2013

2013 - YEAR OF THE DOLPHIN

Whether you were succumbing to the relentless pressure of Nova or looking for playful aquatic mammals at the beach, nearly everything went swimmingly for the Marvel community in 2013. Domestic tournaments remained stacked, foreign talent continued to cause upsets, and Capcom even hosted their first (and only) Marvel 3 world championship. With all the press attention generated by numerous stories and scandals, 2013 marked the zenith of Marvel 3's mainstream popularity and influence. Much of that interest was the product of one exceptional player: Chris Gonzales. His enduring dominance, not just of Marvel 3 but of numerous popular fighting games, made him an object of popular scorn and clumsy media dissection. Though Chris G became the reluctant face of the Marvel community, there were many emerging players who eventually became the heart of it.

There's always been a healthy cross-pollination between the Marvel and Melee communities, so it was only fitting that one of the largest Smash Bros. tournaments would host a side event for Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Apex 2013 in Brunswick, New Jersey attracted significant regional talent and even Filipino Champ flew cross-country to be there, hoping to secure himself a long-awaited rematch with Chris G. IFC Yipes was also in attendance and faithfully completed his self-imposed challenge to play every game with Wesker. In the early days of Ultimate Marvel 3, Wesker was considered very strong, even overpowered by some. But as time passed and the game evolved, cheaper and more versatile characters were discovered, and the old "Wesker army" was soon decimated to nothing but a handful of stubborn loyalists. Perhaps Yipes was one of those Wesker stalwarts, yearning for a simpler time before Zeros and Morrigans ruined the game with their lame supremacy. Maybe Yipes was still miffed that Chris G picked a Wesker team against him at NEC, and he aimed to prove he could win it all with that character as well. Whatever the reason, Yipes soon found himself down two games against fellow Wesker expert IGT Unknown in the Loser's side of Top 8. But Yipes remained unfazed and won the set with three straight victories. He continued his run through MarlinPie, but fell short against Filipino Champ who was very eager to face Chris G in Grand Finals. Both of Filipino Champ's signature teams had previously been dismantled by Chris G, so in a bid of desperation, he attempted to craft a strange amalgam of them. The idea was that Dormammu, backed by Dr. Doom, could avoid Morrigan long enough to build sufficient resources for Phoenix. In practice, FChamp's Phoenix was often killed before she revived, rendering any potential advantage moot and granting Chris G yet another championship title.

Not to be outdone by IFC Yipes' early success with his team, Nemo defeated Tokido in a thrilling first to 10 set to win the almost prestigious Topanga Z League. Topanga is an association of top fighting gamers in Japan that hosts seasonal tournaments for Street Fighter. The events are well structured and include an "A League" for elite players and a "B League" for skilled aspirants. Competitors can rise or fall between leagues each season, which makes for some very passionate and compelling matches. Topanga "Z League" was a one-off Marvel vs. Capcom 3 tournament to determine who was the undisputed best Japanese player. The name is a clever joke on the status of Marvel 3 in Japan — you'd have to be demoted 24 times from the Street Fighter leagues before you rank with the best Marvel players.

Socal Regionals 2013 finally arrived in late January, skipping over SCR 2012 entirely. Chris G was one of several East Coast representatives in attendance, and he even agreed to participate in a friendly exhibition with the West Coast's most consistent player, PR Balrog. The final result was a respectable 10-8 in Chris G's favor, and many had already resigned themselves to Chris G's likely tournament victory. On finals day, Filipino Champ was eager to complete his perfunctory matches along the escalator to Top 8. Delaying his ascent was a timid-looking player appropriately named Apologyman. Sensing weakness in his opponent, FChamp saw fit to accentuate his combos with some rather gratuitous teabagging. Following his lopsided victory, FChamp shook Apologyman's hand with a kind of angry disgust and went on with his day. These kinds of trivial incidents happen at every tournament, and normally this would be the end of it. However, Apologyman simply refused to be written off. He battled back through Loser's Bracket, taking out K-Beast, Richard Nguyen, and Angelic. With each successive win, Apologyman's confidence grew stronger and so did the cheers from his posse of mid-tier misfits. Meanwhile in Winner's Bracket, Chris G was upset (quite literally) by his New Jersey rival, MarlinPie. Also in Winner's Bracket, Filipino Champ was absolutely destroyed by his good friend and training partner PR Balrog. This meant that Apologyman and Filipino Champ's disparate paths would cross yet again in the Loser's Side of Top 8. Unlike their previous encounter, Apologyman was riding high on his momentum and playing brilliantly. With his psychological edge quickly eroding, FChamp engaged in some subtle teabagging as if to remind Apologyman of his humiliation earlier that day. But far from being intimidated, Apologyman just laughed it off. In fact, it was Filipino Champ who bungled his certain victory in Game 4, permitting Apologyman to rally in dramatic fashion. Now the whole massive audience was standing behind this former nobody, and FChamp would have to withstand the immeasurable forces of karmic retribution. He knew and was likely advised that his Dormammu team was the ideal counter to Apologyman. But for Filipino Champ, counterpicking in the final game would be just as embarrassing as defeat. It would be a silent admission that Apologyman was a skillful competitor deserving of respect and that FChamp's relentless teasing was not some deep psychological mindgame but an arrogant miscalculation of his assumed superiority. As it was before and since, Filipino Champ's crippling hubris would prove his ultimate undoing. While Apologyman appeared destined for a kind of mythical success, he immediately collided with reality (and many fireballs) during his eventual defeat by Chris G. But regardless of his placement, Apologyman had earned a personal triumph, visiting a just reprisal on the one who thought the least of him. The Grand Finals between PR Rog and Chris G would have been a mere afterthought to this story, except that PR Rog somehow managed to win, allowing at least one spectator to share in a vicarious victory. Not only was the "West Coast hex" still in effect for Chris G, this tournament would begin a long-standing tradition of players winning exhibitions and then losing to those same opponents in the subsequent tournament.

Back on the East Coast at Winter Brawl 7, Chris G enjoyed the comforts of a supportive crowd as he visited swift retaliation on PR Balrog in the Winner's Side of Top 8. In Winner's Finals, Justin Wong continued to commit critical errors against Chris G just as he had one month prior at SCR 2013. Not satisfied with merely defeating PR Balrog in Grand Finals, Chris G fielded a slightly trollish team with Firebrand on anchor. PR Rog's frustration was evident in his furious Dr. Doom comeback in Game 2, but no amount of indignation could save him from Chris G's stifling Morrigan play. Rather than let Chris G savor the final moments of his revenge, PR Balrog abruptly conceded.

