Stunfest 2018 Hype Post and Breakdown

Stunfest was this weekend!  I watched it and I enjoyed it, and I hope any of you eSports fans out there did too.  It's the first tournament I was able to catch live in a while, thanks to the move and everything.  It didn't disappoint, as usual.  Every game had a packed bracket and a great Top 8, but the one I want to direct your attention to is the Street Fighter 5 Top 8.

The brackets shook down like this: Akainu vs Oil King and Daigo vs Infiltration in Winners, and NL vs Haitani and Fujimura vs Gachikun in Losers.  Akainu was a bit of a surprise for me, as he generally places somewhere in the low Top 16s in most tournaments.  But seeing as how we is a French player, and Stunfest is a French event, I suppose his home turf and the audience hype must have elevated him.  Oil King too was a surprise, not necessarily to be in Top 8, but to be there on winner's side.  I often lose track of him as a Rashid player next to Gachikun and John Takeuchi, but his performance this past weekend has changed my mind on that completely.  Daigo and Infil, however, are givens for any tournament Top 8 they attend.  

The loser's bracket is where things get interesting.  Haitani's been in a slump lately; I think he's having something of a character crisis.  His main for the entirety of SF5 up to this point has been Necalli, but he hasn't nearly been as dominant with him as he was in 4.  This tournament is the first time he's brought out his new main, Akuma, and while I don't fault him for choosing objectively the best and most versatile character in the game, I loved his Necalli, and now that he's jumped ship, I don't know where I'm going to see top level Necalli anymore.  NL is that eternal 4th place finisher.  As soon as you see him in the Top 8, you get the sense that he's not necessarily going to win, but he will create some crazy highlights.  Gachikun, as stated before, appeared to be the stronger, more well-travelled Rashid in Top 8 this weekend, and I expected him to make it further than Oil King despite his rocky start in the losers bracket.  Fujimura was that dark horse who I only recently remembered is the player Yukadon under a different name.  This is the guy who got 3rd at SF5's inaugural EVO and switched from Nash to Ibuki soon after.  I don't see him as often, as I don't think he travels as much, so I never quite know what to expect from him.

In the first match, Akainu got washed 0-3 by Oil King.  I definitely think the nerves of his first major Top 8 appearance got to him, as he felt stiff for the entire match.  In the second, Daigo narrowly missed out on upsetting the favorite to win, Infiltration, and lost 2-3.  It was a good match, and I naïvely thought it'd be the best of the day, but I was happily mistaken on that one.

Haitani vs NL kicked off the losers festivities.  Haitani got a chance to show off his Akuma, which looked fearsome in the first 2 games.  NL just wasn't able to get started against the steamroller that was Haitani Akuma until, in the first round of the third match, Haitani tried parrying against NL's V-trigger Cannon Spike.  I think he was trying to be showy, as the next combo would have stunned NL for a decisive finish into what could have been the final round.  Instead, Haitani miscalculated the speed at which his parry followup came out, and it lost to the divekick for a damaging combo and a stun escape for NL.  This feels like it was a turning point in the match.  Haitani misunderstood his new character, and that fractured his confidence just enough for NL to Cammy his way to victory.  Haitani didn't even win a round after that drop, and almost every round he ended up at half life behind NL trying to desperation super and catch up.  NL ended up taking it 3-2.  Hopefully Haitani can take this chance to go home and fine-tune his Akuma for the next tournament.  I really liked what I saw, and I think he has a good chance of taking a future title!  The other losers match was Gachikun vs Fujimura, and there really isn't much to say here except Gachikun got bodied hard.  0-3.  Confidence in Rashid shattered.  I know you got it in you, Gachikun.  Get 'em next time.

Up next were losers quarters, where NL got a chance at Daigo.  This is a classic character matchup, Guile vs Cammy.  The quintessential defensive wall vs the fast, quick-hitting acrobat.  This one felt the most like classic Street Fighter amongst all of this weekend's Top 8, and for those just getting into the scene, this is probably the match you'll want to study.  It establishes a baseline for Street Fighter 5's footsie play and offensive options.  Watch how NL evades Daigo's fireball for a divekick punish that seals the first round.  That right there is perfect to explain to beginner players that fireballs are more dangerous than they may at first seem.  And then, at the beginning of the second game, first round, you can see Guile flash kick Cammy's approach that won her that first round; Daigo adapting to the previously gained information about NL's fireball-evading habits and spacing himself so just the tip of his boot will knock Cammy off her feet.  It's all so intuitive and organic, how the match grows between the two players like this.  Daigo (the player I was rooting for) ends up winning 3-2, but it was a great game and a fine way for NL to be sent home.  As for Fujimura vs Akainu?  Blowout again, 3-0 for Fujimura and a massive sad sigh from the French crowd.  In my opinion, Akainu really needs to work on his nerves and lay off the buttons; it felt like every second hit from Fujimura was a counter-hit, and he didn't slip up once.  This match was when I started to really look at Fujimura.  I loathe Ibuki as a character, so I think I willfully stuffed him in my blind spot and tried to ignore him.  But his setups were unlike any I'd ever seen before from the character.  His punishes were similarly innovative, and he never misspaced his buttons.  After two 3-0 victories, his momentum was building.

