Regardless of who you were rooting for, Tokido’s win is a good thing for Capcom’s flagship fighter. Here’s why.
Las Vegas, Nevada — Sunday night, on July 16, 2017. It was the end of a long and hard struggle for over 2,600 competitors in Street Fighter V at Evo 2017: the final eight contenders now facing off in the finals at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Panda Global’s Victor “Punk” Woodley has torn through the brackets undefeated to sit on the winners side of grand finals; meanwhile, Echo Fox’s Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi, after falling to Punk once already in winners quarter-finals, has made it into top eight on the losers side — and survived to face Punk once again in grand finals. The expectation: Punk is going to take Tokido down one more time, and secure his first Evo championship. That was not the result.
Instead, we saw Tokido battle his way first to a bracket reset, and then take Punk down — definitively. This upset brought the Mandalay Bay audience to their feet in a mix of shock, admiration, and vindication. But what makes this particular victory for Tokido so significant to the game of Street Fighter V and its players?
Street Fighter competition has traditionally been dominated by longtime players from Asia; the West has been in the position of playing catch-up, for the most part — until Street Fighter V. As the first Street Fighter without an arcade release, and designed at its core to allow upsets and comebacks against practical odds. Many Japanese players have voiced their disappointment at the separation of SFV from the arcade culture, and at the game mechanics that, by their definition, are meant to level the playing field between experienced players and newcomers. Street Fighter V wants everyone to have a chance — and this game system that weighs heavily on guesswork, rather than purely rewarding skill, has been heavily criticized by many pro players trying to adapt, on both sides of the Pacific.
We’ve already seen how much this has shaken things up. Capcom Cup 2016 saw the first American Capcom Cup champion in Liquid|NuckleDu, in addition to the first-ever all-American grand finals, shared with Evil Geniuses’ Ricki Ortiz. Both NuckleDu, and later Punk, have been pummeling the legendary Japanese pros in their path over SFV’s last season; gaining massive popularity, and making them favorites to win in any event. We are seeing in the course of a season how SFV has indeed leveled that playing field, and how new champions are acting as gatekeepers to seasoned players, now struggling to get a handle on a game that is similar — but so different — from what they’ve played for years, maybe decades.
It was starting to look like the age of legends we had known had already passed. But — how is that a bad thing?
Not “Street Fighter,” anymore
Street Fighter V is, presently, in a place of dangerously low esteem in the FGC. Ongoing disappointments, criticism and frustration with the game’s design, and erratic communication between Capcom and the fans, have deepened ongoing resentment toward the game. Longtime fans and competitors are frustrated, and social media is essentially a critical mass of SFV hate. As much as we’re rallying behind both veteran and new competitors — and their victories are well-earned, and should be respected — the rise of prominent new champions in this current atmosphere, alongside the complaints from older players, only perpetuates the perception of Street Fighter V as an aberrant game in the franchise: a game that isn’t even really Street Fighter at all. A game so fundamentally flawed that the Street Fighter masters of old can’t keep up anymore.
As much as we want to see the champions challenged, the gods pulled down from their pedestals, negative perception of Street Fighter V has soured this natural process. A question nags the community’s conscience: are these players winning against their predecessors only because Street Fighter V is so broken that Street Fighter players can’t win at it?
Now, that perception is taken to an extreme, of course. While NuckleDu, Punk, and BX3|Phenom have been terrorizing the prior “gods” of the game, those so-called gods were still claiming a fair share of victories as well. But Capcom Cup and the Evolution Championship Series are the big ones — they are what we remember, above all others.
Defending the home turf
Fans get behind players for lots of different, personal reasons. For every player that wants the old masters to remain dominant, another is rooting for the new generation. This is right; this is natural. And Punk was fighting for not only his own victory, but for something of great significance: an American Street Fighter V Evo champion. Razer’s Infiltration completed his “download” and took it from us last year — and he took it from Fuudo, so America was out of luck either way in that grand final. But this year, the U.S.A. almost had it — it was practically expected to happen. Punk has been a nigh-unstoppable force, and the one opponent that endured to grand finals to meet him had been already beaten once already by Punk in the very same tournament.
