This year’s biggest Street Fighter 6 tournament had a surprise winner in terms of both the player and the fighter they chose to play as.
The Red Bull Kumite 2023 landed with a bang in Pretoria, South Africa this past weekend, bringing together the world’s most skilled Street Fighter players to compete in the ultimate clash of strategy, skill, and sheer determination; as competitive players showed how they have managed to get to grips with the latest instalment of the iconic fighting game franchise, Street Fighter 6. With a rich history and a promising new meta, Red Bull Kumite showcased the electrifying future of competitive Street Fighter.
Street Fighter has always been one of the most influential fighting game franchises and with its inception in the arcades of the late 1980s, the series has continuously evolved, introducing new mechanics, characters, and strategies with each instalment. From Ryu’s timeless Hadouken to Chun-Li’s lightning-fast Spinning Bird Kick, every move has become ingrained in popular culture.
South Africa played host to the grand spectacle of Red Bull Kumite 2023, providing a vibrant and electric atmosphere. The event, held in the University of Pretoria’s graduation hall was equipped with a state-of-the-art MMA cage and brought together the world’s best Street Fighter players who demonstrated their mastery of the game with some surprising and controversial character combos.
I spoke to Benjamin Simon, aka Problem X from the UK, the 2021 Las Vegas Kumite winner who was looking to defend his title this year. Although unfortunately he was knocked out in the second round, to last chance qualifier Kakeru from Japan.
‘I’ve been playing competitively now for about 12 years. I used to play a lot in the Trocadero [in London] and I just went to some offline local events to begin with. And then when I found I was having some success there, my big breakout was 2016, when I got picked up by Mousesports, who’s currently sponsoring me now,’ said Simon.
‘And then 2018 I won the EVO, which is like sick – biggest fighting game championship. I’ve played in four of these now, I was in the Grand Finals for one of them and didn’t win. But the last one in Las Vegas, I was able to get the win. So I’m happy about that. And I’m back here currently now in South Africa for hopefully, what is a title defence.’
Street Fighter 6 brings a fresh meta to the forefront, shaking up the strategies that have dominated previous iterations, as players get to grips with the new Drive mechanics. These new mechanics are complimented by several new fighters appearing on the roster, each with their unique playstyle and signature moves.
One standout newcomer is Manon, a grappler who can slam opponents with bone-crushing ballet throws. Another exciting addition is JP, whose fighting styles range from close quarters to long distance with crystal projectiles, making him a formidable foe and firm favourite of Kakeru.
The final match was a showdown between new powerhouse Marisa, who pummelled her way to victory when played by winner Adel ‘Big Bird’ Anouche against French challenger Christ Onema, aka Akainu using stalwart Guile. Marisa is not usually considered a top tier character, so that may have to change given Anouche’s victory, and was one of the highlights of the event.
I spoke to Adel ‘Big Bird’ Anouche, who is from the United Arab Emirates, about using a character players might not consider top tier.
‘I feel like that’s what Marissa belongs close to, the top tier. I don’t think she belongs to the top-top tier. But I do feel like she belongs to just below the best characters in the game,’ they said.
‘I do feel like I was probably one of the only ones that believed in the character, but a lot of people that attended are put off by her and I do feel like I was one of the only ones that believed in her and I’m happy. What my beliefs are paid off big time. And hopefully I can keep it up.’
Red Bull Kumite 2023 was packed with breathtaking moments that prove esports has all the same passion and electric atmosphere that traditional sports enjoy. One standout encounter was the clash between veteran South African player Jabhi ‘JabhiM’ Mabuza and revered Japanese veteran Hajime Taniguchi, aka Tokido.
The crowd went wild as JabhiM, using a DualSense controller rather than a top tier arcade stick, executed Chun-Li’s new Drive Perfect parry, countering Ken’s powerful special moves and turning the tide of the battle for the South African player. Such moments captured the essence of what makes the Street Fighter community so passionate and dedicated.
I spoke to Mabuza about representing the local community and what it meant to him.
‘I think it’s more what it means to Africa and my country, to have their own representation in the cage. And to actually get a game against the best in the world, it means we can take these guys,’ he said.
‘I’d advise new players, just have fun. And after that you can start going further. Attend tournaments, get that experience to start talking to people and share information. You’re learning a lot.’
Red Bull Kumite 2023 South Africa not only showcased Street Fighter 6 but also paid homage to the enduring legacy of the franchise as a whole. The event proved to be a captivating spectacle, with top-tier players and newcomers showcasing their skills in intense battles that left audiences on the edge of their seats.
Kumite 2023 winner Adel ‘Big Bird’ Anouche summed up why now’s a great time to get involved:
‘Hopefully new players get inspired that they can also be that winner one day. I don’t have any special talents. Do the hard work and you can achieve anything. It doesn’t really happen without the hard worker without putting the work in,’ they said.
‘So hopefully people, the people in UAE, can see this and also think to themselves: ‘Maybe I can do that as well.’ For the people picking up the game for the first time, Capcom added something called modern controls. So if you find quarter circles, half circles, charge moves, kinda intimidating for you start with modern controls, they made it easier for newcomers. And if you enjoy the game more, you can try more of the classic controls.’
Street Fighter 6 is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, and PC.
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