Last week, Eduardo “PR Balrog” Perez announced he was retiring from the fighting game circuit after the major tournaments of 2015. I’m a casual fighting game fan at best, and certainly don’t follow the scene as closely as others. But this still made me sad.
It’s a bummer whenever a top-tier North American player (Perez is from Puerto Rico) bows out of competition. But PR Balrog was always so much fun to watch. He was passionate, sometimes ornery, and prone to wildfire, occasionally irresponsible offense. Balrog never took home the gold at Evo, but it will still be weird watching the Evos of the future without those roundhouse punches lingering around top eight. We will miss him, Street Fighter will miss him, and I’m sure somewhere in the code, Balrog himself will miss him.
With that, we present a handful of matches that capture PR Balrog’s game at its best, and a little of it at its worst.
PR Balrog vs. BOX Viscant, Evo 2011 Marvel vs. Capcom 3 Grand Finals
We begin in the misty echoes of 2011, where PR Balrog had only recently made his first big splash in the competitive scene. Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was a fresh five months old by the time Evo 2011 rolled around, and Balrog, in his relative greenness, had to claw his way up from the loser’s bracket. Basically that means he would need to win two sets in a row in order to take home the gold.
The whole match is great, but perhaps my favorite moment comes at the 10:30 mark, where Balrog’s Tron is forced to make a final stand against Viscant’s three remaining characters. I’m by no means a Marvel vs. Capcom expert, but watching Balrog dodge the initial Phoenix switch, get caught, get beaten an inch away from his tournament dreams, and then manage to hit his super to win the game is among the most impressive things I’ve ever seen in professional gaming. PR Balrog would go on to lose the second set, but all legends need to start somewhere.
PR Balrog vs. Infiltration, NCR 2014 Super Street Fighter IV Grand Finals
Now let’s skip ahead three years to April’s NorCal regionals of April 2014. PR Balrog once again is punching his way up from the loser’s bracket against Infiltration, one of the best players in the world. A veteran now, he keeps his wits about him as he resets the bracket, and fights one of the best all-around matches he’s ever had. Maybe that’s why news of his impending retirement was so surprising, because he clearly hasn’t lost a step.
PR Balrog vs. Haitani, Evo 2013 Super Street Fighter 4 Quarterfinals
To the layman like me, high-level fighting game action often looks like total chaos, as if the players themselves can barely keep the reins on their characters. This is especially the case with the way PR Balrog plays, just a downhill onslaught of headbutts, dash-punches, and ultras, always skirting back into defense by the skin of his teeth. That’s what I most love about this set from 2013 against Haitani. Balrog smells blood in the water, and he keeps dumping even when he’s chip-damage away from taking a loss.
PR Balrog vs. Infiltration, Evo 2013 Super Street Fighter 4 Top 8
PR Balrog called himself “Balrog.” That’s his character, that’s his lifeblood. You will never see him abandon Balrog in any Street Fighter competition, and I love him for that. I doubt there’s any player in the world who’s bonded better with their character of choice. It’s beautiful. Balrog and PR Balrog are partners in crime. A real-life friendship in the very synthetic world of fighting games.
However, it’s also perhaps the biggest weakness of PR’s game. He plays a phenomenal Balrog, but what happens when someone picks a direct counter? That’s what went down a couple Evos ago, where Infiltration, sensing his Akuma wasn’t sharp enough, flips over to Hakkan to mount an epic comeback. It was hilarious, sad, poetic, and also very emblematic of PR Balrog’s legacy. He’s going to ride with his guy, through both euphoria and apocalypse.