Power made flesh
What we saw instead was the Wrath of the Raging Demon. Tokido rose up and took Punk apart — and while we watched Woodley break down and lose control of the match, we saw the Murderface glare, merciless, as he executed his enemy over and over. After stunning Punk’s Karin, we saw Tokido use the time not to teabag, but to style on Punk in ways both fitting and exclusive to SFV’s Master of the Fist — a taunt-combo, and of course the Shun Goku Satsu. We were ourselves stunned to see Punk’s dominance so harshly checked, as it became clearer that Tokido had beaten Punk’s spirit before Akuma dealt the final blows to Karin on the big screen.
Echo Fox|Tokido vs. PG|Punk at Evo 2017, Street Fighter V grand finals
The return of Street Fighter
“Tokido has saved Street Fighter!” some professed, in the post-finals excitement. As the hype spilled over into the Red Bull after-party, spectators and players alike came up to me to proclaim what an awesome finals it had been to watch, and how happy they were that Tokido took the championship spot. Why?
There are two notable aspects to Tokido’s win at Evo that bode well for the future of Street Fighter V. First, as much as Punk’s skill is to be respected and admired — and naturally, how much it would have meant to fans for an American to take the Evo championship — the fact that one of Street Fighter’s classic heavyweights managed to secure a win at Evo once again acts as a reassurance that yes, this is still Street Fighter. This is, while for better or worse, still the game we love in some form. Despite the Crush Counters, despite the input lag, despite the netcode, despite Season 2, the greats can still play this game, and win.
But that’s not all. It’s how Taniguchi played during the grand finals that really cinches it. One of the most glaring criticisms of SFV from professional or longtime players is a lack of depth, of options, of variety. Players can’t express themselves in the game, they can’t be “creative.” Daigo Umehara reiterated this sentiment clearly in our interview at Evo itself.
Tokido had played Ryu in Season 1, because the main he wanted wasn’t in the game yet. He immediately took Akuma as his main once again, as soon as Akuma was added to the roster. Now, in those grand finals, we saw the results of a Street Fighter V character in the hands of a veteran master and character specialist. Tokido’s play was fluid, varied, and evocative of both Akuma and Tokido himself. The way he applied his pressure, his neutral, his mix-ups and mind-games, the occasional parry and command throw — Tokido made full use of what Akuma is capable of in SFV, and while it may not be as “deep” as prior games allowed, he demonstrated what can be accomplished when a dedicated player is in sync with a character, limitations of the moveset and game engine be damned.
East and West
While Tokido basked in his hard-fought victory, Punk was visibly distraught at his loss; it was almost as if “Da God” had gotten a taste of what a “real” god of the game could do. Tokido had become the gatekeeper this time, holding the West at bay once again. The Alpha had met his Omega, so to speak.
The East had proven itself still mighty — but Tokido didn’t exactly win easily, of course. He talked about specifically training for the Karin matchup with Mago. He’s had to re-tune his Akuma playstyle to best utilize what the Demon can do in his SFV incarnation. Tokido earned victory through the incredible amount of hard work that all competitors must take on to fight at that level — and this is significant as well, because it confirms that veteran players can adapt to this strange thing called Street Fighter V. Shortly afterwards, Daigo Umehara claimed the top spot at two Capcom Pro Tour events in a row (Abuget Cup, and then Fight Club NRW), raising the question if he himself has now found his own “groove” with Street Fighter V.
Through the same kind of hard work, dedication, and talent, Punk has already come so close to the top, in so little time — and he hasn’t slowed down either after his Evo defeat, earning a win at DreamHack Atlanta soon afterward, and still holding fast to his first-place position on the CPT global leaderboard. He, and others, will rise to challenge the “gods” again, and likely sooner than later. This is how it goes in any competition. NuckleDu is still Capcom Cup champion, and there’s every chance he may be again — or Punk may take his place, or someone else, old or new. We will have new masters, new veterans to come, and Evo 2017’s finals helped to remind us that they still may come from both the East and the West.
Unfortunately, not every playable character –maybe very few, by some accounts — in Street Fighter V allows for as much variety as Akuma does; other longtime character loyalists are instead still frustrated with their mains in SFV. Capcom needs to take heed of this, and continue to build their “service” into the game we all deserve. There’s still a lot of work to be done. We’ve seen glimmers of hope, and that might be enough — for a while longer.
Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer, and do not reflect Shoryuken.com as a whole.