This article is part of our Street Fighter series.
The shelf life of esports pros tend to be much shorter than that of their traditional sports counterparts. Even as esports is still in its infancy compared to other sports, we see players retiring and hanging up their controllers at incredibly early ages.
Call of Duty pro Matthew “Burns” Potthoff retired at 24.
Starcraft II pro Jang “MC” Min-Chul retired at 24.
League of Legends pro Brian “TheOddone” Wyllie retired at 25.
Smash 4 player Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios retired at 22.
The list goes on. As the years go on, we see more players retire (granted, some do their best Michael Jordan and come back from their supposed retirement) at these young ages.
When it comes to the fighting game community, though, this isn’t the case. The FGC flies in the face of the esports norm and sees players accomplish incredible feats at ages that are unheard of elsewhere in esports.
That was the case this past weekend when Naoto Sako won TWFighter Major 2018 at the 39, with his wife and daughter in the crowds cheering him on. It was as touching a moment as you’ll see in esports and a testament to the longevity of the FGC.
Now, the simple fact that Sako won a Premier tournament and catapulted himself into the top-10 on the Capcom Pro Tour leaderboards is incredible in its own right. When you actually dig into how he won this tournament, it becomes downright awe-inspiring.
You see, Sako went through the entire bracket without losing a single game. Yes, you read that right. Sako won a Premier tournament that had some many of the best players in the world, including 2017 Evo champion Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi, with a clean 21-0 record. Just look at this hit list.
- 2-0 Blackmare
- 2-0 David shen
- 2-0 XiaoHey
- 2-0 StormKubo
- 2-0 Gachikun
- 2-0 Tokido
- 3-0 Itazan
- 3-0 Caba
- 3-0 Tokido
Throughout the entirety of this tournament, Sako’s Menat looked damn near unstoppable. Sure, he dropped single rounds here and there, but he always figured things out in time to clean up and take every single game. His opponents, however, didn’t have that same level of adaptability. Whether it was the fact that Menat has fallen down in terms of usage over the last few months or that players didn’t want to hand Sako an L with his daughter in the crowd, Sako capitalized and knocked down body after body from start to finish.
The clips above are probably the biggest examples of just how good Sako was this weekend. Both Cristhoper “Cabo” Rodriguez and Tokido are two of the hottest players on the CPT right now. Caba is sitting at the very top of the Latin America standings (he’s 10th in the world) and probably has the first or second most deadly Guile in the world along with Daigo “The Beast” Umehara. Tokido is, well, Tokido. He’s the top ranked player in the world and has been in the grand finals of the last two Evos. So yeah, these two are pretty good.
Looking at those clips, though, they look like scrubs compared to Sako. He opened everyone up with ease and landed just about everyone of Menat’s high-damage combos in every match. It was basically a masterclass on how to play Menat, which is not something you usually see in a high-level tournament setting.
This kind of success is not limited to Sako, though. Lee “Infiltration” Seon-woo didn’t win his first Evo until he was 27 and is the reigning Evo Japan champion at 33-years-old. Daigo won VSFighting a few weeks ago at ripe age of 36. Even Tokido is still tearing things up at 33, too. Clearly Japan has found the “Fountain of Youth” as these guys are showing no signs at all of slowing down.
While the rest of the esports world continues to see players drop out of competition at their 20s, the FGC bucks tradition as the players put on amazing performances well into their 30s.