While Chris G's Firebrand was little more than a spiteful joke, a new contender would soon display the terrifying capabilities of this character. Following his breakout performance at Socal Regionals 2013, Apologyman was invited to join Filipino Champ's inner circle of friends and co-conspirators at Fighting Game TV, a gamer house that frequently streamed everything from casual Marvel matches to crude domestic disputes. He even began attending FChamp's weekly tournament series, originally titled When's Marvel Wednesdays, then titled When's Marvel Weekly, and then (regrettably) titled When's Norcal Weekly — an erosion of cleverness if ever there was one. At one of these tournaments in April, Apologyman once again encountered Filipino Champ in the Semi-Finals. It was there that FChamp previewed a highly experimental team that proved rather ineffective against Apologyman. Switching back to his normal Phoenix team, FChamp took the series down to the wire until Apologyman woke up mashing with Dr. Doom, a tactic so unexpected it even elicited some salty whining from FChamp. In Winner's Finals, Apologyman confronted cocky Norcal strongman Drew Grimey. After his 3-1 defeat, Apologyman was forced to rematch Filipino Champ in Loser's Finals. Grimey was so confident in a second victory over Apologyman that he greatly preferred him to win over FChamp. Despite losing the first two games, Apologyman rebounded and narrowly escaped a pixel-Doom comeback to secure his second match of the day over FChamp. In Grand Finals, after much painful deliberation, Apologyman tested the waters with his newly acquired Firebrand team. It brutally exploits Firebrand's unblockable mixup on incoming characters and proved highly effective against Drew Grimey, so much so that the rowdy FGTV crew soon began heckling and hollering at Grimey's helpless destruction. After the bracket reset, Drew Grimey was so flummoxed by Firebrand that he forgot how to play entirely. Desperate for answers, Grimey traded in most of his team for a sub-par Morrigan / Doom that amazingly stole a game from Apologyman and prevented the anticipated 8-0 walloping. However, mental corrosion was already terminal as Grimey squandered an obvious lead in the final game and lost in the most fitting way possible — kidnapped by a nearly-dead Firebrand. The delicious irony of this grotesque spectacle was that Drew Grimey's team also focused on unblockable attacks, but Apologyman's version was just so brutally efficient that it seemed to render all previous attempts at "1-Player games" obsolete.

Final Round XVI in Atlanta, Georgia once again featured some of the best Marvel 3 action outside of EVO and some of the best Marvel 3 drama outside of story mode. Chris G was upset early in pool play by Arizona resident and Shuma enthusiast Angelic, sending everyone at the tournament into a frenzy. There was an even bigger blowup when preeminent fighting game streamer Victor “Spooky” Fontanez refused to promote Team AGE on his stream following a dispute with AGE member Fanatiq. Spooky had recently been sponsored by peripheral manufacturer (and PDP rival) Madcatz and didn't take kindly to Fanatiq's aggressive huckstering of PDP products on his stream without permission. This confrontation came to a head just as AGE teammates Chris G and Fanatiq were scheduled to fight their featured elimination match. As a silent protest, Fanatiq clearly threw the match by picking an unusual team and intentionally dropping combos. Even the commentators couldn't take the match seriously and weren't reluctant to hide their disgust by the end of it. But the upsets just wouldn't stop, not even in Top 8 where Long Island luminary and breakfast cereal connoisseur Moons defeated the great Justin Wong with his masterful Nova play. Filipino Champ narrowly escaped his own impending upset by RayRay, who was painfully reminded to never call assists against Dark Phoenix. Perhaps the only expected event was Chris G's unwavering march through the Loser's Bracket, demolishing Goldenboy Neo, RayRay, and Moons before reaching his frequent rival Filipino Champ in Loser's Finals. FChamp tried three different teams in three different games, including one with Hawkeye that looked unpracticed, but none could match Chris G's proficient Morrigan dominance. In Grand Finals, Flocker appeared helpless against the rampaging juggernaut Chris G. Desperate for answers, Flocker fielded his own Morrigan team that proved surprisingly effective, but nothing in Flocker's impressive bag of tricks could prevent his eventual 6-0 thrashing.

Following his respectable showing at Final Round, Kane Blueriver was able to complete his goal of traveling to Japan and playing some of their very best fighting gamers. He soon situated himself with The Black Eye, a Tokyo gamer house often frequented by top Marvel players like Nemo, Kusoru, and Frieda. For several weeks he trained with these players and many others in the hopes of elevating his skills quickly before returning to the Marvel 3 tournament circuit. Meanwhile, teammates Justin Wong and PR Balrog found themselves in the Grand Finals at April Duels 2 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Wong teased the crowd by hovering over his beloved Iron Fist. Responding in kind, PR Rog selected an even more random team, letting everyone know these two were obviously sharing the 1st Place payout. Pot splitting was a common practice in the FGC dating all the way back to the rough and tumble arcade days. While it was often done subtly to avoid catching a beating, modern fighting gamers mostly compete in large, professional tournaments and their comparative safety permits some to act more brazenly than their forerunners. Despite obvious collusion, the cheerful Canadian audience rather enjoyed the absurd spectacle, and nothing much was made of the incident. The same could not be said of Texas Showdown 2013 just one week later. Perhaps bored with the usual results in Grand Finals, the rowdy Texas crowd called for Chris G and Justin Wong to pick random characters like Jill Valentine rather than their routine lineups. It was a virtual repeat of April Duels 2, except this time the commentators refused to play along with the silly charade. David "UltraDavid" Graham was particularly incensed. He flatly refused to commentate the match and instead offered a detailed analysis of the pizza he just ate. Sensing the legitimacy of their tournament was in question, the organizers demanded the first game be replayed at the end, a defiant move that satisfied no one. Influential members of the FGC were quick to repudiate the events at Texas Showdown, but the era of tolerating collusion was far from over.

