2016

2016 - YEAR OF THE GHOST DOG

After five years of enthralling events and many impressive champions, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was finally declared "dead" by the greater part of the fighting game community. Following the highly-anticipated release of Street Fighter V, Marvel 3 was expected to linger on in some decaying form before slowly fading away into the dusty corners of major tournaments. Throughout the year, Marvel 3 was often pushed off the primary streams, out of the prime time slots, or even dropped entirely from the lineup. This was especially insulting considering the Marvel community had played a significant role in building the reputation and success of these tournaments over the past decade and a half. But like an immortal hellhound that forever haunts its final territory, the Marvel community refused to roll over for those who only cared about newer developments. When esports outlets failed to properly cover the Marvel tournament scene, the community produced their own articles and podcasts. When established tournaments refused to feature Marvel prominently (or at all), the community banded together to influence positive changes and further developed their own Marvel-centric events. This indomitable spirit of passion and cooperation sustained the competitive scene until the end of the year when Marvel vs. Capcom was miraculously revived with the promise of infinite possibilities.

Kicking off the year in fighting games was Kumite in Tennessee 2016. Many elite Marvel players from across the USA arrived in force, but this time it was the dedicated challengers from the heartland who truly brought the pain. Top contenders like Flux, RayRay, and Full Schedule were all eliminated before Top 8 by some of the most ruthless assassins to roam the Midwest. RayRay was sent to the Loser's Bracket early on by Static Alpha and swiftly eliminated 3-0 by a hyper charging star named Jesse. Full Schedule was shut out by the nutty Nova player Leon Ultimate and then quickly swept away by Jesse's slashing shield of freedom. Also, the Indiana wunderkind Dual Kevin made it past the likes of IFC Yipes and Terry Bogard to qualify for the Winner's Side of Top 8. While putting these novel results into perspective, the Midwest Marvel evangelist EliTheCurry channeled the spirit of Don King to laud the emergence of his long-neglected region. The thrilling upsets continued into Top 8 where Cloud805 narrowly edged out Chris G but still lost to Dual Kevin in Winner's Finals 3-2. On the prior evening, Chris G fought an exhibition with Terry Bogard that he surprisingly lost 7-4. But as it often happens, this result was reversed when these two players met again in the subsequent tournament. Chris G eliminated Terry Bogard 3-2 and ended the match with a rare display of anxious satisfaction. In Loser's Finals, Cloud805 strived to avoid a similar recompense during his rematch with Chris G, but not even a masterful Dante turnaround in Game 2 could deter Chris G from his decisive 3-1 victory. For the first time since bursting onto the national stage, Dual Kevin sat in the Winner's Side of Grand Finals with a ripe opportunity to take his first major Marvel 3 tournament. Unfortunately for the ambitious newcomer, his final opponent was the professional dream-crusher himself, Chris G. As he had numerous times before, Chris G bulldozed his way through Grand Finals in six straight games of utter dominance, leaving Dual Kevin dumbfounded and searching for answers.

The following week, Dual Kevin found himself in a similar situation at Frosty Faustings 8 in Chicago, Illinois. This burgeoning regional tournament featured a handful of Marvel notables, but Dual Kevin stayed ahead of the pack by defeating Flux 3-2 in Winner's Finals. With all the devoted Marvel contenders in attendance, it seemed unlikely that some foolhardy bolide from the past could can-can his way through Top 8. However, that's exactly what happened when a well-known jokester from the Norcal anime fighters scene reluctantly entered Marvel. GC Yoshi was one of the many relapsed Marvel players who attended Frosty Faustings to compete in the headlining Guilty Gear Xrd tournament. Much to his dismay, Yoshi was eliminated from Guilty Gear before Top 8, but continued to find unexpected (perhaps even unwanted) success in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. After falling into the Loser's Bracket early on, Yoshi piloted his scrappy team of hard-hitting brawlers past several tough contenders and straight into Loser's Finals. His hard-booted exploits launched a wave of imitators who rejoiced when Yoshi finally kicked Flux to the curb 3-2. The Grand Finals match between CG Yoshi and Dual Kevin was an explosive shootout of high-caliber zoning that occasionally devolved into an outrageous slugfest. In Game 3, Yoshi performed nine raw launches with Sentinel in the span of 20 seconds. Hilariously, if he had done just one more he would have won the game. This brazen contempt for boring risk-aversion rattled the very deliberate Dual Kevin and allowed Yoshi to seize the first set 3-2. In the final set, Dual Kevin found himself down 2-1 and dangerously close to losing his second consecutive tournament from Grand Finals. Left with nothing but his modest anchor Hawkeye, Dual Kevin landed a clutch double bullseye that allowed him to narrowly stave off elimination. This taut scenario played out a second time in the deciding game, and Dual Kevin's Hawkeye once again found the winning mark. Although GC Yoshi failed to land his best (and perhaps only) shot at winning a Marvel 3 championship, at least he could return home knowing that his years of stubbornly sticking with Marvel 3 had, in the end, almost paid off.

