Familiar names may have been the victors in Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite's debut weekend, but the lasting impressions were made by Marvel veterans that may not have been as well-known.
Hours after Dominique "Sonic Fox" McLean claimed victory at CEOtaku, Ryan "Filipino Champ" Ramirez took home gold at SoCal Regionals 2017. While he would have to climb from the losers bracket -- thanks to a pupil and rival of his, Sergio "Taekua" Cavazos -- a set with one of Marvel's prodigal sons, Richard Nguyen, would arguably steal the show.
The person who sat in grand finals wasn't anyone new to the scene; rather, many were awestruck that he was the final test for FChamp.
A major tournament on Week 1 is ripe for surprise, and Robert "Sacktap" Capps' second place finish would be one of them. While Capps was a mainstay in SoCal's Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 scene, his placing in one of the fighting game community's toughest scenes showed that with a new game comes new opportunities.
"I'll be upfront and admit I got my hands on a copy the Wednesday before release. I mostly focused on playing through the story, obtaining colors for the cast, and played more seriously over Curleh Finale weekend," Capps said.
"There's a lot of negative stigma around people getting their hands on early copies, and it's certainly a valid concern," he added. "You'll see certain players refuse to enter events in case they do. In my defense, I had signed up for SCR without the intent that I'd ever see a copy before release. ... I'm not a high profile or sponsored player. I'm not too much of a content contributor. SoCal was already a hotbed for early obtainers and there were individuals reserving half a dozen copies from one store."
For players trying to adjust to the new game, every minute counted. They weren't just battling their way through the bracket, but battling to break things that may have brought success in the previous iteration.
"A lot of talented players showed up to SCR and you could definitely tell that people were carrying over habits from Marvel 3, myself included," Capps continued. "It's very difficult to beat six years of muscle memory out of the system and that definitely affected veteran performance. Not necessarily with new system mechanics either, such as gems or active switching, but with more intricate stuff: pre-jump frames, the fact that freezes during supers/switches don't store inputs, different pushblock timings, etc. Even with early copies, it still felt as though everyone's attempting to get a feel for the game."
While he was absent from the first edition of Wednesday Night Fights, SoCal's premiere fighting game local event that showcased the game, those who watched his play in UMVC3 knew he stood out, at the very least for his decisions made at the character select screen.
While some players were moving on to life after Doctor Doom and Vergil, his character choices would pay off in the new iteration.
"Not to say I'd call myself a low tier hero; my character interests are on a game-to-game basis. At the moment it's too early to determine what's the most relevant combination to use in Marvel Infinite," said Capps. "Naturally there's characters like Dante, Ultron and Dormammu who have already proven themselves as dominant forces versus characters you don't see very often like Ryu and Hulk for one reason or another. Luckily, most likely through some ungodly amount of good fortune, I've got all four of my characters back in the game plus Thanos, who was a returning character I very much anticipated since MvCI's announcement."
"They all range from solid to very strong and regardless of who's attempting to emulate what or which characters everyone is using, I'll guarantee that whatever the scenario, I'll be sticking with my squad the whole way through. Just because they're suddenly strong won't mean I'm giving up on them."
With Champ facing him in the grand finals, Capps claimed a spot at the "Battle for the Stones" event, as one of the six stone holders, that will be in the bracket of 16 against the seven Marvel vs Capcom 3 Evolution champions and three online tournament winners. Like many Marvel players, Capps had a feeling that there would be a new stage for Marvel on the horizon.
"We knew there was something for Marvel Infinite based on the esports proposal video that [leaked] but weren't privy to the details aside from online/Evo champ qualifiers. It already maintained a small degree of interest but once they revealed the Battle of the Stones rules, it fully caught my attention."
A second place finish to a former Evolution champion at this qualifier ensured the Space Stone was his; the ability to change places with someone in bracket, and potentially his fate puts him in an enviable position.
Yet, with five more stones up for grabs, three online qualifiers, the bracket certainly isn't set yet.
"It's got me anxious over how the other stones can affect the final brackets and all the theorycrafting may end up betraying expectations," Capps admitted.
"It's a very valuable quirk and equally versatile. Put myself across the bracket from a problematic matchup, or use it as a failsafe for if I end up in losers? Even without knowing what use the other gems will serve I already feel comfortable with the power at my disposal."
While Richard Nguyen's performance and social media posts will likely make players take a closer look at Dante, and Filipino Champ's Dormammu will have people labbing that character and his options, Capps isn't quite sure that the game will settle the same way its predecessor did.
"It's a popular sentiment that Marvel 3 lacked character diversity and at a high level that'd be correct. You almost always get to see the Top 5 -- Zero, Magneto, Morrigan, Vergil and Doom -- in action with a handful of characters that happened to rotate into the meta, but I'm reminded of a tweet that highlighted all the viable picks, where all but two characters were considered as much. Credit goes to character specialists like DualKevin and RyanLV that worked their teams to the bone to account for most potential matchups; their subsequent successes prove how far dedication can take a totally ignored character like Deadpool or someone like Chun-Li who for the longest time was considered a bottom tier character."
Capps also gave some advice to aspiring players.
"If there's anyone that wants advice for attempting to break the mold it's this; don't try and be unique for the uniqueness' sake," he said. "First and foremost, enjoy the characters you play, whether it's for aesthetic or playstyle. For that matter, don't be concerned about using a popular character at the cost of becoming a statistic. Nobody worth noticing will give you flak for your selections; the ones that do will figure out the matchup instead. That's how it worked in Marvel 3 and it's how it'll work in Marvel Infinite."
With his spot already earned, and three months until the Battle for the Stones takes place, Capps will have to manage his time and delve deeper into the game.
"After SCR, I fully intend on using training mode more often given my newfound qualification for Battle of the Stones, but throughout most of Marvel 3, my tournament and casual play doubled as my lab time; in truth, most of my setups were discovered on the fly," he said. "That's not to say Marvel Infinite won't be a similar case; there's already a slew of ideas at the ready that I'll need to determine their practicality. Thankfully I have a fantastic scene for testing the waters and a steady stream of weeklies to completely flesh said ideas out. Maybe show off a little."