ICONIC Esports Moments: Tokido’s Legendary Run at EVO 2017 (FGC)

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Sometimes the greatest stories write themselves. James Chen: “Look the US has been chasing a Street Fighter IV/ Street Fighter V championship for quite some time. But you know who else has been chasing that this one man right here. We’re actually at a point right now where the American could be the favorite here.

More EVO Top 8s probably than any other player in the history of EVO. There are so many powerful names that didn’t make it this far and this is the one player he probably did not want to make it back out of losers’ bracket. This is it. This is the biggest match of his life.

The onus is on Punk to really close this out. This is where the mental fortitude comes into play. It’s all slipping away from him.” Heading into EVO 2017, Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi – a fighting game legend – was entering year 10 of an EVO first place drought. He had 21 Top 8 finishes, including two titles in Capcom vs. SNK 2 and Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, but EVO’s headlining Street Fighter crown had always managed to escape his grasp.

Tokido was a dominant, innovative master of fighting games with dozens of tournament wins across multiple titles. This was most visibly on display at CEO 2011 when he made history by placing first in Street Fighter IV Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and BlazBlue and placed third in Tekken 6 However, despite his tremendous achievements, two second place finishes in 2007 and 2013 were the closest he ever came to claiming the most prestigious title in fighting games. The EVO Street Fighter main event.

Going into EVO 2017’s Street Fighter V tournament, Tokido had an incredibly hard road to make it to Top 8, including a showdown with the man everyone had pegged as the favorite to win it all. Victor “Punk” Woodley, a young, rising superstar from the United States with an incredible tournament record. Punk had won or placed secnod at nearly every major tournament leading up to EVO. He was a wunderkind with a hyper aggressive play style, a goofy over-the-top personality… Punk. “It’s just another day.”

…and an uncanny ability to get in his opponents’ heads. [Casting.] UltraDavid: “Punk is probably best player in the world.

That’s my, that’s my thought. I’ll be very surprised if he was not in Top 8.” Everyone was sure that Punk was going to win EVO. Not could, would. Punk looked certain to be North America’s first Street Fighter EVO champion in years and it seemed like Tokido was the only person left who could stop him.

While Tokido’s 2017 had been shaky, heading into EVO, stories emerged that he had begun to regain his form. [Casting] Fword: “I’ve heard a lot of stories about how he’s been performing this week in the casuals. Some of your number one guys here had a really hard time against Tokido so he could be a real problem this EVO.

The two clashed in Top 32. The winner would go to Top 8 ang get the casino first deposit bonus while the loser would have to fight their way back through the losers’ bracket with only one more chance before heading home. [Casting] Punk moved on, and Tokido, defeated, was relegated to losers’. But he’d been there before.

Tokido is one of Japan’s five fighting game gods and at the beginning of his journey he did it all with a look of cold emotionless disdain. Earning him the nickname Murderface. However as the years wore on he wanted to become a player that was more fun to watch. He became known for his trash talk… Tokido: “If he use Ryu, I body him.”

…his oppressive play… [Casting] …and his over-the-top displays of dominance. [Casting] But without an EVO win in a decade his legacy seemed incomplete he had dedicated years of his life to being the best. Years of his life to the Fighting Game Community to being someone that people would remember. He just needed another chance to make it all count In the loser’s bracket Tokido came up against fellow Japanese fighting game god Haitani.

James Chen: “It’s terrifying that these two have to fight each other to get into Top 8.” Their match came down to the very last round but a huge dropped combo from Haitani gave Tokido the chance to take his place in Top 8. [Casting} The next day Tokido played Filipino Champ the best Dhalsim in the world. James Chen: “Filipino Champ right here probably one of the greatest heels that we have in the community you either love the guy or you’re gonna hate the guy.”

Champ took a 2-1 lead and reached a match point with a wild series of mixups. [Casting] But Tokido fought back. [Casting] It all came down to a final, fifth game. [Casting] Having narrowly escaped elimination, Tokido moved on to play NuckleDu – one of America’s finest and won again.

Next came Itabashi Zangief, the world’s best Zangief player, known for wild, unpredictable play that tended to stump even experienced players like Tokido. The two traded games back and forth [Casting] But in the final round of their fifth game, Tokido came out on top with an unbelievable read. [Casting] Next came Kazunoko, but Tokido was ready for every trick he had.

After blazing a trail of destruction through a gauntlet of Street Fighter V’s best players, Tokido had finally earned another shot at Punk. James Chen: “Look, the US has been chasing a Street Fighter IV/ Street Fighter V championship for quite some time but you know who else has been chasing that this one man right here.” Punk made it through the winners’ bracket, having 3-0’d both ItaZan and Kazunoko. He was poised to win it all, and bring down Tokido yet again in the process. With the home crowd behind him, the rookie would defeat the veteran, writing his name in Street Fighter history.

But Tokido was writing his own story.But Tokido was writing his own story. [Casting] The second set wasn’t much better for Punk. [Casting] Punk had lost before, but never in front of a crowd like this. Never in front of thousands of people and never on Street Fighter’s most prestigious stage. But Tokido destroyed him. [Casting] Tokido stood victorious, and to cap it all off, he struck Akuma’s signature Raging Demon pose.

Sajam: “The post on the Evolution stage. Your champion Tokido.” Tokido didn’t need to hit Punk with a Raging Demon when he was pixels away from death. But he did it, anyway. [Casting] He beat Punk in the flashiest way possible, getting the crowd on his side and crushing Punk’s spirit.

But he didn’t do it for that purpose. Tokido did it all for the crowd. He didn’t end with trash talk, he closed out EVO with a message of love for the Fighting Game Community. Gootecks: “You know, you came all the way from Japan. Is there anybody at home or is there anybody that you want to give a shout-out to?” Tokido: “Yes.”

“Uh.” “Just one thing I want to say.” “Fighting game, is something so great.”

Tokido: “Thank you so much.” Tokido worked for decades to earn that EVO win. He played dozens of games, beat hundreds of the best players on Earth, all to stand at the peak once again. But that trophy meant more than a win over Punk. It meant more than experience and craft trumping raw skill. Tokido stood at the top of a community of people, every last one of them out to become better.

James Chen: “I can tell you right now. Everybody probably felt the same way: if there was going to be a Japanese player who was going to stop that run, they would’ve wanted it to be Tokido. In the end, esports aren’t always about one team or player being better than another. Those teams and players come and go, glory fades. But what keeps these games going, what gets you to play, what makes these moments so special, is the community that’s behind them.

It’s the community that shapes, makes and appreciates these perfect moments for what they are. Something so great. James Chen: “Damnit, why did he have to say that?”