Going In: Revisiting Evo 2013’s EG|PR Balrog vs. Infiltration Matchup

By on July 9, 2014 at 10:13 am
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A consistent highlight of recent majors for me has been watching Evil Geniuses’ Eduardo “PR Balrog” Perez play against Seonwoo “Infiltration” Lee. It’s not the most famous or storied matchups in fighting game history — others have much longer histories, more dramatic rivalries, and more spectacular all-timers — but each and every time these two players face off on stream it’s a personal highlight of that event. But what makes the matchup so exciting? To find out why these two are quickly becoming a marquee fight at any event they attend, we’ll take a closer look their best fight to date.

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Setting the stage: Evo 2013 Semifinals

The pair’s arguably most famous bout was in top eight of last year’s Evo, and it was emblematic of the clash of styles and characters that the two represent. But when you have a history with a certain player — as these two did — their matches don’t happen in a vacuum. In the case of PR Balrog and Infiltration, this means that the match in top eight (which we’ll get to next) would not have happened the way it did without their initial match just two days earlier, in semifinals. Let’s check it out.

Up to this point, Maxoplata shows that Infiltration had a fantastic track record versus PR Balrog — Rog had only defeated him once before at Season’s Beatings: Summer Slam in 2012. Pure speculation here, but it’s possible that he wasn’t on Infiltration’s radar as much as vice-versa. As far as the character matchup goes, it depends on who you talk to, but most say Akuma has only a slight edge.

The initial round is all Infiltration, but what’s interesting here is PR Balrog’s persistent forward movement. In the first round, there’s only one time in which he moves backwards without needing to. Most of his backwards movements have a goal behind them; whether it’s an FADC backdash to eat a fireball or outright dodging Infiltration’s standing heavy kick, he only goes back when he absolutely has to. The second round is a similar story: even in the face of Infiltration’s fireball, sweep, and setup punishments, PR Balrog does not back down — every moment he can, he moves forward. Of course, Infiltration punishes him for it and wins the first game. Infiltration shines by being able to control a large amount of space (due to Akuma’s control) and choking you with it (due to Infiltration’s tendency to smother you with a lead rather than casually sit on it).

PR Balrog switches to his signature character for the second game, and the forward movement continues. Even on Balrog, a charge character that requires the player to hold back in order to use his dash punches, PR Balrog charges by holding down-back to avoid having to move backwards. He is only slightly more cautious, but this caution only manifests as him crouching still for a second or two, along with the occasional backwards movement. He’s getting his footing and seeing how Infiltration reacts at times, but if anything, he’s even more aggressive in some spots, going for more throw attempts and pressuring Infiltration in the corner more often. This ends up working out for him, as Balrog is more easily able to catch Akuma pressing buttons from afar with his dash punches and punishing him with Balrog’s huge damage potential, which is doubly potent on a glass cannon like Akuma. Even though Fei Long was considered the better character in Street Fighter IV’s 2012 edition, it’s clear that PR Balrog is much more confident in his aggression with Balrog.

The third game, after confirming that his earlier aggression worked, PR Balrog doubles down, firing on all cylinders and pressing more buttons than he did the first two games. Infiltration counters with his own aggression, but the trades don’t work out in his favor — PR Balrog punishes most of his attempts to get in with Balrog’s long-reaching normals, and has him cornered for much of the first round. The second round, both players are even more relentless, and it again does not work out for Infiltration, who no longer controls space, and here most of Akuma’s normals are beaten out by PR Balrog’s well-timed counters. The 50% combo PR Balrog manages to pull off at the beginning of the round isn’t too shabby either. There is, of course, the backdash that loses Infiltration the match, as PR Balrog catches it with a beautiful dash punch into Ultra.

After the switch, Infiltration seems blindsided not only by PR Balrog’s incredible aggression, but by how his own aggression was shut down. It’s again also possible that even after looking through his notes that Infiltration may not have been very familiar with the character matchup at that point. Regardless, neither player is ever really keen on settling for playing defense, even when they’re ahead and would want to keep a lead.

The main event: Evo 2013 Top 8

So how does Infiltration adapt to the switch? With one of his own, of course. But before we get to Hakan, Infiltration’s attempt to adapt with Akuma is still worth a look.

Infiltration is far more cautious in the opening moments of the first round. He’s more defensive, reactionary. He’s still unable to deal with PR Balrog’s aggression, but he’s not afraid. He punished Rog when he overreaches plenty, and he’s learning how Rog pokes. In the second round, he’s looking for dents in the aggression instead of trying to fight it, and he gets a good health lead by alternating between keep-away with fireballs and looking for openings to poke through. The third round has him switching to a more aggressive style, since the momentum’s in his favor. This time it pays off, and he’s finally able to open up Balrog to Akuma’s vortex game (which is especially hard for a charge character like Balrog to deal with), taking the first game. He’s learning where the holes in the offense are and how to exploit them, and his first game with Akuma here shows that.

Both players’ opener shows that even now, with Infiltration ahead after changing up his game plan and PR Balrog lacking momentum, both players opt for the aggressive option, and in that case, Balrog’s turn punch beats fireballs. PR Balrog then uses this initial victory to relentlessly drive Infiltration into a corner, and as they continue to trade aggression, Akuma loses much more often than he wins, which is in part due to Balrog’s range, but also because Akuma simply does not do well in aggressive back and forths. In the second round of the second game, Infiltration realizes this and plays with safety in mind, but PR Balrog smells blood and smothers Infiltration’s fragile character once again.

