From the historic city of Lyon, France to the sunny beaches of Daytona, Florida, the 2019 Capcom Pro Tour has made stops around the globe as World Warriors throw down for the title of Capcom Cup Champion in December. As the season draws to a close, players got one of their final chances at glory on yet another major stage: this time, at the tropical Caribbean island of Puerto Rico.
For the first time ever, Puerto Rico’s First Attack received the status of a Premier Event on the CPT, awarding its first-place victor a whopping 700 points and an opportunity to shake up the Global Rankings in a major way. As one of the last Events of the season, First Attack marked a crucial chance for players hoping to make a major splash in the competition - but it wasn’t just the Open Premier that had all eyes on the island. The Carribbean’s titular fighting game tournament also acted as the stage for the 2019 Latin American Regional Finals, with the region’s Top 8 ranked players competing for a guaranteed spot at Capcom Cup in just over a month’s time.
Street Fighter League pros make a splash in the Caribbean
As one of the last Premier Events on the Tour, Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition’s best players from across the globe made their way to First Attack with the goal of scoring last-minute points and a chance at qualifying for the Capcom Cup. Names like Daigo “The Beast” Umehara, Leevy “Oil King” Lin, and Kun “Xian” Ho journeyed to the Caribbean to take part in the fray - but despite some of Asia’s greatest players making a solid showing, the Premier’s Top 8 bracket saw a curious development that audiences didn’t anticipate.
While the likes of Daigo, Keita “Fuudo” Ai, and Hiromiki “Itabashi Zangief” Kumada fought their way to the Top 8, five Western players made up the remaining slots - four of whom appeared on 2019’s Street Fighter League: Pro-US. SFV:AE prodigy Victor “Punk” Woodley and 2016 Capcom Cup champion Du “NuckleDu” Dang stood in Winners’ side, while explosive Rashid main Jonathan “JB” Bautista and EVO 2019 finalist Derek “iDom” Ruffin faced imposing matches in the Losers’ bracket - but it was France’s Olivier “Luffy” Hays who ended up stealing the show.
“I’ll totally make this look cool!”
Coming hot off the heels from his performance at Europe’s EGX just a week prior, Luffy boasted an impressive run in Winners’ side at First Attack, taking out both Daigo and Xian to stand against Punk in the very first match of Sunday’s Top 8 bracket. Despite describing the Mika-Karin matchup as “risky,” Luffy managed to take the victory over 2019’s top-ranked player in a convincing 3-2 run, moving on to the Winners’ Final to face off with America’s NuckleDu.
Shirking his usual arsenal of Guile and Mika, NuckleDu opted for newcomer G in his Top 8 battles at First Attack - but despite the World President’s power, Luffy’s Muscle Spirit proved the greater threat, sending Du to Losers’ side in a 3-0 landslide victory.
“I’ll show you the divide in our class!”
Having secured a spot in Grand Finals, the Losers’ bracket played out to determine Luffy’s last remaining challenger, coming to a head between iDom and Punk. Although previously a staunch Laura loyalist, iDom’s First Attack run saw him pull out Poison as a counterpick against Punk in the Losers’ Final. In spite of iDom’s strategy, Punk wasn’t going to let his record-breaking season take a hit, and knocked iDom out of the runnings in a 3-0 streak. This set Punk up for a runback against Luffy for 700 points - merely another jewel in his crown, but a massive prospect for France’s top Mika main in light of Capcom Cup’s impending arrival.
True to form, Punk managed to nab the reset against Luffy in a close 3-2 set, bringing it down to the final battle for First Attack’s first-ever Premier Event. Despite Punk’s tenacity, Luffy seemed to have the upper hand, starting out strong with a 2-0 score against his rival: but Punk ended up taking the victory by turning the tables in a nail-biting 3-2 run, securing the title of Puerto Rico’s SFV:AE champion and standing as the first CPT competitor to boast over 4,000 points.
