After Echo Fox’s JDCR of Korea sealed the deal in Tekken 7 at Final Round 20 this past weekend, someone in the crowd yelled out to him “You’re cheating. Stop cheating. We don’t even have the game yet!” I cringed as I heard it. But it begs a very serious question. Can America still use not having Tekken 7 as an excuse for not defeating Koreans and Japanese players in tournaments? In my opinion I don’t think they can. There may be a few caveats, but let’s criticaly analyze this.
Tekken 7 was first learned about on July 13, 2014 when an IGN news video was released by AOL.com earlier than it should have been. Since the cat had been let out of the bag, a last minute trailer was pieced together so that an official announcement could be made at Evo of that same year. That was almost three years ago. As most people who follow Tekken closely know, the game always comes out in arcades first, and then years later on console. There have been complaints about that business model and timeline for as long as who knows when. But one of the complaints is tied to the competitive side of things, declaring that Asian players having access to the game years ahead of everyone else gives them an unfair advantage in tournaments. Quite honestly, I used to buy that at wholesale prices, but not anymore. This weekend at Final Round’s 20th anniversary I had an epiphany. Allow me to share it.
As I watched the Tekken 7 tournament unfold at Final Round there were quite a few unexpected turn of events. For example, I don’t think anyone expected Echo Fox’s Saint of Korea to not make the top 8. He’s the reigning Evo 2016 champion, and the 2016 King of the Iron Fist Tournament champion. This guy lives and breathes “Korean Tekken” just like his best friend JDCR. These two are battle tested and have faced and defeated some of the best players in the world – from Knee, to Nobi, to [insert any pro Asian player’s name].
As well, I don’t think anyone thought that Cyclops Osaka’s Tanukana of Japan would not make it either. She’s supposedly the best Xiaoyu player in her country, but both she and Saint were eliminated in the semi-finals this weekend and did not make the top 8. And the people that eliminated them? Players from America who do not have nearly as much access to Tekken 7 as they do.
In Korea and Japan Tekken 7 has been available since early 2015 in arcades. And up until recently, the most any American has had a chance to play Tekken 7 came primarily last year during the Tekken Tour and a very small arcade in Illinois. But still, two players who have had access to this game almost three years were eliminated. How is that possible when according to American logic that’s not supposed to happen? Americans aren’t supposed to be able to beat them because they don’t have access to the game. Right? So how did they beat them then? Was it luck? Was it just an off day for Saint and Tanukana? Jet lag? Fatigue? Intimidation? What was it?
I’ll tell you what it was.
A Game of Fundamentals
The reason it was possible is due to a few things that really have nothing to do with playing Tekken 7, but everything to do with playing Tekken in general. Playing it the right way. Generally speaking it means having solid fundamentals, experience, character knowledge and smart decision making. That’s it. I’ll give it to you that character knowledge comes into play when there certainly are new characters such as Claudio, Lucky Chloe, Akuma, etc in Tekken 7, but none of the international players used any new characters at Final Round this weekend. They used characters that have been staples for quite some time – characters like Heihachi, Dragunov, Kazuya, Jack, Bob, and Xiaoyu.
Sure, they may have one or two new moves, but there weren’t any exploits that gave JDCR, Saint or Tanukana an advantage over any of the American players. Not one. And as far as I recall, in the grand finals JDCR used Dragunov and did absolutely nothing with him that could not be done in Tekken Tag Tournament 2. In other words, the matchup knowledge should’ve been there for any American player.
So how did JDCR win grand finals six rounds straight, and pretty much in bullying fashion? I’ll tell you how. He simply just plays the game better. There was nothing about his Final Round win that was related to Tekken 7 in any way. Again, nothing. Yes, there are new mechanics like rage arts and rage drives, but those were not and are not things that prevent a solid player like Speedkicks from winning a single match. He had the same mechanics at his disposal as well. So the playing field was absolutely even, and if anyone knows how to use those new mechanics, it’s Speed.
