2011 - YEAR OF THE PHOENIX
In February of 2011, like the mythical Phoenix rising from the ashes, the Marvel vs. Capcom franchise was reborn after a decade-long hiatus when Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was released with considerable success to the eager gaming masses. While many in the competitive Marvel 2 community embraced this new and distinct installment of the Marvel franchise, a small minority of finicky veterans remained unimpressed with Marvel 3's emphasis on accessibility and broad commercial appeal. However, it was these very "deficiencies" in design that attracted the next generation of devoted players. Some emerged from existing communities, while others dared competing for the first time to make their mark in a new, vibrant fighting game scene.
Winter Brawl 5, the first major Marvel vs. Capcom 3 tournament, arrived mere weeks after the game's release and featured a broad spectrum of old and new competitors. Justin Wong, the most dominant player in Marvel 2's history, was now firmly rooted in the Socal fighting game community, but his eventual victory over the east coast favorite Ryry was met with tempered respect rather than resentment from the typically rowdy Philadelphia crowd. Also of note was an early bout between Justin Wong and PR Balrog who finished 4th place behind Philly local and Marvel 2 veteran Josh Wong (no relation).
Barely a month later at Final Round XIV in Atlanta, Georgia was one of Marvel 3's most explosive and momentous tournaments. Socal phenom Marn caught everyone's attention by demonstrating the frightening potential of Zero, but it was another Socal native named Combofiend that single-handedly stole the show and pushed competitive Marvel 3 straight into the esports limelight. His sensational, come from behind victory over Marn featuring no less than four Bionic Arm supers earned Combofiend significant acclaim, and the overwhelming hype it generated was even mocked by pop-culture comedy program Web Soup. Fittingly, Combofiend would go on to win the tournament in dramatic fashion by upsetting the favorite, Justin Wong, in both Winner's Finals and Grand Finals.
Despite his unexpected loss at Final Round, Justin Wong's early dominance resumed months later by winning the Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament 7 in Chicago, Illinois and Northern California Regionals 9 over strong but relatively unknown local contenders. A curious footnote from this era involves staring contest expert and notoriously salty twitch streamer Ari "Floe" Weintraub. Since time immemorial, Floe has been heralded by numerous top players as one of the strongest fighting gamers in the USA. Unfortunately, Floe's legendary prowess seldom extends beyond the confines of his home couch, an amusing curse that's earned him (and those like him) the title of "casual monster." His frequent chokes in high-profile tournaments have become so renown they even have their own brand name: "the Floke." Therefore, it may come as a shock to many that Floe actually won a major fighting game tournament in the early days of Marvel 3 at Power Up 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio over the likes of Justin Wong, PR Balrog, and Noel Brown. Perhaps even more uncharacteristic than his eventual victory were the astonishing absence of "Flokes," as Floe calmly executed no fewer than three incredibly clutch victories with Dormammu in Grand Finals. Although Floe's interest in Marvel 3 eventually waned, this exceptional performance remains the high water mark of his long and eclectic fighting game career.
June was a month bursting with numerous major tournaments, all of which fittingly established the players and rivalries that would prove highly influential leading into the Marvel 3 world championship at EVO 2011. It began with ReveLAtions 2011 in Los Angeles, California and the triumphant return of Jay "Viscant" Snyder, a fighting game veteran from San Diego whose name and notoriety extends all the way back to the original Marvel vs. Capcom days. His highly efficient and deadly Wesker / Phoenix shell (along with a rotating roster of strong assist characters) propelled him past the likes of Combofiend and Filipino Champ to win his first major Marvel 3 tournament. On the very same weekend at Community Effort Orlando 2011 (a massively popular, wrestling-themed fighting game tournament), Japanese legend and multi-game master Tokido stunned everyone in attendance by not only winning Super Street Fighter IV, but also by defeating Chris G and Justin Wong in multiple sets to claim his title as the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 champion. This unprecedented victory was the first time a foreign player had ever won a major Marvel vs. Capcom tournament, a franchise that for more than 10 years had been dominated exclusively by the USA. Finally, at the last major tournament before EVO, Chris G would rebound from his loss at CEO to defeat Ryry at East Coast Throwdown III, firmly establishing himself as the new best player on the East Coast.
