Ohtani

Where will Shohei Ohtani land?

Shohei Ohtani is the king of the offseason at the moment. The MLB has not seen anything like him since Babe Ruth was smacking home runs nearly a century ago. Ohtani has the potential to be a two-way star, so when he was posted, every team in the majors wanted a piece of him. Right away though, Ohtani has slashed the field down to seven teams already. Out of those seven teams, where might he sign?

The only two teams that are deeper into the mainland of the United States who still remain are the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers. The other five teams are the San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Ohtani prefers the west coast

The west coast has a much more prevalent Japanese population compared to elsewhere in the country. On top of that, it would be closest to his homeland. Ohtani has already informed 23 teams that he would not sign with them, and they almost all are outside of the west coast.

You can’t blame Ohtani for picking the California teams as well as Seattle, as he still wants to remain close to his roots and there is nothing wrong with that. The 23-year-old has the freedom to choose whatever team he wants as he is the hottest commodity this offseason. Many people thought that his preference would have to do with money or a DH, but it always came down to geography for him.

Which teams fit?

Shohei Ohtani

Dipoto and the Mariners have been working on their pitch for Ohtani all year long (Photo Courtesy of NW Sports Beat)

The DH position may be more in Ohtani’s scope now that he has narrowed down the west coast. Money is not a huge factor at this point though. Due to rules on rookie contracts, there is only so much money he can make at first. That is, he will make the maximum salary for a rookie the first three years before he is available for arbitration.

It has also been reported by the New York Times that Ohtani prefers a smaller market. Considering Los Angeles does not fit that bill, it will be unlikely he goes to the Angels or Dodgers even though he is expected to meet with both teams.

Although it has not been reported how big of a factor the DH is, it would not be wild to assume that an American League team would make much more sense for the Japanese star. That would knock out the Padres, Cubs and Giants from the Ohtani sweepstakes. The Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers would the remaining candidates.

The Mariners have a history of Japanese ballplayers playing for them. Most notably, one of the all-time baseball greats, Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro built up a real reputation for players across the pond, as if you were to combine his NPB and MLB hits, he would have the most in baseball history. Along with that, the Mariners fit the bill for being on the West Coast, more so than the Texas Rangers.

That is why the Mariners are the most likely destination for Ohtani. Seattle is not far off from being a contending team, so a spark from Ohtani could boost them into the playoffs.

How will Ohtani translate to the MLB?

Shohei Ohtani

MLB teams will try to figure a way to get Ohtani’s bat into the lineup (Photo courtesy of Kazuhiro Nogi–Getty Images)

There doesn’t seem to be much of a question that Ohtani’s pitching will translate to the United States. He has an impressive strikeout to walk ratio and has a career 2.52 ERA in his five seasons in the NPB.

Some wonder if his hitting will be at the same level in the major leagues. He has been able to hit over .300 the past two seasons, and has shown signs of power as well. It would be hard to believe him not getting steady opportunities throughout 2018 to prove his ability at the plate.

The one thing that Ohtani is not custom to is the grueling process of a 162-game season. Also, the month of spring training along with a month long playoff can be very physically demanding. Former NFL and MLB athlete, Brian Jordan, stated that playing a 162-game baseball season is one of the toughest things to do in sports.

Ohtani has not come too close to that mark, however he may not when he is playing in the majors anyway. In order to ensure he is an effective pitcher and hitter, it will be imperative that the coaching staff is able to manage his fatigue well in order to get maximum effectiveness from the star.

Overall, Ohtani could prove to be one of the best players that has come from Japan. Only time will tell if he will be able to make the jump to the majors, but signing with Seattle could give him the opportunity to showcase everything he has in a place he would be happy to be.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Let’s pump the brakes on Shohei Otani

Hideki Matsui, former Yankees star and current special advisor for New York, is expected to play a major role in the pursuit for Shohei Otani. Otani, the Japanese two-way star, is hoping to bring his talents to the MLB, but the Players Association is standing in the way.

Typically, when a player like Otani becomes available to sign, there is a massive bidding war. Because of his age, only 23, the signing will mirror more of a college recruitment process, rather than a typical negotiation for an MLB free agent. The club that ends up signing Otani will be forced to pay a posting fee to his Japan Pacific League team, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

CBA

Under the most recent posting system, according to Baseball America, the “fee was capped at $20 million, but there is no current posting agreement between Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and Major League Baseball.” An agreement needs to be announced before Otani can come to the US. The goal is to lower the costs of the bids, especially after we saw Nippon Ham Fighters receive a $51 million posting fee from the Rangers for Yu Darvish.

According to the old Collective Bargaining Agreement, “Otani would have been eligible to be a true free agent if posted this offseason, not subject to any bonus restrictions” (Baseball America). Unfortunately, under the current CBA, the age cutoff to become exempt from the bonus pools was altered to 25, after it was previously 23.

Because of this, Otani would have to sign a minor league deal. Otani could earn some extra cash in his signing bonus, but this only allots to a few million because teams do not have a lot lying around in their 2017-18 international bonus allotments.

If Otani decided to come after the 2019 season, he would have a chance to sign as a true free agent, and receive a contract that is north of $150 million. There is even a chance that his signing bonus will be less than the money he would earn if he stayed in Japan for the upcoming season. All in all, teams will have to sell Otani on why he should come play in their city, rather than flaunting money in his face.

Just how good is he?

