Roll the dice: Results, on-site report, and thoughts from Hameko on 賽 [sài], the pre-Evo Japan tournament

By on August 5, 2017 at 2:00 pm
sai logo black with date

During Evolution 2017’s championship Sunday performance, we were all treated to a new announcement regarding the highly-anticipated Evolution Japan. With the premier of this trailer — live in the Mandalay Bay Events Center arena — it begins to settle in that an event promised to us over 8 years ago, was finally happening. Beyond nuclear reactor meltdowns or even Mother Nature herself, nothing could stop Evo Japan from becoming a reality.

Now that we have more information regarding Evo Japan, including game lineup and dates, I wanted to share my experience at the pre-Evo Japan tournament, 賽 [sài], that took place from May 20-21, 2017. This tournament was more or less a “test” for the Evo Japan Committee, but was also a fun stand-alone event.

-The Venue-
UDX Theater in Akihabara, Tokyo
UDX Theater in Akihabara, Tokyo

This event was held in UDX Theater, a complex near Akihabara Station that houses several smaller auditoriums inside. This venue is super easy to access for travelers from overseas, and is conveniently located a short walk from JR Akiba Station. While there were no food vendors inside the venue (though Red Bull was there in full force), because the venue is in the middle of Akiba, getting food and drink is no issue.

The front entrance to the main hall for 「Sai」
The front entrance to the main hall for 賽 [sài]
For 賽 [sài], there were two main tournament areas. The main hall was a wide-open hall-style space that housed the main events. Along the back wall, there were numerous arcade units for Tekken 7 (this event occurred before the console release), as well as the console setups for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Guilty Gear Xrd REV 2.

20170520_142528

Then of course, there was the main stage, which was set up similar to what you would imagine if you have ever been to a major fighting game tournament. There were three big screens with lots of seating.

The big stage at「Sai」

On Saturday, the main hall was used to run pools and quarter-finals for the main titles, Tekken 7, Guilty Gear, and Smash. The tournaments for the side games (KoFXIV, BlazBlue, and Dead or Alive) were run in an adjacent hall upstairs. They then came to the main stage to run their finals in front of the crowd.

20170521_131743 (1)

The second day of the event was reserved for top 8 performances for the main titles, with the adjacent halls closed off.

20170521_125742

Now that you have seen what the venue was like, let’s take a look at the tournament results from that weekend!

-Roll the Dice-

Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2: 278 entrants

1st: Samitto (Chipp)
2nd: Zadi (Raven)
3rd: Ogawa (Zato-1)
4th: Haaken (Sol)
5th: Kazuki (Dizzy)/FAB (Potemkin)
7th: Ogichan (Johnny)/LOX (Jam)

This was the second big tournament for GG since the REV 2 update, and boy, did it not disappoint. The star of the show was the Chipp legend Samitto, as he had to claw his way from the losers bracket to win the tournament against some terrifying opponents, including Lox (who put him in losers), FAB, Haaken, and Ogawa. He beat Zadi in two sets (3-1/3-2) to take the tournament. Check out this close set between him and FAB, which left the entire hall standing.

Of course, the other popular clip from this event featured Ogawa open firing on the crowd after defeating Kazuki.

Tekken 7: Fated Retribution: 234 entrants

1st: Amiigo (Jin)
2nd: Kagemaru (Josie)
3rd: Kowashiyashiroo (Steve)
4th: Nobi (Dragunov)
5th: Taris Cutter (Kazumi)/Helpme (Shaheen/Law/Paul)
7th: Furumizu (Paul)/AO (Alisa)

Kagemaru had an interesting journey in this tournament, in that he lost to Helpme in winners, but then proceeded to carve everyone in his path in losers. He beat Furumizu, Taris Cutter, Yamasa|Nobi, and finally Kowashiyashiroo in loser’s finals. Kagemaru had so much momentum going into grand finals, and pushed Amiigo to the last game. However, in the end, Amiigo held firm and took it in one set (3-2) to win.

If you don’t think the competition for Tekken at this tournament was among the highest in Japan, the quarter-finals for this tournament was nothing short of a bloodbath. Consider that players like Take, Chikurin, Pekos, and even Echo Fox|Saint missed top 8. Check out this match between Furumizu and Saint to qualify for top 8 on losers side!

