NuckleDu has had a crazy year. After opting out of defending his title at Capcom Cup last year, the 2016 champion then parted ways with Team Liquid, setting out on his own for a period.
With a new sponsor and armed with some amazing tricks, Ghost|NuckleDu once again finds himself in the driver’s seat of a possible deep run at Capcom Cup. The question then becomes how far that drive will go.
Let’s face it, Du’s ability to switch characters is unrivaled at this juncture in the Street Fighter V meta. He ended 2016 with two very strong characters in Guile and R. Mika — which were ultimately the two characters he stuck it out with the majority of the time on the Capcom Pro Tour in 2017. His ability to change characters based primarily on his opponents rather than their characters, and make it work, is hard to compare to anyone.
But to assume that this is where that aspect of his game ends would be a disservice to him. The early points of the season saw him pick up a pocket Cammy to complement his two mains — which he has pulled out at several points to success. But to further matters, to counter Menat — a character which has very few bad matchups — he whipped out a surprise G on Justin Wong at Red Bull Conquest. The character — with a projectile that can’t be reflected as effectively, and ranges that can actually outpoke her — proved to put Justin off-kilter for two straight games, before Du had to switch back to R. Mika to finish the job.
While it would’ve been more impressive if he had finished the job with G, the fact that he was able to do all of this with a seemingly tertiary character, then have the wherewithal to switch off to finish the job is remarkable. Few people have that kind of inner dialogue where they can reason out when it’s time to switch — with many either knee-jerking to a character off a wrong belief that they can’t clutch it out with the character they first picked, and many others talking themselves out of switching either out of pride, or fear that they’re wrong. NuckleDu has it, and he does very well in choosing right more often than not.
NuckleDu was easily one of the most consistent players on the tour. Only four of his seventeen tournaments resulted in him finishing outside of top 8, and this was across two continents. This also includes a top 8 at Tokyo Game Show, which is always a tough tournament bracket to crack — and he not only achieved this, but made it through to the top half of the finals. But to factor this in, he won three ranking events, all of which featuring several solid players that have made it in to Capcom Cup already.
Here’s my struggle with NuckleDu: he’s not beating a lot of players consistently. He’s traded back and forth with Justin Wong over the span of the last year. While he was able to take MenaRD at Defend the North, he lost in the longer set at Texas Showdown.
It could always be that Du is trying to figure things out. But the thing is, every time he figures something out, he gives players that he beats the data to figure out for the next time. It’s a constant ping-pong between winning and losing, as Du should always be analyzing even his wins to find more efficient ways to grab them, just to always be a step ahead of his opponents. He may be, but coming to the wrong conclusions in that case.
NuckleDu has the right mix of characters and talent to make a deep run. And it would be a bad decision to ever put him outside of top 8 at this point. He is definitely one of the best players in the entire circuit.
But he’s been struggling to find the same magic he did in 2016. He was unable to capitalize this year and take a Premier title, and hasn’t since all the way back in May 2017 at Combo Breaker. This doesn’t make me doubt his talent — he has that in spades. But it could be that he’s just struggling to recapture the spark he had in 2016 and 2017.
I believe he’s going to get there, and for all we know, he’ll save it for Vegas. But based off of the season itself, it could be a bumpy road to get there.
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