In 2017, as a member of the Fighters, Otani in 231 plate appearances, hit .332 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs. As a pitcher, he posted a 3-2 record with a 3.20 ERA. In 2016, while starting 20 games, Otani went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA, and struck out 174 batters in just 140 innings of work. As a hitter, he hit .322 with 22 home runs in 323 at-bats.

Shohei Otani

In 2016, Otani hit .322 with 22 home runs (NBC Sports)

Otani hopes to hit and pitch in the MLB, but will be able to pull it off?

“It’s difficult,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said in an interview. “It depends on the quality of both skill sets. The usage and the expectations of it will really come into play. It’s going to take a special player to do both. It’s hard enough to do one or the other.”

That is a polite way of saying Otani will not be able to do both. There is no shot someone would be able to put up numbers as both a hitter and a pitcher. The whole “Japan’s Babe Ruth” talks need to stop.

First off, there are only six teams in the league that Otani plays in. Six, which means that there are far less players to game plan for. Also, if we are looking at Otani as a pitcher, the guy has never thrown over 200 innings. If you think he is just going to come over here and dominate, then you are mistaken my friend. At least Yu Darvish had four seasons of 200+ innings before making the move to the MLB.

The most innings Otani has ever thrown was 160, back in 2015. He has totaled 543 innings in his five seasons. Before jumping to the MLB, Daisuke Matsuzaka had thrown over 1,400 innings. Hiroki Kuroda had over 2,000 under his belt before signing with the Dodgers. Both were unable to make an All-Star team and did not sustain consistent success in the states.

In 2008, Hisashi Iwakuma, a member of the Golden Eagles, went 21-4 with a 1.87 ERA in 201.2 innings. Iwakuma has had a solid couple of years in the states, but nothing special. This is a guy who logged over 1500 innings in Japan, yet is an average pitcher at best.

Offense

Shohei Otani

Yakult Swallows legend, Akinori Imamura (The Trading Card Database)

Sure, his 2016 offensive stats were really good, but he had less than 330 at-bats. Does anyone remember Kosuke Fukudome? Before signing with the Cubs, Fukudome had some monster seasons in the same league that Otani plays in. In 2003, Fukudome hit .313 with 34 home runs and 96 RBIs. The year before, he hit .343 in over 600 plate appearances. In five MLB seasons, Fukudome was a career .258 hitter and hit a total of 42 home runs. Translation, even a full-time hitter, who mashed in Japan, struggled to hit over .250 in the MLB.

What about Akinori Iwamura? As a member of the Yakult Swallows in 2004, Iwamura hit 44 home runs with 103 RBIs. The following season, he hit 30 more home runs and drove in 102. In 2006, Iwamura hit .311 with 32 home runs. In his four MLB seasons, Iwamura hit .267 with 16 total home runs. I think it’s fair to say that the competition is a tad different.

Conclusion

If Otani comes to the MLB for the 2018 season, he will be one of the most over-hyped busts of all-time. He does not have the experience as a pitcher to perform over the course of an MLB season and his offensive stats do not even resemble guys like Iwamura and Fukudome, two boarder line scrubs in the MLB.

If Otani was smart, he would stay in Japan and focus on his game. He should pitch two more seasons in Japan, throw at least 200 innings in both of them, and then receive a monster $100-million-dollar contract from an MLB team if he performs. Instead, he is going to come over to the MLB, prove he is not elite at pitching or hitting, and miss out on hundreds of millions of dollars.

 

Featured image by SI.com

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“From our Haus to Yours”

Japanese Server

Japanese server matchmaking anecdotes

A few months ago my wife and I made a drastic change in our lifestyle. We packed up what we could, sold what we couldn’t pack, and moved to Japan. Incidentally, DotA 2 was not of the things I was willing to leave behind. Before I moved I purchased a decent laptop for gaming so that I could still scratch the itch to play. After all, Japanese internet connections are known to be very good even in rural areas right? Other than playing with friends when time zone differences permitted, I was excited to experience what the Japanese server had to offer. Would the meta be different? How about the strategies? Maybe it would be exactly the same as what I was used to in the US?

I was not prepared for what I discovered.

Everyone randoms

Ok, so maybe not EVERYONE, but the practice seems considerably more common on the Japan servers. While I understand the appeal of “randoming”, ranked All-Pick does not feel like the right time or place. Even worse is when the players wait until fourth or fifth pick to random. The roles a team still needs to fill are clear at this point. If your team really needs a solid mid as the last pick, please don’t random into a Terrorblade.

It is difficult to comprehend how so many people don’t seem to care what they play in a ranked setting. Points are on the line, so shouldn’t you want to play your best? Then again, Japan is not a region that has an active DotA scene or following of any sort. The primary twitch channel “JapanDotaTV” has no set schedule, and less than 1,500 followers total. I have tuned into live tournament streams before that don’t even have a caster. Perhaps players in this region take the game far less seriously than those with competitive scenes.

Implied roles do not matter

Not only do players not seem to care what they play, but they also don’t care where their hero is supposed to play. One particular instance sticks out to me. Lanes were looking solid in the draft with a Necrophos mid and a Lifestealer/Lich safelane combo. All I was waiting for was an offlane partner for my Ogre Magi. But of course, it wasn’t meant to be. Our fifth and most wonderful teammate last picks Legion Commander and utters the last words I expected.