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (3v3 CREW battles): 57 teams/177 entrants

1st: Team Baked Salmon
Tsu (Lucario)/Ken (Sonic)/ Kirihara (Rosalina)

2nd: Team MKShuB
9B (Bayonetta)/Echofox| MKLeo (Cloud/Marth/Metaknight)/Shuton (Pikmin/Mario)

3rd: Team Sky Emissaries
T (Link)/Kuro (Pit)/ Aasu (Pit)

4th: Team DetonatioN Gaming
Kameme (Sheik/Megaman)/Rain (Diddy)/Nietono (Sheik)

Check out 9B finishing off T off the top, in similar fashion to how Zero was executed at Evolution 2017.

Unfortunately, he ran into Tsu in grand finals, in an anchor vs. anchor face off for the tournament. In a dramatic off-stage exchange, Tsu uses a fully charged shadow ball while in high rage percent to clear 9B off the side, sealing the tournament for Team Baked Salmon.

BlazBlue: Central Fiction 110 entrants

1st: Fenricchi (Jin)
2nd: Ryuusei (Carl)
3rd: Ronitta (Es)
4th: Fukkuu (Bang)
5th: Shiino (Nine/Noel)/Miiya (Jin/Izanami)
7th: Fumi (Nine)/Souji (Arakune)

In what turned out to be a preview of the Evolution 2017 grand final, Fenricchi rose through loser’s to face Ryuusei in the grand final. This was an awesome set, featuring some incredible offensive and defensive sequences that truly highlights how magnificent these two players are. Watch as Fenrichhi refuses to buckle under pressure, carefully navigates through Carl’s mixups, and presses on in two sets to beat Ryuusei.

The King of Fighters XIV: 75 entrants

1st: Koukou (Benimaru/Kyo/Iori)
2nd: Hisa (Benimaru/Kyo/Iori)
3rd: Oogosho (Billy/Muimui/Daimon)
4th: K2 (Benimaru/Iori/Mature)
5th: Abao (Benimaru/Robert/Leona)/SR (Nelson/Mature/Leona)
7th: Bon (Nelson/Geese/Gang-il) /Kyoku (Shun’ei/Kula/Iori)

Hisa clinched a nail-biter losers final against Oogosho, for the right to face off against another long time Japanese KOF veteran, Koukou, in a grand finals mirror match. Both players seemed to be playing nervous on this stage, but in the end, Koukou, the Panda, played the cleanest and won.

Dead or Alive 5: Last Round: 63 entrants

1st: JC Akira (Akira)
2nd: Linerback (Mai)
3rd: Kobun (Hayate)
4th: Tanii (Zack)
5th: Kamichan (Mira)/TeruRock (Leifang)
7th: Asshu (Mira/Phase 4)/Beronica (Nyotengu)

With the most dominant DOA player in Japan, Siologica, sitting out of the event to focus on commentary, production, and TO duties, it was off to the races to see who would rise to claim the crown at 賽 [sài]. In the end, JC Akira and Linerback faced off in a rematch from the Japan E-sports Association (JeSPA) qualifier that happened earlier this year, which Linerback won. This grand finals had some cool momentum shifts and sequences, but in the end JC Akira got his revenge on Linerback and took the tournament.


-Thoughts from the Evo Japan Steering Committee Chairman, Hameko-

I sat down with Japanese Fighting Game legend and Evo Japan Steering Committee Chairman, Hameko, shortly after Sai. We talked about a variety of topics, including Japanese FGC events, differences between scenes, and concerns going into Evo Japan.

The man with the plan for Evo Japan, Hameko
The man with the plan for Evo Japan: Hameko

Jazz: To start, could you please introduce yourself, and tell people who might not know you a little about your background?

Hameko: Hello everyone! My name is Noriyuki “Hameko” Kaneko. Many of you in the Western FGC might know me as an SFV “Lab Monster.”

As a player, I am from the same generation as Daigo. My career started when I was about 19, when I started working for a famous arcade gaming publication in Japan called “Arcadia” magazine. I started as just a writer for Tekken series strategies, but eventually came to write on many different fighting game titles, including strategy articles and even books. Starting in 2011, I moved my work to 4gamer.com, where I continued to cover the FGC and expand on fighting game culture. Right now, I also work as a commentator for Street Fighter V and Tekken 7.

