Friday, July 19, 2024

Combo Breaker 2018: A Retrospect

Original Date: 06/02/18

Author’s Note: This was done a full week after Combo Breaker because I caught the illest post-con/post-tournament sickness and it was terrible. So worth it, but terrible. In any case, I had so much fun at Combo Breaker and even more fun recalling everything that happened. Not much to really say, I’ll let the article do the talking. This is a VERY long read. Over 2500 words to be exact.

The Combo Breaker weekend passed just as quickly as it had arrived, like a tornado hitting the Windy City. Rather, the outskirts of the Windy City, in a small suburb known as St. Charles. Regardless where it had taken place, Combo Breaker was, without a doubt, the best tournament I have ever attended. Before I go into my thoughts and retrospect, as well as my teammates thoughts, I want to give a huge shout-out to Rick for hosting such an event. I’d also like to give a shout out to the bracket runners, game leads, vendors, artists, and anyone else in charge of making sure the event ran as smoothly as possible.

That Friday morning, I woke up at 1, filled with energy uncommon for one who awakens at 1 in the morning. I would have several more hours to go until I’d leave my apartment to catch my flight at LaGuardia so I could have caught up on more sleep if I wanted to. Adrenaline said otherwise. Combo Breaker would have been my first major in which I went out of state for. As I’ve said in a previous article, my first ever major was Defend the North, but it was literally an hour away from me as far as commute goes. I didn’t stay at a hotel, I simply went back and forth from my apartment to the Crowne Plaza over there. This was a much bigger deal for me, however, as I would meet so many people I would never have had the chance to. As this would be my first Combo Breaker, I didn’t know what to expect, yet the stories I’ve heard about Combo Breaker made me excited to experience such a thing within a few hours.

Unfortunately, everything came to a halt when I arrived at O’Hare. See, I planned my original flight to arrive at 10:30 so I could catch the shuttle bus to Combo Breaker. What happened instead, was I arrived at 9:30 because I didn’t consider Central time. Central Time and Eastern Time are an hour apart, so I was a full hour ahead of the bus. Better early than late, sure, but it left me more anxious to see what Combo Breaker had to offer.

When I finally arrived at the resort, it was one of the most beautiful venues I’ve been to, just looking at it from the outside. There was as much road as far as the eyes could see, the air was humid and the temperature was warm. Entering the venue, it lived up to the name of it being a resort. Indoor pools, window-side seating to have a better view of the golf course resort, various food courts and even a mini bar. The place was very huge. Huger than I initially imagined. I eventually, after some walking, found where Combo Breaker took place and after I picked up my badge, I took in the scenery.


The quietness of the resort clashed with the absolute noisy atmosphere of the main event area. People from all over walked about, conversing with others and played games on various setups whether it was tournament matches or casuals. To the right of me was the stage where people played on the stream station. It was there I saw the Tekken area and how massive the Tekken area was. With over 488 competitors, I’d expect a large mass of people, but it almost felt overwhelming. The event space was so huge, there were crowds just as big as the Tekken crowd, in other corners of the event stage, from the anime fighters to King of Fighters to Street Fighter V. There were also vendors right by the entrance who sold arcade parts, offered arcade stick mods, merch tables, and various beta build stations for games such as Fighting Layer EX, Soul Calibur 6, and BlazBlue Cross Tag.

Across the Megacenter area, there was a small yet almost as big gaming area where there were even more casual setups, a BYOC [Bring your own console] setup, where people played all types of games, and arcade cabinets from old school games such as Tempest, to pinball machines. Smaller games like Smash and Vampire Savior were also ran here for tournaments.


It was at this moment I knew that Combo Breaker was far from just a fighting game tournament, it was a video game convention as well. This realization didn’t hit me until the final day of Combo Breaker when I met this man, Demero, from Milwaukee. He was talking to me about one of the top Street Fighter V players, Smug, who I know of due to us both being from New York. He was telling me how respectful Smug was to his kids and how kind everyone was to each other, spectators and players alike.

