Street Fighter V ELEAGUE Invitational Finals Recap
To say ELEAGUE's Street Fighter V Invitational has so far been chock full of some the game's most competitive and finest moments might be an understatement. Assembling some of Street Fighter's most talented pros in a single place has the chance to kick things up a notch.
But as tournaments are wont to do, the Invitational's final rounds proved to be some of the most electric of the competition. With the likes of Tokido, Daigo, and Punk taking the stage, the lineup was utterly mind-boggling.
Here's what happened.
Playoffs Game 1: Tokido vs. Punk (Akuma vs. Cammy)
The first match of the night pitted Punk against Tokido, both of whom faced each other at EVO 2017. Although Tokido won that match, Punk was confident his strong play in the Invitational's Group B round would propel him to victory in the finals.
Both fighters started out prodding each other, showcasing the respect they had for on another. However, it was quickly evident that despite Punk's confidence in himself as the self-espoused "mayor" of Georgia was waning. Tokido easily took the first match two rounds to none, putting the young gun on his heels.
Playing with great respect for Punk, Tokido played tight, not overextending himself. He slowed the match down so much that Punk's restlessness grew palpable as his play began to unwind into erratic movements and ill-advised risks. One mistake too many helped put Tokido up 2-0.
A fantastic mid-combo CA put Tokido in the driver's seat during the third game of the match. Going into set point, Punk put his foot on the gas and tried to push Tokido off, but the round was a microcosm of the entire game: Tokido completely bodied Punk -- using the same mid-combo CA (Sekia Kuretsuha) once again to win the set.
Punk was going to the loser's bracket, but that didn't mean things were over. The American won ELEAGUE's 2017 Invitational from the loser's bracket. Tokido hadn't killed the beast yet.
Playoffs Game 2: Problem X vs. Daigo (M. Bison vs. Guile)
Right out of the gate, this game was much faster and more frenetic than the game between Tokido and Punk, with both fighters coming out swinging with heavy attacks, normals, and specials. Daigo, however, seemed ready for everything Problem X threw at him, as he went up 1-0 with superior footsie play.
However, it seemed that Problem X settled in between matches as things became decidedly more defensive in the second bout. From the looks of things, it was pretty clear that Problem X had caught on to Daigo's tactics -- and Daigo knew it. Showcasing some truly fantastic neutral play, clutch V-trigger activation, and superiro EX play (where the Dai-God didn't miss a single flash kick), Daigo went up on Problem X 2-0.
Things didn't change in the third game as Daigo bodied Problem to get one win away from the winner's bracket. But Problem didn't like the thought of going home so quickly -- he readjusted and brought the hurt to Daigo, pushing with heavy attacks and specials.
But as was the story of the entire game, Daigo seemingly wasn't phased by the onslaught. He played patiently and defensively, handily winning the final match, and sweeping the British fighter 3-0. Problem X was going to the lower bracket of the finals to face Momochi, while Daigo was going to winner's to face Tokido.
Playoffs Game 3: Dogura vs. Momochi (Urien vs Cody)
This was the matchup of the awful round-robin fighters; both Dogura and Momochi had gone 0-5 in their respective group's round robin play, only to turn things around in featured play and run the gauntlet to the finals. However, one of them wouldn't be so lucky this time around: this was the night's first loser-go-home match, so tensions were high as the fighters took the stage.
As things kicked off, Momochi surprised nearly everyone in the studio (perhaps with the exception of the ELEAGUE analysts) by picking Cody over his normal go-to, Kolin.
The effects seemed almost instantaneous. Although Momochi seemed a bit rusty with Cody out of the gate, he quickly pulled things together put Dogura on his heels. As the first game progressed slowly, it was obvious that Dogura wasn't comfortable facing a Momochi-controlled Cody, one he'd not yet seen in tournament play.
Unable to get his bearings on the character, Dogura struggled to defend against Momochi's attacks and quickly went down 2-0 to his rival. As things moved into the third game of the match, Dogura was out of sorts -- where he even seemed to give up on offensive play, turtling into a defensive stance that never gave him shelter from Momochi's relentless offense.
Dogura's fate was sealed when he missed several key EX moves and normals in the latter stages of the game. Momochi's pre-match bravado turned into unquestionable arrogance as he toyed with a helpless Dogura. With another win, Momochi sent Dogura home -- and sealed third straight game sweep of the night.
Playoffs Game 4: Smug vs. Fujimura (Balrog vs. Ibuki)
Smug, feeling like Agent Smith from the Matrix, was his normal trash-talking self before the match. Postulating the possibilities of his future opponents, it appeared he had already started looking past Fujimura -- and had perhaps set himself up for failure in a critical match against a renowned opponent.
However, it was evident from the first punch that Smug was playing with what would come to feel like divine power as the night wore on. Landing heavy crush damage, Smug pulled off fantastic anti-airs and normals, seemingly having an answer for everything Fujimura threw at him.
Smug's unreal defense -- which helped him block basically every attack from Fujimura's Ibuki -- put the United States fighter in a powerful position coming out of the first game.
