The Capcom Pro Tour was two years into its circuit upon the release of Street Fighter V in 2016. With an entirely new game in players’ hands, no one knew how the competition would pan out: Would Japan’s gods take the throne once again, or would a new hero rise with this new title? Only time would tell, and that year, the champion would shock fighting game fans across the globe.
The Story Behind One of Street Fighter’s Youngest Champs
Du “NuckleDu” Dang had been a popular name in the Street Fighter scene for some time before SFV was even a rumor among fans. Rising to prominence with the Street Fighter IV series, Du was already on the fighting game map upon the franchise’s newest release — but he wasn’t always the pro fans know and love today. In fact, Du began his fighting game journey at a young age with limited prospects, and would later go on to challenge his circumstances and represent the next generation of competitive Street Fighter players in a huge way.
NuckleDu’s path to Street Fighter fame began with a friendly grudge against his uncle, with the pro even admitting that he “hated” the very concept of fighting games as a kid. Claiming that his uncle would constantly beat him at Street Fighter IV, Du couldn’t let his losses simmer any longer, and bought his very own PS3 with “money I didn’t have” to train “every day” until he could return the favor.
As it turned out, Du’s eventual runback against his uncle — which he ended up winning — was the first stepping-stone on his way to greatness. The second was his discovery of the famed EVO Moment 37 between American hero Justin Wong and Daigo “The Beast” Umehara. It was this moment that spurred Du’s interest in taking his talents to the competitive circuit. The young pro decided he was tired of being “poor all his life” and wanted to help his family. Could becoming a fighting game pro finally provide a way to break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle?
Kicking Off Du’s Competitive Career
Thus began NuckleDu’s dive into the world of professional fighting games. With SFIV bringing ranked netplay to the Street Fighter community upon the series’ rebirth, Du’s exploits against other players around the world quickly gained traction across the FGC, where he became known for his unconventionally active playstyle (and taunts) using Guile, a character most known for turtling and defense.
The player’s official Capcom Pro Tour debut kicked off in 2014, right at the circuit’s genesis — and his results did not disappoint. Earning 466 Global Ranking points, Du’s first year in the CPT saw him take top placements at major tournaments across the globe, including fifth at SoCal Regionals, second at Puerto Rico’s First Attack, and fourth at The Fall Classic. These placements saw him qualify for that year’s Capcom Cup, the first of its kind, where he landed just outside the Top 8 bracket in ninth place.
The then-seventeen-year-old pro was already making huge waves in the community at an extremely young age, representing the next generation of World Warriors with a relatively new game on one of competitive Street Fighter’s biggest stages. That was far from his greatest showing, too, as the pro’s 2015 season saw him put on similarly impressive performances, even going on to take first place at the highly-esteemed Combo Breaker. However, his success in Street Fighter would be contested in a huge way just one year later with a major character crisis.
New Game, New Meta, New Challenges
Historically a Guile main, Du was met with an unprecedented hardship upon SFV’s release: His mainstay character was not part of the game’s roster. Without his usual fighter and faced with a slew of new mechanics and rules, Du opted for Rainbow Mika, instead — a completely different character archetype than he was known for using. Now a grappler, Du was tasked with maintaining his legacy in the face of a completely new meta, a situation that led him to experience difficulties with his mental health as he struggled to find balance in a new age of Street Fighter.
Citing support from his team, his friends, and the fighting game community in his darkest moment, Du found the strength to carry on, and experienced the apex of his professional career a year later. His 2016 season kicked off with a huge placement for the pro, who finished ninth at Final Round, going on to take fifth at NorCal Regionals, second at Dreamhack Austin and Defend the North, and first at Summer Jam before getting his first Premier victory of the season at Canada Cup. That wasn’t his only major win of the season, either; Du also made first at Red Bull Battle Grounds’ NA Regional Final, scoring yet another guaranteed spot in Capcom Cup.
Fight Your Way to the Top
Capcom Cup 2016 was notably described as a “bloodbath” by viewers, with huge names like Japanese fighting game god “Tokido” being knocked out of the runnings without a single win, and others, like Yusuke Momochi and “Gamerbee,” eliminated with just one win. Despite the slew of close matches and neck-and-neck competition at SFV’s first Capcom Cup ever, NuckleDu stayed the course, making it to Top 8 in the winner’s bracket — a placement he’d long fought for, but had never achieved. The surprises continued. Du soon faced fellow American pro Ricki Ortiz in the Winners’ Final in yet another unprecedented development for Capcom Cup.
Successfully knocking Ricki into the Losers’ Final, Du set himself up for a Grand Finals showdown unlike anything ever seen in Capcom Cup history. One of America’s youngest Street Fighter professionals was poised to take the title of SFV’s strongest player against a slew of top-tier competition — but that was just the tip of the iceberg.
An All-American Grand Finals Showdown
With Ricki taking a convincing 3-0 victory over Kazunoko in the Losers’ Final, Capcom Cup experienced its first-ever All-American Grand Finals. It was a battle between legacy and the next generation; would Ricki’s experience as a fighting game veteran win out, or would Du’s “young man reactions” and hunger for victory skyrocket him to the top?
Although the two started their final battle with a good-natured hug, their ensuing fight was anything but friendly. With $250,000 and an indisputable place in fighting game history on the line, the two threw down for the biggest prize Capcom Cup had ever offered, and Du went in strong by taking their very first game.
Despite Du’s convincing start, Ricki came back with a quick victory in their second game, setting fans on edge for a potential bracket reset from the pro. However, Du’s tenacity was unmatched, taking the next game to sit at tournament point against his American rival. With just a single game left before his potential victory, Du sealed the deal with Mika’s EX Rainbow Typhoon, winning Street Fighter’s most profitable tournament thus far and engraving his name on SFV’s first Capcom Cup trophy.
Paying it Forward
Breaking down in tears, NuckleDu had finally reached the point he’d so long dreamed of back in the days when he’d first discovered competitive fighting games. Not only had he won Street Fighter’s top tournament with a character he’d been forced to choose — he’d also earned a life-changing amount of money, which he used to pay back to his community by sponsoring players for tournaments, donating to charity, and, of course, taking care of his own family.
Street Fighter V’s first Capcom Cup will forever go down in history as one of the most explosive tournaments of its kind, standing as a testament to one player’s determination to fight back against his own circumstances and make a change for a better future for all fighting game fans.