The ELeague Street Fighter V Invitational kicks off Monday, a month-long tournament showcasing 32 combatants battling for a share of $250,000. They are separated into four groups of eight players for the preliminaries, and only the top six players advance to the regular season.
Zhi "Zhieeep" Liang Chew, one of the commentators and analysts for the event, helped me break down which fighters could come out on top, and which ones could play spoiler.
Bryant "Smug" Huggins | Current Capcom Pro Tour global rank: 23
Echo Fox's Yusuke "Momochi" Momochi | Current CPT global rank: 20
Zhieeep: Group A is most stacked and it's so difficult to pick, but Smug has tremendous momentum [after a top 20 showing at Final Round] and favorable matchups throughout the group.
Lee: Momochi did his experimenting at Fighters Underground, but ELeague represents something more. I predict Momochi is going to light the entire field on fire.
Always a threat
Team Razer's Lee "Infiltration" Seon-woo | Current CPT standing: --
Panda Global's Victor "Punk" Woodley | Current CPT global rank: 32
Zhieeep: Infiltration is a true wildcard because no one knows what he'll pick. He's very hungry, but has real-life engagements. It can go both ways -- either he will be super motivated to get bank for his future life or he's still impacted by his Capcom Cup performance. Overall, he's disappointed with Capcom's changes to his characters of Nash, Akuma and Juri.
Lee: Punk comes into this with a plenty of promise. The cocky upstart is arguably one of the most technically-advanced players in Street Fighter V, but he also lacks big-time tournament experience. The focus will be all around getting and maintaining the momentum.
Twitch | Hx | CYG BST Daigo Umehara | Current CPT global rank: 36
Zowie's Bruce "Gamerbee" Hsiang | Current CPT global rank: 40
Zhieeep: My favorite is Daigo. He's realistic now. In the beginning of Season 2, he climbed crazy ranks with Guile, but on the record, he said he was bored with winning with the character and wanted to return to having fun with the game with Ryu. Obviously Guile is eons away from the pitiful character of Ryu and its forced him to abandon fun in his life and go back to his winning character. I'm excited to see tournament Daigo -- the one that wants to win instead of the self-improvement. It's the willpower to win, it's in his book. He went back on his word to stop playing Guile -- that's how much he wants to win.
Lee: Gamerbee was the hottest player on the planet towards the second half of 2016, and his character, Necalli, was largely untouched for this season. The lone weakness to the Taiwanese pro was unfamiliar matchups, but that won't be an issue at ELeague.
Always a threat
Echo Fox's Justin Wong | Current CPT global rank: 42
Hiroyuki "Eita" Nagata | Current CPT global rank: --
Zhieeep: I like Justin Wong. His focus is there and the side story of him helping his family is also added positivity.
Said Wong in a recent interview with ESPN: "Last year was a rough schedule and it was tiring. I traveled to too many events and did not practice a lot with my work schedule; it was hard to manage. Now, I'm fully recharged and able to compete more because I can train more. I want to beat everyone in my way."
Lee: Eita is a big-time tournament player. He comes out when the stakes are highest and thrives in situations where he's a forgotten threat. His nickname of the 'god killer' will be in high demand once ELeague starts and his style of Ken should attract all buyers.
Team Razer's Kun "Xian" Ho | Current CPT global rank: 1
Zhieeep: I like Xian and he's my favorite of the group. I don't think people have caught up with Ibuki; it will take a couple more tournaments until the matchup is figured out. He abandoned the character that he was bullied on (F.A.N.G.) and was tired of losing; when money is on the line, it's a bad idea to be stubborn with ideals. He would be my pick to take down the entire tournament. He's hyper-focused and happy with his choice. It's similar to his miracle run in 2013 when he won Evolution with Gen.
Lee: Xian is the 'IT' player of the moment and ELeague could not come at a better time. This is his best moment to capitalize on all the unfamiliarity of his character choice, his drastic change of play, and the recent momentum from winning Final Round in Atlanta.
Always a threat
Team Razer's Keita "Fuudo" Ai | Current CPT global rank: 2
Zhieeep: Fuudo is always a consistent and great pick. He has the most experience against Xian's Ibuki -- the other players do not. The results speak for itself; his character, R. Mika, was nerfed but he still did well at Final Round XX.
Lee: Fuudo is the boy who lived. He's the player that continues to rack up results regardless of predictions and plays a style that no one can change. He's the best anti-air in the fighting game community, the best defensive tank in the business, and the greatest Rainbow Mika in Street Fighter V.
Team Liquid's Du "NuckleDu" Dang | Current CPT global rank: 3
Zhieeep: NuckleDu's talent finally caught up with his boasting. He knows he's the best now. Before, he was disrespecting veterans, but now his performance under pressure is there. He's comfortable with his own skin. If you're playing with so much disregard for other people's opinions, he's going to thrive. It's very easy to just coast after winning the Capcom Cup, but he did well at Final Round XX and kept the hunger.
Lee: NuckleDu is the world champion for a reason: his great character selection, understanding of the game's mechanics, and instinct to push the pedal for offense. He needs bad results to convince the world that he's no longer on top of it.
Always a threat
Qanba Douyu's Zeng "Xiao Hai" Zhuo Jun | Current CPT global rank: --
Zhieeep: Xiao Hai is a big question mark. We haven't seen him play in a while and he's been dedicating a lot of time to King of Fighters XIV. A lot of people transitioned to a single game because there's a lot of money sloshing around, but he's playing multiple games and he's always competitive.
Lee: Xiao Hai was a top-five player in the world for Street Fighter V until NuckleDu knocked him off his pedestal and became his demon. NuckleDu is in the same group, but that doesn't mean that Xiao Hai will lose to anyone else in it.