On a grander scope, Demero also mentioned an interest on wanting to run events like these on a smaller scale back home, so he could potentially get the troubled youth of Milwaukee off the streets. Being I’m also from New York, the same as Smug, I take for granted just how many tournaments and locals there are here. But in a place like Milwaukee, grassroots events that could be started by a man with an ambition, may very well give troubled youth an outlet to stay off the streets, out of trouble, and hold a controller instead of a weapon.

A sentiment was also shared with Markman and Tasty Steve who I had the pleasure to talk to that Friday evening. They stressed the importance of tournaments where anyone can enter, play, and overall link up with other players who share the same passion as them. It isn’t about the winning or the losing, it’s all about learning and personal growth. It’s all about finding that connection with others to not only help you get better as a player but also as a person.


Steve was more passionate in the notion of locals being a cornerstone in the FGC, as he feels without people showing up to tournaments and their local tournaments, it won’t thrive as much within the upper echelon.

Markman was also a firm believer in encouraging players who believe that they cannot keep up with the top players due to their insecurities, to come out to the event anyway. No one can get better or level up if they limit themselves from doing so. Between talking to these two gentlemen on Friday and talking to Demero on Sunday, as well as others who only attended as a spectator to soak up the atmosphere and good vibes, it made me realize that the FGC extends far beyond simply competing. It exists for the love of the community whether you play the game competitively or not.


With that outlook in mind, winning wasn’t a goal in mind anymore. It was simply a question on how much I could learn and how far can what I already know take me. When I finally met Ando that Friday, he had a similar sentiment. As in the previous article, this was our first time in entering Combo Breaker and he was just as amazed at the venue and excited to play against others as I was, including how well run it was. We took pictures with the Tekken developer, Katsuhiro Harada, and saw some of the matches of Friday’s pools, before we briefly went our separate ways. Coincidentally, later on that night, we ran into each other again as we both had the same idea to get some last-minute casuals in before our matches.

That was another beautiful thing about the venue. Since it was 24 hours, and with over two thousand entrants, there were always people who were down to play games, no matter what time it was. Ando and I stayed until a quarter to 1, playing whoever we could, but the next night I stayed up well until 3 AM. It didn’t matter the time. The event halls were just as packed as it was if you arrived at 3 PM and for good reason. Playing offline against others is a luxury, as anyone who had dealt with the dreadfulness of online could tell you.

Saturday was the big day for the both of us, as our pools began two hours from each other, with Ando’s pool starting before mine. He was relatively nervous. The shark in the pool he was most concerned with was Victim of Ritual, a well-known Nina player known for his “pitbull-like” offense. The sharks in the water for my pool, in my opinion, was Swagmaster, who was known for her Miguel, and Ace Unlimited, a known Mishima player known for his explosive playstyle. For the former, I’ve had almost no experience with Miguel, so I wouldn’t have known what to do or what to expect. Mishima characters were always characters I’ve struggled with, so the fact that a high-level player was also swimming in the waters didn’t help me much.

The main conflict for Ando was whether to choose between using Paul or Geese. Both characters he felt comfortable with, but it boiled down to which character he felt ready to use in a tournament setting. While Geese has been used more and he has had more success with him, Paul was far easier to play for him. However, since his Paul shown signs of rust due to using Geese more, it was all about weighing pros and cons.

What I felt was nervousness all around because much like he has Geese, I had Kazumi who I wasn’t confident enough to use in the tournament. But she was always an option for me. I made the mistake of second guessing myself so I stuck with who I already know. The irony in that statement, was that if I could do one thing differently, I would have played Kazumi when I was down 1.

Ando plowed through his bracket, with the most notable adversary, Fred Distance, standing in his way. A clutch rage driver from his Paul clinched a tight victory and earned him the right to grant his wish. To play Victim of Ritual. On stream.

