The fighting game community has traditionally thought of itself as a grassroots movement separate from the giant productions of other esports, but the line between the two sure was blurry in 2015.
Capcom recently completed its third-annual Capcom Cup series, which added $500,000 in pot bonus to Ultra Street Fighter IV tournaments around the world. Nintendo continued to embrace the competitive scene for Super Smash Bros., while publishers like NetherRealm Studios, Microsoft, and Aksys Games added extra prize money to both EVO 2015, the fighting game’ largest event, and other venues. Sponsors are also growing more ambitious. Red Bull not only backed Darryl “Snake Eyez” Lewis, arguably America’s best USF4 player, but it also produced a video series about his upbringing in Compton, California and trip to Japan.
While the payouts and spectacles still aren’t as large as League of Legends or StarCraft, this year was an important turning point for the genre as a new generation of titles like Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Mortal Kombat X began their first year of competition. With Street Fighter V set for release next year, Capcom fans also said farewell to the Street Fighter IV series they played since 2009. Here’s a look at some of the best stories and performances in 2015.
APEX 2015 completes a last-second venue shift
It’s hard to have great tournament moments when you don’t have a venue. APEX 2015 is the premier event for the Super Smash Bros. series and was the first with Nintendo as a sponsor after years of it ignoring the competitive scene. At the last minute, however, authorities condemned the original location for safety reasons.
Through the efforts of tournament organizers and Twitch, APEX was able to relocate from Secaucus, New Jersey, to the Garden State Convention Center in Somerset and condense three days of competition into two. This task was worth the wait as Evil Geniuses’ Kevin “PPMD” Nanney won the first Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament he competed in after half a year’s absence. Meanwhile, William “Leffen” Hjelte knocked out Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman to become the first to defeat all of Melee’s five best players in tournament conditions.
BananaKen overcomes bearsome opposition at CEO 2015
It was heartbreaking to watch Jose “BananaKen” Llera fall during the Loser’s Finals of the EVO 2013 Persona 4 Arena tournament, where he dropped a match-winning combo and subsequently broke down. Even then, he did prove that his Shadow Labrys had the potential to defeat top Japanese players, whose arcade culture gives them a definite skill advantage over the United States.
At CEO 2015, BananaKen was able to enter Grand Finals on the winner’s side of the bracket to take on NiceBurst | Souji and his Teddie. After a close battle, BananaKen won in the final game and became one of the few to defend American soil in the air-dash-happy “anime” sub-genre. It doesn’t hurt that he earned an extra-special trophy: a replica of the P-1 Grand Prix championship belt from the game’s cover art.
ZeRo dominates Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
When every top player travels to multiple major events, it’s difficult for a single competitor to be the undisputed best. That makes Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios’ 55-tournament win streak in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U even more significant.
ZeRo definitely plays with power as his mains of Diddy Kong and Sheik are some of the best characters in the game. But he also has the consistency to overcome hungry challengers and bring his distinctive white scarf to the top at competitions like APEX and EVO. The organizer of CEO 2015 and the owner of community site Smashboards.com even placed a $500 bounty on the Chilean, but he still got away. It wasn’t until the MLG World Finals in October that Team Liquid’s Nario finally shut him down with Zero Suit Samus.
EVO 2015: Stacked brackets and heartbreaking losses
The world’s largest fighting game tournament captured more than 3.8 million unique viewers and generated enough moments to fill this list by itself, so let’s run down some highlights.
Rico Suave used his vast character knowledge to claim the Killer Instinct championship while Jigglypuff warrior Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma reached the Grand Finals for Super Smash Bros. Melee for the second year in a row — only to fall to Adam “Armada” Lindgren’s Fox.
Fan-favorite and real-life traveling warrior Nicolas “KaneBlueRiver” Gonzalez took the Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 title in a tournament loaded with players who remained devoted to the game years after Capcom stopped updating it. And Ryuichi “Woshige” Shigeno’s premature victory celebration may have earned Guilty Gear Xrd coverage on SportsCenter, but let’s not forget that his opponent, Kenichi Ogawa, also showcased the skills that made his Zato-1 a legend at Japan’s Mikado arcade as he took the world title in Las Vegas.
But the best theatrics were saved for last: In the grand finals for Ultra Street Fighter IV, Yusuke Momochi and Bruce “Gamerbee” Hsiang fought until the last match, when the former’s controller broke down in the second round. Momochi had to forfeit the round, putting the fate of the tournament on the final 99-seconds. Eventually, the 2014 Capcom Cup champion pulled through and beat Gamerbee’s Adon to claim $33,000 in prize money.