For Evolution 2016, Street Fighter V broke a record for having over 5,000 registered competitors. This year, the entrant numbers are down by almost half the amount with a total of 2,622 players; this is a huge drop — especially considering that the participant numbers for the Street Fighter IV series increased year after year during its six-year-lifespan at Evo from 2009-2015.
Looking at these numbers, one could assume that Street Fighter V has divided the community for this series; it still suffers from numerous issues that need to be fully addressed by Capcom, in order to restore some faith in the franchise for its consumer base. Players presently seem to be in one of two camps: either they enjoy the game despite its flaws, hoping for fixes from Capcom later down the line; or they completely dislike it, and don’t bother with the franchise any more because of the direction it seems to be headed.
With all this negativity surrounding SFV at the moment, has this game has brought anything positive to the community this season, and will it be worth watching this weekend among the growing interest in other fighters? Of course it has, and it certainly will.
Other than the Marvel vs. Capcom series, the Street Fighter franchise has always been a huge part of what makes the Evolution tournament series so special with many “Evo moments“ that have occurred throughout its life cycle at the event. Street Fighter remains the flagship series that will draw a the most amount of attention with its iconic characters, easy-to-pick-up-but-hard-to-master accessibility, and high-level competitive play between the best players in the world. It just has a certain appeal and intrigue that few fighting games can match.
2017 is the year Street Fighter was shown in more homes in the United States than probably any other, thanks to the ELEAGUE Street Fighter V Invitational broadcast by both Twitch and TBS from March through May. Viewers got to tune in and watch 32 of the best SFV players from all over the world battle it out with a prize pool of $250,000 on the line. It had some of the some best high-level SFV play so far, and the general public gained a deeper insight into the fighting game community and its players. This was also a good platform for already amazing players to improve and sharpen their skills against one another, to form even more storylines and healthy rivalries.
Speaking of players — while there are significantly less entrants than last year’s Evo, SFV still has the highest amount out of all the games featured this weekend in Las Vegas. What this also means is that we’ll all get to see even more matches between top and up-and-coming players sooner than later, right after pools. There are on average at least two to three mid to high-level players in each pool, and you can keep track of your favorite players in the brackets on smash.gg. There is even an option to see which players are projected to make it out of pools and beyond. But who are our picks to keep an eye on?
The Capcom Cup 2016 Champ: Liquid|NuckleDu
Country: USA (Florida)
Characters: Guile, R. Mika
Current CPT standing: 2nd place
The defending Capcom Cup 2016 champion, Du Dang has had a huge target on his back throughout 2017 after winning the Capcom Cup last December. Despite the pressure to defend his crown, Du has still been consistently placing top three with at both CPT and non-CPT events, with his lowest placings being 9th at ELEAGUE and 17th at DreamHack Austin. He was lacking a big win at a stacked major until Combo Breaker in Illinois this past May, where he defeated Cygames Beast’s Snake Eyez in a down-to-the-wire grand finals for the ages. This should be a huge confidence booster for Du going into Evo 2017 this weekend. If his Flash Kicks, Mika V-Trigger mix-ups, and teabags are on point, Du will be a favorite to win the whole thing.
The Red Cyclone Master: RB.CYG BST|Snake Eyez
Country: USA (California)
Characters: Zangief, Akuma
Current CPT standing: 4th place
2016 was not kind to Darryl Lewis in his transition to SFV. He was barely placing top 32, and most of his higher placings stopped at ninth. He just didn’t have the same dominance he had in the last three years of his SFIV run, and it didn’t help that SFV Zangief was just not the same as he was in the previous iteration. Come Final Round 20 at the beginning of this year, where he placed 33rd, it was already looking like another struggle for Darryl. After that though, all the hard work started paying off when he advanced in the ELEAGUE SFV Invitational by beating the likes of his teammate CYG BST|PR Balrog, Echo Fox’s Justin Wong, Hiroyuki “Eita” Nagata from Japan, Leah “Gllty” Hayes, and Zowie’s Bruce “GamerBee” Hsiang with a deadly combinatioon of his Season Two Zangief and his new alternate, Akuma.
Ever since ELEAGUE, Darryl has been consistently placing within the top 8. He got two second place finishes at Texas Showdown 2017 and Combo Breaker 2017 — that first big major win just always out of his reach. He finally got his first SFV Premier major win at CEO 2017 last month against Panda Global’s Punk while on the winners side. Just like Du, Darryl can use this momentum to the fullest to make another Evo top 8 appearance like he did in 2014 for USFIV. If he can avoid or get past his other teammate Hx.CYG BST|Daigo Umehara (who has long been his demon since the last game in the series), Darryl can SPD and Raging Demon just about everyone in the tournament. If he’s a bit off though, he might make top 16, or barely crack top 8.
The Lab Monster: RZR|Xian
Characters: Ibuki, F.A.N.G
Current CPT standing: 5th place
Kun Xian Ho’s technical prowess, spacing, footsies, and setups have been nothing short of immaculate since the SFIV series and it’s no different in SFV. In season one, the Evo 2013 champion was one of the first F.A.N.G pioneers to showcase what the character was capable of; usually having top 8 placings with a couple of ninth and 13th finishes here and there — despite F.A.N.G’s low place on the tier list.