In late January, it was announced that Kane Blueriver and Filipino Champ would finally square off in a feature exhibition at the forthcoming Winter Brawl X tournament. Just a few days later, Kane Blueriver posted a rather dismal 4th Place finish at the Chilean fighting game tournament VGM TEC 2016, losing to J2Jin from Peru and a fellow Chilean player named Moise. Kane then appeared on a fighting game talk show for Dot Esports called Best of III where he continued to incite further controversy. While responding to some rather tepid call-in questions, Kane took the opportunity to play devil's advocate against the FGC's patron saint, Daigo "The Beast" Umehara. He began by discounting Daigo's much-lauded donation of his 2nd Place prize from Capcom Cup 2015 back into the fighting game community, calling it a "PR move" and a secret "investment in the long term." He further opined, "I think Daigo never went through the part of actually being a bad player and having to ... work [his] way up ... because of how I feel he's a natural.". Amusingly, Daigo's officially licensed biography tells a very different story. Things hit closer to home when Kane insisted that he fights only for himself, not for Chile and not his local fighting game scene for whom Kane had few kind words. The final "question" of the evening arrived courtesy of Filipino Champ who smugly introduced himself as "KBR's daddy." Like something out of a vintage pro wrestling promo, FChamp alleged that Kane had no intention of winning their upcoming exhibition and deceitfully accepted the challenge in order to score a free plane ticket to the USA. Rather than play into his prescribed role as the babyface champion, Kane only gave a stilted, passive-aggressive dismissal of FChamp without directly disputing any of his accusations.

Kane Blueriver traveled to the USA in late February, taking a quick detour from his East Coast destination to attend Undefeated 2016 in Tempe, Arizona. This Marvel-focused event, organized by members of the Southwest fighting game scene, grew leaps and bounds from the previous year, both in production value and attendance. Kane Blueriver failed to inspire much confidence among his dwindling supporters when he drowned in pools at this highly-stacked event, although Kane wasn't the only top player to be upset so early. Cloud805 provided one of the highlights of the tournament when he fought the lawfully good sorcery of IHeartJustice in pools. Hailing from Las Vegas and staying true to his band of bootleg Avengers, IHeartJustice became an instant crowd favorite. Although his hard-hitting Captain America inspired some playful patriotism, the strongest advocate for Justice was undoubtedly his Phoenix Wright (a bumbling lawyer who presents evidence in order to power up in a similar fashion to the other, far better Phoenix character). Although Phoenix Wright is rarely played competitively, his quirky design and dramatic super moves make him one of the most entertaining characters in the game. In Game 4, IHeartJustice literally threw Cloud805's anchor Dante in the slammer as punishment for all the games he'd stolen back over the previous years. The deciding game concluded with an anchor vs. anchor showdown that had the audience screaming like a pack of wild hyenas. With one magic pixel remaining on his Dr. Strange, IHeartJustice marvelously converted one stray hit into a fantastic, crowd-pleasing victory.

