When we talk about competitive gaming, it’s inevitable that we discuss matchups and tier lists. While opinions on characters are never set in stone, a general consensus on where certain characters line up in the grand scheme of things will start to take place as the meta progresses.
But every now and then, a tournament set happens that defies all expectations, where the matchups and tiers look like they are about to be thrown out the window. These sets are outliers, sure, but they renew discussions on what people believed to be true about a character, and above all, they inspire countless players to push beyond the perceived limits.
That brings us to Alex Valle vs. Bonchan
EVO 2015 – Alex Valle Vs. Bonchan
At EVO 2015, Bonchan, one of Japan’s greatest Street Fighter IV players, was set to face off against the longtime legend of the fighting game community Alex Valle. Valle had started to slip more into the role of a community leader, running the Wednesday Night Fight events and looking to grow his local community. While still no slouch, Valle wasn’t the top level threat he once was, and had taken more to using unorthodox characters in bracket rather than his trademark Ryu.
Bonchan, on the other hand, had a strong case for being the best Sagat player in Ultra Street Fighter IV, and has consistently been a contender for a major title for a long time. Bonchan would go on to win EVO 2019 for Street Fighter V: Arcada Edition to solidify his name amongst the fighting game greats.
But here at EVO 2015, he’s looking to move further in the bracket by taking out Valle. And even if you considered Valle and Bonchan to be on equal skill levels, the matchup they’re going to play is anything but evenly matched.
Hugo Vs. Sagat
Alex Valle chooses Hugo, a grappler character who is able to deal some big damage, but struggles against characters who keep the distance well. Hugo is considered low tier in this game with many unfavorable matchups, with one of his worst being Sagat.
And as bad as the American community thinks Hugo is, the Japanese community has an even lower opinion of the character; he was widely claimed to be the worst character in all of Ultra Street Fighter IV. All the Street Fighter fans in Japan would expect the world’s best Sagat player to demolish any Hugo.
But this isn’t just any old Hugo; Alex Valle plays an unconventional style, and he’s been around long enough to know that you have to think outside the box to succeed at a high level. So while Bonchan might have had a gameplay vs. Hugo, Valle had already prepared for anything.
Grinding The Matchup
Practice makes perfect, and the only way to overcome bad matchups or improbable odds is to take your beatings and try to learn. This is what Alex Valle did with Hugo, when going Ryu for this matchup might’ve been an easier time. A comment on the match’s YouTube video described as much:
“I remember a few months ago Valle was getting wrecked by some online Sagat for hours on stream, and he had kept telling people “no I’m not going to switch to Ryu, this is how you learn the matchup”… and now here you go! This matchup should be hard for Hugo, but this is a very good example of what practicing your bad matchups can do for you.”
Part of the benefit of grinding unfavorable matchups is learning all the nuances and tricks to overcome said matchups. It’ll take a lot of losses, but it can give you all the answers you need to try and turn the tides. And if you fight against someone who is less familiar with the matchup, you can exploit these nuances to overcome the odds.
This is also beneficial because it can throw people off their optimal gameplan. By using unconventional tricks to keep yourself in the game, your opponent might start second guessing all their decisions. This is essential for overcoming a bad matchup, since a matchup is only favorable assuming the better character is executing their gameplan perfectly.
Alex Valle vs. Bonchan in USFIV
This leads us to the famous set. Without knowing what’s going to happen, you could look at the time of the video and think that Valle was going to get tossed in the matchup. Instead, we get a clinic on overcoming terrible odds.
Bonchan’s biggest flaw was trying to play to Hugo’s command grab the whole set and Valle never did a single one. Bonchan was unable to answer the unorthodox style of Valle, and this led to him putting himself in bad situations (such as that jump away which Valle hit with an Ultra II.)
There are noticeable tweaks that Bonchan could make to have won this and it’s certainly not a set that will throw out the validity of tier lists and matchups. But it is a wonderful showcase how lots of practice and thinking outside the box can allow you to succeed where everyone else expects you to fail.