Written by: Stephen "Sajam" Lyon
The conclusion of the ELEAGUE Street Fighter V Invitational last Friday ended like many people expected, with Punk as the champion. The path there, however, I don’t think anybody predicted. For Phenom, the young and aggressive player from Norway, to defeat Punk in winners finals was a shock to many. Immediately. the question of whether Punk could maintain his resolve in losers bracket or not was on the minds of everyone watching. Even better, was that this sent Punk on a collision course with Fuudo, who said in a handful of interviews that all he desired was to play and defeat Punk.
Before we get to the match that unfolded between Punk and Fuudo, let’s take a step back and talk about the losers semis match. One of the absolute tense and exciting sets I’ve seen in Street Fighter V, PR Balrog vs Fuudo. Before the match, there was some interesting banter between the two, notably Fuudo saying that he is confident he would win because Balrog’s turn around punch, TAP, is not that powerful against Mika. With a big smile, PR Balrog answered that he was going to show him why it was. The two players had one of the most explosive and back and forth sets ever, with constant adaptation both ways. The key moment of the set was in the final seconds, where Fuudo pulled off a clutch critical art against PR Balrog’s v-reversal attempt. PR Balrog had been constantly v-reversaling out of Fuudo’s Nadeshiko offense and strings. Fuudo used R. Mika’s critical art to blow right through the final v-reversal attempt. This was like saving his most powerful counter until the final second, and is incredibly important at the highest level.
Fuudo’s win setup a long awaited set between him and Punk in losers finals. Many had predicted the top 3 players to be Punk, Fuudo, and Phenom, but almost everyone had predicted it to be the grand finals. With everything coming down to this, Punk’s resilience was put to the test. Before and after the set, Punk mentioned he was playing bad, and showed an uncharacteristic lack of confidence for the finals. Despite the lack of faith in himself, he pulled off a big win against a very prepared Fuudo. Fuudo has historically had unusual difficulty against Punk, and the closeness of their set showed that he had done a ton to prepare for him.
This setup a repeat of winners finals as our grand finals for the invitational. Punk in losers bracket, against Phenom who made it there on winners side. Again, Punk was concerned about his own play, saying that he felt he was “sloppy” and not his usual self. Despite this, he came out big and got a lead in the set. Phenom started to battle back, and it was looking like it would come down to the wire. Phenom landed a huge hit with v-trigger Necalli, and launched Punk up in the air with what should have been a game-winning combo. In what was the most heartbreaking drop I’ve ever seen at a fighting game event, Phenom missed his critical art and got an accidental uppercut that sent him soaring into the air for Punk to punish. Punk immediately crushed Phenom’s hopes of a recovery and sealed the tournament with his own combo into critical art. It was a $110,000 drop like I have never seen before at a fighting game event, and never with that much on the line.
Finally, I’d like to wrap up our last edition of Sajam’s World by thanking ELEAGUE for showing our community compassion and really trying to give us an experience we could be proud of. They gave players, spectators, talent, and fighting games fans something that was wildly different than what we were used to, and they did it in a fantastic way. There were fumbles and errors along the way of course, but they were quick to always look for feedback and criticism to correct their mistakes. ELEAGUE was very different from the grass-roots events in ballrooms our community is built and stands upon, but they proved there is room for this kind of event in the space. All I can do is thank the staff, production, talent, and entire team behind ELEAGUE. My final words echo those of the amazing crowd we had on finals night: “Season 2! Season 2! Season 2!”