CEO Fighting Game Championships 2018 is this weekend and it will be the biggest version yet. The summer fighting game tournament growth into one of the biggest tournaments in the community will look more like a convention than a typical ballroom major.
This year's iteration is in conjunction with New Japan Pro Wrestling to make it a dual tournament and wrestling show event. The attendance for two of its marquee games, Street Fighter V with 556 entrants and Dragon Ball FighterZ with 646 entrants, shows the overall growth. Despite the wrestling ring, convention-size hall, and theatrics, this will be the last pivotal stop before the Evolution Fighting Game Championships (EVO) and one of the hardest stops on both the Capcom Pro Tour and Dragon Ball FighterZ World Tour.
The Dragon Ball FighterZ narrative is in its most competitive form and the community is benefiting as a result. The king of the anime fighters, CYCLOPS athlete gaming's Goichi "Go1" Kishida, fell twice on USA soil (Combo Breaker and The Summit of Power) and showed his humanity. Now, the mantle for best player and tournament favorite is at its most uncertain point since the game's introduction. The debate for which region is the best between Japan and the USA will continue in Daytona, Florida.
From Japan, the usual suspects will be in play for top eight consideration. In addition to Go1, his teammates Ryo "Dogura" Nozaki, and Sho "Fenritti" Shoji are on the first sentence as contenders. Fenritti's rise into the top rank comes at the same time as Dogura's tournament inconsistencies, but both are incredibly dangerous. The other two names to look out for are Ponos' Naoki "moke" Nakayama and Ryota "Kazunoko" Inoue. Moke's incredibly fast pace and optimized combo ability make him a threat in any big-field tournaments and it's no stretch to call him a top-five player and Kazunoko's unique team compositions and high-risk style may look like a bad bet for longevity, but he's the king of rock, paper, and scissors. After the favorites, the dark horse for high-placement is Ponos' Keiji "garireo" Okamoto, one of the most proficient anime fighters in the world and a former EVO champion for BlazBlue.
On the USA side, the depth of talent is incredible. At the top, it's Echo Fox' Dominique "SonicFox" McLean and NRG's Eduardo "HookGangGod" Hook. SonicFox may be the world's best player with HookGangGod as its fastest-rising star and both will have high expectations to not only secure a top eight placement, but be in position to take down the entire event. TEvil Geniuses' Christopher "ChrisG" Gonzalez, Panda Global's Derek "Nakkiel" Bruscas, and NRG's Steve "Supernoon" Carbajal round out the best players from the region with a significant shot to make a deep run. With so many names, the dark horse from the USA is Echo Fox' Jon "dekillsage" Coello.
In addition, it will not be a surprise to see a top European player like Team SoloMid's William "Leffen" Hjelte make it to the final day -- the game's parity is finally at a point of unpredictability.
CEO is pivotal to a Street Fighter's momentum in the Capcom Pro Tour because it is the last stop before EVO and the halfway mark for the year's events. Street Fighter V's talent is at its most chaotic. Between the rise of South Korea and the Japanese names from last year to the proclamation of some of the best players from the USA that they're 'back', it's anyone's guess who will come up as tournament winner. The top of the list reads: Panda Global's Lee "Infiltration" Seon-woo, Echo Fox' Hajime "Tokido" Taniguchi, Fudoh's Atsushi Fujimura, Du "NuckleDu" Dang, and CyGames' Daigo Umehara. Right there with them are the young gunners, UYU's Sim "NL" Geon and Li-Wei "Oil King" Lin and Fursan's Kong "Verloren" Hyungsuk. That list could very well be the top eight of the tournament, but below are the players that have a great shot to truly make some noise or upset the status quo out of the massive 556 player field.
Echo Fox' Victor "Punk" Woodley
Is it finally time for last year's most consistent player to break out of his identity crisis and lengthy slump? It may very well be. After his incredible focus and performance during his ELeague group stage (a small sample size), his play was compact and suffocating and most importantly, the confidence and moxie was back. Gone were the insecurities behind an improper character fit and in were the movements that last year's Karin brought him. It's up to Punk to go back to his basics and reach the heights that a player of his caliber is capable of, but this weekend should provide more than enough motivation to break out.
Team Liquid's Naoki "Nemo" Nemoto
The premier Urien player is always a bet for upsets. Nemo is the ultimate dark horse to take a premier event because his creativity in the mix-up department and stubborn nature to constantly apply pressure regardless of the situation is a dangerous combination. He's a highlight every match and brings the innovation and execution that no one else in the world can truly boasts. The only issue that usually backtracks Nemo's chances are matchups and unfamiliarity, but if the road is clear for the Japanese assassin, it may be smooth sailing. It is not a bold statement to proclaim that Nemo has all the writings of a top-five finish in him.
Mousesports' Benjamin "Problem X" Simon
This isn't the first (or even fifth) time I put down Problem X as a potential problem player in a large tournament, but his talent warrants the consideration. Problem X is fresh off a tournament victory (Northwest Majors X) and boasts a duo character threat in Abigail and M. Bison that should navigate potential bad matchups. He's the best player from Europe and continues to check in as a talented player that can take down a major event, but with his recent form and the fact that his characters are not as popular as they were before, CEO may just be the next event to have a European champion.