But the Korean player’s world-class Akuma is his bread and butter, so he’s not going to be demurred by a single loss here. In the opening of the third game, both players seem a little more reserved — Infiltration waits for something to react to while PR Balrog is slower in trying to open up his opponent, and you get the first glimpse of how most players would characterize the game of footsies: both players standing still or moving back and forth, trying to get into optimal range for their attacks.

This doesn’t last long, however, as both players feel the need to make a move. Neither feels comfortable letting the other set the pace of the match. What ends up happening is the first real back and forth game, with a trepidatious trading of hits that doesn’t favor either player. In the first round, Infiltration’s vortex game finally breaks PR Balrog’s defense, but even that’s turned around when PR Balrog takes the around by catching a backwards jump with another dash punch into Ultra. Even though Balrog had the momentum, he decided to change up his game and play a bit more defensively to try to keep Infiltration guessing. And in the second round, where PR Balrog gets an early combo on Infiltration for half of his health bar, then proceeds to feed him the other half over the next 20 or so seconds, there are a few moments where you see Infiltration priming the pump for a comeback, though he’s immediately rebuffed.

And then, Hakan. As the commentators note, this matchup is in Infiltration’s favor, but there are couple of other reasons Infiltration’s switch is a highlight. For one, everyone roots for the underdog, and even though he has the advantage in this matchup, you don’t see a lot of Hakan at tournaments. Second, Street Fighter typically sees competitors choose a main and stick with it, with backup characters being a small minority.

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The change in matchup changes the pace of the game. Both players again open up with aggression, and PR Balrog is still relentless, but he’s forced to back down and pick his moments far more often to avoid Hakan’s throw game. He tempers his rush punches with more block strings to distance himself, because he can’t stay on top of Hakan as he can against Akuma.

He’s eventually caught slipping and Infiltration returns the counter-Ultra favor with one of his own. In the second round, it seems as though Balrog is now on the flip side of not knowing the matchup — he headbutts over Hakan’s slide and gets punished for his early aggression. He ends up clinching it by landing an Ultra then using some smart corner pressure, but he still seems as though he’s off balance. In the final round of the third game, PR Balrog goes for another strong start like his full combo against Akuma, this time by using a quick lead-in to land a Super. But where Akuma would have lost half his health, Hakan only takes around a third, and it’s this difference that allows Hakan to trade blows and, with some smart defense, eventually take the game. It’s starting to look like Balrog’s aggression has a timer, and if beefier characters can survive it, they’re in a good position to tire him out or trade blows.

At the start of the final game, PR Balrog is finally forced into reactionary defense; he jumps backwards and waits to see what Infiltration will do. When he sees Infiltration is willing to wait it out, he dives in and is rewarded for his efforts, getting a big health lead early on. He continues pushing and catching Infiltration, who does not seem as ready to punish Balrog’s overreaches as readily as before, off-guard, taking a convincing round. The second round, PR Balrog again manages to get an early lead, but the lifespan of Balrog’s aggression again begins to show. He simply does not have the vortex game that Akuma or Cammy do, and against someone who can withstand the initial assault, Balrog is forced to back off and look for openings again. This is especially true against grapplers like Hakan, who can punish most of Balrog’s options in the corner, like focus, which PR Balrog was extra keen on using against Akuma. Infiltration saw this and decided he simply didn’t have the right tools to punish him at the time. With Hakan, he can do all that and more, taking the round by punishing Balrog’s dash punches with Ultra, something Akuma can’t do as easily.

In the final round, we again see a back and forth, with Infiltration playing a bit more defensively and PR Balrog opting again to wait and see before diving in again. This time you can see that it’s favoring Hakan more and more, as he can trade blows much better, and with the threat of being thrown hovering above him constantly, PR Balrog can’t overdo it. Eventually, however, PR Balrog’s tendency to attack at every turn gets the better of him, and an overzealous dashing overhead punch breaks a tense standoff and loses him the match.

This is gonna be a match to remember!

It would be easy to categorize the players into archetypes: PR Balrog is aggressive and takes risks, while Infiltration is cold and calculating. That narrative doesn’t fit here, however; we can clearly see that both players love to rush down their opponent. But they have an aspect of control. PR Balrog has a quick eye and fingers, and knows how to immediately punish bad moves. Balrog cannot be as aggressive as say, C. Viper and Cammy (in AE 2012, anyway), doesn’t have their unstoppable vortex, so he has to back off after a while. At high level play, you can’t exclusively play with your gut, and from the game here, it’s clear that PR Balrog is as smart as a player can be.

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Image courtesy of Polygon’s David Zhou

Conversely, Infiltration isn’t the kind of player that tires you out with fireball zoning. He’s aggressive, preferring to turn a small lead into a bigger one rather than sitting on it. What makes the matchup between these two players so exciting to watch, then, is that these combined aggressions make for very few dull moments. Both players take initiative and don’t do as well when they begin waiting for the opponent to screw up as much as when they dictate the terms of the match. They don’t play footsies as most see it (that back and forth I described earlier); instead their position is active, using fireballs or dash punches to put themselves in a favorable spot. You don’t see a lot of moving back and forth, and this style of play is especially viewer-friendly.

You could say that about lot of aggressive-versus-aggressive matchups in competitive gaming, but there’s the tendency in hyper-aggressive matches to completely overwhelm the opponent, which often makes for lopsided games where opponents trade near-perfect rounds until a winner is decided. With PR Balrog and Infiltration, you have the perfect balance: both players need to think about what the the other is doing, but they take initiative more often than than not. And the result is that both players are constantly pressuring each other in equal amounts, which is how you get the perfect back and forth that makes for some of the best rounds of Street Fighter you could ask for.