Here at Sidequest, we want to offer folks a way to keep up with the wide world of competitive gaming, even if they don’t always have the time to watch every event. Each month, the Sidequest Slice will take you through the latest events, news, plays, and more from your favorite competitive titles. For April, we’ve got a ton of killer fighting game tournaments in the leadup to Evolution 2019, a revitalized new Stage in the Overwatch League, and some standout performances alongside company drama in League of Legends.
April was a big month for a plethora of fighting game scenes, especially with Evo 2019 looming on the horizon.
Philadelphia’s premiere fighting game organizer Big E started things off with a bit of a replacement for the classic Winter Brawl tournament. The newly christened April Annihilation happened in New Jersey on April 12-14. At this Capcom Pro Tour ranking event, challengers from all around the US converged to determine how the standings would shake out after some major balance changes to Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition. One of the biggest surprises of the tournament was the performance of one character: Chun-Li.
She’s had an interesting trajectory over the course of SFV:AE’s life, with longtime character loyalists getting fed up and dropping her before returning back multiple times—SFV’s Season 1 Chun reigned high on the tier list with an fantastic on-demand pressure tool in instant aerial Hyakuretsu Kyaku; she sank to new lows in Season 2 with a number of nerfs that left her anemic before finally reaching an equilibrium in Season 3. Season 4’s changes have brought Chun-Li loyalists back in a big way. Ricki Ortiz, Maryland’s own Ludovic, and newcomer Terrence showed that with the right setups, the lightning-legged lady can still compete at the highest level.
Hailing from Atlanta, GA, Terrence should be feeling himself now. Coming off of an extremely respectable ninth-place finish at NorCal Regionals in March, he’s pushed himself all the way to a second-place finish at April Annihilation. A dominant Problem X stymied Terrence’s momentum, as Problem X tore his way through the losers bracket and duffed Terrence in a 3-1 set to reset the bracket before doing it again to close out the tournament.
Problem X’s M. Bison play has continued to evolve. He’s able to seamlessly switch between a patient, defensive style and one that doesn’t let the pressure up on the opponent. Terrence had a hard time with Problem X’s frame traps, using specific moves that allowed his opponent to act briefly, thinking it was his turn to go on the offensive, before punishing him with a faster move, often netting a big combo. Problem X currently stands at #3 in the global Capcom Pro Tour rankings, so you can bet that every pro player is currently studying to find a way to crack his immaculate strategies going forward.
Michigan Masters 2019
Michigan’s longest running annual fighting game tournament returned this year with a standout event. Focused on grassroots organizing, fun activities for all attendees, and an inclusive and exciting atmosphere, Michigan Masters 2019 was really a showcase for all the best parts of the FGC. Organizers Mr. u Suk, Blootan, and Glacia worked hard to make sure LGBTQIA+ players felt safe, with commentators collecting the correct pronouns for players to ensure they were respected.
MiMas’ tournament lineup included popular mainstays like SFV: AE, Soul Calibur VI, and DragonBall FighterZ, but where the competition really shined were the showcases for beloved classics like Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon S, Windjammers, and Neo Turf Masters. The Western FGC has long survived on passionate players rallying around games that end up standing the test of time (sadly, there was a lack of renowned extremely-technical fighting game Shrek SuperSlam).
Described by organizer Mr. u Suk as a “non-stop booze-fueled, shit-talking, hypefest party,” MiMas 2019 stands in stark contrast with the encroaching force of “esports” to make the wild FGC community more respectable, more toned-down, more corporate. Still, as long as tournaments like this one exist, that real FGC spirit will never truly leave the space.
Versus Masters 2019
Near the end of the month in Singapore, Versus Masters 2019 hosted the highest level of SFV: AE play from players across Asia. Perhaps the biggest upset of the tournament came with #2 rank Capcom Pro Tour Tokido only mustering a seventh-place finish. To be clear, seventh among a tournament entirely full of killers is very admirable, but Tokido has been one of the most consistent players over the course of SFV’s long history.
This also came off of a disappointing ninth-place finish at Lyon, France’s The Mixup the week before, so it remains to be seen if Tokido will have the wherewithal to maintain his standings in the CPT.
The real surprise of the tournament came from Red Bull’s own Bonchan, utilizing both Karin and his trademark Sagat to secure first. Bonchan, a veteran Japanese fighting game player whose exploits with Sagat helped define an entire era during Street Fighter IV’s competitive life, has been on-and-off for about two years now in SFV. His interest in the game has been tightly related to the strength of Sagat; SFV:AE’s 4th season has mostly been kind to the giant Muay Thai fighter, and it looks like Bonchan will at least be able to rely on the power of Karin to cover any deficiencies he might encounter.
Elsewhere, surprising no one, GO1 cleaned up the DBFZ competition and even managed to get top 20 in SFV: AE. He also solidified his presence as a top Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st] player by winning the tournament. His first-place finish marks a point where tensions are rising in the UNIST space. The inevitable clash between top Western players—hurriedly practicing in preparation for Evo 2019 after the game’s surprise inclusion—and Japanese character specialists who have been honing their play at many regional arcades throughout Japan draws ever closer. Evo 2018’s UNIST side tournament featured some of that spark, but this will be the first real time we’ll all get a good look at these disparate communities coming together as one.
Northwest Majors 11
During that same weekend in Seattle, Washington, Northwest Majors 11 had a different set of games popping off with hype. The Tekken 7 tournament showed the largest turnout of players. A healthy top eight filled with almost entirely unique character choices is a good indicator for how healthy the competition is in Bandai Namco’s flagship 3D fighter. Jimmy J Tran, a Bryan Fury specialist from San Jose, made his mark by barely dropping any games against other players in his run to the top eight. He met his match, however, in Anakin’s superior JACK-7 play during the Winner’s Finals. After his 1-3 loss, Jimmy J Tran went to work through the losers bracket with little resistance but again fell victim to Anakin’s immaculate space control.