In the Winner's Side of Top 8, Dual Kevin sought to rectify his abject defeat at KIT 2016 by assailing Chris G with various slings and arrows. This time, Dual Kevin put his anchor Hawkeye on point in order to pierce Morrigan's interwoven wall of projectiles. Though there were flashes of brilliance from Dual Kevin, Chris G emerged mostly unscathed and captured the series 3-1. In Winner's Finals, Chris G collided with yet another rising star in the Marvel scene named RyanLV. The unexpected linchpin of Ryan's unusual team is the high-kicking, street fighting icon Chun Li. For years, Chun Li was considered one of the worst characters in the game due to her pitiful damage and paltry health. However, her evasive maneuvering is second to none, and it's this singular quality that makes her surprisingly useful. While Chun Li jumps into the air and stays there for what seems like an eternity, Ryan calls Morrigan's meter building assist and quickly generates sufficient resources for his anchor Phoenix. It's a strategy that was first pioneered by Filipino Champ years before. But although Dormammu is a better character than Chun Li, he's also far easier to keep grounded. Also, while Chun Li is normally quite tame, she quickly becomes terrifying as an X-Factor anchor as Chris G soon discovered when he lost the match in dizzying fashion 3-1. When Chris G returned for Grand Finals, he had to make urgent adjustments in order to disrupt RyanLV's elusive game plan. With the series tied 2-2, RyanLV's anchor Phoenix positioned herself for what appeared to be a guaranteed checkmate. Down to his final character with mere seconds remaining, Chris G did his best to steer clear of Phoenix's dying wrath. By the end, Chris G narrowly emerged victorious and spectacularly reset the bracket. Being so painfully close to winning it all clearly took its toll on RyanLV. Despite an oddly impressive Phoenix comeback in Game 3 of the final set, RyanLV couldn't regain his composure against Chris G, who closed out the tournament with one last bit of fast-thinking genius.

After much hype and anticipation, Winter Brawl X finally arrived at the end of February in Essington, Pennsylvania. A few hours before his feature exhibition with Kane Blueriver, Filipino Champ had a close encounter with Cosmos in the Winner's Side of the Marvel 3 tournament. Perhaps inspired by RyanLV's recent success, FChamp resurrected his runaway Dormammu team and narrowly prevailed over Cosmos 3-2. FChamp then went absolutely berserk, snapping his provided headphones, pushing himself into Cosmos, hollering, taunting, and gloating all the while. Buried deep in the crowd of spectators, Kane Blueriver looked upon this violent spectacle with a stern expression before turning away and shaking his head in disgust. Riding high off his invigorating victory, FChamp triumphantly tweeted that he would never retire from Marvel vs. Capcom 3.

Later that evening, Kane Blueriver and Filipino Champ met face to face in an epic grudge match bankrolled by the FGC's resident shock jock and unlovable curmudgeon, JamesMK. Hostilities arose even before the first game of their tumultuous race to 15 wins. FChamp began by goading Kane to pick his team and start the match immediately, even though the production crew were still getting ready. After everything was settled, FChamp waved away Kane's pre-match handshake and went straight into his spiteful antics. Right out of the gate, FChamp began teabagging and arrogantly repelling Kane Blueriver. But FChamp's rancorous behavior wouldn't be confined to the digital battlefield. After winning the first game, FChamp began cackling derisively, then shouted at Kane Blueriver, "You are free!" Despite suffering a withering volley of abuse, Kane Blueriver sat stone-faced with eyes fixed on the screen in front of him. However, Kane's frigid demeanor masked an inner turmoil as he repeatedly dropped his well-practiced combos. After going up 3-0, FChamp continued denigrating Kane by pointing at his face and insisting, "This is my game. You understand? I am a champion. You are not a champion." Kane needed something to counteract FChamp's obnoxious dominance and quickly resorted to his backup plan by fielding PR Balrog's Wolverine team. Despite his previous success with this lineup, Kane continued playing pitifully. In fact, FChamp was so unafraid of Kane's anchor Vergil that he actually kept him alive, like a cruel predator toying with its helpless prey. But the savagery didn't end there. Following his fourth consecutive win, FChamp grabbed a nearby microphone and screamed in Kane's face, "This is my game!" Kane Blueriver barely moved a muscle in response. After losing three games straight with Team PR Balrog, Kane switched to BeeBall's team that recently upended FChamp at Canada Cup 2015. But FChamp refused to grant Kane a similar satisfaction and forfeited the game to vulgarly provide Kane's first victory of the match. FChamp clarified his actions with words that were insincere yet truthful, "This is my charity." But Kane saw no benefit from FChamp's benevolence and continued stumbling throughout the next two games.

