Late Registration: Escaping the ‘Death Pool’ at NorCal Regionals 2016

By on March 27, 2016 at 9:44 am
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The mythical late registration death pool. Tournament organizers have threatened to employ this type of system for years, but it hasn’t been invoked in such a way until John Choi decided to put his foot down at NorCal Regionals. All late registrants were placed into one large, unseeded pool. Fifty-two players entered this bracket, and only two were going to walk out.

Setting the stage

Martin “Marn” Phan is a name that might be somewhat new to Street Fighter V viewers, but trust us when we say he’s been around for a very long time. During the height of the Super Street Fighter IV era, he played alongside other top names for Evil Geniuses and posted some serious results. He fell out of favor with the team and later stopped competing in Street Fighter altogether while he pursued other competitive gaming ventures. His appearances in the scene became nearly nonexistent once he moved out of the United States, with one surprise top eight finish during Evo 2014.

Despite not being at the forefront of the fighting game community for an extended period of time, Marn’s personal stream popped up alongside the release of Street Fighter V. He began playing regularly again, but was still located in Vietnam, far away from most high-level competitions. Still, he managed to find his way to NorCal Regionals this weekend thanks to the graciousness of one of this stream viewers. Having appeared at few offline events in well over a year, he showed up last minute and put himself into the late registration pool.

The faithful viewer that flew Marn to Sacramento, California didn’t get to see him play until the third round of the winners bracket, where he was paired up against Curtis “CJShowstopper” Minor and immediately discounted by the commentators with jokes about his “troll” nature and lack of offline play time. Then R. Mika happened.

“I’ll kick your ass!”

sfv-rmika-vtrigger-tall-2At the moment, R. Mika is an extremely scary character to see in your bracket due to her high reward and ambiguous mixup game. Her mix up game is so strong that it’s not uncommon to see a single medium punch translate into a won round in two or three guesses. If Marn has anything going for him in regards to this game, it’s that he can go from modest to devastating in the blink of an eye with R. Mika in his corner.

Marn’s match against CJShowstopper set the stage for the rest of the night. Although he’s an experienced Marvel player, even that didn’t prepare CJ to deal with R. Mika. He was losing so much health from each hit that he couldn’t withstand any sequence, and he was losing in neutral so hard that Marn began to simply hit the same button over and over again. The troll persona the commentators brought up before the match was out in full force, Marn wanted everyone to see it, and CJ was the perfect victim. This was the real setup. Marn would eventually walk away with an easy victory, his devil-may-care attitude continuing into the next match, a wash against San Antonio’s Saionide.

On the next bracket branch over sat Mad Catz’ own Kenryo “Mago” Hayashi. A storied Street Fighter veteran from Japan, Mago arrived at NorCal Regionals following a third-place finish at Final Round 19. He appeared at Capcom Cup last year, and even with a new game dominating the competitive circuit, there’s no reason not to believe he’ll be making a repeat appearance. Mago’s character of choice, Karin, is explosive, and he’s found early success combining that skill with his understanding of her guessing games.

Mago faced little resistance in his early stream matches, which lasted until he ran into another Japanese superstar. Joe “MOV” Egami is a remnant of the Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike era, staking his claim to fame as one of the few players who can say they’ve won multiple championships at Super Battle Opera. In his hands, Chun-Li walks and talks like she’s still the queen of 3rd Strike, with a heavy focus on footsies and pressure. Before reaching Mago, he flexed his muscles against Flipside Tactics’ Antwan “Alucard” Ortiz with an impressive shutdown, and found himself seated next to the 2D god on-stage.

The match ends up being an intense back and forth battle of footsies, but Mago took every hit he could and turned them into pressure situations. Puzzling enough, MOV was hit crouching on his wakeup fairly often without triggering a counter-hit; whether this was a form of the fuzzy option select or something else entirely, it was consistently the wrong decision. A failed super option select, high-damage defensive callouts from Mago, and few adjustments from MOV added up to the match going strongly in the former’s favor.

Mago’s next opponent, Panda Global’s Ryan “Filipino Champ” Ramirez, came later. A resident of Northern California himself, Champ’s Dhalsim has been force in later stages of the event every year. The two readied up after an awkward handshake, and the match was on.

Mago began their set relentlessly, utilizing aggressive space against tools like slide and looking for advantageous trades versus Dhalsim’s long-range limbs. This pace nets the Japanese competitor a good deal of damage, and he even counters Champ’s continual V-Trigger usage with V-Reversals. While there was a constant threat of Dhalsim drills and slides, Mago’s Karin stood barely outside their range each time. The second game was a little closer thanks to Champ finding his spcaing, but Karin’s absurd damage is able to drop him despite more than a few clutch plays.

