Most people will know by now that Bonchan is your EVO 2019 world champion for Street Fighter V. But do you know the full extent of his journey? Since his last appearance in the EVO grand finals in 2014, Bonchan has gone through a long and arduous journey in order to return to the very top.
Read on for the tale of how one of fighting game’s greatest competitors clawed his way back to the very top after 5 seemingly endless years of struggling.
That Fateful Day…
Las Vegas, the Evolution World Fighting Game Championships – more commonly known as EVO. The year is 2014, and we’re down to the final two players at the end of the biggest fighting game tournament of the year for the most popular fighting game in the world – Ultra Street Fighter IV.
On the player 1 side, we have Luffy from France, representing the European fighting game scene who haven’t seen a world champion in a major fighting game title since the days when Ryan Hart was in his prime. Given that pretty much nobody apart from the other top European players would have had Luffy as their pick for one of the players in that year’s top 8, it’s safe to say that he’s the underdog in this match – not to mention the fact that he’s fighting from the loser’s side of the bracket.
On the player 2 side, we have the obvious crowd favourite in the matchup – the one that many consider to be the best Sagat player in the world – Bonchan. His skills are undoubted, but he hasn’t won the championship at the biggest tournament of them all. Not yet.
Despite having the international fans behind him, it turns out that 2014 was not meant to be Bonchan’s year. With a relatively low profile opponent wielding an uncommon character standing in his way in grand finals, Bonchan found himself unable to establish any kind of meaningful momentum during the set. Seemingly confounded by the Sagat vs Rose matchup, Bonchan’s winner’s bracket advantage quickly evaporated as Luffy won the first grand finals set 3-1 with relative ease. The second set was hardly any different, and all Bonchan could do was shake his head and shake his opponent’s hand as Luffy was declared the EVO 2014 champion.
Bonchan’s winner’s bracket advantage quickly evaporated as Luffy won the first grand finals set 3-1 with relative ease. The second set was hardly any different, and all Bonchan could do was shake his head and shake his opponent’s hand as Luffy was declared the EVO 2014 champion.
Coming 2nd place in any tournament is a disappointment for any serious competitor, and coming 2nd place when you’re that close to winning the biggest fighting game tournament in the world is sure to sting even worse. At least Bonchan could take solace in the fact that he could try again next year. Ultra Street Fighter IV still had another solid year of competition left, and everyone was sure he would come back stronger than ever in the following EVO.
2015 was a decent year for Bonchan, as he won major tournaments including the first-ever Red Bull Kumite and Socal Regionals while also securing his first sponsorship as a professional gamer with Red Bull. Sadly, his EVO campaign that year didn’t go nearly as well as the fans expected. Bonchan suffered a shock loss against Alex Valle in pools and failed to even crack the top 32 in the last ever EVO to feature Street Fighter IV as a headline game. Ultimately, 2015 ended in disappointment for Bonchan as he crashed out of that year’s Capcom Cup without winning a single match.
A New V
2016 marked the release of a brand new Street Fighter title and a new opportunity for every competitor out there, including Bonchan. But even in the days leading up to the release of the game, there was doubt for him. Bonchan’s signature character was nowhere to be seen on the character roster. Capcom had made it known that numerous characters would be added to the game in the future via DLC, but there was no way of knowing if Sagat would ever appear in the game at all.
When SFV was officially released, some top players such as Tokido and Fuudo were able to quickly adapt to the new system and resume their winning ways as it was business as usual. Others found themselves struggling to thrive in the vastly different meta and find characters that suited their playstyle. Unfortunately for Bonchan, he was part of the latter group.
8 whole months passed before Bonchan was finally able to reach top 8 in a major tournament using Nash – a character that was top tier when the game was released but received several major nerfs after Infiltration won EVO 2016 using the character. Feeling much better adjusted to the highly offence-oriented meta of SFV, Bonchan was able to put together some decent performances towards the end of 2016 – but nothing truly groundbreaking.
Instead, Bonchan’s true resurgence would come in May of 2017, winning 3 tournaments in a row with Nash – a short streak that the FGC enjoyed as they lauded Bonchan as “The Last Nash”.
However, modern fighting game metas are a very fickle thing, and just as quickly as he put together the streak, Bonchan found himself back on the outside of major tournament success as Nash continued to slip down the tier list while characters such as Cammy, Ibuki and Akuma dominated season 2 of SFV.