Back in Japan, Nemo placed 2nd at KVO 2013, the nation's largest Marvel 3 tournament. On that same weekend, his new friend and training partner Kane Blueriver made a big splash at Norcal Regionals 2013. The ever overconfident Filipino Champ elected to play Ghost Rider (an irredeemably bad character) against Kane Blueriver in their Top 16 Winner's Bracket match. But Kane gave no such leniency, dominating Filipino Champ in the first two games. A mid-match interview with PR Balrog perfectly encapsulated the feelings of FChamp's hometown audience. In the final game, Kane landed a incredible grab on Phoenix but was so nervous that he pressed the pause button. Normally grounds for disqualification, FChamp's inevitable defeat meant that Kane's win was still valid, a fact that took Kane considerable time to process. But the upset that defined the tournament occurred when Chris G lost convincingly to Senior Taxi, a Socal player generously classified as barely good. Following his humiliating defeat, Chris G blamed his loss on slowdown present in the PlayStation 3 version of the game, though this defense was not entirely without merit. Top players knew about performance issues on the PS3 since the beginning of Ultimate, and there was no shortage of evidence underlining the severity of the issue. Eventually, the Xbox 360 version of Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 became the community standard, but the mass antipathy towards Chris G for his scandals and his dominance meant that no excuse would be accepted, no matter its validity. This early loss meant that Chris G had a long, arduous road through the Loser's Bracket if he wanted to earn his first West Coast championship.

On the final day of NCR, Chris G faced a formidable opponent in Apologyman. Though he wasn't confident enough to field his unblockable Firebrand team, Apologyman took the first game from Chris G and sent the crowd into a frenzy. They chanted "PS3, PS3, PS3!" with merciless intensity after Chris G flubbed a likely victory in Game 2. Despite the pressures of a hostile crowd, Chris G stayed resilient and took the next two games with ease. In a moment of respite before the final game, Apologyman betrayed his intense anxiety to the world. Sensing his advantage, Chris G pounced on Apologyman and never relented, securing the match and silencing the belligerent crowd. In Winner's Bracket, the ever-present Ranmasama proved too much for Kane Blueriver, stealing victories with his deadly anchor Magneto. Down in Loser's Bracket, Justin Wong eliminated PR Balrog with his modified anti-Morrigan team of Wolverine / Spencer / Frank West. Both Kane and Wong would soon face the formidable menace of an angry and determined Chris G, and neither of them would prevail. In Winner's Finals, Goldenboy Neo narrowly defeated Ranmasama in a breathtaking Game 5 where both players fought with a sliver of life for what seemed like an eternity. Disappointed yet unfazed, Ranmasama gave Chris G a significant challenge in Loser's Finals. A consummate Magneto comeback in Game 3 put Ranmasama in prime position to eliminate Chris G from the tournament. However, a crucial mistake allowed Chris G to equalize the series and ultimately prevail in the final game. The only player left standing between Chris G and his much sought-after NCR trophy was Goldenboy Neo in Grand Finals. Neo began as a Central California upstart in the latter days of Marvel 2 who proved himself against skeptical veterans in high-stakes exhibitions. The most notorious of these was his exhilarating money match against Clockwork in the twilight days just before Marvel 3 released. However, Neo's legacy of success was slow to translate to Marvel 3, and despite his already commendable performance, few believed he could withstand Chris G's daunting upsurge of momentum. There was soon vigorous betting in the crowd — not over whether Neo would win but whether he'd win a single game. Those who wagered "no" were aptly rewarded. As if routine, Chris G took both sets of Grand Finals without dropping a single game. Incredibly, this wasn't the full extent of Chris G's accomplishments that weekend. Not only had Chris G won Marvel 3 and dispelled his "West Coast hex," he also won the first "major" Divekick tournament and achieved 3rd Place in Super Street Fighter IV, defeating Momochi and placing higher than any other American player.

Near the end of May, East Coast Throwdown V returned to Morristown, New Jersey bigger and louder than ever. The feature exhibition involved roving Chilean Kane Blueriver and New York's loveable weirdo Fooblat in a race to 15 wins. Not only were these players considered roughly equal in skill, but even their teams were nearly identical. It was as close to a "fair fight" as you're likely to get in Marvel 3, and these tenacious competitors put on one hell of a show. At a time when the Marvel 3 metagame had become defined by the elusive zoning of Morrigan or the wild rushdown of Wolverine, there was something intensely satisfying about watching a bunch of lumbering behemoths smack each other strenuously with fists and pipes and rocks. It was like witnessing Marvel 3 broadcasted from Bizarro World and provided a much needed catharsis for a community frustrated by Chris G's boring perfection. Just as one commentator predicted, Kane Blueriver took this exhibition all the way to the 29th game, provoking the crowd to reach critical levels of hype. Kane's grueling victory over Fooblat was more than just one player's personal triumph, it was a triumph for the entire Marvel 3 community. The unabashed joy and exhilaration created in that room would resonate in the hearts of spectators for years to come.

Remarkably, the Marvel 3 tournament at East Coast Throwdown V proved just as memorable as the exhibition preceding it. Top 8 had an explosive start when Flocker soundly defeated Chris G in Winner's Bracket. After trying and failing numerous times with his regular team, Flocker finally substituted Hawkeye with Strider to better contain Morrigan. Though his Strider was unpolished, it served him well enough to earn a definitive victory. Also in Winner's Bracket, Justin Wong steamrolled over Filipino Champ, setting up his match with Flocker in Winner's Finals. Wong played incredibly, but a well-composed turnaround by Flocker secured him the final game and the series. Down in Loser's Bracket, PR Balrog and Filipino Champ fought admirably until their final game when PR Rog "missed" several consecutive, opportunities to kill FChamp's final character, a highly implausible series of mistakes that elicited boos and jeers from the audience. The motive for this obvious collusion was not monetary (at least not immediately). For weeks, Filipino Champ had been teasing a secret strategy for defeating Chris G. Having practiced it thoroughly amongst friends, this tournament provided a prime opportunity to test his experimental team before EVO. So, a few dropped combos here and there meant that Filipino Champ (and not PR Balrog) would face Chris G in a crucial elimination match. As a stunning twist, the character FChamp adopted to defeat Morrigan was none other than Morrigan herself, but not for the reasons you might expect. In addition to her many enticing qualities, Morrigan is one of the only characters who builds meter as an assist. While Dormammu teleports around the screen, Morrigan can single-handedly build all the meter that Phoenix requires. It's the final evolution of a strategy FChamp employed back at Apex 2013 and proved highly effective against Chris G at East Coast Throwdown. Unfortunately, a series of genuine blunders severely undermined FChamp's dominant performance. Not even FChamp's fight stick was safe from being dropped by the end of his discouraging failure.

