Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer, and do not reflect Shoryuken.com as a whole.
Pokkén Tournament is not like other fighting games. I bring this up because, to an outsider, Pokkén and King of Fighters probably seem like they require very similar skill sets. If you don’t play sports, you may make the mistake of thinking you just have to be “athletic.” Once you have either first hand experience, or have done your research, you know that each sport requires very specific types of training in order to succeed in it.
I had back-to-back interviews with the winners of Absolute Battle’s KOFXIV and Pokkén events, and you can read the interview with the KOF Winner, Benjamin ‘Vicio’ Martinez, here. I, as a player and spectator of both games, would like to think I have the smallest feel for the way each of these games work. But if I didn’t, and I wanted to start cracking into one of these games, I don’t think I could have had a more enlightening set of experiences then talking to these two players in succession.
Vicio was quick-witted and emotionally driven, a man whose words and wild play style came off the cuff. The next day I met with Pokkén winner Labib ‘Slippingbug’ Haq, and at some point during our conversation I realized not only how different their personality types were, but how their different personalities fit in with the games they played. Slippingbug was careful and calculated in his words and descriptions. In a lot of ways, this conservatism mirrored his play during the dominating performance at Absolute Battle.
One of the most significant things about Slippingbug’s victory was his character choice, Pikachu Libre. This luchador Pokémon is often affectionately referred to as R. Pika, referencing a similarly named Street Fighter character I’m confident you’re familiar with. Unlike the Peach Bomber however, R. Pika had, until now, not secured a major win in the US Circuit. SlippingBug, whose only other major tournament appearance was at DreamHack Austin, became the character’s first champion at Absolute Battle. So, how does it feel to be king of the electric ring?
Slippingbug: I’m glad that I won something with her, because a few months ago, after she got nerfed, I lost my faith in the character. You know, “Where can I go with this?” Then, I watched some of the Japanese play and that really helped with my neutral. Hopefully, I want other Libres to adopt a similar style to what I have, which is based on what the Japanese implemented. I think that would yield better results overall.
Crow_Spaceboy: How would you describe your style? Or ‘that’ style of play that the Japanese used, and how it’s different from how most Libre’s play?
SB: The Japanese play a lot more calculated. They wait for their moments to strike. They are able to get a life lead, and they usually don’t approach. Say you land an enhanced combo in duel phase: Your opponent is in field phase with “slow,” and you’re far away from them with defense buffs and a health lead. So, that puts more pressure on them to approach you, and that increases their room for error, which you to capitalize on. I think with R. Pika, you should play her as a bait and punish type character. Against Lucario, for example, I would always stay in the range of Bone Rush, because all his projectiles at that range are unsafe. I can maintain that range and punish him for his mistakes.
CS: A lot of what your describing sounds really similar to the way Street Fighter players describe footsies. You’re not over-extending yourself. Do you think this is where Pokkén is headed? Or is this “patient footsie” style R. Pika specific?
SB: In general, I think that’s where Pokkén should be heading. A lot of what American neutral is right now is CADC back and forth and abusing Counter Attack. As players get better I think they will learn to punish counter attacks and counters won’t be as abuse-able. If you watch the Japanese play, they don’t counter attack that often. Because everyone in Japan knows how to punish counter attacks, and landing combos just yields more reward then landing counters.
SB: Counter attacks are really strong at low level and mid level. But watch my set versus BadIntent: there weren’t too many counter attacks in the neutral. I mostly only Counter Attacked vs. Earthquake or something else I could punish, if that makes sense?
It did. And the BadIntent match was a great talking point to pivot to!
Slippingbug had not dropped a single game prior to Grand Finals. BadIntent switched to Shadow Mewtwo from his usual selection of Blaziken, and that decision seemed to catch Slippingbug off-guard. In the close 3-2 set, was SlippingBug nervous at all that BadIntent was going to force a reset?
SB: Not really. Going into game five, when I won the first round, I knew I was going to win. I knew, by the third round, I’d have full synergy because of my cheer.
CS: Okay! So, in your mind, it was checkmate?
SB: I knew I had a pretty good chance. I felt like it didn’t matter if he killed me in round 2. If I won field phase even once I’d have the meter for super. In round 3 I took a huge lead because I had burst and he was really struggling to find a hit. He also kept trying to hit me when I was crossing him up. He got impatient.
Slippingbug revealed that it wasn’t just footsies he was patient with–he constantly and carefully monitored his meter use before determining how he’d act. This seems particularly valuable for his particular character: between her own natural meter gain and supports, Libre could easily get two burst modes in a single round.
All this math and homework aside, though, Slippingbug was still very much a fighting game player. This couldn’t have been made more clear when he revealed the long game he was playing with BadIntent.
SB: The previous night I had played in a 2v2 tournament in Dallas. I fought BadIntent there too. I beat him there versus his Blaziken, but he knew my tricks because of that tournament. I had to do some new stuff during Absolute Battle to keep him off guard. It was mid set and I was kind of like: “…what haven’t I done?” I threw more discharges on reaction versus his Shadow Mewtwo’s 5Y. I played with different approaches. This helped me win Field Phase a lot and he didn’t see that option at all the day before.
CS: Where are you going to go from here? You haven’t gone to many majors. Are you going to start traveling more?
SB: Maybe, if the major is closer to here. I’m going to focus on growing the Austin scene. I’m going to use the money from Absolute Battle to throw in pot bonuses at our weeklies. I don’t really care about the money, as long as I, like, don’t lose it.
CS: Where do you think Pokkén will go, as a whole, from here? Worlds is over. EVO is over. Milln said “If you think the game is dead, you aren’t paying attention.” Do you agree with that?
SB: Right now I think the scene is small, but it’s not dying, definitely. People are putting in serious effort to create content and stream. After worlds, the community realized, “Hey, we need to do stuff, we need to spread knowledge about what’s going on.” Season Two for Pokkén is going to happen, for sure. DC just got hired by the Pokémon Company. I mean, why would they hire them if nothing’s going to happen?
CS: That’s true. That would be a strange investment for them to make.
CS: Another question about Pokkén’s future. It’s silly. Are you going to play Darkrai?
SB: He doesn’t really look like my type of character, because I like characters that are up in your face and doing stuff. I’ll definitely play Scizor because he’s one of my favorite Pokémon.
CS: Um, you’ll possibly play Scizor, if he’s announced, Right?
SB: Yes. Possibly. I won’t drop Libre though, because she’s my best character. That’d be dumb, ha. Besides, she can handle most matchups.
CS: So you think she’s pretty balanced?
SB: Yeah. The only matchup she really loses is Machamp. And you can still win that as long as you run away for 80 seconds.
CS: Would you like to see the Pokémon Company change anything in the game in a future patch?
SB: I don’t think they can fix anything that’s wrong with a patch. Stuff that would be nice… an actual training mode. They could shorten some animations, like phase shift. Where the screen freezes for half a second. It’d speed the game up visually. Character balance wise? I think Braixen is a little too strong right now. I think unblockables should not be a thing. That’s it on what I’d like to see improved.
I felt more solidarity there than any other point in the interview. Pokkén’s training mode is a strange misstep for a company whose training modes–thinking of modern Soul Calibur and Tekken–tend to be quite good.
Slippingbug won AB7 confidently, defending it from some of the biggest names in the US, such as BadIntent, Bolimar, and Domin0. He did it without worrying about traveling to every major, and instead focused on honing his craft through study and nuance.
There’s a lot of fighting games out there and a lot of ways to play them. In my eyes, Slippingbug’s success owes some small part in finding a game that fits his way of thinking.
Image Source: Tourney Locator