Masato “Bonchan” Takahashi is one of the most talented Street Fighter players in the world. For a large part of his career, he succeeded with Sagat in Street Fighter IV. It shouldn’t be a surprise he’s winning in Street Fighter V but it is a surprise that he’s doing it with Nash – another character nerfed so badly that he was abandoned by most top players.
Last weekend at Capcom Pro Tour Premier Event Battle Arena Melbourne 9, Bonchan won with Street Fighter V’s Season 2 Nash. It’s a feat nobody thought possible, not even himself. In an interview with Mark “Born Free” Sheridan at NorCal Regionals, Bonchan admitted as much when asked if he could win with Nash. “Hell no,” Bonchan said.
He laughed it off, but it speaks to how difficult it can be to win with a character that many, including Bonchan, consider to be fairly low tier in Season 2. Yet, here’s Bonchan putting in work with a character first made infamous in Season 1 by Lee “Infiltration” Seon-woo as he buried the competition from Final Round to Evo last year.
So how is Bonchan succeeding with a character that most players had written off as inviable in major tournaments?
“I think top players should have their own ‘iconic’ style. I initially picked Ryu just to win, but I wanted to develop my own playstyle, and Nash seems to fit my style,” Bonchan told Yahoo Esports in an email interview.
If we jump back a few years, Bonchan played an incredibly strong Sagat in Street Fighter IV even after the nerfs to his damage output and health. He was a grand finalist at Evo 2014, where he lost to Olivier “Luffy” Hay, and he had a strong campaign on the Capcom Pro Tour in 2015. He took second at Tokyo Game Show and won two straight Premier Events: Ultra Hyakkishu Cup and SoCal Regionals. Bonchan was synonymous with Sagat because of the hard work he put in with the character.
But even the most talented players struggled with Street Fighter V in its first year. Without Sagat as an option,Bonchan chose Ryu, and things didn’t go well. He wasn’t nearly as proficient as his good buddy and training partner Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi in the game’s first few months. Ryu didn’t look like the right fit for Bonchan. Sagat had one of the most hardcore zoning playstyles throughout the history of Street Fighter, and Street Fighter V eschewed zoning for more aggressive offense, altering the way players had to approach the game with Ryu.
Bonchan took a little break to pick up Nash. His results didn’t get that much better right away, but as time went on, he made noticeable gains with the character. By the end of CPT 2016, Bonchan placed consistently in top 8s at various events, but it was too late for him to gain enough points to qualify for Capcom Cup without winning a Premier Event for an automatic spot.
Coming into 2017, Bonchan had supplanted Infiltration as the best Nash in Street Fighter V. Much of that had to do with Infiltration going through a bit of a character crisis and not maintaining the impressive skill level he had with the character through Evo 2016. But Bonchan again had to deal with nerfs. Theoretically, being the best Nash doesn’t amount to much when the character has had his “arms and legs cut off,” as Infiltration said in a Core A Gaming video.
Being consistent in Street Fighter V is tough, especially if you aren’t playing top tier characters. Bonchan’s current level of play reminds me of Final Round champion Ho Kun Xian, who swapped FANG for Ibuki because he was tired of losing.
Xian and Bonchan both struggled through most of Season 1 with mid- to low-tier characters. In Season 2, they’ve come into their own. Bonchan uses Nash’s movement well, as any good Nash should. He rarely drops a confirm and excels at executing maximum damage punishes or combos. That’s something we’ve seen Bonchan do for years.
Bonchan has implemented some technique into his Nash gameplay that sets him apart from other players. In his match against Korea’s Kong “Verloren” Hyungsuk, Bonchan landed a couple of quick jabs and comboed into Nash’s Tragedy Assault. Then, he used his V-Trigger to catch Verloren in the air on the other side with a hard kick and attempted to reset Verloren with a medium kick. I had yet to see this combo and it’s a great example of what I would expect from Bonchan.
Later in the match, Bonchan had the presence of mind to hit a button in his neutral jump to counter Cammy’s Critical Art. While Verloren didn’t take a lot of damage with the exchange, it wasted his Critical Art meter, leaving him with no EX options. Bonchan capitalized by taking the round, eventually coming from behind 0-2 in the set to win grand finals.
Bonchan didn’t think he’d stick with the character if Nash wasn’t going to get buffs in the upcoming balance patch. Luckily for Bonchan, it doesn’t appear he’ll have to make another character change in Street Fighter V. Nor would his fans want to see him change.
Winning CPT Ranking Event The Colosseum 2017 and Battle Arena Melbourne vaulted Bonchan into second place behind Punk, and most likely assures his spot at Capcom Cup 2017. It’s good to see Bonchan at the top of competitive Street Fighter again. He is too talented to be left behind in Street Fighter V.
Michael Martin covers SFV and the FGC. Follow him on Twitter @Bizarro_Mike.