Chris G's subsequent match against Justin Wong in Loser's Finals would soon put his own composure to the test. Wong inexplicably abandoned the anti-Morrigan team he'd played all tournament long in favor of his tried and true Wolverine / Storm / Akuma squad. He performed surprisingly well, taking the first two games and nearly sweeping the series if not for Chris G's clutch denial of the "Wong Factor." With stern persistence, Chris G overcame his early deficit and defeated Justin Wong with authority. As it happened so often before, Chris G arrived in the Loser's Side of Grand Finals, only this time his opponent had already proven himself better in their last encounter. Wary of a possible repeat, Chris G gambled on a Magneto variation of Morrigan / Doom while Flocker doubled down on his winning squad of Zero / Vergil / Strider. At first, Chris G's gambit seemed to pay off as he won the first set in stylish fashion. Yet Flocker remained cheerful after the reset, not desperate or despondent as he was at Final Round. This good humor in the face of adversity is a rare and powerful quality that few champions possess. It serves them well in the most trying circumstances, and it gave Flocker the fortitude he needed to finally conquer Chris G in the last set of Grand Finals. This was the first time since January that Chris G had lost a major Marvel tournament. The audience cheered and celebrated as if a brutal tyrant had been deposed. Flocker basked in his moment of glory as the crowd chanted his name and reveled in the crowning of a brand new Marvel champion.

But Chris G's hiatus from winning was rather short-lived. The Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament 9 arrived the following week in Chicago, Illinois. Not only did Chris G win Marvel vs. Capcom 3 over Ranmasama, he also won Injustice and Street Fighter x Tekken, placed 2nd in Divekick, and finished 7th in Super Street Fighter 4 and The King of Fighters 13. It was around this time that many people began considering Chris G the #1 overall fighting gamer in the USA. He even earned himself a new nickname: "The Problem." This fitting moniker was forever immortalized in a magnificent portrait that beautifully captured his dramatic reign of dominance. Chris G's uncommon success had made him a celebrity in the fighting game scene, and there was no shortage of articles or interviews chronicling his many achievements. With everything going in his favor, it seemed inconceivable that Chris G would talk of not attending EVO. However, that's exactly what he confirmed in his interview with Live on Three in the days following UFGT 9. When asked to explain his reasoning, Chris G launched into a rambling, incoherent diatribe that basically amounted to: "I should get paid more to be this good." While there was some modicum of truth to this notion, Chris G's ignorant disregard for the realities of esports and the harsh business of being a professional athlete made his animosity towards EVO appear misguided and delusional. Perhaps being "The Problem" was actually "the problem" with Chris G. When everyone considers you the best and always expects you to win, that public standard turns any result except 1st Place into a failure. Maybe Chris G didn't want his legacy in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 to be defined by a single tournament, especially one where he frequently crumbled under the pressure. Whatever the reason, Chris G maintained a dismissive outlook on EVO for the majority of his Marvel career.

Back on the West Coast, the reigning EVO champion Filipino Champ rectified his previous encounter with Kane Blueriver at Northwest Majors V in Des Moines, Washington. This time Ghost Rider was nowhere to be found in either of Filipino Champ's commanding victories in Winner's Finals and Grand Finals. The last major tournament before EVO was once again CEO 2013 in Orlando, Florida where the hotly contested Marvel 3 team tournament revealed the true nature of "The People's Champ." Pandemonium broke loose when self-titled "Marvel Fraud" Mike Ross began destroying the venue following his once-in-a-lifetime victory over IFC Yipes. Luckily, Mike Ross was soon recruited by twitch.tv where they allowed him to destroy their own economy of Twitch Turbo subscriptions instead. In the Marvel 3 singles tournament, Justin Wong was pushed to the absolute limit of frustration. Despite beating Flocker (both in tournament and in exhibition), Wong fell yet again to Chris G in Winner's Finals. While facing his teammate PR Balrog, Wong dropped a crucial combo that permitted an obscene reversal of fortunes. Even the indefatigable Justin Wong couldn't withstand the soul-crushing despair wrought by Dark Vergil and lost the series without taking a single game. In Grand Finals, Chris G proved he could win with his Magneto team by subduing PR Balrog in only four games. Not content with only winning Marvel, Chris G also defeated three-time EVO champion Perfect Legend to claim his second Injustice championship. And perhaps most impressive of all, Chris G finished 3rd in Super Street Fighter IV, prevailing over Ryan Hart, Jayce the Ace, Justin Wong, and PR Balrog. Not since the glory days of Justin Wong could one American player be called the best in three major fighting games.

In early July, Team Evil Geniuses traveled to Tokyo, Japan for the 3rd annual Topanga Charity Cup. The following day, Justin Wong and PR Balrog visited The Black Eye and ran long sets of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 with various local players. Nemo had recently announced he would be attending EVO for the very first time, and since he was now considered the best in Japan, both players were eager to gauge Nemo's capabilities. First was PR Balrog, who originally lost 15-6, but in their runback posted a far more respectable 15-12 defeat. Justin Wong took his set to the final game where a sequence of terrible mistakes by Nemo allowed Wong to steal the series 15-14. Nemo later admitted he found it difficult to fight Justin Wong's Storm since there were no comparable Storm players in Japan. These friendly exhibitions were little more than casual fun (and some subtle information gathering), but Nemo's impending trip to EVO would soon paint them in a very different light.