Luffy speaks on his CPT journey
However, it was Luffy who stood as the crowd favorite, having managed to qualify for Capcom Cup by the skin of his teeth. Taking home 550 points in what he considered a high-risk matchup against Punk’s lethal Karin, Luffy admitted their battle could have taken a drastic turn if he’d chosen to play it safe, rather than going all-out. “Mika has to take risks to win the Karin matchup,” Luffy said of his Grand Finals performance. “I can’t win the matchup if I’m playing very patient or very passive. If I don’t want to take any risks, I’m not going to win. ...Maybe, when I was beating him 2-0 after the reset, maybe I should have played very, very safe and drastically changed my playstyle, just to see how he would have adapted.”
Despite scoring 550 points, Luffy might not be able to hold his spot among the other qualified players, as he currently stands at 24th place amid the Top 26 - a placement he’s understandably keen on holding in the coming weeks. “I’m not in a very good position,” he mused. “I’m in a good position to be [one of] the first Europeans by points, but the issue is, Infexious has 975 [points] - so he maybe can get passed, as well.”
Having earned top placements at both Premier and Ranking Events throughout the season, it comes as little surprise that Luffy is one of the CPT’s highest ranked players - but with only two Premiers left, he isn’t letting his loss at First Attack bring him down in the face of Capcom Cup. “Since the Japan Super Premier, I’ve been doing pretty well with my results,” Luffy admitted. “...when you’re a pro player, usually when you lose, you question yourself. ‘What did I do wrong? What should I do to improve, to change?’ Usually, when pro players lose, they look at how they lost. ‘Maybe I should have done this, or that.’ ...I think, at this moment, I’m doing well. I just have to go with the flow of it.”
“Have you considered your destiny?”
First Attack’s Open Premier wasn’t the only SFV:AE action throwing down on the island: the 2019 Latin American Regional Finals followed Punk’s fourth Premier victory, allowing the region’s Top 8 ranked players to throw down for a guaranteed spot in Capcom Cup. With none of the assembled competitors having already qualified for the CPT’s Top 26 spots, each representative had a potential chance at taking the Cup, with countries like Peru, Mexico, and Brazil baring their fangs in the mix.
The LATAM Regional Final saw top-tier performances from several surprising players, with Mexico’s “Kusanagi” busting heads with Sakura and Panama’s “Doomsnake” taking names with Vega - but all eyes were on the Domincan Republic’s very own MenaRD, who, after winning Capcom Cup 2017, has struggled to break into a qualifying spot in the 2019 season. The bombastic Birdie main managed to make his way to the Losers’ Final after suffering defeat from Brasil’s “Zenith,” where he faced off against Peru’s “Pikoro,” who ultimately took the victory over MenaRD in a convincing 3-0 run.
Brasil’s breakout player tells all
Thus, Pikoro was sent to Grand Finals to throw down with Zenith in a runback that had the crowd jumping to their feet. Between intense staredowns and mind-bendingly patient play, Zenith emerged the victor without allowing a bracket reset from Pikoro - but Zenith might have not made the Regional Final at all, if it weren’t for a fellow pro in the scene.
Thanks to Street Fighter League’s Sherry “SherryJenix” Nhan and her “eFightPass” program, Zenith was able to secure a Visa to visit Puerto Rico and take part in the Final - an opportunity for which he is exceedingly grateful. “eFightPass is a program that Sherry created for people outside the West to compete,” he explained. “Without that, I wouldn’t be here. We - me and ElTigre - we wouldn’t have gone to EVO, and we wouldn’t be here.”
That’s not all: Zenith’s victory comes after just a year and a half of competitive play, with the LATAM champ explaining that he began his SFV:AE journey following MenaRD’s Capcom Cup win in 2017. “I haven’t processed it yet,” Zenith said of his qualification. “But beating MenaRD was a thing for me. I started playing this game when he was the champion in 2017. Being able to reach the LATAM Regional Finals and beating him here is huge for me. It shows me, maybe I’m a world-class player.”
With First Attack in the books, SFV:AE players and fans alike are looking forward to the last remaining Events on the 2019 CPT: Canada Cup and the North American Regional Finals. With just two chances left to change their fate ahead of Capcom Cup, there’s no telling how the competition will unfold in the coming days. Will Luffy manage to score more points and secure a safer spot in the rankings? Will Bonchan topple Punk’s dominating points lead? As Ken says, the CPT is certainly “turning up the heat” - and you definitely don’t want to miss out on the action!