A new element was added to this year's SFV invitational with the addition of reality TV show The Challenger. This show placed six fighting games community figures in a house, pitting them against one another in a unique set of challenges meant to test their mettle and mental fortitude both in and out of the game. The prize was an exciting one: two wildcard spots in the SFV invitational. Of the star-studded gang, it was Commander Jesse and Sonicboxx | JB who managed to fight their way out and earn a place in the prestigious tournament. Competition was fierce across the five nail-biting episodes, as the other contestants – Covenant | LowTierGod, GRPT | Gllty, Sherryjenix, RobTV, and Dayasha – didn't go down without a fight.
New faces and round robins
Seven other faces arrived in the round robin brackets alongside these winners. Players new to the series included the East Coast’s iDom, Capcom Cup Champion RISE | MenaRD, Mousesports | Problem X, and 801 Strider, as well as Japanese players FUDOH | Fujimura, FUDOH | Haitani, and CYCLOPS | Dogura. These players brought the pain to the returning cast, with three making it out to Top 8. With the help of Echo Fox | Justin Wong, commentators Zhieeep, Rip, Tasty Steve and Sajam, as well as hostess Michelle Morrow, kicked off the round robin groups. Tokido and Dogura took Group A with convincing wins over their competition: Tokido managed to stay in the upper bracket with minimal losses, while Dogura fought his way through the lower bracket after taking some hard hits in the round robin stage. Echo Fox | Momochi made it out in the lower bracket of Group B against NVD | Phenom, with Echo Fox | Punk sitting in the upper bracket. This set up an encounter between Punk and Tokido in Top 8 for an EVO runback. Group C finished with RISE | Smug taking it 3-2 over CYG BST | Snake Eyez’s Abigail in the lower bracket, securing a spot for NLBC in Top 8. Problem X sat in the upper bracket, his dual use of M. Bison and Abigail paying off to put him against Daigo’s Guile. Group D (standing for death) featured the most Asian competitors, proving an enormous challenge for its players. Fujimura took out PG | Infiltration’s Chun-Li with his renowned Ibuki, and CYG BST | Daigo secured his place in the upper bracket, wrapping things up for Top 8.
A tumultuous Top 8
The final showdown began on Friday, July 13th, with eight of the world’s strongest players set to compete for a huge payout. Tokido and Punk kicked off the night in the upper bracket, with Tokido saying a few harsh words about Punk’s limited (compared to him) experience. Tokido ultimately took the win over Punk 3-0, proving his strength over his EVO rival. It was Problem X, Smug, Tokido and Daigo who came out on top in the other Top 8 matches, securing their places in the Top 4, which was set to be broadcast by TBS. One standout performer from this stage was American player Smug, who was in sensational form throughout the Top 8. He demonstrated exceptional strength and massive momentum, making his way up from the loser’s bracket to fight against Tokido’s Akuma in grand finals. He managed to beat Tokido 3-0 and reset the bracket, although the 5 minute commercial break that followed killed the hype somewhat. Although it was revealed that both competitors were aware of this break and consented to it, dissent rang out within the FGC about this momentum-killer, which arguably gave Tokido the time to reflect on the last set and steady himself to ultimately win the grand finals 3-1. Through successfully adapting to his enemy’s strategy, Tokido secured his spot as the strongest SFV player in the world and took home a cool $150,000. Smug remained the American champion in the eyes of the people, and his hype performance was a massive testament to NLBC’s strength. With EVO fast approaching, we can only wait on bated breath to see how these two competitors will fare in the world’s biggest fighting game tournament following such an intense competition.