Saturday, December 5, 2015

Capcom Cup 2015 Preview

Capcom Cup 2015 Preview

Tomorrow is the day—the culmination of not only a season of Capcom Pro Tour battles, but of seven years and five editions of Street Fighter IV competition. Capcom Cup 2015 on Sunday, December 6 in San Francisco will represent the series finale.

The field is deeper now than it has ever been, the level of play at its peak. 32 of the world's most elite players, including six out of six Evo champions, will be vying for an unprecedented life-changing first-place prize of $120,000, as well as the glory of being, in essence, the end-all champion of Street Fighter IV.

Here is a rundown of all 32 competitors in the order that they have been seeded, according to their rankings on the 2015 Capcom Pro Tour:

1. Momochi

The defending Capcom Cup champion and Evo 2015 champion, Momochi was the player to beat at the beginning of the year, and he’ll enter Sunday as still the player to beat.

2. Infiltration

The only player ever to win both Evo and the year-end Capcom world championship in the same calendar year (2012), Infiltration can beat anyone in the world, and he knows it. A matchup nightmare for any opponent, Infiltration used over a dozen characters en route to winning five Capcom Pro Tour events this year.

3. Bonchan

Bonchan won two Premier Tournaments this year and continues to be the most consistent performer in the most stacked region in the world. But his character is definitely weaker than those of other top players, and nobody outside Japan is going to be intimidated by a Sagat.

4. Xian

The Evo 2013 champion was the only player to win three Premier Tournaments in 2015, and he has a history of finishing the year strong. There have been two Capcom Cups to date, and Xian was the runner-up in both.

5. GamerBee

The greatest player to never win Evo, the big trophy still eludes him, though GamerBee came damn close this year. Although famous for putting Adon on the map, having used the character to bully Momochi’s Ken many times over the years, these days it is GamerBee’s uber-cheap Elena that sees the most action.

6. Luffy

The Evo 2014 champion was without rival in his home continent this year; he won five Ranking Tournaments in Europe, while no other European took even one. But the Premier Tournaments were humbling for Luffy, as Asian invaders repeatedly shut him out.

7. Tokido

It took some time for Tokido to adjust to how much Akuma has been defanged in this edition, but he came back strong this year and has been a fixture in Premier Tournament top 8’s. He hasn’t had as much success closing out tournaments, but he’ll still be a major obstacle for anyone whose path he crosses.

8. Fuudo

The Evo 2011 champ still has the best Fei Long in the business, but the proliferation of Elenas has made his character far more vulnerable. To combat the Elena counterpick, Fuudo has added a pocket Seth, which is about as far as you can get from the patient style Fuudo is famous for.

9. Mago

Mago was the hottest player on the tour for about a minute, winning two Premier Tournaments and entering Evo 2015 as the No. 1 seed. His character, the nimble Yang, has proven the perfect counter to Akuma, which isn’t worth as much as it would have been in previous versions, but he also still keeps Fei Long around as a backup.

10. Daigo

The Beast is still the king of long sets, and he also won two Premier Tournaments this year. Momochi has owned him pretty hard through most of their 2015 encounters, but Daigo did win their most recent contest in the 5th Topanga A League.

11. Kazunoko

The irrepressible Yun master was the next-best player behind Momochi through the early part of the season, and he finished the year by taking seven straight games off Daigo in the 5th Topanga A League.

12. Snake Eyez

The most marketable player in the US was recently picked up for a sponsorship by Red Bull. The pressure on Snake Eyez will be huge, as he has been made the subject of an ongoing documentary web series that is set to culminate at Capcom Cup.

13. Nemo

The No. 1-ranked player in Japanese arcades, Nemo plays a relentless Rolento. He just never stops attacking (except when he does and then loses). With a full-time job and no sponsor, he doesn’t make it out to the States that often, but the Japanese players all know to fear him.

14. Xiao Hai

Xiao Hai is China’s top player. Sometimes he looks like the best in the world, as when he beats Daigo in the Evil Ryu mirror match. Other times, he looks like a second-rate mediocrity, as when he went 0-8 in the Topanga World League 2 invitational.

15. Justin Wong

Justin had to grind his way into Capcom Cup this year. Playing Elena in recent tournaments, he showed glimmers of his former self—the supreme turtle, who so frustrated Daigo in Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. If he falls back on Rufus at Capcom Cup, he will not get far.

16. Poongko

In the past, people have sometimes regarded Poongko as more of a showman than a competitor, just slightly outclassed by the more “serious” pros. But when “The Machine” is on, his Seth can make any opponent look like a helpless training dummy, as happened memorably to Daigo at Evo 2011. And Poongko has really been on in the last few events leading up to Capcom Cup.

17. Itabashi Zangief

There are those who say Itazan is not even the best Zangief player in Japan, let alone the world. He’s definitely the most seasoned and internationally accomplished, however, and he cruised through the True Challengers Costa Rica tournament, even against two of America’s best in PR Balrog and 801 Strider.

18. Tonpy

Tonpy is the top-ranked C. Viper in Japanese arcades (or at least was at some point), which does not mean necessarily that he is the best. He did well at a bunch of smaller Asian events, and he has the right character to potentially pull off some upsets on a good day.