In the last week of July, amongst the glittering lights and sweltering heat of Las Vegas, Nevada, the prestigious Evolution Championship Series (EVO) played host to the very first international tournament for Marvel vs. Capcom 3. This inaugural event would see the first of many reoccurring traditions for Marvel 3: an eclectic Top 8 full of famous pros and virtual unknowns, an incredibly hype though often unexpected Grand Finals, and a string of heartbreaking upsets running throughout the tournament. Perhaps no single player has been more famously and consistently afflicted by the so-called "EVO curse" as Chris Gonzales. His journey to the finals was cut short by a simple error when he failed to execute an easy punish in his elimination match against Clockwork. Amusingly, Clockwork himself is notorious for his own particular "EVO curse" - finishing 9th Place four out of the six years he's competed in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. But horseshoes and hand grenades aside, the real story that captivated everyone at EVO 2011 was the dynamite performance of PR Balrog. Having yet to win a major tournament despite consistent results along the road to EVO, PR Rog executed decisive victories in Top 8 over Filipino Champ and Justin Wong. In particular, it was Wong's disastrous loss and subsequent elimination that provoked the strongest reaction, including the now immortal image of Capcom designer Seth Killian bracing his head for imminent explosion at the thought of Wong losing a game called Marvel at EVO. If anything was more shocking than Wong's 3rd Place showing it was Viscant's strangely auspicious ascent through the Winner's Bracket, barreling through Justin Wong and PR Balrog before resting comfortably (and undefeated) in Grand Finals. In order to vanquish Viscant and claim the EVO title, PR Balrog had to win two sets in Grand Finals by virtue of the double elimination format. Despite losing to Viscant 2-0 in Winner's Finals, PR Rog fought tenaciously and took the first set to a pivotal fifth game. It was here, in the most dire circumstances imaginable, PR Balrog orchestrated a miraculous come from behind victory that exhilarated viewers and devastated Viscant. Few competitors could have withstood the overwhelming pressure and inertia of PR Rog's stunning turnaround. However, in the brief moments between PR Rog's jubilation and his eager continuation of the series, Viscant managed to seize that elusive clarity and fortitude that defines the character of a champion. With cold precision, Viscant defeated PR Balrog in three straight games and finally claimed his first ever EVO title. For Viscant, it was the culmination of a long and winding fighting game career. For PR Rog, it was the first of many frustrating flirtations with success.
There was little rest or reflection in the Marvel scene following EVO, as the next major tournament arrived less than a month later in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Situated ominously yet defiantly within reach of Hurricane Irene's wrath, Summer Jam 5 featured the East Coast's very best Marvel talent and helped establish the newly emerging hierarchy of players in the region. Though fighting game events had been steadily improving in production and professionalism for several years, there still remained a stubborn residue of gruff arcade culture festering around the edges. While such crude behavior might've seemed intolerable to some, it also yielded the occasional humorous episode - like when someone unplugged a system in the middle of a tournament match to either retrieve their game or boldly make off with it in broad daylight. Potential thievery aside, Summer Jam 5 also featured a wealth of equally intriguing matches, including two humiliating implosions from the once-mighty Ryry. This tournament also marked the welcomed return of IFC Yipes, a Marvel 2 legend who failed to impress with his early Marvel 3 outings but struck back with a vengeance, battling his way to Winner's Finals where he was finally defeated by Chris G. The other rising star from this tournament was none other than Noel Brown. Long considered a mere lackey in Justin Wong's entourage, Brown determined to make a name for himself in Marvel 3 and after obtaining an impressive fifth place finish at EVO 2011 was poised to deliver on his promise of excellence. Despite losing the first two games to IFC Yipes in Loser's Finals, Noel Brown rallied back and took three straight games, eliminating Yipes and earning his shot against Chris G in Grand Finals. Unfortunately, Chris G proved insurmountable and easily dispatched Noel Brown 3-0.
