JWong continues reign at Combo Breaker

Street Fighter tournaments in Japan used to be dominated by Japanese players. That seems to be changing. Vincent Samaco, flickr.com/vsmak

The combo was not broken.

Once again, Evil Geniuses' Justin Wong reaffirmed his status as North America's best Street Fighter 5 player with another tournament victory at Combo Breaker 2016. Wong is the gatekeeper for those players looking to win in the western hemisphere. His blend of simplicity, patience, and spacing makes him a nightmare to play against. There's no gimmick to look out for or plan against; it's simply outplay the man or be added to his list of victims.

Combo Breaker's top eight was a diverse blend of character archetype and player individualism. There were mix-up types with Alex, Rainbow Mika, and Laura, who created openings with close-range command grabs, plus-frame normal attacks, and strings for explosive damage. On the other side of the coin, there were ground-based and fundamentally-sound characters like Chun-Li, Vega, Dhalsim, and Nash.

These characters dominate through superior normal attacks to suffocate the opponent's space. Dhalsim and Nash especially differentiate because of their unique zoning tools, but overall fit the mold of a ground-based character. Peter "Flash Metroid" Susini and Panda Global's Ryan "Filipinochamp" Ramirez provided two moments that I dubbed as the highlights of the tournament. Flash Metroid's goading of Team Liquid's Du "NuckleDu" Dang to coerce a rarely-used Guile to seal his victory was the perfect example of meta. As for Filipinochamp, his avoidance of near-death situations were a thing of beauty. The best example would be against the aforementioned NuckleDu, where he floated over a projectile with his own gale and then jumped back to air-to-air his opponent's normal move.

Parity still exists

Wolfkrone, Filipinoman, LPN, and Flash Metroid's top finishes. It truly is anyone's game for placing in the top at a major tournament. As Joshua "Wolfkrone" Philpot, Team YP's Anton "Filipinoman" Herrera, Circa eSports' Long "LPN" Nguyen, and Flash Metroid could attest, this game allows for the hard work to pay off. If you put in the effort, the results will show up. Flash Metroid, especially, showcased this with an impressive second-place finish. He navigated past the sharks in the water with an execution-heavy Vega and a style that could not be conditioned.

If he was knocked down, he would wake up with a light kick, force a command grab in the neutral, or even press his frame-advantage with block strings into wall dives. In short, Flash Metroid played the game the way he felt was best: without fear of the opponent.

For others like Filipinoman and LPN, this was another tournament to remind everyone that they belonged on the final day. Both deployed an aggressive style that fit the game's mechanics. It could be an example for newer players to follow as it minimized the priority of the footsie-aspect in Street Fighter.

Your champion: Justin Wong.

There's been so much written about Wong's surreal start to the Capcom Pro Tour. He's the points leader and the king of North America. To beat him would take a herculean effort, but Evil Geniuses teammate Ricki Ortiz was the closest do so. She challenged Wong's approach and checked his normal moves at every turn. Ortiz was hesitant to push buttons when it was obvious that Wong wanted to confirm his low forward into critical art. She pressured and was not conditioned until the end.

That's the key. Wong is excellent when controlling space and waiting for his opponent's mistakes, but if the enemy is unafraid to challenge him, the games will be razor-edge close. It's easier said than done. Wong is the benchmark for a reason, but Ortiz showed that cracks do exist.