2018 rolled around. Recognising that he had to change things up in order to make his way back to the top, Bonchan began learning Karin as a tournament character. Travelling to more international tournaments than ever before, Bonchan was truly on the grind, attending tournament after tournament but failing to achieve any significant results, as his EVO campaign ended just short of top 32.
And then all of a sudden came the announcement. After the Street Fighter V finals had played out on the EVO main stage, Capcom displayed a trailer revealing the DLC characters for season 3, and one particular character announcement got the crowd out of their seats – Sagat was back in Street Fighter V.
The moment Sagat appeared on screen, you have to imagine that Bonchan was somewhere in the arena smiling to himself, maybe with a group of friends exchanging knowing looks and patting him on the shoulders. This might just be the moment that marked the change in Bonchan’s tournament fortunes during the SFV era.
As it turns out…those who erred on the side of pessimism with Sagat’s release were right. The SFV incarnation of Sagat was a decent character that was fun to play, but he had several glaring weaknesses which made it extremely difficult for anyone trying to win tournaments with him at the top level.
As Bonchan once put it himself: “Sagat is great when it comes to the fireball game….but that’s all he has.” – traditional zoning was still an option in SFV, but the Street Fighter world was in agreement that you couldn’t go very far with it as your only option.
Yes, after all the time spent struggling on the SFV circuit and waiting for Sagat to be released, even Bonchan himself was forced to admit that he couldn’t quite make it work with his favourite character.
Such is the harsh reality of life as a professional fighting game player. Sometimes, playing the game in the way you enjoy most turns out to be non-conducive when it comes to winning tournaments.
But Bonchan persevered. Dropping Nash and adopting Karin as his main tournament character, Bonchan continued to compete while continuously searching for ways to somehow scrape together some major tournament success using a playstyle that still suited him. Bonchan’s Karin became a real threat at the top level of competition while we were treated to the occasional Sagat match, but more often than not, we would see Bonchan test out Sagat during a particular matchup only to lose the first game and switch back to the more reliable character in Karin.
The 2019 CPT circuit played out, and as the tournaments went by, we began to see and hear the rumblings around Bonchan’s name whenever he was in the bracket. Bonchan was finally starting to look like one of the best players in the world again.
From Hero To Super(Street Fighter)hero
After several top 8 finishes in Major tournaments and a couple of other respectable performances, the breakthrough came at the end of June when Bonchan won first place at CEO 2019 – his first major tournament win in over 2 years. At that moment, everyone in the FGC knew – Bonchan was back.
Then came VSFighting 2019 just a couple of weeks later. All eyes were on Bonchan as he made his way through the bracket and into top 8. And right before our very eyes we saw the best possible headline matchup unfold – Bonchan vs Punk in grand finals. The King was back to his truest form to go up against the unstoppable force in Punk who was also just recently back to his dominating ways on the SFV tournament circuit. It was an incredibly tense set with Bonchan coming back from losers to reset the bracket and eventually win in the last game of the last round. And then the FGC knew – Bonchan was back, and better than ever.
With his victory over Punk fresh in everybody’s mind and EVO 2019 right around the corner, you just had to be thinking – “could this be Bonchan’s year?”. Bonchan certainly was in better form than ever, but given his poor performances at every EVO since 2014, many people were cautious about being too optimistic for Bonchan. After all, you wouldn’t want to jinx it for him.
EVO 2019 came around, Bonchan showed up to play, made top 8, and the rest is history. Exactly five years on from his heartbreaking loss in the grand finals of EVO 2014, Bonchan had found his redemption and his grand triumph, finally winning the biggest fighting game tournament in the world for the very first time in his long and storied career as a competitor, in an era where the level of competition was so difficult that even his greatest rivals such as Daigo and Tokido were unable to even reach top 8 of the tournament.
Get Ready For The Next Battle
So what’s next for Bonchan? It’s clear that the eye of the tiger is strong and unblinking, and after winning the biggest fighting game tournament in the world, there’s no doubt that Bonchan will have his sights set on the biggest fighting game prize in the world – the Capcom Cup finals in December. There’s still several months and a whole load of major tournaments to go before we reach that point, and we can’t wait to see how Bonchan will perform as the season progresses towards what we hope is a historic conclusion.
Will Bonchan claim the rest of 2019 as his year? Or will a challenger rise to claim the narrative and the championships for himself? One thing’s for sure, Bonchan is an EVO world champion, and a true world warrior – a status etched in the history of the FGC forever.