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NorCal Regionals - Three things we learned

Lee "Infiltration" Seon Woo when he was sponsored by Razer. Robert Paul

Another major tournament and another familiar result.

The next step on the Capcom Pro Tour journey was Northern California Regionals. One week after Final Round 19 and the final two players in the tournament was the same as that tournament: Seonwoo "Infiltration" Lee and Hajime "Tokido" Taniguchi.

Once again, there were plenty of surprises in the pool play and the top 8 portion of the tournament, but international talent took home the biggest prizes out of everyone. It's clear that the fighters from Asia have an edge over the western hemisphere, but the game is still being learned, and the tournament season is in its infancy. As Northern California Regionals showed again, it will take a lot more work for a western player to upgrade from "surprise" to actual winner.

Pool 16.

The bracket that the players affectionately dubbed, 'the pool of death' was a last-minute addition to the main tournament. As a punishment for those that did not pre-register for NCR, the tournament organizers placed the 52 unfortunate souls in a massive bracket with only two spots available for the winners. There were plenty of notable names that were grouped into it: Kenryo "Mago" Hayashi, Ryan "FilipinoChamp" Ramirez, Chris Tatarian, and Lee "Poongko" Chung Gon.

The most surprising results were the winners of the pool -- Martin "Marn" Phan (winner's side) and Mago. The punishment pool was a fantastic idea on many fronts; it's great entertainment for both fans at the venue and those watching at home, and it's an actual negative that discourages the act of procrastinating on registration. If this trend of a gigantic pool for those that failed to sign up continues, it could be the start of a very fine tradition for tournaments. The players are starting to really show up for Street Fighter V in force and the punishment pool is something that could trim down the time to run and create brackets.

The Korean overlord.

Once again, Infiltration dominated another tournament full of fantastic Street Fighter V hopefuls. How dominating was he? He went 9-1 throughout the top 8 bracket and swept Tokido, 3-0, in the grand finals (overall, he went 6-1 against him). He didn't stray from his character, Nash, and relied upon his world-class neutral game and signature hit-and-run play style.

His ability to switch styles during rounds absolutely separated him from the field. He could go from perfectly-spaced fireballs to bait a jump to in-your-face button presses and throw baits. Nash could be considered a linear character by some, but coupled with Infiltration's movement and mind games, he's a tour de force. And the players at Northern California Regionals were no slouches -- some of them are actual fighting game legends, but Infiltration ran circles around them. Perhaps the most incredible fact is that the game is new and to have a consistent champion is rather uncommon.

Be fearless.

As we watched Marn's run through the entire tournament bracket, he exhibited a reckless and absolutely fearless style with Rainbow Mika. Throughout the tournament, Marn could not be conditioned -- he played his game regardless of the opponent. He command grabbed on reversal and through his opponent's block string, he armor-moved on wake-up multiple times in a row and sometimes, in the neutral game, he jumped in constantly; he never stopped moving forward.

Let's reverse for a second and realize that Marn was absent for the majority of the last two years in competitive fighting games. He's always been a natural talent due to his frenzied style, but in Street Fighter V, the game mechanics seemed to encourage his style tenfold. The lesson to take away from his successful run? You're allowed to go all-in and play with abandon because the game will allow you to.

All in all, he lost only to tournament winner, Infiltration, and Justin Wong. But, he was the victor from the pool of death, took out two established winners in the top 8, and ended his tournament as the fourth-place finisher. Not bad at all.

There were plenty of narratives in Northern California Regionals, but the three highlights from this past weekend were important keys. Will the underdogs from the western world finally rise up and challenge their Asian counterparts? Could more reckless play be encouraged after Marn's deep run in the tournament? And will there will be more tournament innovations like the punishment pool? It's the start of the Capcom Pro Tour and we can't wait.