Down 8-1 and yet to find his footing, Kane continued his Shang Tsung strategy of mimicking every player who'd bested FChamp in the recent past. His next raw facsimile took the form of Team Clockwork, a choice so dubious that the commentators didn't even bother to call the play by play. Humorously, Kane piloted this team rather well, earning his first legitimate win of the match. FChamp cheered sarcastically for Kane and slapped him on the back in an overly familiar manner. Were this done to someone else, there might have been a fist shattering FChamp's big, fake smile. Fortunately, Kane kept his cool and parried FChamp's backhanded praise. In return, FChamp conceded yet another game, but Kane replied with another victory that set the score at 9-4. It wasn't long before Kane switched teams again, trying out a Firebrand squad similar to Apologyman's. After three straight losses, Kane finally returned to his signature lineup to salvage what he could from this demoralizing contest. Losing 13-4, Kane trapped FChamp in the corner and forced out an early X-Factor. FChamp immediately gave up the game, but unlike his previous "gifts" to Kane Blueriver, this was a tactical surrender aimed at discrediting an all but certain loss. However, this ruse had no effect on Kane's momentum. After spending most of the match blundering about with unfamiliar teams, Kane suddenly rebounded to win six consecutive games. At 13-10, FChamp was tired of playing around and finally ended this awkward calamity by picking up the final two games. In contrast to his earlier bluster, FChamp took no satisfaction in his 15-10 victory. In fact, neither competitor walked away looking favorably, and the absence of any clear resolution left a void that sucked the air right out of the venue. There were some hopeful chants for Cosmos to rumble with FChamp, but unlike previous East Coast exhibitions, there would be no hidden challenger to redeem this rotten ordeal.

The next evening, both Filipino Champ and Kane Blueriver appeared in the Top 8 of the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 tournament. By pure coincidence, Kane had to fight a succession of top Phoenix players, beginning with his 3-1 victory over FChamp's East Coast imitator, Prodigy. When Kane and FChamp collided again in Winner's Finals, there was little surprise when FChamp continued his previous domination by taking the series 3-1. In Loser's Finals, Kane demonstrated his considerable anti-Phoenix expertise while fighting the notorious Noel Brown. At the end of Game 2, down to nothing but a pixel on his anchor Haggar, Kane survived a perilous trial by fire with such graceful perfection that even Filipino Champ couldn't deny the hype. After sweeping Noel Brown 3-0, Kane arrived in the Loser's Side of Grand Finals to undertake his final encounter with Filipino Champ that weekend. There suddenly emerged a stark contrast in FChamp's disposition compared to the previous evening. This was barely noticeable during the Winner's Finals match, but now it was unmistakable. Perhaps Kane had finally proven himself to be a worthy adversary during his run-in with Noel Brown. Or perhaps FChamp realized that after all his obscene boasting he had nothing to gain and everything to lose from this dramatic finale. Whatever the cause, FChamp was already flustered from the outset, as evidenced by a desperation Gravity Squeeze attempt on Kane's X-Factor Sentinel. In the following game, Kane executed a masterful lockdown of Dark Phoenix that put him ahead in the set 2-0. FChamp steadied himself enough to win the next two games and appeared confident that he would once again prevail over Kane Blueriver. But Kane wasn't about to disappoint himself and all the fervent spectators hungering for an upset.

