Martin “Marn” Phan made one of the most memorable runs through a fighting game bracket to reach the top eight of this weekend’s Capcom Pro Tour Premier event.
If it were up to him, he wouldn’t have had to work nearly as hard to get there. Marn and his dangerous R. Mika ran the gauntlet to qualify for the top eight of the Street Fighter V tournament at NorCal Regionals. He suffered a loss to Lee “Infiltration” Seon-Woo, but followed that loss with victories over Gustavo “801 Strider” Romero, Inoue “Kazunoko” Ryota, and Anton “Filipinoman” Herrera to qualify for Sunday’s action.
Before he could score those impressive victories in the semifinal bracket, he had to win the tournament’s much-anticipated Pool of Death. His run through the pool included victories over Curtis “CJ Showstopper” Minor Jr., Hayashi “Mago” Kenryo, and Kenneth “K-Brad” Bradley. The pools also included other big names such as Chris Tatarian, Gon “Poongko” Lee-Chung, Egami “MOV” Joe, Ryan “FChamp” Ramirez, and Antwan “alucarD” Ortiz.
The reason that so many big names were in one pool was due to NorCal Regionals’ unique approach to last-minute registrants, which was announced in early February. All players who registered at the event would be placed into Pool 16, no matter how many players did so. Fifty-two players registered for the tournament at the door, which meant that the Pool of Death was more than twice the size of the other 15 pools.
Most fighting game tournaments allow players to register online before the event begins, but allow registration at the event itself at a higher cost. Players who register at the event are usually treated as unseeded players and placed in brackets randomly, leading to potentially-unbalanced pools if top players are among those who enter late. If tournaments do attempt to balance the top players, it can force players who have already registered to prepare for an unexpected opponent at the last minute.
The Pool of Death was highly-anticipated, as it was a concept that had never been used before at an event the size of NorCal Regionals. The rare opportunity to see so many big names face each other so early in the tournament led to a widely-positive response to the concept.
“I’m so happy about it,” said commentator David “Ultradavid” Graham during the broadcast. “I love the idea of it. I love that it […] gives people a chance to register late still. It doesn’t remove that option. But it penalizes them in favor of not penalizing everybody else, which is what typically happens.”
But the Pool of Death did have its detractors, not the least of which was the man who won the pool.
Marn, who currently lives in Vietnam, gathered donations through his Twitch stream in order to afford the trip to Sacramento, Calif. He surpassed the amount he needed to make the trip shortly after the online registration period ended on Mar. 20.
“I understand where they are coming from but they’re already making us pay more for late [registration],” said Marn before his pool began. “Either do a Pool of Death or make us pay more, but I think doing both is just a big ‘f**k you’ to anyone interested in coming to their event [at the last minute].
“At every point you are supposed to [make people want] to come to your event. Doing something like this is the opposite.”
Marn’s run to Sunday’s top eight action was the biggest story, but it was far from the only one.
Ricki Ortiz, who faces Marn on Sunday in the losers bracket, had to defeat former Evo champion Kun Xian Ho to reach the final eight. She is already guaranteed her highest finish at a Capcom Pro Tour Premier event since her fifth-place finish at Evo 2014.
The other losers’ side matchup on Sunday will pit Haitani Tetsuya against Justin Wong. Haitani finished fourth at last weekend’s Final Round, while Wong finished ninth. Haitani needed to defeat Takahashi “Bonchan” Masato to make it to Sunday’s action, while Wong had to defeat Mago and Evo 2013 King of Fighters 13 champion Reynald Tacsuan.
The winners’ side is headlined by Infiltration, who has looked all but invincible over the last two weeks. He won Final Round with relative ease last weekend and looked impressive in victories over Brentt “Brenttiscool” Franks, Marn, and Bonchan. Infiltration’s opponent is Du “NuckleDu” Dang, who finished third at last year’s event. NuckleDu fell just one win short of the top eight at Final Round, but has been even more impressive this weekend. His best performance on Saturday was a dominant 2-0 win over Evo 2015 Ultra Street Fighter 4 champion Momochi Yusuke.
The other winners side match features NorCal’s own Julio Fuentes, who made an impressive run on Saturday with victories over Xian, Zeng “Xiaohai” Zhuojun, and Filipinoman to reach the final eight. His reward is a match with Taniguchi “Tokido” Hajime, who finished second at Final Round. Tokido already has victories over 801 Strider, Ai “Fuudo” Keita, and Ricki Ortiz this weekend.
The tournament finals will be on the Capcom Fighters Twitch channel. It is scheduled to start on Sunday at 7pm PDT (10pm EDT).