I want to tell you about Snake Eyes. To me, he really was the most interesting story this year at Evolution 2010. Everyone was talking about him the day or two before the tournament, and how great he was. Snake Eyes is a pretty new player (strike one) who plays Zangief (strike two) on a pad (strike 3). "Real" players play on a joystick, and it's rare for pad players to do well. It's also rare for Zangief players in ST/HD Remix to do well, not to mention players who are unknowns on the tournament scene.
I played Snake Eyes a long time ago on Xbox Live, and I didn't think a lot of him. Yeah he's good, but so are a lot of other players. Zangief has a lot of bad matchups, so I can counterpick and be fine, whatever. But people told me "no really, this guy is GOOD." AquaSnake claimed Snake Eyes would make top 8 "for sure, guaranteed" and that he would probably make top 2. This seemed crazy to me. Another player told me there was some casual play of Street Fighter HD Remix with about 20 known players, and Snake Eyes beat all of them in a row with no losses, then beat all of them again. (What??)
Another thing to factor in was the other tournament he attended. Yeah "the" other because he had only ever been to one: West Coast WarZone 2. He lost to AfroLegends there (winner of last year's Evolution), but he had an incredibly good showing. He beat superstar player Alex Valle...twice in the same tournament. I didn't see the first time they faced each other, but the second time Snake Eyes won 6 rounds to 0. Pretty much no one beats Valle like that. Even a hero like Valle can have a bad tournament or a bad day though, so maybe that's all it was?
Snake Eyes was in my pool, along with Kuni the famous Zangief player, John Choi, Pete Talley, Masaka, and some other good players I'm probably forgetting. Incidentally, I double eliminated Kuni (I played Cammy both times), but I lost to Choi. I was too busy playing to see much of Snake Eyes play, but i saw a couple rounds where he just stomped whoever it was. At some point, he beat Choi but that might have been in the semi-finals, I'm not sure. By that night, Snake Eyes made top 8 (winners side, so no match losses yet) and he would face Tokido the next day. If he won, he would face the winner of DGV (Ryu) and Jason Cole (Dhalsim) for the top of the winner's bracket. If he won that he would need only one more win to win Evolution 2010.
He seemed like a nice guy and all, so I made sure he understood some facts of the match, such as how useful low fierce is against a far-away Vega wall dive, and how good lariat is against a crossup dive. We decided to go practice for his sake, because I had made top 8 at Evolution with Vega before, so he could at least prepare for his match against Tokido a bit. After a bit of Vega, he said to play whoever I wanted so as I usually do, I picked like 8 different characters against him.
In casual play, I do fine against even top players. The one player who has beat me worse than anyone ever in casual play was AfroLegends. Like 25 to 3 or something once, just destroyed me. Now I have to add Snake Eyes to that list. I think the score was about 40 to 8, it was brutal. It's actually nothing like being beaten by AfroLegends though. Against Afro, I struggle to even play my game because he controls the whole match, and he sets the pace. Against Snake Eyes though, I can do whatever I want. I'm in control and I keep him out...and then suddenly I lose. I knew all about this phenomenon from Kuni's Zangief. He taught me long ago that Zangief can literally win the entire round off one of your mistakes, but somehow Snake Eyes implements this even better than Kuni. It's all well and good, then suddenly he gets in, and that's it. (Safe jump, some unknown number of force blocked jabs into spd or bait your reversal then sweep, repeat).
I started keeping track of just how Snake Eyes managed to get in each time. I played my impenetrable wall of Cammy stuff, thinking "seriously, how can this go wrong?" Or just stand there with Blanka doing stand strong (beats all Zangief jump attacks) wondering what he could possibly do, even theoretically. Remarkably, I lost several rounds without even KNOWING what went wrong. SweetJohnnyV was watching and he didn't know either half the time. The times I did keep track of it, the critical mistake was when he a) got a jump in I didn't counter, b) snuck in running grab, c) did walk up sweep, d) did walk up spd, e) hit a random move of mine with lariat for the knock down, f) hop into spd...and so on. The point is that there was no single thing, it was a whole lot of different things. Too many things to think about avoiding at any given time.
I now realized...he could actually win this thing. Judging by how he fought my Vega, then adjusting for the Tokido-factor, I thought he had advantage against Tokido. I also thought he actually had more advantage vs Jason Cole (Dhalsim), if they were to play. Could Zangief actually win a tournament though?
I asked Kuni (remember, he's the Japanese player who's famous for Zangief) about the upcoming match and told him how good Snake Eyes was and how soundly he beat me. This was after I had double eliminated Kuni, ha. I asked if Tokido has any special training in this particular match, because I remember I picked Blanka against Tokido before as a surprise, only later to find out that Tokido had recently lost a big tournament to a Blanka and practiced for days and days that match only, vowing never to lose it again. Kuni's response was "hmmmmm....could be an upset." Ha!
Finally the time for the tournament came. Snake Eyes was so far undefeated, in the winner's side of of top 8 with a match against Tokido. That's the exact same situation I was in two years ago, but I lost to Tokido. I told Snake Eyes it was up to him to do what I didn't...and he did. He beat Tokido, but he then lost to DGV's Ryu (barely!!!) and was sent to the loser's bracket. He fought his way all the way up, beating AfroLegends along the way. Remember that Afrolegends won last year's Evolution tournament and also beat Snake Eyes at the only other tournament Snake Eyes attended. Afterwards, Afro told me he really underestimated Snake Eyes and had no real "plan B" approach to the match because he didn't think he needed one.
Snake Eyes made it to the top of the loser's bracket and into the grand finals with DGV (Ryu). Snake Eyes had to win two sets of 3 out of 5, and he did. DGV did well but it was a pretty convincing win. A Zangief just won Evolution. On a pad. And it was his second tournament ever.
I thought it was a pretty interesting development in the metagame, something that was kind of begging to happen if only a Zangief player ever appeared to do it. Balrog is certainly one of the best characters in the game, probably THE best, and we all know that Afrolegends has the ability to win (and he plays Balrog). We also know that Ryu is strong, and that regardless of how good he is, there are several top players who will play him almost no matter what (Choi, Valle, DGV to name a few). Then there's Daigo who plays Ryu and Balrog. But the thing is, Zangief is good against both those characters, so even though he has bad matches against several other characters, he just happens to have an edge on the two characters that are most likely to show up at the end. If only there were some Cammys, Blankas, and Fei Longs to take him out, maybe it would have ended differently?
Those characters would have made it tougher on Snake Eyes, but in the end, let's be real. He played the best of anyone this year, hands down, no question. And as if all that wasn't enough, the night the tournament ended, about 15 or 20 of us were in a hotel room for HD Remix casual play. Snake Eye's Evolution 2010 first place trophy was right next to the TV. He dominated us all for hours on end as we all looked at each other, confused. Two-time Evolution champion Jason Cole was there too, and when Cole played him, we were all ok with stopping to rotation to let them get in several games. This was the match they *almost* had to play on stage, after all, if only Cole had beat DGV. I don't know the actual match score here, but it was a massacre. I'm guessing like 8 games to 0 or something (correct me if I'm wrong, Cole).
Snake Eyes, the Miracle Man of Evolution 2010.