After resetting the bracket in Grand Finals, Kane had finally earned FChamp's reluctant respect. Unlike their lopsided exhibition, there were no more contemptuous repulsions of Kane Blueriver's Haggar. FChamp even admitted to the commentators that containing Kane Blueriver was proving far more difficult than before. The pivotal moment of the series occurred in Game 2 when FChamp spent a super meter to kill off Kane's Haggar. The only way Kane could punish this calculated risk was to immediately snap in Phoenix and kill her before she gained back the fifth meter. With only his Sentinel remaining, Kane managed to pull off this difficult maneuver] and equalized the score at 1-1. [The following game was an absolute blowout for Kane Blueriver who was now just one game away from defeating Filipino Champ. The crowd grew louder and rowdier for this monumental upset in the making. Giving a voice to the silent spectators watching from around the world, IFC Yipes summed up this moment perfectly when he proclaimed, "This is not what you call revenge. This is what you call justice." Eager to avoid tasting his just deserts, FChamp employed an unusual yet subtle strategy by picking the rarely seen Asgard stage as the next battleground. Stages rarely have much importance in competitive play since the Marvel 3 community only uses a handful of them that are all similarly barren. The reasoning for this is that many stages feature elaborate spectacles that cause slowdown and can be visually distracting in a game that's already difficult to follow. FChamp knew that his best chance to disrupt Kane's steady setplay was to introduce some element of randomness and try to prevail during the scrambles. It was a surprising stunt for someone who usually attempts to control every variable, but the gamble paid off for FChamp, who barely survived to reach the fifth and final game of the series. In a final act of desperation, FChamp attempted to placate Kane with seemingly humble nods of approval, but Kane was in no mood to be merciful.

Going into the final game, Kane possessed the same firm serenity that he had in the Grand Finals at EVO. As the two bitter rivals readied for battle, IFC Yipes boldly declared, "This will restore order to this world.". FChamp likely sensed that another humiliating retribution was at hand, and Kane exploited this fear by rushing him down from the very start of the final game. Alone and desperate to escape, FChamp's Phoenix was clipped by a Sentinel drone and killed before she had enough meter to revive. With no hint of tension or malice, Kane Blueriver calmly shook FChamp's hand and became the true Marvel 3 champion of Winter Brawl X. FChamp could only look around in disbelief exclaiming "Wow!" as players stormed the stage to celebrate the heroic victory of Kane Blueriver. Like a living soundtrack, Yipes burst into a soaring rendition of "We Are the World" and soon joined his East Coast brethren in relishing FChamp's rightful comeuppance. Unlike his previous victory, Kane was actually given the microphone after receiving his Winter Brawl trophy. In a brief and humble speech, Kane thanked all of his supporters and reaffirmed his ambition to become a better fighting gamer. Seizing his last opportunity for redemption, FChamp grabbed the microphone and gave his best mea culpa over a barrage of boos and jeers. "Congratulations to KBR. What a true sport. He was definitely a better man yesterday and a better player today." Never before had the vainglorious Filipino Champ been so thoroughly humbled. Despite Street Fighter V's rousing debut at Winter Brawl X, tales of Marvel 3's incredible hype and superheroic storyline dominated media coverage of the event, even among general esports publications. Just when Marvel 3 was expected to shuffle off its mortal coil, the Marvel community instead put on the most thrilling show imaginable.

Just one day after promising he'd never retire from Marvel, Filipino Champ announced his retirement from Marvel for the second time in less than a year. Apparently, his embarrassing defeat at Winter Brawl X meant that Marvel wasn't FChamp's game anymore. Final Round XIX arrived a few weeks later in Atlanta, Georgia and brought about a number of interesting occurrences. True to his word, FChamp declined to compete in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 for the first time in his long and illustrious career. However, in a strange coincidence, the elusive Justin Wong simultaneously came out of retirement to enter his first Marvel 3 tournament since EVO 2015. But the odd twists didn't stop there. After drowning in pools at Undefeated and winning big at Winter Brawl, Kane Blueriver went full circle by drowning in pools again at Final Round. Chris G was again taken down in the early rounds by PZPoy 3-0, but toughed it out to make Top 8 where he continued shooting down Dual Kevin 3-1. The Midwest seismo Static Alpha had the best showing of his career, losing only to Justin Wong and Chris G en route to his impressive 3rd Place finish. In Grand Finals, Justin Wong's "Storm First" strategy that thwarted Chris G for so long was finally beginning to look obsolete. After losing the first set 3-1, Wong unveiled the next terrifying incarnation of his team by discarding Wolverine for an equally-ferocious point Vergil. Wong's reckless sword-wielding blurred the line between incompetence and genius, but it was just good enough to confound Chris G and run away with the final set 3-1.

