Group D: Stakes are High, Expectations are Higher

Written by: Stephen "Sajam" Lyon
Twitter: @Sajam 

       With three of ELEAGUE’s groups completed, there’s a lot on the line this Friday when Group D action plays off. The group is filled with talent from all over the world, including the 2016 Capcom Cup champion, Nuckledu. Despite his extremely strong start in 2017, his performances lately have been less than what we usually expect from the Florida native. With Group D being the final group to play off, it has been well over a month since all the competitors fought for the top 6 spots. A lot has changed since Nuckledu and Phenom claimed the top 2 seeds many weeks ago.

       The 2nd seed in the bracket, Phenom, comes into ELEAGUE this week in an interesting position. Despite being the only player to beat Nuckledu, he lost to both Ryan Hart and Luffy in the group stage. Fortunately for Phenom, the two European players face off in the first round, so his likelihood of playing somebody who has defeated him here is a little lower. Despite that, his recent top 8 finish at DreamHack Austin and generally consistent play position him as a serious threat in this group.

       Luffy comes into ELEAGUE this week with a 5-2 record in the prelims and the 3rd seed. The former EVO champion from France had losses to only Nuckledu and Phenom, the top 2 seeds left in the group.  Many players tend to downplay Luffy’s incredible skill, but he has been an absolute powerhouse in Europe for many years now, and can get wins against any player in the group. On a good day, Luffy has a strong chance at being top 2 this Friday. I’d be very surprised to see Luffy not have a strong performance this week at ELEAGUE.

       Xiao Hai is legendary for his reaction time, and ability to completely shut down options that no other player can. Unfortunately, he’s also known for consistently losing in demoralizing fashion to Nuckledu and not being as consistent as he could be. When playing on point, it’s hard to deny he isn’t one of the best players in the world. Coming into this group, it feels like Xiao Hai makes us all wonder: “Which Xiao Hai will show up?” The answer is never certain until we see him play.

       The 5th seed in this week’s group is Southern California Ken player, Chris Tatarian. He had a 3-4 finish, with losses to every player left in this group besides Ryan Hart. His closest loss was against this week’s first round opponent, Xiao Hai. Even with a first round win, Tatarian has an incredibly tough path ahead of him. He’s been out of the tournament scene for a little while due to recent surgery, so he might not have the same amount of practice as many of the other competitors in this group. If Tatarian can conquer his nerves and stay clutch in big moments, it’s certainly not easy to count him out.

       The lowest seed of the group is one of the strongest and respected fighting game players of all time, Ryan Hart. Ryan Hart was one of the first sponsored professional fighting game players ever, and has been a champion caliber player in multiple games. Coming into group stages he had a slow start, partially due to admitting he has been a little too busy with life to play. He quickly turned things around, however, and had big wins against both Phenom and Xiao Hai. Nobody playing in the group has nearly as much experience as Ryan Hart, and for him to make it into the top 2 that’s going to have to be a big factor.

       The 1st seed in Group D is reigning Capcom Cup champ Nuckledu. He finished with a 6-1 record, with a loss only to Phenom for his very last game of the day. Nuckledu has had some of the most consistent results this year on the Capcom Pro Tour circuit, with a 3rd place finish at Final Round, which he followed up with a 2nd place finish at Northern California Regionals. Recently though, Du ran into some trouble, with an unusual 17th place finish at DreamHack Austin. Nuckledu’s win at Capcom Cup painted a big target on his back, and it seems many people have done their homework. Despite this, it would be very uncharacteristic of Nuckeldu not to finish outside of top 2 this Friday.

       This Friday’s group will determine the final 2 spots for the playoffs on May 26th, so there’s a lot on the line. Every player left in this group has had big highs and lows in their Street Fighter V lifetime. I expect that the 1st and 2nd seeds Nuckledu and Phenom have very likely chances at making it out, but the other competitors in this group have had close sets or wins against both of them. The most interesting question on my mind is whether we will see Nuckledu bounce back, or if the champ will be knocked out before the top 8 this Friday on ELEAGUE.