Although fighting game tournaments have existed for many years, the Capcom Pro Tour gave Street Fighter aficionados a way to compete on another level — for points, fame, and glory, with the highest crowning achievement being Capcom Cup. The second of its kind, the 2015 CPT kicked off what would be the final year of Ultra Street Fighter IV’s involvement in the Tour, and only one player could emerge the champion of the game’s last official event.
Ryota “Kazonoko” Inoue is hailed as one of fighting games’ greatest talents. Highly proficient in multiple fighting game titles, Inoue has found success in a slew of competitive franchises, including the Street Fighter series and other 2-D fighters. Of course, he wasn’t always the globe-trotting gaming pro fans know and love today — but the allure of getting the right “read” against an opponent was an instant draw for him that would later blossom into a full-blown career.
While Kazunoko is hailed for his success in plenty of games, he experienced his first brush with the fighting game genre playing Guilty Gear after a friend brought him to an arcade. The then-eighteen-year-old Kazunoko quickly fell in love with the genre and has always opted for the arcade experience ever since, preferring to play in a competitive environment in-person rather than online at home. Growing addicted to the feeling of both winning and successfully predicting an opponent’s moves, Kazunoko skyrocketed to success as one of the Japanese fighting game community’s top players due to his aggressive playstyle and skill in just about any game he gets his hands on.
The Path to Pro
First making a splash in the competitive scene around 2008, Kazunoko has busted heads left and right from then on, even taking part in the first-ever official Capcom Pro Tour in 2014. However, he was initially nervous to take on the mantle of “pro,” expressing some apprehension at disappointing his community should he perform poorly. It’s no secret that the humble gamer went on to rank in the upper echelon of Japan’s fighting game talent in spite of his worries — a fact that was evidenced by his performance in the CPT’s second season and final year of Ultra Street Fighter IV.
Kazunoko is best known for having used Yun throughout his USFIV career, a character who originated in the Third Strike series. Hailed for his mixup potential, high-low combos, and Palms, Yun was quite the formidable force in both titles, and became a grave threat in Kazunoko’s hands. Already having made a name for himself in the Japanese scene (a community historically known for dominating the Street Fighter series), Kazunoko went into the CPT’s 2015 season guns blazing, and his ensuing performances didn’t disappoint.
From CPT to Capcom Cup
Much like his dominant 2014 season, Kazunoko’s 2015 CPT run saw him take a slew of top placements at tournaments around the globe, finishing fourth at Georgia’s Final Round, Korea’s Double Elimination, and Osaka’s KVO before scoring one of his biggest achievements of the year by placing first at Florida’s CEO. With a Premier victory under his belt, the pro would go on to take ninth at EVO, landing just outside the prestigious tournament’s coveted Top 8 bracket. However, that was far from the end of his top-tier achievements, as he later took second at SoCal Regionals in October. Considering his wealth of points, it came as little surprise that Kazunoko qualified for Capcom Cup — an event where he would forever solidify his place in the hallowed halls of competitive Street Fighter history.
Perhaps the most notable facet of Kazunoko’s Capcom Cup run was that, aside from a single battle, the Japanese pro didn’t lose a single game throughout the length of the tournament. The match in question pitted him against American Abel main Gustavo “801 Strider” Romero at the very beginning of the event, with Strider starting strong by taking their first game.
Despite this initial loss, Kazunoko quickly turned the tide of battle and ultimately won the set, putting on an impressive Winners’ side run to sit comfortably in the Top 8 bracket. His Top 8 journey set him up against fighting game god and Street Fighter legend Daigo “The Beast” Umehara in the semifinals, a name that fans the world over had their eyes on to win a Capcom Cup, considering his legacy in the series. However, Kazunoko’s momentum in their bout was far from exhausted, and he won the set in a convincing 3-0 performance to advance to the Winners’ Final — but that wouldn’t be their last meeting, by far.
The Start of a Historic Win Streak
This victory pitted him against another longtime Street Fighter competitor, Kun “Xian” Ho, in the Winners’ Final. With the victor of this fight earning a guaranteed ticket to Grand Finals, it was go-time for both pros, and Kazunoko wasn’t about to let his jaw-dropping win streak slide. In yet another astonishing 3-0 run, Kazunoko knocked Xian’s Gen into the Losers’ bracket with a dominating performance and scored a seat in the last battle of the season, in the process.
While Kazunoko sat in the Grand Finals, Daigo Umehara continued his battle in the lower bracket, taking out Zangief main Snake Eyez and Korea’s Poongko to advance to the Losers’ Final. Facing off against Xian, Daigo proved he wasn’t ready to be eliminated, defeating his opponent in a convincing 3-0 run that preceded the most thrilling runback of the season.
With Kazunoko having soundly sent Daigo to Losers’ side, the time was ripe for Umehara to flip the script in a huge way and uphold his mantle of Street Fighter legend — but to do that, he’d need to reset the bracket and take two back-to-back victories. It was an uphill battle for the scene’s most revered player, and no doubt a high-pressure scenario for Kazunoko, a multi-talented fighting game pro who had expressed worries about disappointing his community.
The Multi-Game Pro vs “The Beast”
The stage of battle was set between two of SFIV’s biggest names, and Kazunoko was far from ready to let the title of Capcom Cup champion slip from his grasp, taking the first game from Daigo with impressive comebacks in each round. However, despite Kazunoko’s dominant trend throughout the tournament, Daigo managed to make his opponent sweat, taking their second game with a well-timed EX fireball.
Thus, the god of Japan’s fighting game scene managed to upend Kazunoko’s nearly-perfect score — and he wasn’t done there. With the crowd chanting his name, Diago managed to take yet another victory off of his enemy in his path to the bracket reset, bringing their score 2-2 after having suffered another loss, beforehand.
This brought the next step in their battle down to the wire. Would the famous Daigo Umehara get his reset and a chance to take Capcom Cup? Would Kazunoko’s unprecedented win streak seal the deal? With the flames of ambition fanning his sails, Daigo took the first round, despite Kazunoko cheating death on the magic pixel right up until the end — but he was far from defeated. In yet another jaw-dropping series of comebacks, Kazunoko took their second round with a Perfect and won their final round with dominant, high-pressure play, becoming 2015’s official Capcom Cup champion and ultimately denying Umehara’s victory.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Kazunoko could rest easy knowing he’d done his community proud. Once a wide-eyed eighteen-year-old who’d just stepped into the fighting game realm for the first time, Kazunoko had officially made his mark on Street Fighter history, forever reigning as the series’ final USFIV Capcom Cup champion in spite of his initial fears.