By early October, the fighting game tournament circuit was back in full swing, and no one was more keen to reassert his supremacy than Justin "Marvelous" Wong. The first opportunity for redemption occurred at Devastation 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. The event featured top EVO finalists including Viscant and PR Balrog, but it was Final Round champion Combofiend that sent Wong to the Loser's Bracket in the first round of Top 8. After slogging his way through the Loser's Bracket, Wong was fatefully pitted against PR Balrog , the player who famously eliminated him from EVO 2011. A tenacious and protracted comeback in the first game proved that Wong was playing at his peak, but the second unbelievable comeback against PR Rog was a work of superhuman greatness. Every competitor knew the "Wong Factor" was now in full effect. Viscant had already lost to Combofiend in Winner's Finals after dropping his beloved Phoenix, but there would be no such shenanigans in his Loser's Finals match against Justin Wong. Here was yet another EVO rematch for Justin Wong, and the retribution visited on his opponent was even more savage than before. Viscant was so thoroughly dominated and embarrassed by Wong's superior play that he simply gave up the final game before he was even dead. The final adversary in Wong's arcade-style quest of vengeance was none other than Combofiend, a distinguished competitor who not only put Wong in Loser's bracket but notably defeated him at Final Round earlier that year. Their masterful, back and forth battle in Grand Finals and Wong's hard-fought triumph is one of the finest exhibitions of skillful play from the early days of Marvel 3 and deserves to be watched in its entirety.
Just one week later in Columbus, Ohio was Season's Beatings: Velocity, the latest installment of the Midwest's premiere fighting game tournament series. Season's Beatings had established a legacy of incredible competition and hype, especially among the Marvel 2 community who referred to this neutral battleground between the East and West Coasts as "The Mecca of Marvel." Sadly, this was the first year that Marvel 2 had no official tournament, as most of the community had already abandoned the game to focus on the latest installment. However, there soon emerged a much greater disruption in the Marvel community than the bittersweet demise of Marvel 2. When Noel Brown selected his team of East Coast players for the East vs. West 5v5 team tournament, everyone was bewildered by the late inclusion of Flocker (a total unknown from the Florida region) over a slew of more venerable Marvel veterans. However, Brown's gamble was soon vindicated when Flocker defeated every West Coast adversary including Marn, Viscant, Justin Wong, Filipino Champ, and Combofiend. Ironically, it was Noel Brown himself who underperformed and cost the East Coast team their proper victory, but the frenzy of curiosity and excitement surrounding Flocker had already become the talk of the tournament. The following day, Flocker also participated in the storied "Good vs. Evil" Marvel 3 exhibition, a high-concept spectacle that pitted five "honest" players against five "cheap" bastards who played Phoenix (a strongly reviled, near-immortal character who symbolized everything "wrong" with the design of Marvel 3). Flocker's 4-1 record for Team Evil was the best of the exhibition, losing only to Justin Wong, who perfectly executed the often attempted, rarely successful maneuver of running away from Phoenix rather than fighting and activating her second form. His strong performance would have been enough to clinch the win for Team Evil, but a bona fide miracle from above helped Justin Wong to triumph in his final game against Viscant, thus allowing Combofiend to finally win the day for Team Good. By the third and final day, Flocker had transformed from provincial nobody to tournament favorite, so it was hardly surprising when he easily toppled Marvel 3 giants like Combofiend, PR Rog, and Viscant on his inevitable march to Grand Finals. Despite his inexperience, Flocker's confidence and composure was superb, as evidenced by this hilarious (and infamous) conclusion to his Winner's Finals match with Viscant. After a comical rerun of PR Balrog's famous EVO moment, Viscant summoned his own inner-Phoenix, blazing past PR Rog in Loser's Finals and blowing up Flocker in the first set of Grand Finals. However, in a fateful inversion of EVO's outcome, it was Flocker who deftly regrouped and easily overcame Viscant in the final set to claim his first major tournament victory.