One week before EVO, IFC Yipes and the Curleh Mustache once again invaded Southern California to host another exciting invitational tournament. First on the ticket was a rematch of last year's EVO Grand Finals between Filipino Champ and Infrit. Though Infrit posted solid results following his 2nd Place EVO performance, he soon developed a debilitating character crisis and his lack of confidence proved disastrous in the months that followed. It's unclear why such a blatant mismatch was organized, but Filipino Champ once again seized his opportunity to be the ungracious winner. The best part of FChamp's pathetic boasting was Dios X standing right behind him and fighting back laughter at the silly familiarity of it all. Though his post-match sneering was quickly growing intolerable, FChamp's well-deserved comeuppance would arrive sooner and sweeter than anyone could hope. Perennial dark horse Knives finally avenged his defeat at NCR 2012 by upsetting Filipino Champ 3-0 in the Winner's Bracket. Despite boasting about his eminent status just minutes earlier, FChamp made several rookie blunders in his match against Knives. Next in line to humble Filipino Champ was long-lost Zero enthusiast Marn, who recently emerged from the smoldering rubble of his failed League of Legends career. While FChamp was feeling the pressure of having to back up his boasting, Marn was happy just to win a single game. This devil-may-care attitude was both Marn's greatest strength and most crippling weakness. Yipes was aching to see FChamp disgraced, but was also wary of Marn's propensity to choke. His apprehension proved legitimate when Marn threw away a sizeable lead on the cusp of eliminating FChamp. But Marn remained hungry for glory and fought commandingly in the final game until he choked yet again, granting Filipino Champ an unsatisfying stay of execution. Fortunately for Yipes, FChamp's reprieve proved short-lived. In the deciding game against Richard Nguyen, FChamp committed yet another basic error which finally brought about his inglorious exit from the tournament. However, the greatest rebuttal to FChamp's incessant snobbery was still yet to come.

Last year's runner-up, Dios X once again earned his spot in the Winner's side of Grand Finals against part-time stuntman and full-time stud Killer Kai. Down two games and facing defeat, Kai revealed his most formidable strategy: muscular intimidation. Not to be upstaged, Dios X matched his opponent shirt for shirt and fought the first-ever all-nude Marvel 3 Grand Finals. At first it seemed the chiseled physique of Killer Kai would prove too much for Dios X following a dramatic bracket reset. But after falling behind in the second set, Dios X rallied back and took the final game to become the new Curleh Mustache West Coast champion. Killer Kai could only walk away in disappointment like a dejected supermodel. While Dios X was officially crowned the winner, the biggest loser was undoubtedly Filipino Champ. Not only did he fail to impress after ridiculing others, but the player he previously dismissed proved legitimate by returning to Grand Finals and winning the tournament. Amusingly, this wouldn't be the last time FChamp was surpassed by a player he formerly discredited.

2013 was a banner year for the Evolution Championship Series and Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Not only was attendance and viewership rising dramatically, but Marvel 3 proved to be the highlight of the event (with Reynald's incredible victory in The King of Fighters XIII taking a close second). Super Smash Bros.: Melee made its long-awaited return to EVO after the Smash community raised almost $100,000 for charity to earn its spot as a featured title. And, to the surprise of no one, Chris G managed to find his way to EVO — though he probably wished otherwise when he lost early in pools to WindZero, an obscure Norcal aspirant. Though the match went to the final game, every single loss by Chris G came at the hands of WindZero's anchor Jill Valentine (long considered one of the weakest characters in the game). Another highly-influential match involved Justin Wong and the defending champion Filipino Champ in Winner's Bracket. After falling behind 2-1 against FChamp's Phoenix team, Wong swapped in his auxiliary Spencer squad despite protests from the audience. The switch worked brilliantly, even when FChamp retreated to his Dormammu team in Game 5. Meanwhile, Chris G was running the gauntlet of his life in Loser's Bracket, defeating D1 (of Smash Bros. fame), Kazunoko, IGT Unknown, WindZero (the runback), Goldenboy Neo, BubblanAB7, and PR Balrog just to qualify for Top 8.

The next evening, underneath the bright lights and watchful gaze of thousands, Flocker and Justin Wong battled it out in the Winner's Side of Top 8, and the result was very conclusive. Gone was Flocker's middling Dante from CEO and back was his trusty Hawkeye. With cold precision, Flocker pierced Wong's shoddy defenses and swept the series with conviction. In Loser's Bracket, Filipino Champ battled the online warrior Cloud805. With the series tied 1-1, Cloud made a surprising and effective play to close out Game 3, convincing FChamp to field his more dependable Phoenix team. In the deciding game, Cloud unleashed a mind-boggling mixup on Phoenix that FChamp miraculously managed to block. But impeccable defense couldn't save FChamp forever, as Cloud805 conquered the defending champion and became an instant crowd favorite. Immediately following this upset, Justin Wong and Chris G took to the stage for their pivotal elimination match. The series began with Chris G in full control, taking the first two games easily. Even the commentators felt Wong had to switch teams, as he did last EVO against Chris G. After a moment of contemplation at the character select screen, Wong defiantly bound his fate with Wolverine / Storm / Akuma. His decision appeared foolish, especially when all he had left was Storm with a sliver of health. But just when all seemed lost, the fabled "Wong Factor" activated. Following his unlikely turnaround, Wong made a brilliant read on Chris G to secure Game 4 and equalize the series. The final game was a messy, back-and-forth contest as both players were clearly anxious. With little time remaining and each player down to their anchor characters, the crowd began chanting "Jus-tin! Jus-tin! Jus-tin!" Wong's evasive Akuma kept Vergil at bay long enough to claim the life lead. As the seconds counted down, Chris G was desperate for a hit, but Wong's "Turtle Style" ultimately proved superior. The crowd erupted with elation at Justin Wong's momentous time-over victory. This extraordinary moment and the hype it generated catapulted Wong past Cloud805, past Angelic, and straight into Grand Finals to face his frequent rival and recent vanquisher, Flocker.

By now the crowd was squarely (and loudly) in Wong's corner. Despite the enormous pressure of fighting alone against the tide of destiny, Flocker remained incredibly composed. In the final game of the first set, when Flocker had everything in his favor, Justin Wong orchestrated one of the greatest comebacks in Marvel 3 history. With two perfectly-timed overheads, Wong reset the bracket and sent the crowd into mass hysterics. Even Wong himself couldn't contain the hype and celebrated briefly before sitting down to begin the second set. Though it wouldn't be noticed with all the excitement and motion swirling around him, Flocker maintained his trademark grin throughout this gut-wrenching moment. It was that same levity in the face of adversity that allowed him to triumph over Chris G at ECT 5, and now it was needed more than ever. With the second series tied again at 1-1, Flocker was put to the ultimate test when he dropped a crucial combo with his last character. This would have been ruinous had he not broken a TAC combo by guessing correctly and recovered in time to steal back the game. Wong responded by mauling his way through Game 4, once again bringing the series to one final game. After landing the first hit, Wong was in a prime position to kill Zero and take a commanding lead. However, in an effort to save meter, Wong attempted a risky TAC infinite with Storm that he dropped and allowed Zero to live with a single pixel of life. There's a long-running joke in the Marvel 3 community that pixel-Zero is the strongest character in the game, and it was proven when Flocker capitalized on Wong's unforced error. For the second time that night, with everything on the line, Justin Wong's Akuma stood alone against Flocker's entire team. But this time Flocker had managed to save his beloved Zero, and after a protracted battle, finally defeated Justin Wong to become the new Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 world champion. The crowd was stunned and audibly deflated. Everything that evening was building up to Justin Wong's dramatic triumph and no one cared to remember Flocker's scattered journey towards success. In a fitting irony, Marvel 3 would stubbornly refuse the anticipated Hollywood ending. For all its flash and fantasy, the world of competitive video games is too firmly grounded in the sublime fiasco of reality.