19. NuckleDu

Pretty clearly the best in the US in 2015, yet still a long shot to take Capcom Cup, NuckleDu is a fan favorite, in part because he is the only top player with the chutzpah to taunt (repeatedly) during real matches. Expect the crowd to go nuts if he does this against a top international player.

20. Dashio

Japan’s best Seth player. Some think his Seth is more complete than Poongko’s, although Dashio certainly doesn’t have as much international cred. He is capable of beating anyone in Japan, but his lack of experience at the global level may limit him.

21. Keoma

Keoma of Brazil did what no US or European player was able to do this year: he defended home turf against Asian invaders at a Premier event, earning his way into Capcom Cup by defeating Haitani at the Capcom Pro Tour Brazil qualifier. He followed that up by traveling to Europe, where he steamrolled the best the continent had to offer, including a win over Luffy. The guy is a beast—maybe the best Abel player in the world.

22. 801 Strider

Or maybe 801 Strider is the best Abel player in the world. He was the runner-up at a stacked Premier Tournament earlier this year, when he was playing the best he’d ever played—the best any US player has played all year—yet still he lost decisively to Kazunoko.

23. Dieminion

The “King of New York” and the best pure Guile specialist in the world, Dieminion has scored wins over several Japanese players this year. Weirdly, he probably stands a better chance against top international players than he does against any of the other US players at Capcom Cup.

24. Dark Jiewa

An under-the-radar Ken player from Chengdu, Dark Jiewa is good, but he kind of snuck into Capcom Cup early by winning the sparsely attended Abuget Cup in Indonesia. To his credit, he did win it by defeating the rather better-known player seeded right below him….

25. HumanBomb

At different times the best player in Hong Kong and the best player in Australia (also the only top player either region has ever had), HumanBomb now competes for Canada Cup Gaming for some reason. He is probably the best Sakura player in the world.

26. Shiro

The original Japanese Abel player, Shiro is still around, but I don’t think he had a winning record in 2015 against any of the other players qualified for Capcom Cup.

27. Problem X

Problem X has been one of the two best players in the UK (Ryan Hart being the other) for nearly the life of the game. Unfortunately, his first-round opponent will be Luffy, the undisputed best player in all of Europe. Also, scratch what I said about Shiro not having a good record against the other qualifiers; he was 2-0 against Problem X this year.

28. Gackt

Who says Fei Long isn’t top tier anymore? All three of the great Fei Long players made it into Capcom Cup. Though not as famous as Fuudo or Mago, Gackt has at times outperformed them with his comparatively more aggressive Fei Long.

29. Valmaster

Still the strongest Chun-Li in the world and the strongest white guy player in the world, Valmaster is now also the strongest member of Team YP (YouPorn). He’s a great competitor, but, as with Luffy, he was constantly blocked in his own region’s majors by players swooping in from Asia this year. Also, he couldn’t beat Luffy.

30. Misse

They call him “Wanchan-taro” (literally, “One Chance Boy”) in Japan, because all he needs is one chance with his Makoto to take any round in the blink of an eye. Of course, to win Capcom Cup, he’s going to need a lot of rounds and a lot of chances….

31. Dakou

Dakou used to be known for his ability to play nearly every character to a tournament level. Nowadays, he mostly just uses the same cheap characters as his training partner, Xiao Hai (Evil Ryu and Cammy), though less effectively.

32. RB

The wildcard, RB qualified for the 32-man tournament without actually ranking in the top 32 on the Capcom Pro Tour. He ended the season ranked 42nd, but claimed a direct entry by finishing 3rd at a Premier Tournament behind two already-qualified players. Still, he made sport of Europe’s best, and, with a Rolento, a Guy, and a Hugo in his arsenal, he could be a tricky first-round opponent for Momochi.


Who You Won’t See at Capcom Cup 2015


The Capcom Cup 2013 champion hasn’t been around much the last two years. As the winner in 2013, he probably should have gotten an automatic invite into Capcom Cup 2014 (as Momochi received this year), and who knows how that might have impacted things. As things are, he’s been too busy with real life to try to qualify. Still, his shadow looms over the tournament. He basically pioneered both Evil Ryu and Elena as they are played in today's game.


If Capcom Cup were an invitational produced for maximum entertainment value, Smug would for sure have been included. The only Dudley player of consequence, Smug is an artist with his character, and, more than any other US player, he has the explosive power to knock out the Japanese players. He just doesn’t have the consistency to actually win Capcom Cup, nor indeed to qualify, sadly.

Ryan Hart

The first player to qualify last year for Capcom Cup 2014 struggled all of 2015 and could not scrape together enough points to make the cut. His best shot came at Milan Games Week, where he only needed to finish 3rd and was one win away from doing so. Instead, he lost badly to RB. It’s a shame, because his matches against Momochi last year were the highlight of Capcom Cup 2014.

