Joe "LI Joe" Ciaramelli threw his hands up in the air while his eyes searched the crowd frantically for his family and friends.
His father and close friend, John Gallagher, were wrapped in a joyous embrace with their fingers pointed at him. LI Joe fought back tears as he pointed to his heart and then to them before turning his attention to the rest of the convention center at the Mandalay Bay. Making his way around the stage, the audience showered him with cheers after his performance at the Evolution Championship Series.
It was a mix of "LI Joe!" and "USA!" that boomed through the hall as fans watched their lone representative from the United States take on the world in Street Fighter V.
Before the Top 8 even began, the players from Asia attempted to create a warm atmosphere despite the language barrier in the practice room. There, players could work on individual aspects of their game on setups. While it was slightly awkward, the players attempted to acclimate to one another and help everyone out, especially LI Joe, who was only one of two non-Japanese players in the room.
"It was uncomfortable in the green room since everyone spoke a different language," Ciaramelli said. "There were televisions to practice on, so it was just me and them. There was just a huge language barrier for communication."
In the end, he would take a respectable fifth place out of more than 5,000 players in Street Fighter V. His ending speech was a perfect example of his positivity. "I hope everyone was proud of me," he said, sheepishly. "I'm sorry."
He would compliment the players he shared the day with in the practice room, remarking that he'd hoped to reach that same status. As one of the best players from the United States, he reached his success with the help of some great training partners.
"I just shut every other game down and focused on Street Fighter," Ciaramelli said. "My friends and I would watch videos and pick apart the game plan and played. I just did that a few times a week and that was it."
When he took down Hiroyuki "Eita" Nagata in the first round of the loser's bracket in the Top 8, he barely contained his emotions.
"It was stressful. I knew I was the only one and I didn't want to let anyone down. I knew a lot of people wanted me to hold it down. I thought I was going to do well, but not this well," Ciaramelli said. "I'm upset for everyone else and hope they're okay with my performance. I didn't think [I would go] that far."
His father wasn't even expected to come to Las Vegas until a phone call alerted him about his son's terrific tournament performance. His trip over to Las Vegas would prove too emotional for LI Joe. "My father was always a huge supporter of me since I was a little kid," Ciaramelli said. "He used to take me to the arcade and did everything with me. I started crying when I saw him."
LI Joe picked up Nash after his first impressions of the game during the Electronic Entertainment Expo in 2015. Although he admits that Nash still possesses flaws that prevent him from truly entering an elite tier, he's still going to stick with him.
"His tool set prevents him from being the best. When you break him down, he's missing a few things that a lot of characters have. [They] can do the things he does, but better," Ciaramelli said. "He isn't the best character, but maybe with patches or changes, it's possible."