Despite all that transpired in the Marvel 3 tournament at EVO 2013, the one event that truly shocked the community and resonated for months afterward took place in a cramped little hotel room far away from the EVO stage. Following the impressive awards ceremony (featuring Hologram Yipes), there was a pair of high-stakes money matches involving Japanese Marvel sensation Nemo. Although Nemo exited the tournament before Top 8 and nearly lost to Mike "Marvel Fraud" Ross, he felt sufficiently prepared to challenge Filipino Champ in a race to 20 wins. To the shock of everyone except Nemo and his cohorts, Nemo prevailed 20-11. All the established Marvel players in the room were soon desperate to win their money back. After some persuading, they convinced Nemo to runback his bets against Chris G in another race to 20 wins. After all, there was no way this Japanese fluke could beat the world's best player in a long set. For the second time that night, Nemo defied all expectations and defeated Chris G 20-10. All told, Nemo and his crew walked away with over $6000 in "donations" from the American Marvel community. Not since the cheerful menace Kusoru had the USA suffered a more humiliating defeat in Marvel 3.

Escaping the stagnant heat of Las Vegas for the breezy beaches of Sint Maarten, many of the top Marvel players took their Summer vacation at the Video X Games 2013, an upstart tournament series in the heart of the Caribbean. All year long, VxG awarded travel packages to the winners of various tournaments in the hopes of promoting tourism for their tiny island during the offseason. The tournament itself was small but stacked with top Marvel 3 talent. Flocker lived up to his title of world champion by defeating Filipino Champ and Chris G to secure his spot in the Grand Finals. In Loser's Finals, Chris G was already starting to troll around and picked his Wesker / Ryu / Hawkeye team against FChamp. Despite losing the first three games in a race to four, Chris G refused to switch. Unbelievably, Chris G ran it back four games in a row, thanks in part to FChamp's critical drop in the final game. By the time Chris G made it to Grand Finals, he couldn't be bothered to pick real teams anymore. While Flocker joined in on the clowning around, at least he played characters he was proficient with. Once Chris G started losing, his character choices became weirder and weirder until even the commentators stopped caring. For these kinds of shenanigans to take place in the Grand Finals of a Capcom sponsored tournament was deemed beyond the pale, and community leaders swiftly put their foot down on all future infractions. Flocker vehemently denied that any "collusion" took place in Grand Finals, and though he played incredibly all tournament, his success at VxG was forever discredited by the scandal that followed.

Returning home from EVO, Kane Blueriver attended Treta Championship IV: Aftermath in Curitiba, Parana, Brazil. While sitting in the Winner's Side of Grand Finals, Kane lost to Brazilian Zero player Linj in six straight games. Despite his consistent progress, Kane forever proved himself capable of losing to any caliber of Zero player. Back in the USA, the historic Season's Beatings tournament series was no more. Fortunately, an alliance of the East Coast's best tournament organizers introduced The Fall Classic in September, 2013 to maintain the hype during the post-EVO season. Two very interesting matches transpired before the Top 8 for Marvel 3. The first involved recent EVO champion Flocker and Georgia denizen SumBrwnKid (later shortened to SBK). Flocker was styled on by SBK in the first two games, and nearly swept in the third by an Akuma comeback eerily reminiscent of Justin Wong at EVO. Unfortunately, SBK didn't learn from Wong's mistakes and left Flocker's Zero alive with a sliver of health in Game 4. Key mistakes by SBK bought Flocker sufficient time to manage a narrow turnaround with his dreaded pixel-Zero. After nearly upsetting Flocker in two straight games, SBK finally folded to the pressure and lost the final game with little contest. The other intrigue before Top 8 involved Marvel 3 lab monster and FGTV babysitter Shady K as he battled the recently-admonished Chris G in a Morrigan mirror match. Although never an elite competitor, Shady K was hugely respected in both the Marvel 2 and Marvel 3 communities for his many technical contributions that evolved and defined the metagame of both titles. Shady K had also adopted Chris G's team of Morrigan / Doom / Vergil and served as the ideal sparring partner for his FGTV housemate Filipino Champ. After stealing the first game with his vicious X-Factor Vergil, Shady K would've claimed the second game as well if not for Chris G's flawless defense. While Shady K's Morrigan could battle with the best in the world, his Vergil proved unmatched and brought about a very unexpected fifth game against Chris G. But just like SBK and countless other anxious contenders, Shady K collapsed in the final game and Chris G advanced into Top 8 unscathed. Perhaps with something to prove following their last "performance," Chris G crushed Flocker 3-0 in the Winner's side of Top 8. Filipino Champ, mindful of his embarrassing loss at VxG, revisited his Dormammu / Morrigan / Phoenix team against Chris G in Winner's Finals. This time around, FChamp's Phoenix performed her role beautifully, incinerating Chris G while only dropping one game. Chris G once again defeated Flocker to guarantee his runback with FChamp in Grand Finals. Despite losing badly in their previous match, Chris G ruthlessly dominated FChamp through both sets of Grand Finals, smothering Phoenix and exploiting FChamp's feeble Morrigan. Although FChamp suffered absolute defeat just as Flocker and Neo had before, losing 6-0 in Grand Finals was only the latest in a long succession of humiliations caused by Chris G.

