It's the calm before the storm.
The Evolution Championship Series is the pinnacle of fighting game tournaments and the next stop on the Capcom Pro Tour. So far, there's been five premier events and plenty of footage to examine. The contenders of each tournament share similar play styles and it would be wise to brush up on what makes up a winner.
The first taste of premier event action was in Atlanta, Georgia, at Final Round. There, the audience received their first extended look at elite play and how contenders were separated from pretenders. One match between Brentt "Brenttiscool" Franks and YouDeal Majestic Athletic's Tatsuya "Haitani" Haitani showcased what was necessary to take down a large tournament. Both players jockeyed for position and momentum throughout the set, but the key difference between Haitani and Brenttiscool was activity. Haitani took advantage of Brenttiscool's passivity when he was on defense and controlled the space with a combination of his dash, jab pressure and the threat of an activation.
NorCal Regionals in Sacramento, California, provided some early answers to the question: Can the USA hang with Asia?
The loser's final between Evil Geniuses' Justin Wong and Japan's Hajime "Tokido" Taniguchi was an impressive match that set the bar for what was necessary to advance to the final match of a tournament. Wong absolutely played his style and comfortably held his own in the neutral game: controlling the pace and the footsie game. Wong would go up 2-0 in the set, but two crucial misses in the third game changed the flow of the series.
Tokido never wandered too far from his meter usage (critical arts on any hit confirm), corner defense and escape options; he simply couldn't be conditioned. That was the X factor. In a match dominated by Wong, Tokido never lost composure.
Stunfest and DreamHack summer
In Europe, both Stunfest and Dreamhack Summer produced two champions that played a similar frenetic style and a refusal to be bullied. Evil Geniuses' Yusuke "Momochi" Momochi and BX3's Arman "Phenom" Hanjani pulled off incredible victories in very comparable ways. For Momochi, he took down Razer's Ai "Fuudo" Keita with a series that could only be titled "hard reads." Momochi's wake-up options steered the momentum despite Fuudo's dominance over the neutral game. The burst damage potential of Ken, with the aid of Momochi's fearlessness, crushed Fuudo's chances to take down a premier event. It also helps to have Momochi's ability to hit-confirm from any button into a critical art or a combo extension.
In similar style, Phenom surprised everyone by dismantling Fuudo in both the winner's bracket and grand finals. The commentators counted more than 11 successful reversal uppercuts during block strings or wake-up. But the most important factor to Phenom's success was his ability to push forward despite a momentum loss. In a fearless style akin to Momochi, he took Fuudo's best mix-ups and neutral game dominance, but never backed down. While Phenom's victory was not as soul-crushing as Momochi's at Stunfest, both delivered the message to the masses that you need to play stubborn to stand a chance.
Community Effort Orlando 2016
CEO brought the best example of what a premier event winner needed to do. The audience saw that even pool stages were not exempt from ridiculous matchups. In the top 32, Haitani took on Shinya "Nuki" Onuki in a nail-biter of a set. These were two of the five Japanese fighting game gods. Haitani, despite staring death in the eyes, continued to reversal uppercut on wake-up, block strings, or through any opening Nuki provided.
Tokido finally took down his rival, Razer's Lee "Infiltration" Seon-woo and won a premier event. Tokido and Infiltration could be two of the best examples of what it takes to win a tournament on the Capcom Pro Tour. Smooth movement and defense, constant reactions, clutch moments, meter usage and management, and the refusal to be bullied.
On one hand, Infiltration's mind games separate him from many others. During the set, he would end many rounds with an overhead. He would back dash on wake-up, punishment or not, or go for the same option for pressure until the opponent absolutely stuffed it. Then there's Tokido, the player that steamrolls without the need for a big-time play. Unlike those mentioned above, Tokido hardly throws any risky uppercuts or plays off too many hard reads. What he does do well is dominate the ground game and understand risk and reward.
You need every factor mentioned here to stand a chance: a superior ground game, the refusal to be conditioned, hard reads, and activity on activity. From the first premier event until the most recent, every champion share many, if not all these traits.