After winning the biggest "Street Fighter" tournament in 2013, Kun "Xian" Ho signed a sponsorship with gaming laptop and accessories maker Razer and solidified his place as one of the best pro "Ultimate Street Fighter IV" players in the world. With the debut of "Street Fighter V," Xian will have an uphill battle to keep his place among the world's best.
"Street Fighter V," released Feb. 16, is a new take on the iconic fighting game series by Capcom. There are some classic characters, some new characters and a few tweaks to the game's mechanics. Unfortunately for Xian, his main character, Gen, is not in the game and has yet to be announced as a downloadable option. Having won the annual EVO tournament with Gen in 2013 and third place in Capcom Cup 2015, earning him $25,000, Xian has to find a new character with a major tournament taking place at the end of March.
"I have to transition all the skills for Gen, and I may not be able to apply it in 'Street Fighter V,'" Xian told IBTimes. “I found I have to relearn everything again.” After playing through the initial roster of 16 fighters, Xian has yet to pick out a preferred character.
Xian won't have much time to adjust with a big tournament taking place just a month after the release of "Street Fighter V." Final Round 19 is the first premier event in the Capcom Pro Tour. The tournament victor earns an automatic spot in the year-end Capcom Cup, which last year had a first-place prize of $120,000. Xian secured his spot in the tournament by winning Final Round 18.
Despite the recent run of success, Xian is unsure if he can repeat that feat in 2016. "In ‘Street Fighter V,’ I am worried I can’t live up to the expectations, especially with the upcoming tournament," Xian said. His goals for 2016 are to figure the game out and qualify for the Capcom Cup.
Because "Street Fighter V" is a new game, everything is still in flux. New players could find early success and there are new combos and techniques to learn each day. "With a few hundred people registering for Final Round, I can't foresee what's going to happen," Xian said. "I don't know who the good players are. There's no history or videos. I think, over time, it'll get better. But, at the start, it'll be a little bit shaky."
Part of that is due to "Street Fighter V" itself, which Xian says favors faster gameplay. "In regards to 'Street Fighter V,' I find the system to be simpler," Xian said. "It's a more offensive style of play."
While playing online, Xian said he's yet to play a "time over" match (where players win on health points) in "SFV." "Ultra Street Fighter IV" was a more technical game with low damage that led more players to run out the clock if they had a health advantage.
There are a few players, such as Daigo and Momochi, whose style of play and preference of character will fit well with Capcom's latest game. For an early favorite, Xian picks Infiltration, a top-ranked player known for his versatility and ability to play a broad range of characters.
The easier style could be a boon for the fighting game community. "Street Fighter" has the cachet, but the not the cash of eSports. Large tournaments for multiplayer online battle arena games such as "Dota 2" or "League of Legends" have prize pools with millions of dollars on the line. More people may be familiar with Ryu or Ken, but that has not translated to larger prize pools.
"I expect ‘Street Fighter V’ to go eSports this year," Xian said. "I think the game has a really huge following. Twitch viewers are up, and everything is growing." He cites the free-to-play model and availabilty on PC as the reasons why "Dota 2" and "League of Legends" have amassed huge followings. The learning curve, additional joystick and console-based popularity have limited the scope of fighting games.
That could change with "Street Fighter V" with its great net code and availability on PC and PS4. "Personally, I hope it would get near ‘Dota 2’ or ‘League of Legends.’ I know it would be really hard, but that’s the final goal," Xian said.
Online play will open up a whole new community for "Street Fighter V," according to Xian. Previously, finding a match online with an overseas opponent was too difficult in "Ultra Street Fighter IV." The net code used in "Street Fighter V" makes it easier for Xian, based in Singapore, to play against opponents in the United States even with a poor connection.
Xian is embracing the challenge of the uncertain. He says he's competitive and excited about learning a new game. For players looking to improve their own skills, Xian recommends looking at the frame data. Learning the frame advantage can let players know which moves to use more frequently. By finding the best moves available for their character, players can focus on learning those buttons and combinations to create a competitive advantage.