Thursday, April 7, 2016

Getting Nashty - A Journey of A Thousand Miles

People have said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. That was my goal when heading to Final Round 19 in Atlanta, which was actually 500 miles away. I have had respectable Top 16 results at large tournaments in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, such as PowerUp and Season’s Beatings, but Final Round is one of the biggest and toughest competitions out there. I tried to be realistic yet optimistic about my goals with Street Fighter V, and decided that making it out of pools would be my target. Achieving this would put me in the top 128 players out of more than 1000.

I was a bit apprehensive about such a long drive, especially since it was Saint Patrick’s Day; a day notorious for traffic accidents and trouble with the police. Although we did see some nasty collisions on the highway, the drive was quite tolerable. My friends Jake, Luke, and I listened to music and podcasts to pass the time, and the sweet drawl of Steve Austin inspired us to put in werk. We hit the road on Thursday evening and the tournament did not begin until Saturday morning, giving us plenty of time to reach our destination.

Friday was completely open for me to just hang out with my friends and play some casuals. Tournaments often create a conflict between performing at your best, and partying with people that you don't get to see very often. I made it a point to strike a balance between the two. It was exciting to watch the great matches in Marvel, Tekken, Pokken, Darkstalkers, and many more. In true anime fashion, the Guilty Gear players were playing on the floor in the hallway as we arrived.
This serves as a warning to any respectable people that happened to be in the same hotel as the FGC: save yourself. There was even a setup for one of my old favorites: WWF No Mercy. Arturo had his stream setup in the main lobby, rather than in a “secret” hotel room. This let everyone enjoy salty suite matches without having to be in the cool kid group, and avoided the inevitable police visit once the room became too full and loud. Eventually a fight did manage to break out in the lobby and someone had to be thrown out. I took this as my cue to hit the sack.

Saturday, I was in pool 44 out of 64, meaning I would be playing in the afternoon. I am more of a morning person, but gaming tournaments are usually late at night. Two people from each pool would be advancing, creating an elite bracket of the top 128 players for Sunday. There were definitely some logistical issues that made the pool area very cramped and hot. There was a guy playing in a full fox outfit that I felt especially bad for.

Although there was some confusion about the brackets being posted online, it appeared that I had relatively good luck with mine. I only had to play some notable players from the West coast, and not any elite pros from Asia. I made some mistakes but was able to make it out of my bracket on the winners side. A Cammy player was my final opponent for the day. I won, but not easily. This is a character that will prove to be problematic for me in the future. On Sunday I woke up early due to some confusion on when the finals bracket would begin. I was excited to get in early and practice with some of the pros. I was treated to lengthy sets with SoCal legend Alex Valle, and New York Marvel pro RayRay. Valle made a joke out of my neutral game, but I was able to take a game here and there thanks to Nash’s lack of dependence on neutral. Still, this is going on the “to do” list for sure. RayRay highlighted the importance of meaty attacks, as he would use Chun Li’s jab on wakeup to stop my pressure constantly. He did not change this strategy until I proved I could stuff out his moves and capitalize with a counter hit combo. From then on we had some solid back and forth games.

When the bracket began I found I was up against Nuckledu. He was the top Guile in SF4, and one of the worst people to come up against. I tried to remind myself that I had it pretty easy up until this point, and dedicated myself to learning something win or lose, and learn I did. A player named Cubano Loco was my loser’s bracket opponent. He was in my earlier pool, but this time he beat me. I think I had become a little too satisfied with my performance, a little frustrated with the logistics of the tournament, and a little too hung over from the hotel room the evening prior.

My journey for the weekend was over, but my goal was met. My friends had a front row seat and some pizza waiting for me. Although I had only taken the first step into becoming a competent player, that’s all I could ask for at the time. It was a great weekend.

The following weekend was a local tournament called Alpha Attack at Arcade Legacy. I was definitely excited to try out some of my new knowledge. I ended up winning the team tournament with an R.Mika player. We fought a solid team of Birdie and Ryu that was able to reset the bracket on us in grand finals. Luckily, we were able to pull out a win after that. Although this was exciting, the venue really started to fill up afterward. The main event would be much more difficult. Players were attending from all over the Midwest. I had to play the Birdie specialist midway through the bracket. It turned out to be good fortune that he had beaten me in the team tournament because the knowledge of his tendencies helped me win the match. Shortly after was the most exciting match of the night between Mika and Zangief. It came down to the wire with momentum heavy rounds on both sides. Gief ended up taking the win with a little saltiness afterwards.

Eventually, I made it to the grand finals against, you guessed it, a Cammy player. My opponent used an unorthodox method of filling up his super meter and holding on to it in order to cut off my options. It took a lot of trial and error of being hit with Cammy’s critical art in order to understand what I could and could not get away with. The list of things I could get away with turned out to be very small.

In hindsight, I could have made better use of Nash’s ground game and apply more pressure in traditional ways. In the end, I was up 2-1 in the best of 3 fight and took another round, bringing it to “match point”. My opponent started changing up his tendencies and staying one step ahead. Cammy won the tournament, and I came in second place. The biggest thing I took away from this one is that I tend to “lock up” when my opponent takes a risk and let them get away with it. What I need to do is punish them harshly, and shut down that route one by one until they are forced to play honestly. I am too cautious.

The past two events were filled with ups and downs, wins and losses, but I am progressing. I’ve succeeded in taking the first steps. Better still, the path ahead looks clear and I know what I need to work on. The hardest part is often trying to figure out what I am doing wrong and this is not a problem for now. All I have to do is keep taking steps and not worry about how many miles are left to go. I am going to try to go to Chicago in two months for the next major tournament.

Nathan Shields PowerUp Founder

Fighting game enthusiast, martial artist, and teacher. Nathan Shields ran three regional events, two of which were part of the Road to EVO Championships in 2011 and 2012. He continues to run local FGC events and supervise the growth of his scene and the PowerUp brand.

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