Sako – 2013 Capcom Cup Champion

The Capcom Pro Tour wasn’t always the grandiose circuit that Street Fighter fans know and love today; before the Tour’s official inception, competitors from three different Capcom fighting game titles gathered in a single location to determine the world’s greatest players in 2013 — a showdown that would precede a major development for the entire fighting game community, as we know it.

The First of its Kind

Capcom Cup 2013 marked the first-ever event of its kind for Capcom fighting games, and it wasn’t just for Street Fighter; Street Fighter x Tekken and the versus series were also represented at this unprecedented competition, giving fans three titles to spectate over the course of the weekend. Qualifying players were determined by their placement at certain events at major tournaments worldwide, as well as by popular vote from the community, while others were chosen by winning online tournaments and even hand-picked by Capcom to participate.

Street Fighter x Tekken and the versus series boasted eight-man brackets each, with Korea’s ‘Infiltration’ and NY Chris G taking the two titles, respectively, in stunning showdowns against some of the games’ most seasoned players. Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition likewise boasted an 8-man bracket, which tasked qualifying players with fighting through 550 competitors for a chance at showing their skills on the main stage later that year.

Boasting such names as Kun ‘Xian’ Ho, Hajime ‘Tokido’ Taniguchi, and Keita ‘Fuudo’ Ai in the mix, SSFIV’s bracket was stacked with top players, but only one could emerge the champion. With so many fighting game pros having qualified, no one knew for certain who would take the very first Capcom Cup — would the victor be a fresh, new face among the competition, or an experienced Street Fighter vet?

Family Man and Fighting Game God

Enter Naoto Sako, a veteran fighting game player of thirty-plus years and one of Japan’s five fighting game gods. Sako has been competing in Street Fighter titles since the franchise’s very first entry in 1987, and discovered a love for the genre after meeting one of his friends’ older brothers in a game center when he was just an elementary school student. The two spent copious amounts of time in the arcade playing fighting games together — a period that led him to become a self-described “fighting game player” from a very young age.

[Credits: Capcom Fighters, YouTube]

Citing Vampire Savior as his favorite title, Sako made a name for himself with series character B.B. Hood, a fighter touted for a high barrier of entry due to the difficult execution of her moves and combos. Execution was a skill that Sako would become known for, even boasting combos named after him in several titles due to their near-impossible difficulty. A multi-game specialist, Sako was also hailed for his skills in the Street Fighter III series and Guilty Gear, accomplishments that further boosted his status not only in Japan’s FGC, but throughout the entire world.

The Journey to Capcom Cup Champion

Sako’s journey in Capcom Cup 2013 saw him face off with fellow multi-fighting game specialist NY Chris G for their first battle of the tournament. In a close match, Sako defeated his opponent 3-2, going on to face Singapore’s Gackt. Taking out the Fei Long main 3-1, Sako was set for the Winners’ Final against Fuudo — a battle he took in a convincing 3-0 run, scoring a seat in Capcom Cup’s first-ever Grand Final.

While Sako battled at Brazil’s Treta Championship Aftermath to qualify for the Cup, his opponent in the Grand Final was chosen for his victory at EVO that same year — Xian, a Singaporean pro with a long history in the competitive fighting game scene. Known for his strong Gen, Xian was making waves at more tournaments than EVO that year, having also taken CEO, another massive event based in Orlando, Florida.

[Credit: Capcom Fighters]

Having been knocked into the Losers’ bracket, Xian defeated Tokido, Haitani, and Fuudo in a runback for the Losers’ Final to secure his spot in the Grand Final — a battle between EVO champion and fighting game god.

The Final Battle

This set pitted Sako’s dual-use of Evil Ryu and Ibuki against Xian’s Gen. With both players touted for their skill and performance at tournaments worldwide, it was anyone’s guess as to who would come out on top; and these pros didn’t disappoint.

However, Xian was tasked with a major uphill battle if he hoped to secure the Capcom Cup championship for himself. Standing in Losers’ side, Xian needed to reset the bracket and take not just one, but two victories against Sako — a possibility that would ultimately be thwarted in a huge way.

Despite being a two-character player, Sako didn’t bring out his Ibuki throughout the length of his Capcom Cup run. Instead, he opted to stick it out with Evil Ryu, and took the first game over Xian in a nail-biting finish on just a pixel of health.

[Credit: Capcom Fighters]

Sako started their second game strong, as well, taking the first round with an Ultra Combo to sit with a leg up on his opponent. He wasn’t done there; Sako’s momentum was high, and he won their second game in a convincing fashion, getting the dizzy on Xian before punishing his blocked Super to stand 2-0.

Sako’s thrilling victory preceded the inaugural Capcom Pro Tour in 2014, and stands as a testament to the love and hard work of Street Fighter pros the world over. As one of Japan’s fighting game gods, it seemed fitting that Sako would take this massive championship — a title that would later be carried out by players both young and old, experienced and new from all walks of life, carrying on the legacy of a fighting game series that only grows brighter with each passing year.