Things didn't change moving forward. Smug continued to completely punish and body Fujimura with a fusillade of blows and reversals. The vibe in the studio went from shocked to frenzied as Smug destroyed Fujimura round after round, exchange after exchange.
Fujimura cam back in the third match with a round-one perfect, but Smug wasn't going to go down. With utter poise, Smug played smart and didn't cave to Fujimura's baits. With the greatest of ease, Smug defeated Fujimura 3-0 for the night's fourth sweep in as many games.
Fujimura, a player who everyone thought would not only be in the winner's bracket of the finals but perhaps even win the tournament, was sent packing by an up-and-coming star.
Playoffs Game 5: Momochi vs. Problem X (Kolin/Cody vs. Abigail/M. Bison)
Although Cody had proven a wise choice in his fight against Dogura, Momochi decided to bet on familiarity in his bout against Problem X. On paper, Kolin vs. Abigail was a more balanced match for Momochi, but as things played out, that assumption was quickly called in to question.
As anyone who's played or watched Street Fighter V knows, Abigail is one of the game's most overpowered characters -- and that fact has never been clearer than in this match. Problem X wasted no time in devastating Momochi's Kolin, outweighing Kolin's tactical prowess with sheer power.
Problem X controlled the neutral and even though Momochi rarely froze or pulled back his attacks, Problem X was able to take advantage to easily go up 1-0 in the first match.
Moving into the later rounds and matches, it constantly felt as if Momochi was playing from behind. Not only was it difficult to gain any ground in the neutral against such a massiv foe, Kolin just couldn't match Abigail's damage output, forcing Momochi to take several unnecessary risks throughout the game.
Up 2-0, Problem X oozed confidence as the two fighters entered the set match. But having had enough of Abigail, Momochi switched to Cody. Immediately, it was obvious that Problem X -- just like Dogura -- wasn't as familiar with Cody as he would have liked and quickly went on the defensive. Unable to get a hold on the character, Problem X went down, giving Momochi his first victory of the set.
However, game four would see Problem X pulling out the big guns with a switch to M. Bison. Going down as the best match of the night to that point, both players took each other down to pixels and less than 10 seconds in two rounds of the match. Despite Problem X's tenacity, Momochi was able to find the small damage to even the set at 2-2.
But with two matches against Cody under his belt, Problem X wasn't about to give up. He'd seen how Momochi used the character, but more importantly, that Momochi wasn't entirely comfortable with the new addition. Taking advantage of that, Problem X was able to utterly devastate Momochi in the second and third rounds of the final game to take the set 3-2 and send Momochi packing.
Playoffs Game 6: Smug vs. Punk (Balrog vs. Karin/Cammy)
A loser-goes-home match between two of the most boisterous and animated fighters in the tournament, the sixth game of the night was primed to be one of the most exciting of the tournament. It was also the first U.S. vs. U.S. match of the night, meaning that at least one United States player would go home, leaving only one to take on the rest of the field.
Throughout the tournament, Punk had almost exclusively relied on strong Cammy play to defeat his opponents. However, Punk knew that Smug had struggled against his Karin before, and in a somewhat surprising move, chose the character going into the game.
At the beginning, it seemed like a perfect pick: Cammy basically nullified Smug's Balrog. However, Smug's divine provenance shined through -- following a strong start in the first game, Punk couldn't stay out of the corner. Getting utterly bodied by Smug, Punk was quickly overpowered, going down 1-0.
The second match was more of the same. Smug, playing out of his mind and with only a killer's scowl on his face, bodied Punk to go up 2-0.
Going into the game's set match, ELEAGUE's reigning champion made a quick switch to Cammy, a move that appeared more desperate than strategic. The change put Smug somewhat on the defensive, but not for long as began dealing heavy damage to take the first round.
Although Punk wouldn't go quietly into the night, playing patiently and defensively to gain a win in the second round, Smug held things together and gave the audience the fifth 3-0 sweep of the night, sending the defending champion home and advancing to face Problem X -- and an Abigail that had given him nightmares the entire tournament.
Finals Game 1: Tokido vs. Daigo (Akuma vs. Guile)
No one expected two of the very best fighters from the tournament to face each other in the first match of the winner's bracket finals. It was almost unthinkable going into the night that these mythic players would potentially send the other home so early.
Going into the bout, Daigo seemed to be in Tokido's head as he said in a pre-match interview that he wasn't sure if he could beat Daigo and advance to the Grand Final. It didn't help that Daigo had gotten the best of Tokido the last several times the two had met outside of the Invitational.
Because of that, the game began with extremely methodical play from Tokido to keep Daigo at bay and slowly chip away at his health. The tactic payed off as Tokido took the first match and go up 1-0.
Strong special play and neutral control defined the next match, with Tokido bullying Daigo's Guile and taking life away in chunks. It seemed like Daigo couldn't get over Tokido's well-placed fireballs and dragon punches no matter how hard he tried.
Up 2-0, Tokido went insane with Akuma in the third match, keeping Daigo constantly on the defensive and always uncomfortable. As his confidence gres, Tokido began taking more chances, ultimately paying off in a lopsided 3-0 victory. Completely shocked, the audience sat in silence as Daigo went to the loser's bracket without winning a single match.
