Although ELEAGUE’s announcement last month of the Street Fighter V Invitational was initially surprising because Turner had previously stuck to FPS games (Counter-Strike and Overwatch), upon closer inspection it makes a great deal of sense. The Fighting Games Community has a rich underground history that spans more than two decades. The game itself doesn’t require much contextual information to enjoy. The scene also has a special arcade atmosphere to it: there is no need for booths as it is a game of perfect information.
Of the 32 players who will participate in the two-month long tournament that starts Monday, here’s a look at 14 who particularly interest me, for one reason for another. Here’s Part 1, with Part 2 coming Friday.
Lee “Infiltration” Seon-woo
Among all Street Fighter players, Infiltration stands alone as the exception. His training methods are antithetical to everyone else in the world because he was forced to become an elite player in a region without a scene. He was forced to theorycraft, scout and shadowbox his opponents alone to become one of the best players in the world. Infiltration is unique in his character selection, as he is the only elite player to have used more than 10 different characters at the top level with success. Incidentally, he is one of the only non-American players to steal the home crowd’s favor away by choosing Hakan against PR Balrog at EVO 2013.
After reaching the top again in 2016, he seems to have taken a step back as he focused on building the Korean FGC scene and getting married. Although he didn’t attend Final Round, Infiltration is still one of the all-time greats. He can turn it back on to become the best at any time he chooses.
Notable Rivalries: Daigo, Tokido, Gamerbee, KBrad
Yusuke “Momochi” Momochi
He’s one of the strongest Japanese players, which is high praise considering Japan has the deepest field of elite Street Fighter players. He reached those heights after he switched from Cody to Ken in USF4. Ken gave him the tools he needed to show why he was one of the best, and Momochi started to consistently win large international tournaments. He hasn’t reached those heights since SF5’s debut, but he has finished second in some stacked tournaments.
Martin “MARN” Phan
If you’re an old League of Legends fan, you might recognize the name. MARN is an FGC player who once made a North American League of Legends Championship team. The entire saga is one of the strangest stories to ever come out of the LCS, but for now I’ll stick to one story in particular. MARN wanted his League team to bring the FGC spirit into the LCS, so every time someone got a kill he told the player they had to yell “get fucked.” That was a bit too racy for Riot Games’ taste, and the team switched the motto to “Get MARNed.” As a player, he represents the pure gambling style of FGC, which relies on mixups and reads instead of calculated play. He relied on this to run through last year’s NCR death pool to everyone’s shock. His natural counter is Justin Wong.
Bryant “Smug” Huggins
A relatively new player in the scene, Smug made his name off of being a character specialist. He used the character Dudley to amazing effect, reaching fairly high placings in multiple tournaments at the end of SF4. He isn’t nearly as successful in SF5, but his play style is extremely entertaining as he is a very explosive and emotive player.
Among all North American players, Justin Wong is most famous worldwide for getting schooled by Daigo in EVO Moment #37. That entrenched itself in FGC history as one of those legendary occurrences that possibly saved the game: EVO attendance supposedly went up after the moment happened. Justin Wong himself is considered one of the all-time SF4 greats and was rightly nicknamed “Marvel God” for his dominance in MvC2 and MvC3. In MvC2, he didn’t drop a single game for three years until his own student managed to beat him; it got to the point that fans vacated the EVO finals when he inevitably took the stage. Ironically, Wong was proclaimed the “savior” of MvC3 as he managed to keep placing highly in tournaments without switching to top-tier characters. He managed to win twice in EVO 2013 and 2014 with Wolverine/Storm/Akuma. In SFV, he was the best NA player for the majority of 2016 until Nuckledu surpassed him.
Notable Rivalries: Daigo, Sanford Kelly
Bruce “GamerBee” Yu-lin Hsiang
Despite the lack of players relative to other scenes, Taiwan has always been able to produce great players in every game. Among all of them, GamerBee is the best relative to their international competition. Like Infiltration, he doesn’t come from a particularly large scene. He first showed up on the radar in EVO 2010 with Adon, a character infamously dismissed by Justin Wong as low tier in that particular version. Since then, he’s consistently shown himself to be a top contender in every tournament he’s attended. He was part of the emotional rollercoaster that was the Top 8 bracket of EVO 2015.
Eduardo “PR Balrog” Perez
For a long time in Street Fighter 4, PR Balrog was the best player in North America. He was the only one you could confidently bet on to upset Japanese players and take home the trophy. I’m not sure if he chose the nickname because of his use of Balrog or if it was bestowed upon him, but it is an apt moniker either way. He is the best Balrog in the world and has been so for the entirety of his career. It’s impressive because Balrog’s tools mean he either has to be super aggressive or super defensive at different points in the game. This has forced him to play polarizing styles, and he has pulled off both with incredible flair.
The most famous player to ever touch Street Fighter. He is the most iconic player in the game’s history for multiple reasons: his skill, attitude and plays. He has been given the de-facto title of the greatest Street Fighter player ever, and you could name the challengers on one hand. He has his own biography, manga series and a statue made of him. Even the most iconic moves, the fireball and shoryuken, are affiliated with Daigo. He is the closest person in the Street Fighter world to represent the two ideals that FGC players hold above all else: Skill and Hype. Daigo is one of the best players and he fully embraces the fact that he must also entertain the audience with his plays.
Notable Rivalries: Justin Wong, Infiltration, Alex Valle, Filipino Champ
Cover photo courtesy of ELEAGUE