If you’re looking for a player who has “been there, done that” as far as the Capcom Pro Tour is concerned, Ryota “Kazunoko” Inoue is definitely someone to keep your eyes on. Having already been to the event twice before — including a championship in Ultra Street Fighter IV in 2015 — Kazunoko will again be making his way to Anaheim to reclaim his throne.
Last year saw him bow out with a third-place finish in a valiant attempt to become not only a back-to-back champion, but one who claimed the title in the two most recent numbered entries to the Street Fighter franchise. While the former is no longer possible, the latter achievement is still something that he could make happen. The question is, will he?
Stability in Play
One look at his place on the leaderboard tells you that his Cammy is the one to watch. While chased in the standings by fellow Killer Bees such as Verloren, NL, Xiao Hai, and K-Brad, GGP|Kazunoko has still managed to hold the #1 Cammy rank over the course of the season. But what is it about his Cammy play that makes him reign supreme?
If you were to look at the tape, you’d probably think there isn’t anything special — and I think that’s the key. You’ll see a wild variance in how other Cammy players approach the play, and while all are successful, Kazunoko at times either embodies all of it or none of it. When you watch Verloren and NL, they play a very aggressive game, using frame traps and meaty light confirms to keep their opponents in relentless pressure. You’ll see players like Xiao Hai and K-Brad using more shimmies and reactions to seal their games. Kazunoko seems to encapsulate all of this at some points, and then at other times he does none of this, and it works well.
The thing about Kazunoko — as well as a large swath of Japanese players in general — is their understanding of risk and reward. This is something that sets him apart, as shimmies, frame traps, and meaties are all risks. If you are getting blown up for these, then your reward for attempting them shrinks. This is why when he does pull back, it makes it even tougher for players to expect the risks he takes. This ultimately results in better rewards when he does take those risks.
It’s this more-stable approach that has netted Kazunoko his four-spot gap over the next closest Cammy: Verloren. It has also rewarded him with a better position going into Capcom Cup than he enjoyed last year. He was able to hit eight top 8s out of fifteen events last year, but managed to just scrape by into the bracket on points due to his failure to clinch a Premier event. This secured him a #22 seed in the bracket, and yet he proved capable of making top 3 of the event itself.
While this year only saw him make five top 8s out of thirteen events, he got points where it counted, including a third-place finish at Evo 2017. This speaks to the clutch factor of his play, where when it matters, he is able to show a level of skill that few players dare to venture. To further emphasize this, two other tournaments that he finished top 8 in were Premier events, and all of his top 8s outside of Evo were held in the veritable minefields of Asia.
This is strikingly similar to last year’s performance, where literally every single tournament he scored a top 8 in was in Asia. In fact, it could be worth noting that while at Capcom Cup, his chance to repeat as champion was derailed by Ricki Ortiz, signifying quite possibility that Kazunoko was underestimating Western players over the course of the season. That seems to be an issue he has addressed, as at Evo he was able to take down Americans like NuckleDu and Chris Tatarian on his way to third place — neither of those players being slouches.
Can He Close?
This is the question that I feel implored to ask, as Kazunoko faces some of the same struggles that Fuudo has this year. While Kazunoko has one tournament win over Fuudo, that win comes during an online regional qualifier. While it’s worth noting that the top 8 of the event features killers such as Moke, Momochi, Bonchan, and Poongko, it simply pales in comparison to other tournament wins — even in the Asia online qualifiers — for a number of reasons.
First, this was one of the weaker fields in the online qualifiers. If you compare the top 8 of this qualifier to the final one, you’ll see a top 8 that featured Momochi, Mago, Haitani, NL, Dogura, Poongko, Tokido, and Fuudo. All but one player in this top 8 is in the top 32 of the Capcom Pro Tour standings. It is also worth noting that in this field, Kazunoko finished ninth.
Second, it’s much easier for him to win literally at home than it is to go out to a venue and replicate that success. While Kazunoko is consistent, is his lack of results offline a hint that he cracks under pressure? It’s worth paying attention to.
He is certainly the best Cammy out there, but his stability only gets him so far. Cammy is relatively popular on the tournament circuit, so saying that nobody is ready for him would be foolish. They get bits and bobbles of his play style across the circuit — all they have to do is combine it to the bigger picture and they can beat him.
For this reason, I believe Kazunoko has every bit of potential to top 8. Beyond that, it is imperative that he opens his play style up to take more risks. He has to do something that is completely uncharacteristic of him to throw his opponents — who likely will have miles of experience against him — off their game. If he cannot do this, it’s likely that he’ll be waiting another year to become the boss of this game.
Check out our prior articles in the Capcom Cup 2017 Player Analysis series!