Lab results: How EndingWalker became Street Fighter’s youngest superstar in the online era

Just 16 and already looking to make the good times last.
Photo via Ultimate Fighting Arena

Esports is a scene known for young up-and-comers breaking into games early and making names for themselves by taking down the old guard. Fighting games are notorious for featuring a field of older players who remain at the height of their powers, but that doesn’t stop rising stars from also reaching the apex—even if it comes at the very end of a game’s lifespan. 

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If you have been keeping tabs on the Street Fighter V competitive scene since the big shift to online tournaments in 2020, you will have seen a number of players rise to the top via the Capcom Pro Tour or other global events. 

One of the best examples of this leap to the top happened in the U.K. with 16-year-old EndingWalker, who dominated his region’s online events and is the youngest competitor at Capcom Cup IX.

Best known for dominating the Saltmine League and a number of CPT World Warrior events throughout 2022, EndingWalker is one of the premier Ed players in the world and quickly ensuring the world takes notice of his play. While attending his first offline FGC major at Ultimate Fighting Arena 2022 in November, he put all of his skills on display and dominated a number of veterans to take first place and cement himself on the global map. 

Now, EndingWalker is looking to end his come-up story with a Capcom Cup title in Hollywood California on Feb. 19—taking down the best SFV players in the world as the game’s competitive peak comes to a close. 

Ahead of the event, EndingWalker spoke to Dot Esports about his rise in SFV, thoughts on the current meta, and thoughts heading into SF6

If people didn’t watch all of these online or various regional Capcom Cup events during the COVID-era [2020 to 2022], they might not really know who you are. Ultimate Fighting Arena was kind of your kick-off in terms of offline play and getting your name out there to a wider audience. How did it feel to kind of explode in terms of notoriety like that after such a long rise online?

EndingWalker: I was actually really surprised to win UFA. I saw I had [Nathan “Mister Crimson” Massol] and [Amjad “AngryBird” Alshalabi] in my bracket and so my entire goal was to beat everyone until I got to AngryBird because I just wanted to play him. As soon as I got to AngryBird I was like ‘I don’t care what happens at this point’ because he was one of the people I really wanted to play at the tournament. 

Then I beat AngryBird and was a little bit surprised. And by a little bit I mean, I was very surprised. After that, I was a bit surprised to beat everyone else, as you can tell by when I walked off after winning. Did not intend to do that (laughs.) I just kind of forgot that I had won and then loads of different news articles were written about it and I was like ‘ah.’

You said you were surprised you won. What was your hardest fight at that event? Was there anyone there that specifically made you think ‘I shouldn’t have won that’?

Crimson was the only person I felt like I could have lost to during the tournament after a certain point. I was playing very well, but I saw [Valentin “Valmaster” Petit] playing through loser’s side and thought to myself ‘if he gets to grand finals, I am probably going to lose to Valmaster.’ I ended up winning 3-0, but I was very surprised. He was playing so well that it got me a bit worried.  

You dominated online events and showed consistent improvement from 2021 deep into 2022 where that true hot streak started with a period where you won basically every online event you entered. How did online competition help you get to where you are now in terms of your play, and how do you think it has helped you prepare for offline events like Capcom Cup? 

It was definitely invaluable. I would not be where I am right now without online tournaments. I would not have been able to play as many people as I had if it was offline since I wouldn’t have been able to travel around. Online is definitely an important element for the FGC.

It wasn’t even just Saltmine League. It started with an online local run by Crossedmoon and then Battle of the Dons, which was started by MuscleNoob. And then obviously Saltmine League, which is the big one run by Retus. Each of them helped me improve. And if you do want to improve in fighting games, you should enter tournaments.

Even if you go 0-2, you’re always likely to learn something.

Everyone is calling you this rising star, and it is a bit rare in more traditional fighting games to truly see someone as young as yourself break into the scene. How does it feel knowing you will likely be both the newest and youngest competitor at what is going to be the final SFV Capcom Cup?

I’m very much looking forward to it. There are a few players that I really want to play, like, I want a rematch with [Tsunehiro “gachikun” Kanamori] very badly. Obviously, all of the people who have qualified and any top players attending, I’ll probably be able to get sets with as well. So even if I went 0-2 in the tournament I think it will still be fun because there are so many different people I get a chance to play against.

The only things I am nervous about are the 12-hour flight, which I am not looking forward to, and two players who I don’t want to play in my bracket. I would rather not get paired up with [Kim-Philippe “The4Philzz” Badiabio] and I don’t want to play [Saul Leonardo “MenaRD” Mena II] in the bracket, though I do want to play him at some point. I’d rather avoid as many Birdies as possible. 

Since you are new to the global stage in terms of offline events, how do you think Capcom Cup will potentially color your impression of offline events heading into Street Fighter 6

I genuinely don’t know. I think that depending on how well I do won’t sway my views on offline one way or another. Offline is a very good way for you to play players who you would not be able to because of distance or whatever. It is a great way to just interact with people and learn new stuff or optimize things you know. I think it’ll probably give me a better idea of international travel, but that’s likely the main thing. 

With your limited time playing SF6 in the online beta tests, what are your thoughts on the new game as someone who has grinded SFV so heavily over the last several years? What do you think some key areas of the gameplay will be? 

I’m very much looking forward to Street Fighter 6. There’s a lot of new mechanics and a lot of combo potential. There is a lot of stuff that they could add, which they don’t necessarily have to but the base points are there. 

I feel like some of the stuff people complained about in these early tests will go away when there are more characters or when people have figured out how to counter stuff. They’re not going to complain about it since, right now, it’s just a lack of familiarity. 

Specifically, I really like the Drive System for combos. The only area I really didn’t like was the throw game. I think the throw game, especially in the corner while dealing with burnout and pressure can be a bit suffocating. 

Overall, I think Capcom has done a great job and I like how fun it is. I am looking forward to the fresh experience because labbing is one of the most fun parts about SFV. I’ve nearly exhausted all of the stuff I can lab with Ed for the most part that is truly significant. So I am looking forward to having new stuff to lab and find answers for. 

You talked about the importance of characters and labbing a bit, but what made Ed the choice for you in an SFV that doesn’t lack depth? And in terms of facing the competition, which characters do you hate running up against? 

Ed was very fun. He is very fun. Originally played like Ryu and still plays like Ryu in a way. I just like how creative you can be with his combos. He has a lot of stuff you can do because his frame leniency is so big, so he hits someone and you’ve got an extra five frames to do something with. You can kind of choose what you want to do. 

That is one of the reasons that I like it. He’s just a great character who is also very strong now. If I wasn’t playing Ed, I probably would have ended up as a Ryu or Cody main. 

As for who I dislike playing as and against, probably Nash. I don’t like playing Nash and I despise playing against Necalli. Either Necalli or Birdie, but more so Necalli these days. 

With this being the last real peak for SFV when it comes to the competitive meta, which characters do you personally think people will look back on as the strongest in the game? And what do you think your personal biggest takeaway will be from the game moving on to the next title? 

At the highest level, probably Dhalsim but I think from a lower-level player’s perspective it’ll be Luke because he is easier to play at that lower level. That might even carry over into SF6 because the characters are still there and both are pretty strong. Luke even won one of the bigger tournaments in that first beta. As for my takeaways. Anti-airs and late tech. I think that those are universal and will carry across to any other game.

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Author
Cale Michael
Lead Staff Writer for Dota 2, the FGC, Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and more who has been writing for Dot Esports since 2018. Graduated with a degree in Journalism from Oklahoma Christian University and also previously covered the NBA. You can usually find him writing, reading, or watching an FGC tournament.