“Me mid”

Sure enough, Legion grabbed an Iron Talon and Tangos and strutted down to the rune closest to mid. After fighting over mid for a minute, Necro realized the Legion was too stubborn to leave and shuffled to the off lane to join me. The mid lane went about as well as you could expect it to go against a Sniper with a roaming Spirit Breaker and Clinkz. By 14 minutes, Legion still only had boots and her precious Iron Talon. Dotabuff.com informs me Legion Commander has around a five percent pick rate in mid. This game reminded me why.

Bots are a thing… no really

Japanese Server

Yup, those are real numbers… Image from the Dota 2 client.

I will admit that the previous two issues occur to some degree in all regions. In this case I am only trying to compare the perceived frequency of these kinds of incidents between the US West server and the Japan server based on my experience in both. That being said, bots are something that I never expected.

Their names are usually a random assortment of characters, which makes them easy to differentiate from real players. All they are programmed to do is walk down a lane and attack lane creeps. They have no sense of self preservation and will not fight back as you kill them over and over again. Fortunately they seem to be primarily contained to lesser played modes like Single Draft, but that doesn’t make them any less frustrating to run into. It is easy to see how they ruin games for whoever is unfortunate enough to be paired with one.

A few questions came to mind when I started seeing these bots with some frequency. First of all, do the random cosmetic drops after games really generate enough revenue to be worth creating these monstrosities? This is the only reason I can think of for their existence, and I suppose once the minimal coding work is done, it’s all free money since everything is automated. The second question is why hasn’t Valve done anything about it? Is it because the regions it occurs in have smaller player bases so it never takes priority? As a fan of Single Draft it still disappoints me, but I suppose I’ll have to live with it for now.

Better than nothing

I’ve invited my friends from the west coast to play a few games with me on the Japan Servers. It doesn’t take long before they start refusing my offers. While the less popular servers have their own special issues, I’m still happy to to continue playing DotA on them. After all, playing on US West with 300 ping is more likely to end in MMR loss than any of what I previously listed.


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Overwatch World Cup Sydney: Up All Night

Enjoy the shows

There’s a lot of dead bodies to be buried this weekend. Counter Strike killed half its audience with a heart attack. No doubt thanks to things not going as planned. The Overwatch community however is just heartbroken and overjoyed. Set the relationship status to it’s complicated. While on one hand, crowd favorites were obviously the home team of Australia, sleepers like Japan and Spain not only gave great performances, they won over the crowds. Sweden shocked no one in their performance. The biggest came from Taimou as he came to life, shunting Finland through a couple of matches with a very realized smile. The dive meta wasn’t natural law for a 72 hour period and that gave him free reign to poor bullets from a certain beloved Cowboy.

Screenshot of Group C, sydney, world, cup, overwatch

Screencap of from Overwatch World Cup’s website

Screenshot of Group D, sydney, world, cup, overwatch

Screenshot from Overwatch World Cup’s Website

Production for this seems well matched for their set up and the groups once again make their return. This tournament feels markedly different from Contenders. The matches thus far are easy to watch, casted at the same high rate and most of all, the teams themselves seem taken to experiment.

The complaints of dive comp and stale meta sat still for only a few moments. Teams are innovating once again because players are all from different squads, forced to mesh together. This is prime ground for throwing out new ideas and losing very little for being wrong. It heightened everything from the excitement of a live crowd to the players themselves.

Day 1: Don’t Belittle Italy and Spanish Rice

Australia made a bold statement immediately as the opening game of the tournament. They blanked Italy immediately. Only one match went to overtime and despite itself, the games were always interesting. Sweden was nearly shocked by Portugal however, as Mowzassa, kiler4fun and horthic (pronounced Orthic) proved to be just as ready to face off against Misfits Sweden. Cwoosh did not have a strong weekend overall but his team rallied regardless. TviQ proved to be a stronger Tracer while Chipshajen, Manneten and Reinforce anchored the impressive line. Zebbosai’s calls also proved to be a difference maker as Sweden’s play looked more refined than Portugal. That having been said, they stilled tied and put Australia in the Driver seat for their respective group.

Finland, and a rather excited Taimou, beat Vietnam with a whiffle-ball bat. Vietnam fielded an entire gaming squad against Finland and yet looked hapless against them. Not to discount Vietnam but it shows the levels between these teams as a whole and it was still a good showing, albeit brief.

This piece cannot leave out Japan however. Japan is an insulated scene, with very little play from the outside world. This has given Japan a write off in the internationally thus far. The world has not only been put on notice but given a wake up punch to the face. Japan beat Spain in an ‘upset’ to close out the night. HarryHook and neptuNo initially doubted who they were dealing with as Japan’s absurd aggression took everyone by surprise. They were serial killers and they committed to everything as a team.

The shocked Spanish squad was on their back heels for Kings Row battling fruitlessly against players like Ta1yo and AKTM. Both Japanese DPS seemed tailor made for wild strategies, rolling characters like McCree on payload maps, wildly head shoting and stunning at will. It was the stuff of nightmares for a very traditional squad from Spain who looked outmatched. (Believe me when I say this, WATCH THE VOD, it does not disappoint.) Japan’s 3 to one final score won over a load of support as suddenly the groups fate no longer looked decided before committee.

Day 2: Fo, Fo, Fo, Fo

Taking a page out of the NBA, the fo, fo, fo, fo is a joke of winning every best of seven in four games. In this case, Japan, Sweden, Australia and Spain blanked the competition. Liam Neeson would’ve been proud as they terrified their opponents with quality play from everyone. Japan continued to highlight an unorthodox aggressive approach against Vietnam. Spain and Finland started incredibly strong with Taimou’s resurgence but Finland lost out in the end. Australia nearly lost matches against Portugal but won in spite to a delirious home crowd. Sweden’s games mirrored that of Japan with back breaking fights that left Italy reeling.

