Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not reflect Shoryuken as a whole.
Last weekend’s Capcom Cup was the culmination of seven years of competition, bringing the era of Street Fighter IV to a fitting close as we hurtle headlong towards Street Fighter V. As such, some of the best players our community has ever seen had the opportunity to win a ridiculous amount of money and, perhaps more importantly, go down in history as legends in their own right.
The cast of characters was about what you’d expect. Ryota “Kazunoko” Inoue, fresh out of a poor sponsorship and with a number of Guilty Gear victories under his belt, proved that mastering multiple games can pay dividends when he walked away champion. Mad Catz’ Daigo Umehara continued to build on his legacy as the greatest fighting game competitor of all time. And r/Kappa’s Chung-gon “Poongko” Lee showed that he wasn’t a one-trick pony with a brand new mindset that tempered his random behavior of years past into a disciplined insanity.
But one player in particular was able to go from wild card to dark horse to top eight finalist in just a few hours.
While his name is a bit of a mouthful, you would have been hard pressed to find anyone in the fighting game community (outside of his native Brazil, naturally) with more than a few sentences to say about Keoma Moutsatsos Pacheco. In fact, Red Bull’s Darryl “Snake Eyez” Lewis, who served as the relatively obscure competitor’s first-round opponent, couldn’t keep the name of a certain other Abel player out of the conversation.
“I really don’t know too much about [Keoma]. I know he’s from Brazil, and the competition in Brazil isn’t all that great compared to Europe, Japan, and America,” Lewis said in a pre-match interview. “He’s not better than [Winterfox’s Gustavo “801 Strider” Romero] technically. His scramble game is better, his corner pressure is a lot better, but other than that I feel like Strider is just better overall.”
In hindsight, that was probably a mistake.
Keoma’s road to Capcom Cup began at Brazil Game Show. The South American convention was once again granted a qualifying spot on the Capcom Pro Tour, making it a prime destination for international players looking for a relatively easy invitation to the main event. And while the global presence was significantly less than years past, one name in particular seemed a lock for champion.
Considered one of Japan’s five gods of fighting games, Haitani has dominated the genre for more than a decade. While mostly known for his smother Makoto in Street Fighter IV these days, his career has also seen prominent showings in both Vampire Savior and Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. To put simply, the stage was set for Haitani to take home the gold at Brazil Game Show and begin training for Capcom Cup.
Only, that didn’t happen.
Although he enjoyed a relatively easy bracket, Haitani’s road to grand finals hit a dead end in the winners finals match. Keoma, fresh off defeating fellow Brazilian competitor ChuChu, eeked out a close 3-2 match against the Japanese god, and would repeat this feat in a more assertive manner during the grand finals rematch. The crowd, which included other regional players living vicariously through their local hero, ate it up. Keoma was heading to Capcom Cup.
But he didn’t stop there. The next month, Keoma would travel to Europe to participate in Street Grand Battle, where he placed third ahead of other Capcom Cup qualifiers like MeltDown’s Olivier “Luffy” Hay, Team YP’s Valentin “Valmaster” Petit, Canada Cup Gaming’s Jonny “Humanbomb” Cheng, and Keepin It Grimey’s Benjamin “Problem X” Simon. A respectable seventh-place finish at DreamHack Winter 2015 just a few days later would close out his year of competition, but Keoma’s biggest test was still waiting on the horizon.
The wild card becomes a true contender
Back at Capcom Cup, Keoma was announced for his first match with little reaction from the crowd, but that was to be expected for an obscure player who was going up against Snake Eyez, one of host nation the United States’ greatest hopes to take it all.
Despite being a close matchup, Keoma’s Abel found himself down in life very early on thanks to Snake Eyez’ strong poking game with Zangief. But, in what would be one of the tournament’s first moments of irony, the Brazilian competitor’s proficiency in scramble situations and corner pressure soon evened out that disadvantage and eventually led to a victory in the first and second games. Much as he showed in a recent episode of Cultivation, Snake Eyez had underestimated his opponent and wasn’t prepared for Keoma’s onslaught of Tornado Throws and Wheel Kicks.
Keoma’s next opponent, AVerMedia’s Bruce “GamerBee” Hsiang, is another beast entirely. Where Snake Eyez’ whittles opponents down with quick chops and smart reads, Taiwanese native Hsiang makes use of both Adon and Elena, relying on unique pressure rhythms and punishing the subsequent mistakes they force out of his opponents.
While still visibly confident, Keoma would go down 0-1 to GamerBee to start things out, but this only gave him the opportunity to highlight another important aspect of his gameplay: perserverance.
The following game, GamerBee pulled out the millionth perfect of his career in the very first round, seemingly securing the set before the second even started. And yet, Keoma was still in there. He would go on to even the rounds at one apiece, leading into a third. With the possibility of falling into the shark infested waters that was the Capcom Cup losers bracket, the Brazilian player did what he does best: patiently wait for his openings, stay calm in the face of a life deficit, and make great use of his often copious amounts of meter.
Through these aforementioned matches, the following top 16 battle against Razer’s Ho Kun Xian that sent him to losers, his back-and-forth against Hiromiki “Itabashi Zangief” Kumada, and his final efforts in the Snake Eyez rematch, Keoma demonstrated a solid understanding of Ultra Street Fighter IV despite hailing from a region many regard as underwhelming. I was particularly impressed by the way he took Xian’s Gen to the final game, revealing a dedication to research that surpasses many of his peers. There was no doubt he knew the matchup at a fundamental level despite the supposed lack of first-hand experience, and while it was the beginning of the end in terms of his time at Capcom Cup, I can’t help but applaud the work he’s put into learning the game.
And that’s what it’s all about, really. Though certainly an admirable feat, it didn’t come as much of a surprise when Kazunoko won Capcom Cup. We weren’t shocked to see Daigo come in second, Xian third, Poongko fourth, and so on. The most exciting moments of this tournament came from the unexpected, things like Naoki “Nemo” Nemoto going 0-2 after listing himself among the world’s best Street Fighter players, previous champion Yusuke Momochi of Evil Geniuses bowing out at seventeenth with an Evo championship behind him, and, yes, an upstart from Brazil climbing into top eight on the shoulders of competitors like Snake Eyez, GamerBee, and Itabashi Zangief.
With his performance at Capcom Cup, Keoma showed that there’s still a lot we have to learn in Ultra Street Fighter IV even as we enter its swan song, and many times that knowledge can come from outside Japan, Europe, and the United States. More than any other game, Street Fighter has proven that every region, no matter how small, has something to provide to the community at large. I can’t wait to see who steps up to the challenge in Street Fighter V.