For work-related matters, I enjoy a variety of games, including fighting games, FPS, LoL and even rhythm games. However, as a competitor, I am mostly known for the Tekken series from Tekken Tag Tournament through Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection, and Soul Calibur V.

Speaking of old times, my picture has appeared on SRK before. 🙂

[Be sure to check out some samples of Hameko’s work at 4gamer.com here and here.]

In the company of legends
A young Hameko (right) in the company of legends.

Jazz: As a tournament veteran of many titles, what is your proudest moment from a player perspective?

Hameko: A Tekken Tag Tournament event was held around the year 2000 in Shinjuku, Tokyo. In that tournament, I beat the reigning world champion, Seok Dong Min. Either that time, or when I participated in the International Soul Calibur V 5v5 team tournament at the World Game Cup 2013 in Cannes, France. Winning that tournament with Team Japan was a good memory for me. [He teamed up with Itabashi Zangief, Dekopon, Sawazuma, and Kamichan for this tournament!]

Jazz: After the year 2012, the SBO Tougeki tournament series ceased operations. For the Japanese fighting game scene, what kind of effect did this have? During what we can call the “post SBO” era, we have seen multi-title events like 賽 [sài], KSB, Toushinsai, and Evo Japan increase. What do you think is the significance of events like these in the Japanese scene, given that most events in the post-SBO era are focused on a singular title or scene?

Hameko: Around 2011 and 2012, the number of console-exclusive fighting games increased. For example, think about titles like Marvel vs. Capcom 3Soul Calibur V. This was also around the time when core fighting game fans started to get used to streaming, so during this time the situation in Japan became a bit more complex. With the loss of SBO in 2012, it can be said that the Japanese scene lost the tournament that was the goal of every player. With this loss, and the fact that participating in foreign tournaments is so difficult (given travel costs and time off from work), this had a huge effect on the mid-level players of the scene. Of course, there is a huge variety of fighting game tournaments in Japan, but not many of them are geared towards mass spectators.

As I said before, around 2012 streaming culture had already started to build momentum, but by now everyone is used to it in Japan. People here, however, tend not to venture outside of information directly related to their personal interests. As a result, the chances for people to do, watch, or participate in events that are not directly related to their personal interests have decreased. In that sense, I think there is some significance to this kind of event, because it challenges those notions.

Jazz: Most tournaments in the West are usually run as 3 day events now, but in Japan this format is not very popular. Why do you suppose that is?

Hameko: Events held in Japan are mostly focused in central Tokyo. where the cost of wide event space is very expensive. Thus, it becomes very difficult for grassroots events to run events that span multiple days at these kinds of venues (KSB in Osaka seems to be doing really well though!). Furthermore, there just aren’t many convention halls to begin with, so running events in the Western style of convention hall and hotel combo is difficult. In addition, there are issues with taking holidays in the Japanese work environment. For these reasons, events that span multiple days like they do overseas are few and far between.

Jazz: Does being named Evo Japan Steering Committee Chairman have any personal significance for you?

Hameko: I recognize that this position calls on me to bring together the demands of the many fighting game communities of Japan, and coordinate an event that reflects those communities as much as possible. Unlike Evo in America, Evo Japan was started by a corporation, and it doesn’t have prior history with the community. It isn’t easy to win the trust of the Japanese FGC in a year, and I think it was better for them to call on someone like me who has history in the scene, rather than some business person with no experience or knowledge about the FGC.

Jazz: When 賽 [sài] was first announced, many people expected Street Fighter V to be a selected title. At first, it was rumored the reason for it being excluded was that there wasn’t an arcade version. Then, many people heard that there were licensing issues with the game. Could you clarify what happened?

Hameko: Personally, I think there are lots of incredible players in Japan outside of the pro players everyone knows, and I want to give them more opportunities for success.

Regarding Street Fighter V, we were unable to secure the rights to use the game at the event. SFV is different from previous entries in the Street Fighter series until now in many ways, and this is also reflected in the license. The current business license with Street Fighter V is changing to a global business license, and the result is that it has become difficult to run events with it in Japan. Of course, the Japanese market is significantly smaller compared to the English-speaking world, I hope that we can create an environment where it is easy to run great events for every community. At this time, let’s say the balance surrounding SFV’s license in Japan similar to how Boxer is in SFV right now. They should update it as soon as possible.

