Tekken 7 newcomer Leroy Smith is cool as hell, with a lovely dog companion to boot. He’s also very strong, so strong that almost every player in last weekend’s Evo Japan finals used him to get there. For many, this was the inevitable conclusion to a month of heated conversations concerning Leroy’s place in Tekken competition. Leroy’s detractors let their displeasure be known both at the tournament venue and on social media.
Leroy joined the Tekken 7 cast on December 10 and almost immediately became an object of discussion. The fighting game community recognized his strength as a competitive character, with some even calling him overpowered due to his extensive arsenal of tools and damage potential, as well as the ease with which players were able to score wins while using him. Even so, Leroy wasn’t much of a problem at major tournaments during the first months, despite the trouble folks could see brewing on the horizon. Those fears were eventually realized at Evo Japan.
It was clear early on that Leroy was going to be a fixture at Evo Japan. The very first Tekken 7 matchup of the event was between two Leroy players, and his presence continued to be a factor as the tournament progressed. Social media was inundated with salty posts from prominent competitors who lost to Leroy and community members who had grown tired of watching the character monopolize stream time. These players were seeing their worst fears from the last month realized on one of the biggest stages in fighting games, and their disappointment was palpable.
But they weren’t just losing to Leroy. Ignoring the players who put him to good use does a disservice to their achievements, and there were definitely some strong faces behind the controversial character. Japanese powerhouse Yuta “Chikurin” Take, who just last month became the 2019 Tekken World Tour champion, made the finals with Leroy, as did fellow finalists like Takumi “Noroma” Hamasaki and Genki “Gen” Kumisaka. These weren’t nobodies who suddenly found success at a stacked major, but dedicated competitors elevated to that level by their own skill. If anything, Leroy was the cherry on top of a few already talented sundaes.
That said, one can’t ignore the overwhelming number of Leroy players who made the finals. Of the eight qualifying spots, six went to competitors using the month-old character. The other two—Tekken World Tour finals runner-up Soo-hoon “Ulsan” Lim and Ryoto “Mikio” Ikeda—put up a valiant effort, but the lack of fighter diversity meant they had to face a gauntlet of powerful Leroy players. During his introduction, Ulsan flashed a “Kill Leroy” message on his phone before eventually being eliminated by Noroma in the losers bracket. Mikio managed to make it to the championship match with the crowd firmly on his side, but he ultimately lost a close grand finals to Leroy user Nopparut “BooK” Hempamorn of Thailand, another incredible player in his own right. While accepting his trophy and giant novelty check, the newly-crowned Evo Japan champion summed up his thoughts with one simple message: “Pick Leroy.”
The community outcry against Leroy probably led to the changes he’s receiving in tomorrow’s patch, although players will have to wait and see whether the adjustments are substantial enough to curb the character’s momentum. In this era of official world tours and big money, it’s only logical that fighting game developers would try to keep things as balanced and fair as possible. But my personal opinion will always be that strong characters add excitement to fighting game competition. Whether it’s Chun-Li in Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, Bayonetta in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, or Leroy in Tekken 7, it’s fun to have a character to designate as the villain, and to watch high level players persevere and overcome that adversity. Sure, there will always be those shortsighted few in the community that use any excuse to downplay the achievements of talented competitors, but the nature of fighting games means that overpowered characters are an inevitability. In the end, that extra layer of controversy makes fighting game tournaments that much more fun, and I welcome the Leroy army for as long as they’re able to maintain a stranglehold on Tekken competition.
Ian Walker loves fighting games and loves writing about them even more. You can find him on Twitter at @iantothemax.