Last year, I listed Victor “Punk” Woodley as a pick to make it to Capcom Cup 2017. While he hadn’t been on my radar until his amazing performance at Red Bull Battlegrounds, it was convincing enough to know that he was going to be a major threat this year.
Just as predicted, Woodley came out of the gate on the CPT strong — with a brief intermission to destroy the field at ELEAGUE for a six-figure payday. From the moment he started winning, no one has come close to taking over the #1 seed on the CPT leaderboard.
All of which begs the question: does the #1 seed spot guarantee Punk’s road to victory? Obviously not — Razer’s Infiltration held the #1 seed convincingly all of 2016, then lost two straight matches to start — and finish — his Capcom Cup run. But this is a different scenario with a completely different player.
Panda Global’s Punk will most definitely be sitting as the #1 seed in the bracket this year. This has almost been a foregone a conclusion for the entire year — even after Tokido’s win at Evolution 2017, he only has two-thirds the amount of points that Punk has. This is just indicative of how solidly his self-stated alpha status has been established.
If you’re looking for a tutorial of how to play Karin optimally, a look at literally any match Punk has played this year is a prime example. His spacing is incredible. He was one of the first players to truly debunk the myth that whiff punishing wasn’t possible within Street Fighter V. He uses this to establish a superior footsie game over his opponents, then sets up an incredibly well-spaced pressure game to keep them from having a chance to establish their own.
There is hardly anybody on the circuit right now who can do this better — with any character, not just Karin. And with it, the victories have come thick and fast. He has won six CPT events, three of them Premier events. There’s no one that comes even remotely close to that level of success, bar none.
To top that off, he won the inaugural ELEAGUE invitational, netting himself a cool $150,000 and plenty of notoriety on top of that. He looked poised to absolutely decimate the field at Evo and beyond. But then…
Evo 2017 was one of the worst — yet best — results Woodley could’ve ever anticipated. In his first foray into the event, he made it to Grand Finals convincingly. Then he found himself finishing in second place to two enemies he never anticipated having to watch out for.
The first was the very obvious adaptive prowess of veteran Echo Fox|Tokido. After playing a series of casuals with him, as well as falling to him just outside of top 8 in winners side, Tokido found every single exploitable hole, proving there were still bugs in the program that is Punk. This was not only a testament to Tokido’s experience — as mushin_Z discussed in his editorial on the Grand Finals — but Punk’s inexperience.
In his own words, he felt like the prize money attached to his ELEAGUE win was far less important than the prestige of being declared Evo champion. While so much of Tokido’s win can be attributed to Tokido himself, you must also factor in the pressure that rode on Woodley’s young shoulders.
He was considered the biggest opportunity America had to win an Evo Street Fighter title since Evo was still known as Battle by the Bay. While the weight of a nation’s pressure to perform can ride on you, certainly the most pressure was put there by himself. Despite the fact that he had won so much over the year, it was a pittance compared to Evo in his mind. He felt unproven until he had an Evo title. The moment it was within his grasp, a taunt combo started to give him glimpses of it slipping from his fingers. You could see it from his reactions immediately following the event; the usually confident Punk had been reduced to an inconsolable mess.
The real test began after Evo. How would Punk deal with the agony of the biggest defeat of his career? The test results are currently inconclusive, to be frank.
He started out winning DreamHack Atlanta to an admittedly weaker field, but then fell to Idom at Defend the North. He decimated a field at East Coast Throwdown that featured Alienware’s Nemo, but then fell shy of a title of Brooklyn Beatdown thanks to losses to Momochi and JB. To top it off, at SCR — an even weaker field than Brooklyn Beatdown — he failed to make top 8, losing to MenaRD and Alex Myers. Only one of these guys currently have their ticket punched to Capcom Cup. For someone who wants to shake off the loss at Evo by winning Capcom Cup, this is a bad time to be shaky.
Head of the Pack
One of the biggest things that Punk has to deal with, outside of his own mental state, is how dominant he has been all year. This is the same thing Infiltration had to worry about over last year. When you’re on top, it’s hard to stay there. When you have players like Nemo calling you the best player in the world at Next Level, you know that — Evo title or no — you have a massive target on your head.
As such, the whole world of top players are dissecting exactly how Punk plays. And there’s a large swath of them that has started to figure it out. Punk surely knows this, but it hasn’t stopped some of the bleeding that are causing the sharks to circle.
Punk, however, is clearly flexible in his approach to the game. He already showed glimpses of this in the summer. At CEO, he cost himself a title by playing Karin all the way against Snake Eyez, who completely countered everything Punk tried to do. By Evo, he had retrained his Nash, which gave him a major zoning advantage against Itabashi Zangief in the top 8.
He has further shown this by starting to train up another character. We have now started to see Punk bust out Cammy in various circumstances in tournaments. Moreover, his Karin is still a problem that many people have yet to solve. Surely if his loss to Snake Eyez prompted him to make changes, his loss to Tokido did much more prompting. We’ve started to see glimpses of more tech coming out of him.
These last handful of tournaments prior to Capcom Cup are crucial for Punk’s confidence going into the event. Circuits like these typically reward those who are streaking. He isn’t.
There also is still the looming question of whether he can handle pressure at the highest level. He’s young, and clearly has a lot to learn about to handle the swings that can come with competition. It’ll certainly be a miracle if he was able to learn it within the four and a half months between Evo and Capcom Cup.
This will be another test of his mental durability. Has he worked on the emotional components that caused him to falter at Evo? That’s the ultimate question that needs to be answered.
He still is easily one of my favorites to win, and I definitely don’t see a timeline where he doesn’t make top 8. He has the characters, the skills, and the mind games to make it happen. But then, we said that about Infiltration last year. What will decide his placement will be whether he has worked on the emotional aspects of his game, as much as the technical.
Check out our prior articles in the Capcom Cup 2017 Player Analysis series!