More than a haughty laugh

The stage was set for Marn and Mago to meet in the winners bracket. A player who upheld a competitive edge throughout Street Fighter IV’s entire lifespan was seated next to a player many may have presumed dead. Another awkward pre-fight exchange ensued, but the match started with both players smiling. In the first game, Mago made it look as if Marn had never played footsies in his entire life and took an easy lead. Then R. Mika happened…again.

sfv-karin-vtrigger-tall-1R. Mika is the type of character you can’t play against without a large amount of caution because, when Mika things start to happen, your grasp of defense might not matter versus her insane mixups. Currently, Mago’s greatest strength in Street Fighter V is that he probably understands the offense/defense guessing game better than any other player out there. R. Mika plays counter to that, putting the focus on consistently beating her in footsies. Whether Marn knew this or not, he changed his gameplan to try and bypass that aspect of the game as much as possible and get the mixups running.

The second game started with Mago dominating footsies again, but a failed anti-air resulted in a quick stun for R. Mika and a win for Marn. Round two saw Marn skip footsies altogether, happy instead to jump around searching for stray hits. This resulted in another stun on Karin and another round for Marn.

Between the end of second game and start of the third, Marn gave the camera a look, perhaps signalling that he had stumbled on a plan. The first round was gone in a flash, as Marn was able to find a jump-in and drain Mago’s life after yet another stun. The confusing jump sequences continue into the next round. An immediate confirm results in Mago going on the wild Mika ride again, but he was able to somehow find a way out and fight Marn all the way back to almost no life. Unfortunately, in the end, it didn’t even matter, as Marn was able to perform a V-Reversal escape into roundhouse, walking away victorious.

Winners finals of the death pool would come down to Marn and a member of Evil Geniuses, the team from which he’s long since been removed. Kenneth “K-Brad” Bradley’s path to this match was less eventful; regardless, he came to prove himself and move onto the next round alive.

While he was a well-known Cammy player in the days of Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, he’s always had a hit-and-miss record. As competition shifted to Ultra Street Fighter IV, many pegged his shortcomings on losing Cammy’s vortex. That strategy also doesn’t exist in Street Fighter V, which has given K-Brad the opportunity to show he can be a strong player without it. The only thing that stands in his way is an unassuming man that turned up in the last place he expected. Before he sat down to play, he offered up a quick tweet mentioning his fear of R. Mika.

Despite these reservations, K-Brad came out looking strong initially, but couldn’t quite maintain the match. Fortunately, he’s nothing if not resilient, and bounced back from a pixel loss to take a round and then the entire game off Marn’s smothering R. Mika. In game two, Marn threw himself into the fray with reckless abandon, leaving R. Mika open. Unable to take advantage, K-Brad ate a number of huge punishes, leading directly to the R. Mika grinder.

A series of failed confirms and unsafe approaches racked up amount of damage for R. Mika round after round. In drops and interactions seemingly granted by god, Marn found huge opportunities and ultimately walked away with a win over K-Brad. Although he played well and showed strong offense and was close every time, K-Brad’s inability to deal with R. Mika safely overwhelmed him.

The ‘pool of death’ comes to a close

Waiting in the losers finals, K-Brad found himself with only only person standing between him and top 32. After dropping to Marn himself, Mago racked up an impressive list of eliminations, defeating both Chris Tatarian and r/Kappa’s Chung-gon “Poongko” Lee. The bracket up to that point was an exhausting tournament within a tournament, but both players were ready and the match began.

Mago again set the pace, but K-Brad started to make it look like a tug-of-war. Still, something was a bit off. “K-Brad’s shimmy game is the best right now,” Mike Ross described on commentary, but K-Brad got very little out of his offense, instead falling victim to Mago’s strengths in the overall guessing game. Whenever K-Brad took the time to shimmy, Mago jumped out. At some point, K-Brad attempted some adjustments on offense, but they were stuffed. After game one, K-Brad looked like he was taking a quiz he hadn’t quite studied for, while beside him, Mago acted as if he had already made it out of the pool. As the match wound to its conclusion, it was clear Mago was right, and he ends up walking away with little fanfare.

After many grueling hours of group play, two players found their way out of the so-called death pool: Marn, an absolutely unpredictable upset, in winners, and Mago, a player many predicted to go far, in losers. At this point, whatever happens in the next round doesn’t matter, as both players have already won their own tournament in the minds of many viewers. Was the late registration pool a good idea? Who can say? But it certainly lived up to the name and provided the community with a tremendous spectacle to look back on.