Day two seems like a wash but the difference in this versus Contenders is that no team was ever truly ‘rolled’. Some maps spun wildly out of control but it seemed less scripted than before. The whole idea of a stale game suddenly went away as teams began doing unexpected strategies. Zarya, Reaper, McCree, Widowmaker, all showed their faces. It was an echo of a year gone by with the games beginning to feel fresh and new. While Dive meta remains the same in consistency, the wave may be beginning to crest and recede. If the trend continues, it could theoretically begin developing cracks that grow wider as fights get wilder.

Day 3: Set the table and blow out the candles

The night started with Sweden finally taking the reins from Australia. The hometown favorites from Sydney were toppled in a three to one exchange that could’ve easily spilled into a tie. The initial two games looked hopeless for Australia until Volskaya where the squad came to life. Battling hard despite ceding the high ground constantly to Sweden’s DPS, Australia choked the win right out of Sweden. Route 66 proved to be the heart breaker however after a blown support ultimate on defense cost Australia the top spot and seed. (Sidenote: Italy and Portugal duked it out for nothing but by box score had a hell of set by the looks of it.)

Eyes turned to Japan as Finland sharpened their knives. If Japan lost, they would take second in group standings and be forced to fight Sweden. Refusing this notion, what essentially was the match of the whole weekend took place. Japan lost a close match on Hollywood before putting its foot down on Lijang Tower and Horizon. In the driver’s seat, they lost control of Dorado against Taimou and company and finished two to two tied. It left the crowd and casters breathless. (Sidenote: Spain cruised over Vietnam and secured the second spot based on maps won/lost.)

Finals: Don’t get up!

Sweden versus Spain ultimately went to Sweden. HarryHook and neptuNo provided ample performances but Sweden’s roster was too stacked. Cwoosh was cold all weekend until he put the button in the final match on Horizon Lunar Colony. The game became an instant classic despite it going Sweden’s way.

Swedish Flag, sydney, world, cup, overwatch

Image courtesy of Liquipedia

Australian Flag, sydney, world, cup, overwatch

Image Courtesy of Liquipedia

The true match of the tournament was Japan and Australia. They went tit for tat against one another. Each match becoming a back and forth between great plays made by great players. Ta1yo would struggle only to be saved by AKTM. Ieatuup and Aetar would match aggression with aggression. No team wanted to go home it seemed. The crowd cheered for every kill Australia got, every point captured, yet never seemed spiteful to Japan’s perfomance. There was a magic in the air and the match exploded finally onto Oasis. Australia closed out a gassed Japanese team who ultimately fell. Japan played their hearts out to win but Australia’s home crowd nearly fainted in the process.

Overall, this weekend pulled in massive viewership, a live crowd of 2000 people and a slew of great games. This games audience is at least dedicated. Overwatch league may be getting laughed at behind closed doors, however the audience clearly exists. It may not fill stadiums but it does fill spaces. Grand ideas will have detractors and detractors. The proof of concept however was shown in Sydney. This may actually work, even if no one wants to be the first to admit it.

Okay, admit it, it was a hell of a series at the very least.


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“From our Haus to yours”

Rocket League World Cup

Rocket League’s first ever World Cup is set to take place summer 2017. The event is destined to be a huge new milestone for the competitive Rocket League scene, despite anyone’s personal grievances.

Event

The Rocket League World Cup will feature 16 teams, 48 players, each competing for their home countries. Along with featuring countries from the regions included in the Rocket League Championship Series, North America, Europe and Oceania, the tournament will showcase teams from Asia and South America.

League of Rockets is presenting the event and John “JohnnyBoi_i” MacDonald is producing it. In addition to being

Rocket League World Cup

Image courtesy of amazon.co.u

streamed on the League of Rockets’ Twitch channel, videos of every broadcast will be available at badpanda.gg.

Organizers haven’t revealed details about the bracket or tournament style yet. There is a $5000 prize pool, which will be divided among the top three teams. The prize pool pales in comparison to the RLCS and only the top three teams will get their hands on any of that money. That being said, the RLCS is a different beast entirely and the prize pool is formidable compared to other Rocket League tournaments. Along with the glory of winning in the name of your country, the prize pool distribution provides all the more reason for teams to put everything into every game.

Countries

Of the 16 countries invited to take part in the first Rocket League World Cup, 11 are from EU, two from NA, one from OCE, one from Asia and one from SA. The countries and teams are as follows:

Asia

  • Japan: ReaLize, Lime, Nemoto

EU

  • Denmark: Nicolai “Maestro” Bang, Nicolai “Snaski” Vistesen Andersen, Kasper “Pwndx” Nielsen
  • England: David “Deevo” Morrow, Ryan “Doomsee” Graham, Dan “Bluey” Bluett
  • Finland: Joni “JHZER” Humaloja, Joonas “Mognus” Salo, Otto “Metsanauris” Kaipiainen
  • France: Courant “Kaydop” Alexandre, Victor “Fairy Peak” Locquet, Alexandre “Mout” Moutarde
  • Germany: Philip “paschy90” Paschmeyer, Sandro “FreaKii” Holzwarth, Alexander “Sikii” Karelin
  • Italy: Francesco “Kuxir97” Cinquemani, Mx22, darkpier96
  • Netherlands: Remco “Remkoe” den Boer, Jos “ViolentPanda” van Meurs, Niels “Nielskoek” Kok
  • Norway: Marius “gReazymeister” Ranheim, Martin “Sniper” Wulsrød, Tormod “Reganam” Lien
  • Scotland: Mark “Markydooda” Exton, Kyle “Scrub Killa” Robertson, David “Miztik” Lawrie
  • Sweden: Pierre “Turbopolsa” Silfver, Linus “al0t” Mӧllergren, Jesper “Flarke” Johannson
  • Switzerland: Nico “Stocki” Stockenberger, Kevin “Skyline” Carvalho, Oliver “Continuum” Meier