It was only two weeks after The Fall Classic that Filipino Champ found his long-awaited redemption at Canada Cup 2013 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Things began inauspiciously for FChamp who lost early on to the aggressive Nova player Darryn from the Pacific Northwest. After making the long climb through Loser's Bracket, FChamp faced his relentless rival Chris G in Grand Finals. After spending the entire year crafting, practicing, and testing experimental teams that ultimately failed against Chris G, FChamp finally returned to his EVO championship team of Magneto / Dormammu / Doom. Rather than surprise Chris G with some trick or novel strategy, FChamp resolved to win with nothing but his raw skill. His play was simply immaculate, and for the first time in his career, Filipino Champ defeated Chris G in Grand Finals. The final score of 6-1 left nothing in doubt; FChamp had played some of the best Marvel 3 of his career. Unfortunately for Filipino Champ, there was little time to savor his historic victory. At Coliseo VS 2 in Guadalajara, Mexico, Chris G one again prevailed over FChamp, taking Winner's Finals and Grand Finals with ease. On that same weekend, Japanese Marvel player and "low-tier hero" Abegen made a big splash at Shadowloo Showdown 2013 near Melbourne, Australia. After narrowly falling to Ranmasama in Winner's Bracket, Abegen was matched against his fellow countryman Tokido. As he had many times before, Tokido recently changed his team to what he believed was the strongest in the game — Team Nemo, which he famously lost to when piloted by its creator at Topanga Z League. However, no amount of top-tier chasing could save Tokido from Abegen's low-tier loyalty. In his runback with Ranmasama in Loser's Finals, Abegen came out swinging and was able to sweep the series with an impressive She-Hulk comeback. Although he ultimately lost to Xian in Grand Finals, Abegen became an instant crowd favorite, a status that would serve him well in the weeks to follow.

In the middle of November, several top Marvel players from the USA attended the Revo 2013 tournament in Mexico City. Once again, Flocker narrowly edged out Justin Wong in the Winner's Bracket by surviving a tense moment in the final game. Flocker then defeated PR Balrog in Winner's Finals to insure his place in the Grand Finale. In the Loser's Bracket, Justin Wong fought an intense battle with Pony, one of Mexico's finest players. When Pony demolished Justin Wong in the deciding game, the exuberant Mexican crowd celebrated him as a hero. Unfortunately, Pony's taste of glory was short-lived. After defeating Pony in Loser's Finals, PR Balrog quickly reset the bracket against Flocker in Grand Finals. Despite dropping the first two games against the EVO champion, PR Rog remained undaunted and seized his opportunities to equalize the series. On tournament point, Flocker had taken a decisive lead that was erased in mere seconds by PR Rog's maniacal X-Factor Vergil. This was Flocker's first implosion in the Grand Finals since becoming EVO champion, and it would not be his last. Later that month, The Black Eye gaming club in Japan announced the formation of a new team that included Nemo, Abegen, and Kane Blueriver. All three players would soon be fighting under that new banner at Marvel 3's one and only official world championship.

Capcom had announced the creation of a new, sanctioned championship for their flagship fighting games at EVO 2013 called the Capcom Cup. While other games had a mixture of online and offline qualifiers to determine their entrants, Capcom resorted to a more novel and engaging selection process for Marvel 3. Fans and players were specifically told to "vote for hype" in an online poll that "elected" who would attend the Capcom Cup, and the ensuing aftermath laid bare the best and worst qualities of the democratic process. Intriguing foreign contenders like Nemo, Abegen, and Kane Blueriver were selected over more accomplished domestic players like PR Balrog. Since these players rarely traveled, Capcom Cup provided a rare opportunity for much-desired runbacks and dream matches. However, this also meant that less "exciting" but far more qualified players were excluded from this prestigious tournament. The most egregious rejection came to the current EVO champion Flocker, who received less votes than IFC Yipes and MarlinPie, two likeable but inconsistent players. Capcom was keen to quash any backlash from omitting the EVO champion and thereby undermining the integrity of their tournament. So in a move that defused rather than solved this self-inflicted predicament, Flocker was selected to play a "special exhibition" with the Capcom Cup champion for a modest cash prize. Not only did this exclude Flocker from winning the grand prize and the title of Capcom Cup champion, it also limited his participation to a single match at a tournament filled with rivalries and potential upsets. A competent company would have automatically included the EVO champion before the voting commenced and avoided this awkward situation altogether, but this wasn't called the Sega Cup.

The last major Marvel tournament leading into Capcom Cup was Northeast Championships 14 in Essington, Pennsylvania. A brief feud arose between Marn and the East Coast's saltiest Zero player, Flux that culminated in a much-anticipated exhibition match. The final result decisively favored Marn, who celebrated by taunting the irritable East Coast crowd with the now-legendary phrase, "Flux sux!" In the Winner's side of the Marvel tournament, Filipino Champ narrowly bested Justin Wong in their long-awaited rematch from EVO. Just as he had many times that year, FChamp earned himself yet another opportunity to contest Chris G in Winner's Finals. Despite losing the first two games and struggling with a dying controller, Chris G rallied back and defeated FChamp once again despite a near catastrophic choke in the final game. Fighting his way to Loser's Finals, Justin Wong made the necessary adjustments to easily sweep Filipino Champ during their lopsided runback. In Grand Finals, Chris G was yet again plagued by input errors. Despite losing the first set 3-0, Chris G stubbornly refused to swap out his controller. This decision appeared like yet another classic implosion, but with superhuman confidence, Chris G managed to sweep Justin Wong in the final set, taking the tournament and his first victory over Justin Wong since EVO — busted controllers be damned.

Despite the significant prestige and prize money of Marvel vs. Capcom 3's sole official championship, a much-anticipated side event was quickly eclipsing the Capcom Cup's looming hype. Following his professional and financial losses at EVO, Filipino Champ expressed a strong desire to rematch Nemo in another high-stakes money match. After both players were selected for the Capcom Cup, Nemo reciprocated FChamp's long-standing offer. However, FChamp quickly recanted by saying that he wanted to concentrate on winning the tournament. When Nemo offered to play him afterwards, FChamp remained unusually silent. Then, in a twist unforeseen by anyone, Fanatiq ascended from the depths of obscurity to challenge Nemo in FChamp's stead. Though Fanatiq admitted to being long out of practice, he still agreed to fight the new king of money matches with over $8000 at stake. Meanwhile, Nemo was proving himself to be a consummate Marvel player by engaging in the most Marvelous pastime: spitting intercontinental smack talk. Thus, the stage was finally set for one of Marvel 3's most climactic and memorable confrontations.

