It’s that time of the year again. We are nearing the end of the Capcom Pro Tour qualification season, and it’s time to start looking at who has the best shot of taking the lion’s share of the prize and prestige by becoming the Capcom Cup champion.
Last year, we analyzed all 32 players — and while we had predicted Liquid|NuckleDu making top 8, he surpassed our expectations and won the whole thing. He gets automatic entry into the tournament for being the defending champion — but what it will take for Du Dang to become a repeat Capcom Cup champion?
All is Fair
It goes without saying that if we were going to call it for anyone on having a full utility belt of tricks, the award would go to NuckleDu. He is a player that will attack you on every single spectrum you can think of. While we are playing a game named Street Fighter, it is Dang that truly encompasses the title of the game in the way he plays. He has two amazingly solid picks in R. Mika and Guile — the same horses he rode all the way to the title last year. Despite the nerfs to Mika in Season 2, he adapted and showed how strong she is regardless of what Capcom changed to the character. He also shows that he still has amazingly grimey setups, no matter which character he pulls out.
While these characters are polar opposites and do cover his bad match-ups rather well, Gerald Lee from Core-A Gaming brought up an interesting point in an analysis video earlier this year that does ring rather true. These characters tend to evoke entirely different emotional responses. Whether this was a conscious choice or not, this allows Du to actually prey on his opponents’ psychological weaknesses. This may be somewhat intentional, as it is telling that Du used Guile against MOV and R. Mika against Ricki Ortiz — both Chun-Li mains.
While we’re at it, we’d be remiss to ignore Du’s most important blow to the psyche — the teabagging. While it is hilarious that pushing down a lot can actually put a player on tilt, Dang managed to send many an opponent last year away frustrated by the tactic. In a street fight, nothing is sacred, and Du used this philosophy to give himself a psychological edge that helped him win. Whether you hate teabagging or not, morals be damned — it works.
NuckleDu could’ve easily rested on his laurels this year. He made a ton of money last year, and has a free pass into Capcom Cup 2017. He could’ve been concerned with showing up to tournaments with bigger bottom lines. However, he has been a total workhorse on the CPT, and has done well wherever he has ventured.
When he has entered a CPT event, NuckleDu has only once finished outside of top 8 — finishing at 17th in DreamHack Austin early on in the year. This is out of 8 CPT events as of publication, and he has won three events on the circuit, with one of them being a Premier event. This string of success includes a top 8 at Evo.
Off of the Capcom Pro Tour circuit, his success has been just as strong. Throughout the entirety of 2017, he has only missed top 8 four times out of sixteen events, and has won six of those sixteen events. NuckleDu has clearly not chosen the easy road, and has continued the grind. For that effort, he has continued to be rewarded.
One of the largest question marks for him last year was his mental toughness. At Canada Cup, he discussed himself not being naturally confident. It was a definite concern that Du could crack under the pressure at Capcom Cup 2016. After Canada Cup, however, it was like a switch flipped in his brain. His confidence level boosted to the point where he was mentally unstoppable. From then on, it was like all he did was win.
The question then became how he would deal with the inevitable adversity that came with success. He was the world champion, which puts a huge target on his back. We quickly saw this happen at Final Round, where he was dropped in third place behind Fuudo, and the eventual champion Xian.
The losses continued to pile on until Combo Breaker, where he finally broke through and captured another championship. All eyes were on him to see how he would react in that interim. Whereas it could’ve been a point where he broke and began a slide back down the top of the heap, what we saw was a humble and patient NuckleDu. We actually saw grit that he never exhibited before. We never really saw him tilt; what we were seeing was the field adapting to his play and leveling out. But what we also saw was NuckleDu continuing to adapt and working on his own play to keep up with the rest of the pack. This is one of the truest marks of a champion you can find.
One of the things that brought Du to the top is one thing that has been losing its effectiveness as time wears on: the teabagging. I know that Imentioned it earlier as one of his tools, and it certainly remains effective in some situations. But given how much NuckleDu used it before, it was bound to wear off as a weapon and become more of a shtick.
One of the biggest cases in point: his battles with Xiaohai from Canada Cup 2016 on. You could actually see how well the tactic worked on Xiaohai, given the results from Toronto until ELEAGUE, where Du continued to use it against his Chinese rival. However, at some point, players typically either get desensitized to the tactic, or use it as motivation to never be beaten by someone who uses it ever again. Xiaohai clearly did both, as you could tell during the bracket matches at ELEAGUE that it no longer bothered him. He also come back to Atlanta with heaps of knowledge on both the Mika and Guile match-ups — a testament to his determination not to lose to Du. Not only did teabagging not bother him, he threw it back in Dang’s face — something that sent the internet into a tizzy.
Nowadays, you mostly see Du using his teabags as a retaliation against players who do it to him first — something that occurred against Huanjing at LAN Story Cup in Shanghai. While one tool out of his arsenal gone doesn’t mean much, it was one that seriously aided him in his road to victory last year, which means NuckleDu will now more than ever have to rely on his play alone to get him there this year.
One of the biggest tells for his potential at Capcom Cup was his performance at Brooklyn Beatdown. This had one of the most stacked fields outside of Capcom Cup, and Du finished in 13th. This could be telling of where he will end up this year.
What will be the most telling is how he ends the season. He still has a couple of months to put the rest of the field on notice that he’s still dangerous. But let’s be reminded that the tournaments he’s won this year have not been throwaways, having to best fields that featured Nemo, John Takeuchi, Sako, and Punk. Outside of Takeuchi, these are all players he could potentially square off with in December.
Be reminded that he has a huge target on his back. He has played the entire year with full knowledge of that and has shined the entire way. Brooklyn Beatdown is a black eye for him, but given how well he has endured his failures this year, it’s only imaginable that it was a shot in the arm for him to improve.
NuckleDu will most likely make top 8 again this year. Given his status, repeating is going to be very difficult to do. But out of all the previous Capcom Cup champions, if anyone has had a chance to repeat, none has had better odds to do so than NuckleDu.
Check out our prior articles in the Capcom Cup 2017 Player Analysis series!