NA

  • Canada: Jacob “JKnaps” Knapman, Mariano “SquishyMuffinz” Arruda, Timi “Timi” Falodun
  • United States: Cameron “Kronovi” Bills, Garrett “GarrettG” Gordon, Jayson “Fireburner” Nunez

OCE

  • Australia: Phillip “Dumbo” Donachie, Michael “Bango” Eason, Jonathan “Express” Slade

SA

  • Brazil: Caio “Caio TG1” Vinicius, FirefoxD, Haberkamper

Theatrics

Anyone who has seen them knows videos in the League of Rockets series are filled with theatrics. And I don’t mean to imply any negative connotation when I say ‘theatrics.’

Rocket League World CupWhoever narrates the League of Rockets videos’ videos, going by the name of Sal, uses a voice changer, giving off a movie sounding tone. Add in high quality montages and well-timed background music and noises, and the League of Rockets videos are sure to leave you with goosebumps.

For example, take the Twelve Titans tournament. Rather than broadcasting the tournament live, League of Rockets released a video of the event the next day. Callum “Mega Shogun” Keir and JohnnyBoi_i casted the event, as any Rocket League tournament would be. But there was more to the video than that. It included cutscenes narrated by Sal introducing maps, players and rivalry history. Another noticeable feature was slow motion goal replays, really giving viewers a better look at the play that just previously took place.

While fans can stream the Rocket League World Cup on Twitch, videos of the broadcasts will be available on badpanda.gg post air. According to the site, “There will be additional exclusive content only on Bad Panda” as well. If the exclusive content is more of the League of Rockets theatrics, it may even be worth waiting for the video rather than watching the live stream.

Future

Rocket League World Cup

Image courtesy of mashable.com

Head over to Twitter and it isn’t difficult to find some less-than-pleased fans, agitated that their home countries won’t be represented in the first ever Rocket League World Cup. Although it’s easy to understand that sentiment, I implore those fans to look to the future.

This is the first of, hopefully, many Rocket League World Cups to come. So, your country isn’t represented in the first one, then that’s even more reason to support the event. Success of this event may be the catalyst for not only seeing a second World Cup, but an expanded version including more countries.

So, please, put your personal grievances aside and support the first Rocket League World Cup. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want it to be the last.


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Japan Has Huge Weekend of Fighting Game Tournaments

When the sun set in America, the Japanese fighting game community came alive. In total, four majors took place over the course of the weekend covering nearly every smash title and plenty of other fighters. Japan Cup 2017 (SSB64), Crazy Hand 2017 (SSBM), Umubera Japan Major (SSB4), and KVO x TSB 2017.

Tournaments in Japan aren’t usually the focus. Aside from a few events a year, the west is almost always the center of the fighting game universe. It takes a perfect storm of tournaments, and that’s what Japan provided. The first major event was KVO x TSB 2017, which brought together all the best Guilty Gear Players from Japan.

KVO x TSB 2017
For one thing, anytime Ken-ichi “Ogawazato” Ogawa is entered into a tournament, the prestige of that event goes up significantly. I also turn into a screaming fan girl. However, his Zato-1 couldn’t get past Omito “Omito” Hashimoto, and lost to his elusive Johnny that we saw at Evo 2017.

Via twitch.tv/teamsp00ky

Besides Guilty Gear, the event featured seven more games and was a great showing for that scene. In most games, top players did make an appearance, including Leonardo “MKLeo” Lopez Perez taking Super Smash Bros 4. The other tournaments included Pokken, both Smash titles, King of Fighters XIV, and Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3. But no Street Fighter V which raised some questions.

To get back to the point, it was nice to see the Guilty Gear scene throw a big event. The uniqueness of that game and validity of the players make it an entertaining watch…and as I said earlier, Ogawa is a fighting game God.

Umebura Japan Major 2017
The biggest event of the weekend had to be the Umebura Smash Major. All of Japan’s big hitters showed up to one of the largest Smash events of the year. It was a nice showing from the less known Japanese players, but MKLeo from Mexico ended up taking home the win.

Via twitch.tv/shigaming

Despite picking the most unfortunate tag in Smash, Kengo “KEN” Suzuki is a player people will start to remember. The best Sonic in Smash 4, who was recently placed first on Japan’s Power Rankings, made his point this weekend. Even with the loss in Grand Finals, his 3-0 win over MKLeo in winners finals was impressive.

However, MKLeo made a character switch after the first set. He switched from Cloud to his namesake in Meta Knight and won six of the next eight games. MKLeo made adjustments and used MK’s excellent vertical attacks (shuttle loops) to kill off the top.

Japan Cup 2017
For Smash 64 fans, this is one of the biggest events of the year. Japan’s Smash 64 scene is arguably stronger than America, and that makes for a good show. Familiar names like Wangera and Kysk got upstaged by the second best Kirby main in the game, Fukurou.