In 2017, he made the switch to Ibuki as his new main, and won his first Premier at Final Round 20 against his former teammate, GRPT|Fuudo. He would go on to place third at DreamHack Austin, fifth at Battle Arena Melbourne 9, and first place at the recent Ranking event Thaiger Uppercut 2017 against Zowie’s Li-Wei Lin a.k.a. Oil King in probably one of the most nail-biting SFV grand finals yet.
Xian is a mentally strong player who doesn’t have many holes or weaknesses in his gameplay. He is definitely on track to make himself a two-time Evo champion, if he keeps up the pace.
The Disrespectful Nut: AW|Nemo
Current CPT standing: 284
Don’t let his current CPT rank fool you. Alienware’s Naoki Nemoto hasn’t traveled to any offline CPT events this year so far, and has only participated in the second CPT Online Asia/Oceania Ranking event where he finished in ninth place. However, in the non-CPT events he has competed in, Nemo took first place in the 6th Topanga League, fourth at FightClub Cup 2017, second at RAGE Vol. 4, and his biggest win yet at Red Bull Kumite 2017 against fellow countryman, Gachikun.
Nemo has placed top 8 at Evo for the last two years, and he’s looking on-track to do the same thing this year — and it is highly likely he can pull the rug from underneath these players and steal a first place Evo victory for the first time in his career. His new main, Urien, perfectly compliments his reckless-but-calculated play style, along with his smooth execution to tilt even the most hardened players to make elementary mistakes. He needs to keep his aggressive streak in control though, if he wants to win — since his biggest strength can sometimes be his undoing.
The Unbreakable Moving Wall: GRPT|Fuudo
Characters: R. Mika
Current CPT standing: 9th place
The Evo 2011 champion has been the epitome of ultimate defense, spacing, and hard reads since his Fei Long days SSFIV:AE 2011. Now Keita Ai has transferred his refined play into SFV through R. Mika, who puts you in constant mix-ups and 50/50 setups on top of everything Keita is already good at doing to his opponents. Like Xian, it’s hard to spot Keita’s weaknesses — as he is probably one of the cleanest, most fundamentally-sound players, with some of the most insane reactions in the business.
What’s even more amazing are Keita’s 2017 results in SFV — top 3 in everything he has competed in so far, in with the exception of the recent Cacpom Online Asia/Oceania 2 event, where he finished in ninth. That’s just a small blemish on an otherwise mostly spotless run. Keita seems poised to win his second Evo, if he can slightly outplay his opponent a little more and make the proper adjustments to download opponents a little quicker than usual.
The Lord of Nash: RB|Bonchan
Current CPT standing: 3rd place
Red Bull’s Masato “Bonchan” Takahashi had a rough start in season one of SFV. The god of Sagat couldn’t quite translate his skills through his first main — Ryu — and his results were showing it. He made the switch to Nash in the middle of the year, but it wasn’t successful at first. After Southeast Majors 2016, something finally clicked with Nash, and he started having top 3 and top 5 placements for the rest of 2016 and early 2017. So far his lowest placings were 17th at Ultimate Fighting Arena and 25th at DreamHack Austin. He then went on to win two CPT Ranking tournaments and his first CPT Premier at Battle Arena Melbourne 9. His most recent results were three 5th place finishes in a row at Red Bull Kumite 2017, Capcom Online Asia/Oceania 2, and Thaiger Uppercut 2017.
What’s awesome about this is that Masato is getting these results with a character most players wrote off as not viable at tournament level, after the season two update weakened some of Nash’s most useful tools. Now he’s the highest-ranking Japanese player on the CPT global leaderboard. Considered the best Nash in the world right now, Masato continues to push the limits of what a character is capable of, no matter how weak or strong they are — just like what he did with Sagat in the previous game. Maybe he can prove the quote, “You can nerf the character, but you can’t nerf the player,” by winning Evo 2017.
The Golden Kid from Philly: PG|Punk
Country: Pennsylvania, USA
Characters: Karin, Nash, Urien
Current CPT standing: 1st place
Who would’ve imagined that a young player from Philadelphia would be ranked number one in the world for the latest game in the Street Fighter franchise? Well, that has now become a reality in the form of Panda Global’s Victor “Punk” Woodley, who has been a dominant force in this game both online and offline with his dangerous Karin play that can end sets before you realize he’s already won. Ever since his breakout third place performance at the CPT Regionals Finals North America qualifier, Punk has quickly become a household name throughout the fighting game community and beyond. Other than getting 25th at Final Round 20 and seventh at Fighters Underground 2017, Punk has placed either first or second at every big major and invitational since he won his first major at Northeast Championships last year.
The funny thing is, even though he’s supposedly new to the fighting game community, he embodies a lot of the old school FGC attitude from days gone by — he has the confidence, swagger, trash talk, and skills to back it all up. Punk has beaten everybody that is a somebody in Street Fighter V both in the States and from overseas. If Punk can control his emotions and play his game, he can be the first American player to win Street Fighter at Evo since 2008, when John Choi beat Nuki in Super Street Fighter II Turbo and in Capcom vs. SNK 2.
We’ll find out this weekend in Las Vegas if at least some of these predictions come through!