The following week saw the first installment of the Curleh Mustache invitational Marvel 3 tournament in New York City as presented by IFC Yipes. Nearly every top Marvel player in the Northeast packed themselves into the tiny Next Level arcade to test their skills against the best of the best. After many top placements and solid performances throughout the year, Noel Brown finally tasted victory in the Grand Finals over MastaCJ, the East Coast's best Dormammu player. But while MastaCJ made a name for himself in the Northeast, Filipino Champ continued to strengthen his talents on the international stage and in so doing became the first (and arguably only) player to fully master Dormammu. This expertise was demonstrated for the world in early days of November at Canada Cup 2011 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The tournament attracted considerable international talent (primarily for Super Street Fighter IV), including Japan's Tokido and (then-unknown) Xian from Singapore. Filipino Champ's readiness was tested early against Marn, but a brilliant turnaround with Dormammu tilted the mental war squarely in his favor. After a narrow victory over Tokido, FChamp fell easily to Justin Wong in Winner's Finals, due in part to a rather unlikely event. The rematch between Tokido and FChamp in Loser's Finals was just as intense and well-fought as their previous bout, and just as before, FChamp emerged the victor. FChamp also proved equally endurant in his following match, narrowly prevailing over Justin Wong in the first set of Grand Finals. Not even an unforgettable display of the "Wong Factor" in the second set of Grand Finals could disrupt Filipino Champ's cheerful composure. He comfortably defeated Justin Wong 3-1 in the final set to win Canada Cup 2011. Filipino Champ's success would continue into the following week, when he defeated Rowtron to win Northwest Majors 3 in Seattle, Washington. Rowtron is one of the undisputed greats from the early days of Marvel vs. Capcom 2, with multiple top EVO performances and even a popular team named after him. Not only is this Grand Finals the best performance of Rowtron's brief Marvel 3 career, it's also the final (and possibly best) tournament set of the original Marvel vs. Capcom 3 era.
On November 15, 2011, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was released to the world at large and ushered forth a new age of hope and excitement in the competitive Marvel community. Originally, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was planned to receive periodic updates via downloadable content. However, the disastrous 2011 Japanese tsunami and its tragic aftermath created massive political and economic disruption, greatly altering Capcom's original development plans. While those in the competitive community warmly embraced the additional characters and balance revisions in this new version, average gamers responded with a volatile mixture of apathy and outrage - a reaction that Capcom's long history of releasing endless revisions of its popular fighting game franchises did little to assuage. Initially, the sales of Ultimate Marvel 3 were unimpressive and everyone from jilted gamers to Capcom's own investors were eager to declare the game a failure. However, the explosion of interest in Marvel characters coupled with a vibrant competitive scene allowed Ultimate Marvel 3 to sell long past its expected demise. This enduring interest in Marvel 3 continued even when Capcom announced its license agreement with Marvel Comics had expired and that the company wouldn’t continue to sell or update the game. While the fate of Marvel 3 as a competitive esport remained uncertain and lacking all the invigoration that updates, sponsorships, and promotions provide, the early days of its release were a time of endless excitement and optimism, when Marvel 3 and its community flourished on nothing more than fun and passion for the game.
The first major Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 tournament arrived less than a month after release at Northeast Championships 12 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Chris G continued to dominate the game while others struggled with new teams and experimental strategies. However, just as it seemed his victory was assured, PR Balrog rallied in Grand Finals, narrowly taking both sets over Chris G who was left crestfallen by the incredible loss. Two weeks later, Chris G traveled to Southern California Regionals 2011 in Irvine, California where he was quickly eliminated in pools by the solid defensive play of Socal veteran Dios X. Chris G's early exit and pitiful sportsmanship caused those on the West Coast to question his popular acclaim. So began a kind of playful hex that would loom over Chris G's head for quite some time — "Chris G may be good, but he'll never win a West Coast major." In Grand Finals, Norcal's Mine sought revenge on Justin Wong who dominated him 6-0 in the Grand Finals of NCR earlier that year. Despite putting up a better fight, Mine eventually crumbled to the intense pressure and showmanship of Justin Wong's crowd-pleasing Iron Fist play.