For example, Fukurou showed off his strong punish game even against one of the most elusive Pikachu players in Maha. It was a great victory considering Fukurou usually finishes second to Wario. He finally got his big win.

Crazy Hand 2017
The Crazy Hand series is one I try to cover as much as possible. It’s the most stacked Melee tournament consistently. It’s usually the same players winning, but there’s still plenty of hidden gems among the entrants.

Crazy Hand top 4. Via twitter.com/MasterHand_ssbm

Conversely, Japan’s rising Marth main, Daiki “Rudolph” Ideoka, has had great success recently at Japan regionals. His win was due in part to returning to Marth after a brief stint with Fox. He looked as comfortable as ever with Marth. Now we’re guaranteed to see Rudolph at Evo 2017.

Outside of Rudolph, the top results were all over the place. Similar to the rise of players like Justin “Wizzrobe” Hallett in North America, Nao “Gucci” Iguchi’s Captain Falcon is leveling up. His play got him all the way to Grand Finals. Wins over Yu, Kounotori, and K.F. show the type of day he had.

Regardless of how good the singles event was, the main event had to be the East vs. West Japan crew battle. Even with a lesser talent pool, the East came through with Masaya “aMSa” Chikamoto and Gucci taking a combined 18 stocks. Only K.F. on the West came close by taking eight stocks with Jigglypuff.

In conclusion, it was nice to see a marathon weekend of events overseas for a change. The tournament scene isn’t as developed, but the talent pool there is ridiculously good.

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MSI: Group A Preview

The first stage of the Mid Season Invitational is just a few days away, and there’s a lot to be excited about. For the first time ever, MSI will have a play-in stage where wildcard regions will play for a chance at a best of five series with either TSM or Flash Wolves. Group A may be nicknamed “group of death” in terms of the talent in this group. Many of these regions have been known for stellar play in Wildcard tournaments.

Red Canids

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Red Canids will have the home field advantage playing in Brazil. They handily swept Keyd Stars 3-0 in the CBLOL en route to qualifying for MSI. On that Keyd Stars team were fan favorites from last worlds, jungler Gabriel “Revolta” Henud, and top laner Felipe “Yang” Zhao, who shocked EDG at last worlds.

They made a key addition to the head coach position, adding on longtime League personality/coach Ram “Brokenshard” Djemal. His latest stint ended with his North American Challenger team, EUnited, falling to Team Liquid in the LCS qualifier.

They come in with one of the strongest bot lanes in Brazil.  At ADC they sport one of the most famous Brazilian superstars in Felipe “brTT” Goncalves. They have the French support, Hugo “Dioud” Padioleau. Dioud who has shown much success in the region.

Mid laner Gabriel “tockers” Claumann also got to strut his ability on the World stage last year. He was a great addition to this roster, allowing them to finally find success in the region.  Their second mid laner is infamous twitch streamer, Felipe “Yoda” Noronha. Yoda is a master of playing assassins. He’s most infamous for his Katarina which has drawn bans in competitive play.

Brazil has been known to have some of the best international success among Wildcard regions. With the home field advantage, everyone in Brazil will be rooting for them to advance to represent their region well.

Super Massive eSports

Courtesy:Riot Esports

Super Massive Esports return to MSI, where they took a game off of NA’s CLG the last time they were here. Statistically, Super Massive has the best players at every role. Each player is a top player in the region. They qualified for MSI after taking a 3-1 series over Crew esports.

Much of their roster from last MSI are returning. Many will remember their star support, Mustafa Kemal “Dumbledoge” Gökseloğlu. In their first match vs. SKT, they did a clever roam to the mid lane to first blood Faker. Jungler Furkan “Stomaged” Güngör and mid laner Koray “Naru” Bıçak also return to the MSI stage.

Top laner Asım “fabFabulous” Cihat Karakaya had one of his best splits earning the TCL MVP award. He had a perfect win rate on Camille so look for it to draw bans possibly.

Turkey has had a very good record in Wildcard play. They’ve had some of the best success in Wildcard tournaments, so they’ll definitely be favorites to get out of group A.

Rampage

Courtesy: lolesports

Rampage is one of the newest Wildcard regions in Japan, qualifying for MSI after barely beating Unsold Stuff Gaming 3-2, en route to sweeping a 3-0 final against Detonation gaming.

At the support and jungle positions, they have Korean imports Jeon “Dara” Jeong-Hoon and Moonyong “Tussel” Lee. Dara has quickly risen to stardom in Japan, being voted to represent the region for the International Wildcard Qualifier two years in a row. He’s been known for playing tanky bruiser supports, but has shown great skill on Lulu as of late.

Dara has shown skill on very high pressure junglers, such as Lee Sin and Nidalee. He’ll look to pressure the map early for them to see success in this group A. The pro scene is definitely growing in Japan, and Rampage will look to prove how much they’re growing as a region.

LG Dire Wolves

Courtesy: OPL lolesports

Last, but not least, we have LG Dire Wolves out of the OPL region of Australia.They qualified for MSI after taking a 3-1 series over Legacy eSports. After a few splits of barely missing success, the Dire Wolves were able to take the OPL championship.

The Dire Wolves are led by star ADC Calivin “k1ng” Truong, who showed great play on some of the early lethality champions, such as Jhin and Varus. He’ll be vital in their team’s success in this group. Mid laner Richard “Phanatiks” Su is an aggressive player, known to play assassin champions when he can, such as Zed, Fizz, or Kassadin.

