Final Round 18 was filled to the brim with excitement and numerous stories across its three days of competition, but the narrative that intrigued me the most was the one written by Team Spooky’s Arturo “Sabin” Sanchez.
A veteran of the fighting game community, Sanchez has seen games and players come and go. And so when Street Fighter IV arrived stateside in 2009, he naturally picked it up and began to enter tournaments. The earliest record of his results included in our ranking system shows a first-place finish at Toronto Fighting Game Championships X against now-retired Balrog main JS Master, but he would eventually go on to have impressive showings at events like Community Effort Orlando 2011, Northeast Championships XII, and East Coast Throwdown 2014.
Throughout the title’s various iterations, he would rarely stray from series veteran Dhalsim, picking up Rose as a secondary character in Super Street Fighter IV and briefly flirting with Seth to expand his horizons.
While no one would argue his strength, rising to the upper echelons of Street Fighter IV competition has always appeared to be right outside Sanchez’ grasp. Thinking of folks like Evil Geniuses’ Justin Wong, Daigo Umehara of Mad Catz, and others as the top of the pyramid, it would be easy to see the east coast competitor just a few rungs below them on the ladder, capable of demolishing mid-tier players and giving those above him a run for their money when the pieces fell into place.
The player pool, and thus the talent ceiling, has only grown over the past few years, with younger competitors picking up arcade sticks and rising through the ranks with their more seasoned peers. That’s why, when Sanchez tied for fifth at this year’s Final Round, people took notice.
But it wasn’t only the depth his Dhalsim limbs reached into the brackets that caught everyone’s attention–it was also who he beat to get there. Sanchez’ tour through the winners bracket would see him put down west coast powerhouse Darryl “Snake Eyez” Lewis and fellow veteran Sanford Kelly of The Steam Co. before being dropped into losers by Razer’s Keita “Fuudo” Ai. From there, he sniped Dexter “Tampa Bison” James and eliminated Lewis in dominating fashion, eventually reaching Capcom Cup 2014 champion Yusuke Momochi of Evil Geniuses.
Though he put up an admirable fight against the Japanese competitor, Sanchez would bow out there, wrapping up an intense weekend of competition that none could have predicted.
In order to gain more insight on his experiences at Final Round, we recently caught up with Sanchez to discuss his visit to Atlanta, the whirlwind he caused in Ultra Street Fighter IV, training for Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late, and more. (Editor’s note: Some responses were edited for clarity and brevity.)[hr]
Stretching to Victory
Funny enough, he almost didn’t make it to the tournament. Mechanical trouble the night before would force him to catch a flight early the next morning, but competition was the farthest thing from his mind. “I wasn’t worried at all,” Sanchez explained to us. “I was originally there to stream Salty Suites. I was not thinking about my tournament performance at all – rather I was just worried if I would get there in time to set up my stream gear.”
The aforementioned Salty Suites nearly dropped him from the tournament before it started as well. After staying up until the early hours of the morning streaming the after hours exhibitions, he woke up late on Saturday and assumed his pool had already come and gone. “I was ready to go upstairs and chill out but [Josh “NerdJosh” Jodoin] told me my match was up. Thanks so much buddy.”
But those weren’t he only things that stood in his way. As a prolific streamer, he generally goes to events these days to help folks at home catch the action instead of take part himself. With his focus shifted, training has become different as well. “It’s a rather tricky situation to tackle, however I’ve gotten better at it as time goes on. First thing, have to manage my time properly leading up and to the event. I don’t get to play casuals at events as much as I’d like, so I try to grind netplay heavily (when I stream) to keep myself sharp and in shape,” Sanchez said of juggling responsibilities. “It’s not the best practice due to lag, but it keeps me fresh on situations in the game. A lot of people need long warmup sessions to stay fresh, but at this point I try to make the most of the limited time I have when I do get to grind. Since I have the experience of playing fighting games for almost two decades, I can focus on quality matches over quantity at this point.”