JDCR aka Mr. Robot
Think about JDCR for a minute. Tekken developer Katsuhiro Harada calls him a robot because he plays like a video game on ultra hard mode. His reads and defense are almost like he’s reading your mind. His punishment takes advantage of the small of errors. His sidestepping he superior to none. His offense is assassin-like. His ability to size you up and make you play his game is something you don’t even recognize. His quick decision making in situations is unparalleled. His character knowledge is at a high level. And his ability to download you instantly is warez-like. JDCR has seen it all and faced it all. So, which one of those things are game specific? None of them. I submit to you that it’s just Tekken.
To say that it is the game is to take away from JDCR’s genius. I can assure you that even if you were to have Tekken 7 a year (or years) before JDCR, and all he had to practice on is Tekken Tag Tournament 2, it would not change the outcome. Fundamentals transcend any specific Tekken release. They are universal.
To see if what I’m saying holds any weight, let’s take a look at Evo 2015’s top 8. Here are the players, the characters they used, and how long those characters have been in the game.
|Mr. Naps||USA||Bryan||Tekken 3|
With the exception of Saint, everyone else in the top 8 used characters that have been in Tekken for quite some time. None of these characters have had such major changes that it would prohibit someone from winning the tournament. The only people that faced Saint’s Shaheen were Nobi and JDCR. He defeated JDCR (who didn’t have much experience with Tekken 7 at the time, yet did very well considering this was Evo), and fell twice to Nobi. If you watch the matches between these two, you’ll see that it was Nobi’s fundamentals and aggressive offense that overcame his lack of knowledge of the character matchup. (Exhibit A: Video 1; Exhibit B: Video 2)
Here’s an example of that offense I’m talking about. Not just anyone can pull off what Nobi did here, and it had nothing to do with having Tekken 7. The rage art at the end, yes. The execution, no. The argument here is that he plays at a high level that is apart from which game he is playing. Dragunov is Dragunov, and fundamentals are fundamentals.
Now, a time in which the game certainly did affect the outcome was during Evo 2016 when Knee and Poongko both used Akuma to pummel their way to the top 8 in Tekken 7: Fated Retribution. That game completely unraveled things and was 100% new territory that no American, Japanese, or Korean could have truly been able to prepare for. Akuma character had only been out about a month, and he was very overpowered. Very. Not even JDCR was ready, having fallen victim to Knee’s Akuma himself. And even some of the losses that took place for players like Anakin and others were large and in part to new characters that they didn’t have knowledge of. It’s unfortunate, but it was a mixed bag for everyone involved, so the playing field was still kind of even in that regard. You get the point.
I will submit to you that when it comes to facing new characters, that may be where the line should be drawn sometimes in tournaments when not all regions have the game. New characters that you have not had a chance to play or practice against are hard to beat if you’re playing someone using that character at a high level – and Asians usually do. Fundamentals can still compensate if your opponent sucks with that new character. In tournament situations against Koreans and Japanese players that’s generally not the case.
After the release of Tekken 7 on June 2nd, America will have exactly 42 days to prepare for Evo 2017, which is July 14th-16th. We already know how long Asians have had the game, and that length of time only matters where new characters are concerned. Those take time to learn how to fight against. Is 42 days enough time? I think so. For casual players, maybe not. But we’re not talking casual players. We’re talking pro players. Players who say they have what it takes. Players should have fundamentals and know how to go into the lab (practice mode) and break down a character move by move, go to YouTube and watch high level gameplay, and get matches in online or at a local game house. There will should be no excuses come Evo.
No More Excuses, America
America. Your claims that Korea and Japan win because they have had Tekken 7 longer than you are no longer acceptable. That’s sounding more and more like an excuse for simply not playing well. Is it that you don’t want to accept that maybe Korea is just better? Or that maybe Japan is just better? Maybe, just maybe… South America is better too? “Yeah, but they just lost Collision 2017.” Y es, but their two top players also did not have their main characters in the game either. Sapito’s main character is Lei, and who knows if he’s coming back. And Abel Del Maestro’s main is Eddy, and he wasn’t announced until almost two weeks after the event. Still, in times past they’ve beaten the Koreans North America has fallen to.
So what will it be America? You have one last hurdle to jump over. It’s the “no excuses” hurdle. Remember, Tekken is an unforgiving game of fundamentals. Can’t come to a tournament playing like it’s a casual match. JDCR and Knee have been playing for years. When you lose to them it’s experience at work – not the latest installment of the game.