For the past few IWQ events, the OPL have fallen just short of qualifying for international events. The Dire Wolves will want to come in and prove that they can be the first team to do so. Their first step will be qualifying out of group A.

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Tommy Haas

Old (Tennis) Things New

From injuries, to match fixing allegations, to doping, 2016 was not a great year for the sport of tennis. However, the early part of 2017 has provided a narrative that is easy to embrace and get behind.

The success of players in their mid-to-late 30s has been simply incredible. There are some cases of players even stretching beyond that age barrier. Not long ago, players were retired by their 30th birthday.

While the late career renaissances of Venus Williams and Roger Federer have been well documented, there are a few other older players doing amazing things.

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni:

At 17, this big hitting Croatian took the world by storm by reaching the semifinals of Wimbledon and playing Steffi Graf to the wire. After 1999, Lucic was forced off the tour due to injuries, an abusive father and financial problems.

Lucic eventually put her problems behind her and got married. After a few stop and start comeback attempts, she became a fixture on the main tour again by 2008. That alone is a massive accomplishment. Unfortunately, despite winning her first tour title in 15 years in 2014, Lucic was not able to regain her past success and was stuck ranked at the backend of the top 100.

This year, she produced a string of upsets at the Australian Open and returned to a Grand Slam semifinal 18 years after her initial breakthrough. She has reached the quarterfinals or better at four events on the young season. At 35, she now sits at a career-high ranking of 21 in the world. If you are not overly familiar with it, her story is worth an even deeper look.

Lucic Baroni

Photo: telegraph.co.uk

Kimiko Date:

Date was a top five player and three-time Grand Slam semifinalist in the mid-90s. After retiring in 1996, she announced an unexpected comeback in 2008. A year later, she became the second oldest WTA Tour title winner ever. Her comeback also included a win over Maria Sharapova at her home event in Japan and a memorable match with Venus Williams at Wimbledon.

Kimiko Date

Photo: Getty Images

Most assumed, she would retire again after taking time off for knee surgery last year. They assumed wrong. A newly divorced Date announced her intentions for another comeback late last month. At age 46, Date will return to pro tennis at an ITF event in Japan later this month. She has said that she hopes to resume playing on the WTA Tour.

Date is old enough to be the mother of most of her fellow competitors. Her commitment to the game alone is beyond admirable. The fact that she has had at least some level of singles success at her age is a marvel. A marvel the likes of which we will never see again given the physicality of the modern game.

            Tommy Haas:

            The former World No. 2 has had too many injuries and comebacks to list. Following a toe surgery that brought his career total to 15, Haas announced that 2017 would be his final year on tour. The German said he wanted his young daughter to see him compete.

Tommy Haas

Photo: menstennisforum.com

Haas has crossed over into administrative roles with the ATP while continuing to play this year. This week in Houston, the 39 year old became the oldest man to win an ATP World Tour match since Jimmy Connors in 1995.

These three players are among the many proving that age truly is just a number in 2017. Their days of lifting trophies are likely over, but their passion for the game keeps them going. More than anything, that is what they should be remembered for.

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An Update on World Cup Qualifying (Part 1)

Late March in soccer means one thing, the international break. And while many players have been enjoying a “spring break” of sorts, many have been dealing with the pressure of getting their respective nations to the arguably the biggest stage in sport, the World Cup.

Asia (AFC)

While the traditional powerhouses tend to come from Europe and South America, the popularity and quality of the sport is on the rise in Asia. Australia, Japan and South Korea have been regular competitors in the World Cup, but it is Iran who have taken command of their group, Group A, and look set to advance to the 2018 tournament in Russia.

Australia’s spot in the tournament could be under threat as they currently sit third in Group B behind Japan and Saudi Arabia. If the Socceroos fail to make up the points in the final three fixtures they will face a two leg aggregate playoff against the other third place side from Group A, which is likely to be Uzbekistan or South Korea.

Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan would bring new flavor to the tournament as Saudi Arabia missed out on the last two tournaments and Uzbekistan has never qualified.

Australia will have to make up ground on Saudi Arabia and Japan if they hope to avoid a do or die playoff

Who Will Be in Russia Next Summer?

Iran, Saudi Arabia and Japan have put themselves in prime position to qualify.

South Korea possesses talent such as Tottenham’s Son Heung-Min, and their players’ European experience should get them through.

Finally, Australia know how to get it done and 37 year old striker Tim Cahill will propel them to a playoff victory in what is likely to be his final World Cup campaign.

 

Africa (CAF)

Africa is also in its final stage of qualification. Since South Africa hosted the World Cup in 2010, the talent of African nations has risen significantly. Ghana’s run to the quarterfinals in 2010 and the rise of many African players at big European clubs is a perfect example of this.

The final stage of qualifying involves five groups A-E of four teams with the winner of each group advancing to Russia next summer. With two out of the six fixtures played, it is still relatively early.

Group A has broken out into a two horse race between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) and Tunisia. Both sides have proven European players with Everton winger Yannick Bolasie and Villarreal striker Cedric Bakambu featuring for DR Congo while Tunisia fields dynamic Sunderland playmaker Wahbi Khazri and veteran defender Aymen Abdennour of Valencia.

Group B features three “blue bloods” of African soccer in Nigeria, Cameroon and Algeria. The Nigerians lead the group by four points after former Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel and current Blues wing back Victor Moses combined for three goals in a win over Riyad Mahrez led Algeria.  If results in the group hold, Nigeria will bring a talented side to Russia featuring young attacking talent in 20 year olds Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi of Manchester City and Arsenal respectively, in addition to the aforementioned Mikel and Moses. Cameroon’s post-Samuel Eto’o hangover may keep them out of the World Cup for just the second time since 1990.