Finals Game 2: Problem X vs. Smug (Abigail vs. Balrog)
With one of the Invitational's hottest American fighters taking on frenemey Problem X, the audience erupted in chants of "U.S.A.", filled the studio a nationalistic fervor that only fed Smug's already overflowing confidence.
As one of Street Fighter V's scummiest characters took on one of its spammiest, things started out hot with Problem X reminding Smug why Abigail is one of the hardest characters to beat. Dealing heavy damage and soaking up crush after crush, Problem X threw smug around the arena to body Smug into an 0-1 corner.
But there was something in Smug's eyes that told us all he wasn't about to go down without a fight. In Match 2, he came back strong and completely dominated to win both rounds and tie things up 1-1. Putting Problem on his toes going into the third match, it quickly became evident Smug wasn't scared of Abigail after his Match 1 jitters -- Smug took Match 3 to go up 2-1 on Problem X.
Smelling blood in the water, Match 4 was more of the same. Smug dominated Problem X in every conceivable way, sending the British fighter packing. Winning 3-1, Smug showcased what a jumpback really is -- and why his Balrog was the character to beat.
Finals Game 3: Smug vs. Daigo (Balrog vs. Guile)
Coming off a loss to Tokido in the winner's bracket, Daigo didn't take a red-hot Smug lightly. It was a match between an excellent, nearly flawless Guile against an unbeatable Balrog. On paper, Smug should've had little chance against the Dai-God, but his momentum and ferocity were unmatched, spelling doom for the seasoned pro.
As things got underway, Daigo knew he had to play it slow to survive against Smug's Balrog. And in the early goings, it seemed like Daigo had a strong gameplan: no matter what Smug threw at Daigo, he didn't lose his composure and kept the attack methodical and patient.
But even patient play couldn't keep him from going down 1-0.
Emboldened by the American's win, the crowd grew louder going into the second match. Daigo collected himself and pushed forward, using strategic flashkicks and booms to wear Smug down. Weathering the storm, Daigo evened things up at 1-1.
Going into the third match, each player looked to slow things down, jabbing at each other, playing the neutral, and testing each other. Smug took the first round with a pixel after forcing Daigo into the corner. A flash kick secured the round two for Daigo after a barrage of hits forced him to trigger early. But in a match that would eventually define Daigo's night, the veteran's patience and persistence weren't enough to best Smug, and he went down 2-1.
As the crowd erupted, the two went into set match, both drilling away at each other, taking off massive amounts of health with reversals, specials, and throws. Here, in what some thought would be a defining moment, the legend of Daigo reared its head to force a fifth game.
With things tied up 2-2, set match saw insane defense from Smug in the second and third rounds. In what may go down as one of the most critical misses of the tournament, Daigo whiffed an almost certain CA to get punished by Smug. A blocked flashback into a devastating uppercut sealed the match for Smug, sending him to the Grand Finals to face a disciplined Tokido.
Grand Final: Tokido vs. Smug (Akuma vs Balrog)
Coming into the Grand Final from the loser's bracket meant that Smug had to reset the bracket to take the ELEAGUE trophy home. As if that wasn't difficult enough, he had to do it against Tokido, who was not only the defending EVO champion but hadn't lost a single game during the SFV Invitational.
Starting things out, Tokido played very patient -- but perhaps too patient. Even dropping a huge combo early on, Smug was able to assert his dominance in with clutch play after clutch play -- with some combos completely mystifying both the audience and commentators alike.
In many ways, it appeared Smug was destined to win -- as if he was unbeatable. Thinking he would win the second round of the second match, Tokido pulled off what would have normally been a match-ending Critical Art, but leaving Smug a pixel, his opponent pushed back and defeated Tokido with his own CA, riding that momentum into the next round to go up 2-0.
With much of the outstanding play we'd already seen over the course of the night, Smug reset the bracket by going 3-0. The crowd frothed with excitement, and Smug sat in confident disbelief that he had just swept one of the best Street Fighter players in the world without breaking a sweat.
However, as it often does with any sport, halftime was the intermission within a tale of two halves.
In a quick succession of events, Tokido looked like a changed man, coming out extremely strong on both offense and defense to punish Smug in the first two matches of the second set, winning handily -- and not dropping a single round. Smug fought back, taking both rounds of the third match to pull closer at 2-1.
It what was a flurry of matches -- the second set flew by at breakneck speed -- the two combatants ferociously fought for dominance. In a valiant effort, Smug took Tokido to the line multiple times, only to be defeated again and again.
It was the end of a Cinderella run. Tokido dominated the second set and took the tournament with the greatest of ease, winning the ELEAGUE final 3-1 and taking home $110,000.
To see all the action from the 2018 Street Fighter V Invitational Finals, head over to ELEAGUE's Twitch channel to see a complete replay. Stay tuned for more news and information on not only Street Fighter V, but next year's ELEAGUE Invitational.
Header image credit: ELEAGUE