Now, the match I really wanted to talk about.  Winner's Finals, Oil King vs Infiltration.  Wow.  I was on the edge of my seat throughout for this one.  I think everybody expected something like a 1-3 in Infil's favor to land in Grands, but Oil King didn't want that.  From the end of the second round in the first match, where Oil King pops an EX Eagle Spike to chase down Infiltration's panic backdash, we knew collectively that Oil King had ascended.  After losing the first match, Infil knew he had to adjust, so he played the first round of that second match like a madman, breaking Oil King's momentum with a V-Trigger fueled comeback, punctuated by a psychic DP followed by a psychic DP from Oil King followed AGAIN by a psychic DP from Infil through Rashid's meaty V-Trigger 2 fireball.  If you don't understand what I'm saying, just know it was actually nuts.  Infil won that game and learned his lesson; stay in the air.  Rashid's anti-airs are lackluster, and although his ground game is scary, he has no safe way to keep you down if you insist on jumping.  Now, at 1-1, the crazy gimmicks start to come out.  Rashid's whizzing around the arena like a tick on crack, saying to Infil, "You want to jump?  Well, so do I!"  That attitude nets him a decisive victory in the second round to tie up the game, and everything seems to be going in his favor until Juri pops her V-Trigger.  Thus follows an astonishing setup in which Juri lay down a fireball over a knocked down Rashid, dashed up, and did a V-Skill cross up that actually pushed him into the lingering fireball on his wakeup and created what looked like a nigh-unblockable setup.  It was nuts, and the mental damage it did allowed him to land a super and take the game, 2-1.  Infiltration rode the momentum into a comfy win in the first round, and looked like he would take the second to secure his spot in Grand Finals.  He orchestrated a setup in which Oil King would jump back to avoid a fireball and a certain death by chip-out, dashed in, and supered while Oil King was still in the air.  It seemed as though Oil King had no choice but to land, eat the chip damage, and die.  But Oil King realized he, too, had full meter for a super, and all supers in this game are invincible (well, except Vega's).  So, this happened: 

 

The crowd, commentators, and I went bonkers.  What an amazing moment!  Keep in mind, Oil King had to steer his super backwards ever so slightly, so as to avoid a punish by Infil.  But he couldn't go back too far, because if the invincibility wore out, the super wave would still have caught him.  I jumped from my chair when I saw it.  A few throws later, and Oil King ties it up 2-2.  In the final match, Infil was still a bit shaken, afraid to contest Oil King's buttons, and so Oil King worked the throw game and took the first round.  But Infil threw out the super early next round and whittled Oil King down from a comfortable life lead to win the second round, tying it completely between the two competitors.  Oil King's slippery movement and insane wall jumps helped him keep even with Infil, but in the final moments, Oil King's own throw game was used against him.  A single antsy defensive throw was countered with a shimmy by Infil, into a low forward into pinwheel into super to secure his Grand Finals appearance.

Loser's semis saw Fujimura against Daigo, which astonishingly ended in ANOTHER 3-0 for Fujimura.  Daigo has admitted in the past that his throw defense is probably his weakest point, and Fujimura zeroed in on this like a laserhawk.  Fujimura's momentum at this point was through the roof.  But what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

Fujimura's next opponent was the recently defeated Oil King, thirsty for a rematch against Infiltration.  As far as non-3-0 matches went, this, in contrast to the Daigo-NL match, was the most unorthodox of the night.  Both Rashid and Ibuki value vortex play and insane movement options, and both have gimmicks on gimmicks to frustrate their prey.  Oil King, riding off his energy from the Infiltration match, took the match to a 2-1 lead over Fujimura, notably the first player of the night to even take a round off Fujimura, let alone a game.  In the final round of the 4th match, a chance for Oil King to advance to Grands, it looked pretty grim for both competitors.  Oil King, cornered and afraid, looked to the trusty wall jump to escape and reset to neutral after an intimidating pressure sequence from Fujimura.  But Fujimura pegged it, EX Kunai'd him out of the air, and followed up with a DP to secure the round.  Like, I didn't even know you could DP after a single-hit EX Kunai!  Fujimura did, though.  In the final game, second round, Fujimura took the lead by winning the first round but lagged significantly to Oil King's life lead.  Fujimura's trademark up to this point had been a multi-kunai cross-up after his V-Trigger 2 combo to seal the round, and it always crossed up, even when it visually didn't seem to.  Well, Fujimura, genius that he was, inverted this and jumped in the air in front of Oil King, clearly out of range to cross-up, and threw his kunai.  Oil King, hyper-sensitive to the mixup that Fujimura had set up, blocked the wrong direction, ate the kunai, and lost to Fujimura.  This, too, was a great match!  Oil King proved himself to be a top competitor and at least on par with Gachikun's Rashid, and he should be proud of what he accomplished at Stunfest 2018.

Now, the ideal ending to this tournament would be an amazing, close set between the final boss Infiltration and the loser's bracket hero, Fujimura.  But that wasn't the case.  A 3-0 bracket reset for Fujimura and then a 3-0 finish for a total of 6-0 over the tournament favorite to win Stunfest 2018!  The momentum Fujimura must have been feeling!  As for Infil, I don't honestly think he's thought through the Ibuki matchup enough.  Menat, his main character, just doesn't threaten Ibuki at long ranges like she wants to, and Ibuki's Kunai can interrupt a lot of her slower-starting moves.  Plus, she doesn't cover the space vertically in front of her well at all, and that's the space Fujimura's constantly occupying with his EX Kunai.  He'd do better, I think, with Juri, but that's just me theorizing.

Stunfest 2018 was an amazing event, with Street Fighter 5's Top 8 easily being my highlight.  For a first tournament to watch after a long break, I'm thrilled it was this one.  Fujimura's a player to watch out for, and Oil King will be wanting his revenge.  Seriously, folks, Fighting Games are pretty f***ing tight.  Play 'em.

Devin Marcus