Group C sees Borussia Dortmund superstar Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang try and guide his native Gabon to its first World Cup. However, Gabon sit two points behind group favorites Ivory Coast, who possess a large talent pool that includes Manchester United defender Eric Bailly, Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure, and Paris Saint Germain defender Serge Aurier among others.

Group D contains a tight race between co-leaders Burkina Faso and South Africa, while Sadio Mane-led Senegal sits one point behind. Meanwhile, Egypt has broken ahead in Group E with six points while African giants Ghana have stumbled out of the gate to the tune of one point from their first two matches.

Luis Suarez’s controversial handball helped end Ghana’s incredible run in South Africa in 2010. Now, they are fighting to even qualify for next summer’s tournament.

Who Will Be in Russia Next Summer?

Group A may be the toughest to call, but the attacking prowess of DR Congo should see them through.

Nigeria’s balance in every area of the pitch should help them guard their lead in Group B.

Despite the brilliance of Aubameyang, Gabon don’t have the other talent to match up against a much more well rounded Ivory Coast side in Group C.

Expect Liverpool’s Mane to guide Senegal to Russia in a group that features few other big European players.

Finally, Ghana has the talent to challenge Egypt but the hole may to big to climb out of. Expect to see Mohammed Salah and Co. next summer.

Still To Come

Part 2: North America & South America

Part 3: Europe

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

 

 

Dabuz Wins 2GGC: Civil War Avoiding Upset Saturday

Dabuz after winning Civil war. Photo courtesy of twitch.tv/2ggaming

No one was prepared for the onslaught that took place at 2GGC: Civil War. It not only left the tournaments namesake sitting on the sidelines for top 8, but propelled Samuel “Dabuz” Robert Buzby towards his first super major win in Smash 4. The win came over seven unique characters, including two characters that have never made it to a top 8 at a major before.

The one constant, in a tournament of upsets, was Dabuz’s steady play. No matter the matchup, he stuck to his game plan and made players earn hits on his Rosalina. It was an impressive effort. One of the most consistent top-8 finishers in Smash 4 finally got his pay day.

His road to the finals was matched with complete uncertainty as top players began to fall early on Saturday. The first domino to fall came from Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios, of Team ZeRo. He fell to the California Fox main Matthew “Xzax” Liberatore and later, in the match of the tournament, to Arizona’s Zero Suit Samus main Andrew “Luhtie” Lataille. He was the first top-five player eliminated, all the way back at losers round two.

Futhermore, the upsets didn’t stop with ZeRo. Leonardo “MKLeo” Lopez Perez barely made it out of pools, falling to two lesser known, but strong California players. Meteor, out of nowhere, sent MKLeo to losers before falling to Armando “AC” Castenada Villalobos, 3-2, in losers round one. It was a bloodbath.

Additionally, Nairoby “Nairo” Quezada looked prime to win the event with so many players eliminated after day one, but he eventually became part of the fray. Griffin “Fatality” Miller, the eventual runner-up sent him back home in ninth place (are you detecting a pattern?). The final straw was Eric “Esam” Lew pulling out the Samus to eliminate captain Canada, Elliot “Ally”Bastien Carroza-Oyarce.

ESAM after beating Ally. Photo courtesy of twitch.tv/2ggaming

The upsets led to exciting sets with loud screams ringing out all over the Esports Arena venue. The atmosphere of the outside stage added extra pressure to an already pressurized tournament. It’s the first time a tournament had been held outside on a street. The city of Santa Ana deserves praise for allowing the 2GG crew to throw a great tournament.

Character Diversity

Outside the upsets, the character diversity is the most noteworthy aspect of this tournament. A Link, Captain Falcon, and Rosalina finished in the top-three. Donkey Kong made his first appearance in a top 8. The top tier characters all failed to make an appearance with the exception of Zack “Captain Zack’s” Lauth Bayonetta.

However, the play of Japanese Link main “T” was the main story. His aggressive style Link was not only optimally strong but enjoyable to watch. The bomb recoveries will be a mainstay in the Link metagame as T redefined Link. Eita “Hikaru” Hoshi also became a crowd favorite with his DK. The heavyweight Donkey Kong was made effective through Hikaru’s ability to win neutral and convert into lower-percentage kills.

Regardless, Fatality’s epic run to Grand Finals can’t be ignored. Before losing to Dabuz, Fatality went on an insane run of wins. He beat Rei “Komorikiri” Furukawa 3-1, followed by a reverse 3-0 over Nairo. That momentum carried over from beating Nairo all the way through top 8 and into Grand Finals. He lost a close set to T in winners but ended up 3-0’ing him in losers.

Dabuz Delivers

It was finally Dabuz’s time and it came at the most opportune moment. What is now known as “the most stacked tournament of all time,” as said by Zak “Coney” Z, Dabuz will always be remembered for avoiding the upsets and taking it home. His methodical, never approach style finally had an edge against players more prone to fall for his Rosalina traps. He’s a brick wall and now the Civil War champion.

In a turn of events, after the Noriyuki “Kirihara” Kirihara win at Frame Perfect Series 2, Dabuz regained the title of best Rosalina player worldwide with his big win at Civil War. He also beat Kirihara with a rather dominate 3-0. It was Dabuz’s tournament to lose and he came through.

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