The 1st annual Capcom Cup world championship was held that December in San Francisco, California. This event featured several of Capcom's popular (and not so popular) fighting game franchises including Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Kane Blueriver made his first international appearance since EVO, but sadly the enormity of the moment proved overwhelming for him. Fighting back a stream of tears, Kane continuously dropped basic combos and played even more recklessly than usual. His 3-0 loss to Justin Wong was not an unexpected result, but the severity of the defeat and Kane's evaporating confidence would doom him to an early elimination by his teammate Abegen. Elsewhere in the bracket, IFC Yipes fielded his old squad of Spencer / Vergil / Hawkeye against Filipino Champ. Even FChamp's hometown scene was squarely in Yipes' corner when he unexpectedly dominated the first two games. As was usual that year, FChamp once again found himself in a character crisis. But once again, FChamp's unwavering pride wouldn't permit him to counter-pick a player he previously dismissed as nothing but a mere commentator. With incredible poise, IFC Yipes handed FChamp a humiliating 3-0 defeat and set the habitually cool West Coast crowd on fire. Not content with one stunning upset, Yipes demonstrated his deep mastery of the game when he picked an unusual point Weskser team against Nemo. Both players fought tenaciously, but Yipes' Wesker proved too crafty for Nemo in the deciding game as the Japanese contender suffered his first loss of the tournament. The Winner's Bracket match between Chris G and Justin Wong was yet another thrilling chapter in their now-storied rivalry. Wong made a painful error in the third game that cost him the lead, but quickly rebounded and brought the series to a final game that concluded with a truly heart-stopping finale. But there was no respite for Justin Wong following his soul-draining defeat by Chris G, as Wong was required to fight Filipino Champ immediately afterwards. Not even the great Justin Wong is immune from such crippling swings of fortune, and he was easily eliminated by FChamp in a clean sweep. In Winner's Finals, IFC Yipes' runaway train of hype was stolidly derailed by Chris G. Still unable to relinquish his winning strategy from Summer Jam, Yipes once again entrusted victory to his beloved "Sparda Bros." team. Despite a clutch comeback with Magneto in Game 1, Yipes could no longer contend with a confident and battle-hardened Chris G.

After many months of waiting and boasting, Filipino Champ finally earned his coveted rematch with Nemo. Although their much discussed money match had yet to materialize, FChamp was clearly looking for redemption on the world stage at Capcom Cup. Nemo squandered promising opportunities to win the first two games, but battled back with clean precision to equalize the score. The final game was FChamp's only dominant victory in the set, but that was enough for him to celebrate Nemo's elimination and bask in a smattering of tepid applause. Next for FChamp was his fateful runback with Yipes in Loser's Finals. Unlike their first encounter, both players fought at peak capacity. With the series tied 2-2, FChamp's Dark Phoenix was running amok in the final game. Only Yipes' impeccable defense and calm containment allowed him to prevail in the end. Despite their volatile love/hate relationship, Yipes proved himself both the better player and the better winner. Unfortunately, just like Wong's EVO upset, Yipes' miraculous journey to Grand Finals ended in dreary disappointment. The unstoppable Chris G rudely denied any fairy tale ending by easily dispatching Yipes 3-1. Even worse, the perfunctory "Clash of the Champions" exhibition between Chris G and Flocker generated all the joy and excitement of an impromptu funeral. Still, there was at least one more intriguing Marvel exhibition planned that evening, but it wouldn't be found anywhere near the Capcom Cup stage.

Despite his well-promoted desire for a lengthy rematch, Filipino Champ finally declined Nemo's invitation for a high-stakes money match. Therefore, Nemo could only fulfill his second and far less satisfying option of challenging Fanatiq. However, there were a number of unprecedented circumstances that made this proposition even less appealing. First of all, Fanatiq showed up with about half of the money they agreed upon. Secondly, it wasn't even cash — just some paycheck and a promise to send the money via Paypal. Lastly, Fanatiq refused to have the match streamed or even recorded. Any one of these inane conditions would have likely earned Fanatiq a cold beating in a different time or with a different crowd. Thankfully, there were some honorable members of the American FGC present who explained the situation, apologized, and guaranteed the money out of their own pockets. To Nemo's credit, he carried on with the money match and viciously spanked Fanatiq 20-5 while thousands of eager fans could only read the updates via Twitter. Nemo then fought Fanatiq's teammate Knives and defeated him almost as badly. Once again, it seemed that no one could vanquish Nemo when their own money was on the line. Fanatiq was not only beaten and disgraced, he had officially lost his title as the #1 Marvel hustler.

Just one day before Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was featured prominently at the inaugural Capcom Cup, Capcom announced that Marvel 3 and its DLC would no longer be sold or supported by the company. The license agreement that Capcom had signed with Marvel Comics several years earlier was about to expire, and neither company (Marvel especially) seemed willing to negotiate an extension. By now the highly successful "Marvel Cinematic Universe" was in full swing, and even though Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was specifically designed to promote those films and characters, Marvel now had other plans. The "Marvel Gaming Universe" was a sweeping initiative that sought to carefully synchronize the development and distribution of games only when they served a specific marketing objective, like promoting a blockbuster Marvel movie. Gone were beloved characters like the X-Men that Marvel had partially licensed to 20th Century Fox, and gone were "general purpose" games that celebrated Marvel's expansive comic universes like Marvel vs. Capcom. All this meant that Capcom had no remaining incentive to promote or even acknowledge Marvel vs. Capcom 3, despite its persistent success. It was the beginning of the end for Marvel 3. With no updates, sponsorships, or official support, Marvel 3 would soon lose its trademark status as the most dynamic and entertaining game in the FGC.

On December 23rd, 2013, the Marvel community was marred by a genuine and shocking tragedy. Nelson "Remix" Reyes died suddenly of an epileptic seizure at the age of 28. A popular fixture of the Marvel scene going back to the Marvel 2 days, Remix brought immense joy to those around him with his playful smack talk and infectious passion for competition. In a show of incredible generosity and solidarity, the FGC banded together to honor Remix's legacy by raising over $15,000 to cover his funeral expenses. This wasn't the first time the community rallied around one of their own, and it wouldn't be the last. Whatever good or ill can be said about the fighting game community, there's no denying that it's a genuine community. The Marvel scene is merely a part of that community, but it's a beloved part filled with beloved people, and when life hits you with unblockable mixups, that feeling of love is truly what matters most.