The Rest of Team EG

Before the game switched to Ultra Street Fighter IV, Team EG’s four US members—Justin Wong, PR Balrog, Ricki Ortiz, and K-Brad—were the four best players in the country. All of them, frankly, fell off somewhat after the version switch, and, this year, they couldn’t stand up to the Asian invaders or even really to NuckleDu and Snake Eyez. Only Justin could still pull out the rare win here and there, which is why he’s the only one at Capcom Cup. The hard truth is that none of the others deserved to make the cut this year, but PR Balrog at least will be missed. He is America’s best big-match player.


When Latif was living in the US, he was the best player in the country. Then he moved back to Saudi Arabia, and we never saw him anymore. This year, he made top 16 at Evo, and, in his only other appearance on the Capcom Pro Tour, he was, just like Ryan Hart, one win short of qualifying for Capcom Cup. He might still have the best C. Viper in the world, but we won’t see it at Capcom Cup, or probably ever again in meaningful competition.

Any M. Bison (Dictator)

Bison did a lot of damage this year, with SD Pnoy, Tampa Bison, and Jeron Grayson all notching wins against top international players. Unfortunately, no single Bison player performed well enough to represent at Capcom Cup. Phenom of Norway came the closest; he was another player who was one win away from qualifying.


What to Expect on Sunday

Japan’s current “Big Four”—Momochi, Daigo, Kazunoko, Bonchan—have been, without a doubt, the country’s best, both within Japan and in international competition, and will figure to be major contenders to win Capcom Cup, with Momochi the odds-on favorite. Aside from one another, their fiercest competition will likely come from the other East Asian powerhouses—namely, Singapore’s Xian, Taiwan’s GamerBee, and South Korea’s Infiltration.

The lower half of the draw is notably more shark-filled, as that is where Daigo, Kazunoko, Bonchan, and Infiltration have all been seeded. Momochi, Xian, and GamerBee will have one another to watch out for in the upper bracket. That works out especially well for Xian and GamerBee, since they have struggled somewhat against Daigo and Kazunoko.

Expect to see a lot of Elena and Evil Ryu. These two are now widely recognized as the dominant characters in the game. The former controls the ground game like no one else, while the latter is an offensive powerhouse and also versatile with no obvious counters. To give you an idea of their significance at the top level, Capcom Cup 2014 champion Momochi, who last year won going with Ken all the way, this year needed both Elena and Evil Ryu to close out his matches in the top 3 at Evo. Daigo, with his Evil Ryu, is the only “pure” user of either character, but, among the many players who have picked up secondary characters to cover their weaknesses, these two have been cheap, popular choices.

The other character meriting consideration as the final member of the top 3 is Seth. Three Seth players—Poongko, Dashio, and Problem X—qualified for Capcom Cup, and a few others came frighteningly close. Even Fuudo now has a pocket Seth. Except for maybe Xian, nobody has really had an answer for dealing with this character’s blistering offense. Instead, they mostly depend on Seth players making costly mistakes with this volatile “glass cannon” of a character, but even his infamously low health is actually higher now than in any previous version.


Early Round Matches of Interest

Daigo vs. Dieminion

This is a classic US vs. Japan matchup between two players who have each been the very best in their respective countries. History favors Daigo, but Dieminion is a studious player who will not go into this first-round match without a plan.

Snake Eyez vs. Keoma

This will be a very tense first-round match for Snake Eyez, who will be shouldering much of the burden of the crowd’s hopes for a US champion. Facing the almost freakishly stolid dark horse from Brazil, he will have to draw confidence from his strong record against the other two Abel players at Capcom Cup, 801 Strider and Japan’s Shiro, versus Keoma’s more limited experience playing top-level Zangiefs.

Kazunoko vs. 801 Strider

801 Strider is one of the hardest-working and most scientific players in the US, which he showed in matches where he systematically dismantled Momochi and Daigo this year. He will surely have a game plan for this first-round runback against the player who denied him a Premier Tournament title earlier in the year. On the other hand, Kazunoko has shown time and time again that strategy means little to him, and, unless it’s Momochi, he really doesn’t care who his opponent is.

Momochi vs. Poongko

If Momochi makes it past RB, his likely 2nd-round opponent will be Poongko in potentially a pivotal match. Poongko is legitimately a major threat to Momochi, having beaten him 5-1 at Topanga World League 2 this year. He’s also coming off a huge win at the Capcom Pro Tour Asia Finals in Singapore last month, where he made sport of Nemo and Bonchan, among others. I can’t quite call him a favorite to win it all—his placings this year just haven’t been consistent enough—but if he beats Momochi, he could definitely go far.


This is the toughest Street Fighter IV bracket that has ever been put together, or that ever will be. The results will be impossible to call past the second round, and expect some upsets even in the first round, especially since the format will not be best-of-5 until the top 16. Unlike other big tournaments, such as Evo, there will be no pools for top players to "warm up" against no-names. From the get-go, every competitor will be thrust into a treacherous best-of-3 match against one of the proven strongest players in the world. And, since most of the seedings have been set in stone for over a month now, every player will immediately be facing someone who has game-planned specifically to beat them. Whoever takes home the cup on Sunday, the amazing assemblage of talent should ensure a grand finale and fitting sendoff to Street Fighter IV.