers of the crowd. He waits, then choose Juri.

Juri is more mobile than Chun Li, has a better fire ball game and does damage in bursts. This allows Infiltration to get to Elena when it counts, to steal back the life gained by her ultra. And it works, if just. Infiltration takes a game to even the match up at 2-2. It is Gamerbee's turn to think. It does not take long: Gamerbee goes home, to the player he is known for, home to Adon.

Juri vs Adon is not the match that Infiltration was looking for but he was stuck with it. Once again it goes to the very end, to the last round of the last game in the last match. Over twenty five minutes from when it started it ends in a timer scam, with Gamerbee triggering his ultra to eek out the final seconds from the clock. Infiltration got in one last attack but it was not enough.

Gamerbee takes it. Everyone exhales for the first time in half an hour. And this was only loser's finals.

Waiting in the wings is Momochi. Momochi has no character crisis. He plays Ken and he plays him better than anyone else in the world. Grand finals will be Momochi vs Gamerbee, Ken vs Adon. Because he is in losers Gamerbee will have to beat Momochi twice to win the tournament. The odds are against it.

But this is EVO. This is the EVO that saw a non-American win Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 for the first time. This is the EVO that saw a kid who was not old enough to legally purchase Mortal Kombat X win it all. This is the EVO that saw Rico Suave reset the brackets in Killer Instinct. There is precedent for crazy shit.

It begins, Ken vs Adon, and Gamerbee is rolling. He has all of the momentum and the crowd is behind him. Just like in the last set, nothing is easy, but Gamerbee keeps his composure, his concentration. He has been playing the highest level Street Fighter possible for over forty five minutes and he does not plan to stop. 3-1, he resets the bracket. It is Momochi's turn to sweat.

He has to make a change. For the first time in the entire tournament Momochi deserts Ken. Ken can get in but cannot do enough damage all at once to keep up with Gamerbee. He needs someone more explosive, regardless of the price, so Momochi switches to Evil Ryu for the second set.

Evil Ryu is an all or nothing choice. He can dish out incredible damage off of a low short but only if the player has the execution to do it. Everyone drops Evil Ryu combos once in a while. Everyone. Momochi has one best of five set to hit enough of them to make a difference. It works.

The second set makes it all the way to the last game. It may sound cliche, but these men are warriors and they would have it no other way. The Evil Ryu gamble has paid off but Gamerbee will not roll over. Momochi takes the first round. The crowd is almost silent, then this happens:

Momochi has been betrayed by his equipment. Something in his stick shorts out and disconnects from the machine. By rule Gamerbee must take the round. It is not an option to protect the players from having to make the impossible choice between sportsmanship and winning. An eternity passes before Momochi can get a new stick. All momentum for both players is lost. One round, cold, for the championship.

Momochi wins. Gamerbee rises from his seat and thanks the crowd. James Chen is overcome by emotion and openly weeps. Seth Killian signs off, voice shaking. Then spooky sets us free.

Welcome to the FGC.

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