Red Bull’s Masato “Bonchan” Takahashi had arguably one of his roughest years on the circuit in 2016. Having frequently been on the verge of qualifying for Capcom Cup, he was never able to take anything higher than fourth place on the Capcom Pro Tour, including at the Asia Regional Finals in Busan, South Korea — his last chance to make the cut.
Not only was he excluded from Capcom Cup, he faced the same fate of fellow Nash players Infiltration and Yukadon in a painful nerfs to his signature character. However, he was able to take Nash at his worst, and produce results that made him a shoe-in for Capcom Cup 2017. Having redeemed himself on the circuit this year, will he be able to go one step further and take the title?
The Last True Nash
Having spent the entirety of the Street Fighter IV series as one of the deadliest Sagat players on the circuit, Bonchan had to go to the drawing board for Street Fighter V. While there was no true equivalent to Sagat, Nash was the next obvious choice — the character could zone well, but could also dole out a large amount of damage when up close. Similarities, however, does not mean equivalency, and I feel like this was part of Bonchan’s problem last year. Nash in Season 1 relied more heavily on the close-range game than Sagat, and Bonchan relied most on Sagat’s zoning game. While he was still able to utilize this aspect of the character, it was definitely outside of his comfort zone.
If you compare that to a player like Infiltration, who was already used to dancing in and out of range with Akuma in Street Fighter IV, it makes perfect sense why these two players who lost their mains in a new game had totally different stories.
As strange as it sounds, it was when Capcom nerfed Nash’s backdash and defensive options that we started to see Bonchan’s best. It was as though the nerfs challenged him to truly learn how to play an oppressive offensive game, and use it to its fullest. And while Nash players abandoned the character left and right due to their distaste with Capcom’s design choices, it was Bonchan himself that held true for the longest time to the character, and reaped the benefits of using the offensive tools against people who had dismissed Nash’s viability in Season 2.
No Laughing Matter
But then, even the Nash stalwart finally decided it was time to make a change. While he kept true to Nash until Evo, in the three events we’ve seen him in since, he has been using far less of the character and more of Karin. This is definitely an unusual switch for him, but now that he has his footing in the close-range game, it makes sense. Her poke game is far superior to that of Nash’s, and can deal large swaths of damage on any good touch.
One of the biggest things that makes Karin work for Bonchan is her ability to control the ground so well with easy to space pokes. A trademark of good Sagat players is controlling the ground game so well that it forces players to take to the skies. When you combine that with exquisite anti-airs — which Karin has — it makes this a great fit.
The last time we saw Bonchan run the character in September at Tokyo Game Show, there was still some sloppiness in his play. So long as he’s been practicing the character since then, he should have plenty of time to tighten up the screws before December.
But this switch could be a difficult one for him to pull off. It’s worth calling into question that switching to Karin mid-season could be a big mistake when all of his tournament wins were on the strength of his Nash play. Why fix what wasn’t broken in the first place? Was not making top 8 at Evo deflating enough that he felt the need to make the shift?
This is not a massive issue, as we saw NuckleDu make constant shifts in characters over the course of last season before he ultimately settled on Guile and R. Mika. It’s possible that Bonchan has found his rhythm — and it’s not as though Nash has completely disappeared off the face of the earth for him. The last event he attended — D3 — saw him run both characters. But he looks to be banking on Karin more than Nash right now. This means he’s injecting another Karin into a Capcom Cup that already features three — and all three have been playing the character far longer than he has. This is also a character that has long been one of the most popular on the circuit. It’s not as though players won’t be ready for his Karin.
Another issue that I have with him is that since D3 at the beginning of October, Bonchan hasn’t been seen on the circuit. It seems that he’s taking a break from the competitive circuit in preparation for Capcom Cup 2017. This was a similar issue I had with Infiltration last year, as it’s hard to truly learn to beat your top opponents without getting out there and playing.
The bright side — and the key difference between his break and Infiltration’s — is that he has still been grinding it out online. While this doesn’t replace tournament experience, it will be helping him keep sharp for Capcom Cup.
Between his character switch and his results since, it’s hard to bet on Bonchan. I won’t dismiss him as a threat — any time Bonchan is in the hot seat, he is capable of making everyone else sweat. My guess is at best that he’ll make top 8 — but again, anything can happen.
Check out our prior articles in the Capcom Cup 2017 Player Analysis series!