Naturally whatever nervousness he felt only amplified, with him only telling me that he’s not going to pay attention to the crowd behind him, and only focus on the game ahead of him. With his music playing through his earphones, he fought a hard-fought battle but ultimately fell 2-0 against him. Since this was winner’s finals, he still performed well enough to make it out of first phase of pools which meant he played later on that evening.

As far as my performance, I immediately lost to a Nina who I didn’t know even existed, M A D W A K. I was disoriented, because not only was I mentally prepared even though I played more than enough casuals, but the first lost took a lot out of me to the point where I gave up the second game freely. My biggest fear was going 0-2 in the tournament altogether, and going 0-2 in the very first match and getting sent to losers was not a good outlook for me. I had to snap out of it for my first game in losers, who I defeated soundly and was enough for a confidence boost. The second and third matches, a Katarina and a King respectively, was claimed without much difficulty although both players were good.

My biggest win of the pool was a rematch against M A D W A K, in which not only I was high off adrenaline for playing three straight, but after suffering a loss on stream against Swagmaster, I was more than ready for my revenge. And revenge I got. I switched my playstyle greatly to the point where it was too overwhelming for him and defeated him soundly, 2-0, just as he had defeated me 0-2, only this time I eliminated him from the tournament altogether. My momentum was cut short as I lost my loser’s semi’s match against Cade, effectively eliminating me. I was one win away from making it out of pools. Still, I had a damn good run in losers and I couldn’t be prouder of myself in how I did being it was my first Combo Breaker. Again, my only regret was not giving Kazumi a chance. I finished 97th which out of 488 people is nothing to cry about. I know I can do better next time, however.

Ando’s first match for the second pool was against Shirdel, an Alisa player from the UK, who quickly eliminated Ando from the tournament. At first, we both did not know who Shirdel was, but after researching him, he’s a pretty dominant force in London. Ando mentioned to me that Shirdel’s Alisa was unlike any he had ever played before, so he handled the matchup in a way which he tried to adapt to his playstyle, but he couldn’t no matter how hard he fought. Later on that night, when a friend and I were at the bar talking to another UK Tekken player, we both admitted that we did not know many of UK’s players, but UK and other European Tekken players were definitely of the silent killer majority. Europe in the FGC in general is an often-overlooked continent filled with so many hidden talents that takes so many by surprise.

However, Ando couldn’t be too upset in how he performed. He felt like he could have done better, but he was more focused for the future regarding CEO and learning from the other players at Combo Breaker. Still, placing 65th, just shy of top 50, despite dealing with nerves, wasn’t a bad outing for the big guy. This is a reoccurring theme, but much like how I felt I should have gone Kazumi, his regret was not going Geese and instead sticking with Paul.

Decisions like these matter more than one would think. In a massive tournament like this, all it takes is two losses for it to be all over. I didn’t want to make any risky decisions that I would regret later, so I felt choosing Kazumi in my situation vs Cade would have been too risky as I wasn’t confident in her as I was in my main, Eddy. Ando had a similar sentiment when he insisted on sticking with Paul than going to Geese.

After several nights of reflection and playing casuals against people from all over the world including GoAttack, the Korean Master Raven player who made top 8, Ando feels ready for CEO. Combo Breaker humbled him as a player in regard to not only seeing his flaws, but also not caring whether a person is younger, older, or from another country. Each player should be taken as a threat whether you know them or not and that mentality shaped him into training and preparing for CEO.

One of the things I expect Ando will do differently, aside from soaking in character knowledge, is alter his mental psyche of playing against people in tournaments. I always felt as a competitor, 90% of the gameplay comes from your mind. Your mental cognition is what makes or breaks you. Limits or excels past your limitations. While he wasn’t upset with how he performed, knowing that he could do better is what prepares him for his hopeful comeback in CEO. I honestly cannot wait for that to take place and I will be cheering him on as well as Tunk.


P.S: Jeondding we gonna cross paths again at Summer Jam guaranteed (I hope)

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