[Please recall that this interview was done shortly after 賽 [sài], before Street Fighter V had been confirmed as a main title for Evo Japan. Given SFV’s nomination as a main event for Evo Japan, this issue, at least for that event, has been solved.]

Hameko (Lily) at a Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection SBO Tougeki qualifier

Jazz: After 賽 [sài], you held a survey, and asked for feedback from the scene. What were some of the most common comments and wishes from the Japanese scene that participated at 賽 [sài]? What points are you looking to improve upon looking forward to Evo Japan? Is there something that is particularly difficult for you to plan for as we move closer to Evo Japan?

Hameko: The most common comment was that the venue was too small. Including the side tournaments, we ran 6 tournaments over 2 days, but I think we managed to reach Akiba Square’s capacity. For that reason, we are looking into changing the venue if time and resources permit. (I’m glad we ran this test tournament!)

JazzGiven last year’s reports of substantial financial backing, it goes without saying that expectations are set high for Evo Japan. Compared to other multi-title events in Japan, how will Evo Japan be different? Looking forward to Evo Japan, what is your personal vision for this event?

Hameko: In Japan, the number of events that are made for spectators has grown, but I don’t think the number of tournaments designed with the competitor in mind has increased. (Of course, this isn’t just a problem with the event design. In addition to the cost and space problems I mentioned before, there are often limits imposed on events from venues. This makes it difficult to run open tournaments, such as events with uncapped entries). Thus, we want to take this opportunity to aim for an open event that anyone can participate in and enjoy.

You may have noticed by now, I think Evo Japan has to be an event for the Japanese FGC first and foremost. I think if we can’t throw an event that the community here enjoys, then there is no way that competitors from overseas will enjoy it either!

Jazz: Thanks for speaking with me about 賽 [sài] and the promise of Evo Japan. Is there anything else you would like to say?

Hameko: Thanks for reading until now! Let’s meet at Evo 2017! And of course, we will be waiting for you at Evo Japan!


– A Rising Sun-

While one might look at the entry numbers and expect more, there are nuances at play. Not only was this tournament planned and organized in a short time, but it was held the same month as KSB in Osaka, an annual large-scale event that takes place during Golden Week, a week-long national holiday in Japan. Given how strict Japanese work culture is with taking days off (especially just 2 weeks after a major national holiday) this and the previously-noted factors surely had an effect on attendance from outside the Tokyo area. Unfortunately, Evo Japan is scheduled for January 26-28, 2018, just 3 weeks after New Year’s holidays in Japan. Could this also make it difficult for some of the older players to get time off for Evo Japan in January?

This contributes to my main personal concern for Evo Japan: where Evo Japan falls on the calendar. January events have become increasingly harder to pull off, as the scene has shifted its attention more towards circuits like the Capcom Pro Tour, King of Iron Fist Tournament, Tekken World Tour, and other tours for which January is essentially in the “off-season.” My question is that given SFV’s inclusion in the main lineup, and the influence of the Tekken World Tour and King of Iron Fist Tournament, could we see some of these tours make early 2018 schedule announcements to include Evo Japan in their circuits next year? With an event that promises to collect some of the best talent in Asia for the titles in the lineup, it would be a huge missed opportunity for some of these tours to not include this event in their schedule. Could this end up making Evo Japan a strong tournament for games like Tekken, the Arc System Works titles, and KOF?

While there are concerns, through Hameko’s words, we can feel the promise of Evo Japan. Since the fall of SBO Tougeki, Japan has struggled in the large-scale event space, especially with regards to attracting foreign travelers in large groups. There are events like KSB in Osaka, Co-op Cup, Mastercup, etc., but tournaments of this scale are few and far between. With Hameko, Markman, and Evo staff at the helm, I think we can look forward to a large-scale event that looks to display and highlight what makes the Japanese fighting game scene so special.

See you in January!

A fighting game player from New Orleans, LA, now living in Japan. A sports fan and arcade gaming enthusiast, find him in Mikado on Saturday nights!