Sanchez feels he’ll need to make a choice between one or the other eventually. In fact, after forgoing competition at Winter Brawl 9, he thought that choice had already been made, but Final Round somehow entered into the equation–another wall overcome.
One thing that didn’t keep Sanchez out of top eight was pools, which he blew through with ease. As all of his matches that ended up on stream highlighted his Dhalsim, we were interested if Rose ever came into play. The fortune teller only made one appearance, Sanchez tells us, during a match against an unnamed Balrog.
“I choose Rose over Dhalsim when the matchup is too terrible for Dhalsim – Abel, Cammy, Rufus, Decapre, Guy, C. Viper (though I think I got a little better at the Rufus matchup overall). I choose Dhalsim over Rose when I don’t have matchup experience or when someone tries to mirror match me–I hate mirror matches,” he said, explaining the factors that go into choosing a character. “Furthermore, there are still plenty of Rose matchups I don’t know, and my execution is not the greatest.”
His first real test would come after qualifying for the top sixty-four, facing off against Snake Eyez’ oppressive and proven play with Street Fighter’s Russian grappler. Although he wasn’t confiden in the Zangief matchup, and had in fact lost quite a few matches to the west coast competitor previously, he had an edge many of the other players couldn’t take advantage of themselves.
“I felt like I had absolutely zero to lose, since no one really expects me to perform due to my streaming duties. However, that mindset probably helped me going forward. A lot of the players in the Capcom Pro Tour are sponsored players…so they have to perform. I sponsor myself for the most part, and I don’t really feel like I have to perform. I suppose it made me into a more dangerous opponent than usual that event–if I won, I was like, ‘WOW!’ But if I lost, I was like, ‘Oh well, it was fun.'”
All that said, having little experience with the matchup locally barely factored into how he approached Zangief with Dhalsim. Due to the length of time Street Fighter IV has been on the scene, Sanchez has been able to log a ton of specific character information through various competitions and even trips overseas. Visiting Japan in 2009 and facing players like Cantona and Itabashi Zangief (now sponsored by Razer) helped him build a foundation for his solid fundamentals and plot out theories to deal with Zangief.
But there’s always more to learn. “In [ver.1.04], Zangief’s [light Banishing Flat] got nerfed, which really helps me spacing-wise. In previous versions, dealing with [it] was a nightmare,” Sanchez said of the matchup. “I also made a mental note to myself to never throw fireballs in EX Green Hand range, but to instead fill up the screen with normals (and low profile normals as well to counter random [Quick Lariats], they’ll go under.) The strategy worked pretty well.”
“Pretty well” is definitely a humble understatement. While his first match against Snake Eyez would go to the final game, the rematch in losers saw Sanchez demolish the west coast visitor in three straight games. His face after every match showed a variety of emotions–often amused, sometimes astounded–but his reactions after one set in particular belied a lengthy history.
“Myself vs. Sanford Kelly is a recurring theme, not out of the ordinary at all. It’s quite common for him to bop me in tournaments through the year. I get destroyed by him on a regular basis,” he noted. “However, every time Sanford is at a major, he plays different–very reserved, very conservative. I guess it’s because he’s out of his comfort zone and there’s so much on the line? Basically, at majors I tend to beat him, but at every other event, I get destroyed. So while I was shocked that I was still in winners, it wasn’t a surprise to me that I won.”
Of course, it all had to come to an end eventually. Between his matches between Snake Eyez, Sanchez would be dropped to losers in a close match against Fuudo and later fell to Momochi. While Sanchez believes Rose matches up against Fei Long and Ken better than Dhalsim, his knowledge of the latter’s spacing and the overall confidence he has in the character were what kept him throwing Yoga Snipers, Fires, and Shangri-Las. “I was landing so many Ultra 2s on reaction that I didn’t consider it.”
While his earlier matches were impressive, the scramble that resulted in his single victory against Momochi was perhaps one of the most exciting moments of the tournament. Many saw a chance for Sanchez to score even more games against the reigning Capcom Cup champion, but it didn’t come to pass.
