While Dragon Ball Fighterz might still be in its infancy, most of its top competitors have been crushing their opponents in other fighting franchises for years. Dominique "SonicFox" McLean has been winning championships in Mortal Kombat and Injustice since 2014, and Ryota "Kazunoko" Inoue has been making a name for himself since 2008.
Eduardo "HookGangGod" Deno, who placed seventh at the Red Bull Final Summoning, isn't nearly as experienced.
"I got fired from the movie theater I was working at for playing this game too much. I was just grinding the game late into the evening and would always come in late the next day," Deno told ESPN. "I was already ranked seventh in the online leaderboards on Playstation 4, so I just decided to compete while I looked for another job.
"I got fired on a Saturday, and I went to my first tournament the next Tuesday."
Not even a full year later, Deno is a rising star. He's signed by NRG and makes a living through a combination of streaming and competing in tournaments. He was one of the four competitors to win one of the main Dragon Ball Fighterz World Tour tournaments, giving him a "Dragon Ball," which automatically seeded him in the top-eight bracket at last weekend's finals. That's no small feat.
Despite his rise, Deno isn't new to fighting games. He has played his fair share of anime fighters, including the Persona and Guilty Gear series, regularly. He started attending LAN events only this year -- a short while after he sank his teeth into Dragon Ball Fighterz. In that timespan, he has beaten SonicFox to take first place at the Summit of Power, he has beaten players such as Echo Fox's Jon "dekillsage" Coello, Evil Genius's Christopher "NyChrisG" Gonzalez and fellow NRG competitor Steve "Supernoon" Carbajal at Frosty Faustings XI, and he won one of the seven Dragon Balls needed to qualify for the Red Bull Final Summoning at Thunderstruck 2018.
"The level of play that HookGangGod is up against is world-class, and he fits in nicely," DBFZ commentator Stephen "Sajam" Lyon said. "Every other person in this top eight is so much more experienced, some of them have been playing for a decade at a high level. It's really impressive that he made it to this point."
Unfortunately for Deno, his matches didn't go as planned at the final event for Dragon Ball Fighterz inaugural season. He got knocked into the losers bracket early by Ryo "Dogura" Nozaki and lost to Shoji "Fenritti" Sho, which ended his run to win the championship trophy.
"I really did feel confident today. I thought I could've taken some people out," Deno said. "Sadly, that wasn't the case. They just had my number. I was close to beating Dogura but just couldn't pull through."
One of the most impressive elements of Deno's rise to fame has been his ability to transfer his online skills, which are vastly different. Compare the high-level play at in-person tournaments to the lag-free, crowded rooms of World Tour LANs.
"Reactions matter tenfold in this game. You have to be able to react to the super-dash. There is always something happening, and the frame difference matters so much," Deno said. "When I first started, I was dropping all these combos, and I wasn't breaking throws because it's almost impossible online. I wasn't used to the monitors we used here, but I've adapted pretty well."
Deno's style isn't typical for a veteran of online play. He favors slower, reactive methods over the fast-paced offensive styles commonly used online. Lag, subpar connections and other factors prevent defensively-minded play from working effectively online.
"Hook may have had some growing pains at locals, but he's learned super fast," Lyon said. "He has a really stacked local scene too. He has to go to events and play SonicFox, so he's adapted quickly and performed really well under pressure."
It's still unbelievable for Deno to be competing with FGC powerhouses he used to watch on stream after his shift at the theater. But now, after taking the biggest risk of his life, he isn't dreaming of standing next to other pros on stage. He's beating them.
"I'm all in on Dragon Ball Fighterz," Deno said. "Even though I don't play my best all the time, I know when I turn it on I can beat everyone here. I just need to find out how to pull that out of myself, how to turn it on every time I play."