Street Fighter V Invitational Group A Highlights
It's no surprise ELEAGUE's Street Fighter V Invitational Group A matches were full of thrills and clutch performances.
With some of the best players in the world facing off for a chance at $250,000 in prize money, all bets were off. And even though the high-energy atmosphere carried with it a sense of camaraderie and respect, it wasn't long before the gloves came off.
After several hours of round-robin play, where the players fought for a place in the Invitational's Group A finals, there were a few interesting surprises in both the upper and lower brackets. For starters, both MenaRD and PR Balrog found themselves on the outside looking in when the Group A finals began. A feisty Dogura had handed each of them eliminations in some truly inspiring play in the lower bracket.
But perhaps even more unexpected was that Jonathan "JB" Bautista, winner of ELEAGUE's The Challenger: Street Fighter V competition series, found himself in Group A's Top 3 alongside EVO champions Luffy and Tokido.
As the combatants prepared to face each other in the finals, stakes were high: Two street fighters would go home, while two would advance to the Invitational's ultimate arena.
JB v. Tokido (Rashid v. Akuma)
The first match of the finals saw JB taking on Tokido. It was the quintessential David vs. Goliath match: a champion facing an up-and-coming star.
It's true that JB's made a name for himself in areas of the FGC because of his Rashid main and performances at NLBC and WNF, but facing such a tough opponent in Tokido was an almost impossible task from the start.
JB fought valiantly as he and Tokido respectfully duked it out in the match's early games, testing each other with quick normals and EX prods. However, JB's aggressive play led to some missed opportunities and left him vulnerable at key moments -- which Tokido took full of advantage of.
Ultimately, Tokido's Akuma proved too much for JB and Rashid. Tokido's compact play led him to victory in the fourth game of the match as he drove JB into a corner, activating for heavy damage. Tokido followed up with an expert Sekia Kuretsuha to send the relative newcomer to the lower bracket to face Dogura.
JB v. Dogura (Rashid v. Urien)
This was a match that saw some truly great play between two tenacious combatants, with both JB and Dogura showcasing amazing offensive and defensive capabilities. Dogura had already beaten (however shakily) MenaRD and PR Balrog, so he was well warmed up for JB as the bout began -- but that didn't mean he came out swinging.
Early in the first round of the first match, it was a defensive battle between the two, each feeling the other out with quick attacks and baits. A few clutch plays from JB and misses by Dogura helped JB win two rounds in the match, but ultimately, Dogura proved too much for the youngblood challenger: expert knee drops and throws by Dogura initiated stuns at key moments, leaving JB wide open for devastating combos.
In the final round of the match, Dogura unleashed a near-perfect Aegis. And although blocked by JB, what appeared to be a missed final block opened him to a Dogura normal followed by a devastating EX counter that secured Dogura's 3-0 win, sending JB home.
Tokido v. Luffy (Akuma v. R. Mika)
With JB eliminated from play, focus shifted to what would become the bout of the night. Two EVO champions facing off in Group A was surely exciting, but what would happen next was something that may very well be forever etched in Street Fighter's lore.
In a match that went for five riveting rounds, Luffy's R.Mika utterly devastated Tokido's Akuma in the first two games. In Round 2 of the first game, Luffy was so effective that he gained a perfect victory over Tokido in only 19 seconds, shocking the crowd and commentators alike.
However, Tokido was undeterred and came storming back. In what might be one of the best examples of focus in all of Street Fighter V play, Tokido recalculated his enemy and tweaked his strategy to land combo after combo on his opponent, effectively using nullifiers, counters, and clutch defensive play (alongside the rarely used dive kick) to best his opponent 3-2.
Yes, Tokido, down 2-0 in the match, won three games in a row against one of Europe's best players to advance to the Invitational's finals. It was one of the most insanely entertaining finishes in professional Street Fighter.
Luffy v. Dogura (R. Mika v. Urien)
Coming off such an exciting match in Luffy v. Tokido, the match between Luffy and Dogura took on new meaning. Going into the match, Luffy seemed to have lost the swagger he had held only half an hour before. It was clear that the loss to Tokido had affected him in both attitude and play.
As the first game got underway in this final match of the night, both players attacked aggressively, trying to body the other into submission. Much like in the bout between Luffy and Tokido, Luffy proved how powerful R. Mika really is as he employed and landed throw after throw, giant swing after giant swing. He won the first game but struggled in the second.
There, Dogura took both rounds with patient, methodical play, something that would come to define not only Dogura's play over the next three games but his play throughout the rest of the match. Alongside a few missed Nadeshikos and mistimed throws from Luffy, it was a strategy that saw Dogura best Luffy and advance into the finals, capping a task most thought incredibly improbable at the beginning of the night.
ELEAGUE'S Street Fighter V Invitational is a five-week competition that pits some of the world's best Street Fighter pros against each other for $250,000 in prizes. Next week, Group B takes the stage. You can watch the matches on ELEAGUE's Twitch channel, as well as TBS, each Friday through June.
Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more coverage of the tournament, as well as Street Fighter V, as it develops.