“My matches against Momochi were fun and really exciting. He’s such a smart player. I think if I had played my cards right (in game one I lost to a jump-in roundhouse through my fierce with no health left on either side), I could have potentially been up 2-0 against him,” he explained. “To improve in that matchup I need to react at midrange better. I let him get a lot of empty jump-ins that would have made a huge difference in some games. I have a feeling momochi was using his tech uppercut option select against me since some of his dragon punches were too psychic. Regardless, it was a fun match and I hope I can make proper adjustments in the future.”[hr]
Approaching Street Fighter After Under Night In-Birth
As players are often wont to do, Sanchez took time to visit Twitter during his run through Ultra Street Fighter IV, sending out one statement in particular that garnered quite a bit of attention.
I’m glad that my hard training in uniel really paid off in sf4 lol
— Arturo Sanchez (@nycfurby) March 22, 2015
The fighting game community has long been a haven for multi-game masters, from veterans like Justin Wong, Ryan “Prodigal Son” Hart, and Mad Catz’ Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi to relatively recent transplants like Vineeth “Apologyman” Meka, who early on made a name for himself in BlazBlue before bringing some more nastiness to the Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 scene.
Playing multiple games can do a lot of things for competitors across all skill levels. Experiencing a different set of gameplay mechanics can open your mind to possibilities in other titles, which was demonstrated perfectly by Sanchez’ performance at Final Round 18. “Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late is a faster-paced game that rewards blocking correctly, and punishes [up-back blocking] to escape pressure. So playing a faster game where I have to deal with zoning at a faster pace definitely helped me going back to Ultra Street Fighter IV,” he expressed. And, although Under Night doesn’t have particularly heavy input requirements, being tighter than Street Fighter also provided some advantages as Sanchez switched between them. “It’s definitely helped my Street Fighter IV game.”
Sanchez also placed fifth during Final Round’s Under Night tournament, utilizing its former boss much in the same way as his Street Fighter main. “Playing Hilda is like playing an EX version of Dhalsim. They have a lot of the same strengths and weaknesses.” As for what carries over, he explained that, while neither have a bevy of wakeup options or high damage options, their ability to control the mid-range is among the best in their respective games. Their low execution barriers help as well. “This is crucial for me, I have old man hands,” Sanchez divulged.
In fact, outside of streaming, Sanchez was most looking forward to playing Under Night against eventual first-place finisher 2GB Combo. As for why the game the game has attracted so much of his attention, Sanchez had quite a bit to say.
“UNIEL is really fun. Wish more people played it. It has the perfect balance between offense and defense which I love–I’m not a big fan of games that don’t show love to defensive play, and I’m not a fan of the concept of negative penalty in Arc System Works games. I love the concept of GRD meter (it’s like tug of war) and I love how the concept of shielding (and how you get penalized for poor shields). I also really like the fact that throws are strong in this game (hard to break, and will destroy shielding).
It’s just too bad that French-Bread is a really small company–people like the game in the United States, but they’re a small overseas company so they can’t do much. It’s also pretty sad that UNIEL is not at Evo 2015, but if people keep playing the game, then I will as well.”[hr]
500,000 Reasons on Capcom Pro Tour 2015
To wrap things up, we asked Sanchez if his performance at Final Round was any indication of his future on this year’s Capcom Pro Tour, but he denies having any interest in Capcom Cup even with the $500,000 prize pool looming over the community. “It’s not worth it for me financially; my stream equipment, gear, and upgrades take priority over using that money to travel to Capcom Pro Tour events. If I got a sponsor that might change, but currently I’m not sponsored at the moment, so it’s tough.”
Fortunately, as competent streamers are always in high demand, it’s likely Sanchez will be popping up at events across the United States that happen to line up with Capcom Pro Tour’s dates. And, if the stars align like they did for his Final Round showing, perhaps we’ll see more of his brilliant Dhalsim play on the big stage.
One can only hope.[hr]