Fighting game competition is tense no matter the circumstances, but one recent moment from a local New York City tournament takes the cake as perhaps the most agonizing round of Street Fighter V I’ve seen since the game’s release.
Capcom Cup champion Derek “iDom” Ruffin and fighting game legend Sanford “Santhrax” Kelly met in the winners finals of the Street Fighter V bracket at last night’s Next Level Battle Circuit, using Poison and Sagat, respectively. Unsurprisingly, iDom shot to a quick 2-0 lead over the veteran, and with just one round to go, he looked to be on the verge of a dominating win. But Santhrax wasn’t down for the count yet. After surviving a near-death super, he slowly whittled iDom’s health down to an imperceptible sliver. With both players living on a prayer, it all came down to who could land a hit first.
In any other game, the strategy for Santhrax is simple: throw fireballs as Sagat and try to catch iDom blocking. But because Street Fighter V doesn’t have chip kills—reducing an opponent’s health to zero by way of the tiny bits of damage they take from blocking certain attacks—except by way of supers, he needed to either get lucky with a single attack or create a situation in which he could force iDom to block his super move. iDom, on the other hand, had a slight advantage in that he could simply trade hits with Sagat and win the game since he was already up one round.
Even without chip kills, Sagat’s fireballs played an important part of Santhrax’s strategy. By producing a constant stream of projectiles, he was able to stay outside of iDom’s range with Poison and slowly push the Capcom Cup champion to the corner. With his back against the wall, iDom’s options were limited, and Santhrax used this to enforce his own rhythm on the match. That said, Poison is proficient at keeping opponents at bay with her whip, meaning that Santhrax couldn’t blindly rush iDom despite having the advantage. In the end, Santhrax gambled on a kara uppercut—a high-level technique by which players can add range to their attacks by canceling a whiffed normal into a special move—and caught iDom slipping, giving him the round and keeping his hopes alive in winners finals.
Whether Street Fighter V is better without chip kills is a discussion for another day, preferably with smarter people than me. The players’ inability to win with chip damage here, however, created a gripping, nuanced situation that resulted in the veteran competitor finding victory thanks to his level of experience. iDom might have gone on to win the entire tournament, but in this moment, Santhrax showed why he’s still a force to be reckoned with after all these years.
Ian Walker loves fighting games and loves writing about them even more. You can find him on Twitter at @iantothemax.