Watching the footage, you get the sense that Jimmy J Tran just couldn’t get things started with Bryan, a character that excels at capitalizing on a big punish when the opponent makes a mistake. Anakin meticulously whittled down his opponent with small pokes to secure a 3-0 victory in the grand finals. Tekken 7 remains one of the most exciting fighting games to watch because the skill ceiling is so high. When you see a player like Jimmy J Tran standing head-and-shoulders above his competition only to be bested by someone able to do the same to him, you can’t help but imagine the peak of Tekken 7 play. Come August 2, we won’t have to imagine at all.
The Overwatch League’s 2019 season began with some big changes. Eight new teams along with fewer core matches played meant that more fans could hop into the season without prior knowledge. Different stages of the season were broken down into set times, with Stage 2 beginning on April 5 and continuing through May 6.
Over the course of Stage 2, the game’s meta has mostly been stable, with teams rallying around core Support and Tank heroes like Reinhardt, Zarya, Ana, and Moira. Other standouts include Hanzo, vastly improved from where he was a year ago, being able to pick off key targets while maintaining mobility, and Brigitte, a natural synergizing force with shield-based heroes. Mercy has fallen from grace after her recent nerf, but she still sees play on all different types of maps; whether it’s familiarity or something truly undeniable in her kit, she will continue to be a fixture of competitive Overwatch as it stands. Twenty teams, all enticed by the $5 million prize pool for 2019, have put forth their best effort in breaking away from the mold defined by the OWL’s 2018 season.
More than a few teams saw wildly different results from Stage 1, with the Los Angeles Gladiators hanging a 6-0 record to top the bracket going into the playoffs: a much improved result from their 3-4 Stage 1 record. Balance changes from Stage 2 seemed to catch Philadelphia Fusion off guard, with the team only managing a record of 3-3 and narrowly missing the playoffs compared to their 5-2 Stage 1 record.
With Stage 2 playoffs happening right now, it remains to be seen if the winningest teams will pull out pocket strategies in hopes of defeating their top-tier peers.
Outside of the competitive world but also nipping dangerously close to it, Blizzard released a highly modular and robust Overwatch custom games editor with scripting. Already players have begun to tear the engine wide open and create wild adventure games, a MOBA-styled top-down conversion, and more. While there hasn’t been a major competitive custom game created by these tools yet, (as was the case with Half-Life and Counter-Strike, with Warcraft III and Defense of the Ancients), these mod tools tend to create fan-supported competitive games that go on to have massive lives of their own. Perhaps in the downtime between Stage 2 and 3 we’ll see some more popular mods arise—for now, one thing is certain: Overwatch has joined the likes of other competitive games where the endless fount of player ingenuity will inevitably shape its competitive life.
League of Legends
League has had a mostly quiet April with a few big exceptions. The end of the 2019 LCS Spring Split happened on April 13 with a fantastic conclusion between Team Liquid and Team SoloMid. These two teams have been having what seems like proxy-fights between them, trading victories and losses with other competitors. Put next to each other on the big stage, they gave viewers a show that everyone can be happy about.
TSM’s initial strategy garnered them a key first-game win realized by TSM Broken Blade’s Vladimir play backed up by TSM Akadian’s Rek’Sai. After claiming game two with a more mild-mannered approach, they decided to once again depend on the Vladimir + Rek’Sai shell, but this time to no avail. TL Impact’s Gangplank worked alongside TL Jensen’s Syndra and TL Doublelift’s Varus to create a support net that had each player participating in over eight kills each. Fresh off the momentum from game 3, Liquid capitalized in a 25-minute squash for game 4 and pulled off a more coherent strategy centered around TL Jensen’s LeBlanc in game 5. Such an exciting display of mastery from both teams was not lost on viewers, pulling one of the largest viewer counts in league finals history, peaking at over 600,000.
The two teams will inevitably clash again at Rift Rivals 2019, drawing international presence too. When they do play, they will definitely be playing a drastically different game, as Riot has decided to buff aggressive top laners like Fiora, Renekton, and Singed for patch 9.8 and 9.9. This is to combat the growing sentiment that tanks will just continue to be uncontestable walls at the highest level of play. Players were asking for “cho’gath riot pls nerf.” The buffs will also see more play for Camille, presumably hoping to shift her away from other roles like Jungler which usually gets more traction.
It’s also impossible to talk about LoL without bringing up controversy. Near the end of April, Echo Fox owner Rick Fox stated that he and another member of the leadership team had been the victim of continued racial abuse at the hands of one of the team’s shareholders. Fox has stated that he will leave the team if the investor is not removed, and Echo Fox has stated they are pursuing the investor’s removal with the “highest level of urgency.”
This also comes while Riot employees are banding together against alleged toxic working conditions, following a lengthy exposé by Kotaku’s Cecilia D’Anastasio. Over 150 workers walked out on May 6. As Riot Games is solely in control of its tournament infrastructure, game balance, and more, it’s unclear if this will disrupt the competitive roadmap for 2019. One thing is clear: Riot employees feel their grievances are not being heard, arbitration won’t solve them, and striking is a way for them to exercise their collective power.
They were once a top JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Heritage for the Future player in the US, but then adulthood happened. Liam now lives just outside Washington, D.C., where they spend their time writing, drawing, designing games, exploring fashion, and keeping it dialectical.