The following week, Norcal Regionals 2016 revealed the latest chapter of Killer Kai's shirtless odyssey when he battled Apologyman in the Loser's Side of Top 8. Down 2-0 and facing certain elimination, Killer Kai fought back with bare-chested aggression, winning three incredible games and proving once and for all that success in Marvel 3 is as much about muscle power as it is brain power. In Winner's Finals, there were a few false starts between Chris G and Justin Wong on account of some defective controllers. Once all the kinks were ironed out, Chris G finally got a handle on Wong's wild Vergil and settled the series 3-1. When these two met again in Grand Finals, Wong returned to a more evasive style that allowed him to reset the bracket 3-1. The second set of Grand Finals went down to the very wire, with both players performing at the top of their game. Ultimately, Chris G's superb defense prevailed in the deciding game and earned him a second Norcal Regionals championship. After skipping out on NCR 2016, Kane Blueriver's rollercoaster season continued at West Coast Warzone 5 in mid-April. Justin Wong resumed his quasi-retirement by entering and then dropping out of the Marvel 3 tournament. Despite leading 2-0, Chris G was sent to the Loser's Bracket early on by the lusciously haired Peruvian J2Jin. In Top 8, Chris G ran an impressive gauntlet that included SBK, Paradigm, Clockwork, and Killer Kai before squaring off with Kane Blueriver in Grand Finals. In defiance of the customary double shutout, Kane Blueriver quickly triumphed 3-0, trouncing Chris G with more dominance than he'd ever suffered in a Grand Finals match.

Northwest Majors 8 took place at the end of April in Des Moines, Washington and granted two of Kane Blueriver's harshest detractors their long-awaited chance at vindication. In the Winner's Side of Top 8, Kane Blueriver had little difficulty pummeling Flux 3-1. Although Flux couldn't actualize his imagined superiority, at least he was able to live out part of his elaborate revenge fantasy by not shaking Kane Blueriver's hand. Winner's Finals suitably provided the first runback between RayRay and Kane Blueriver since EVO 2015. Fortunately for Kane, RayRay's boundless generosity continued well beyond EVO when he "allowed" Kane to quickly sweep the series 3-0. RayRay made his charity look even more convincing in Grand Finals by "letting" Kane win with a more realistic score of 3-2. With Filipino Champ still watching from the sidelines, no one could stop Kane Blueriver from clutching his first Northwest Majors trophy after three years of achingly close finishes. Not only had Kane Blueriver fully legitimized his EVO victory, he also won three out of the last four major tournaments he attended, making him the most consistent and accomplished Marvel 3 player of the year.

The same weekend as Northwest Majors 8, Angelic and Clockwork became the first Americans to compete in Japan's premiere Marvel 3 tournament at KVO 2016. In Winner's Finals, Clockwork had a fateful rematch with Cross, the Japanese player who eliminated him from EVO 2015 in 9th Place. Cross' home-field advantage skewed the result even further in his favor with a 3-1 victory over Clockwork. Next, the two foreign compatriots were pitted against one other for a cutthroat elimination match in Loser's Finals. After dropping the first two games, Clockwork rallied three games straight to steal back the series over Angelic. In Grand Finals, Clockwork got the drop on Cross by putting Strider on point and sliced his way to 3-1 reset. However, Cross soon readjusted and proceeded to shutout Clockwork in the last set of Grand Finals. This result, taken along with his 5th Place finish at EVO, established Cross as the new top Marvel contender in Japan. While newer devotees like RF and Takumi continued placing well at this event, prior Marvel trailblazers like Nemo skipped out on KVO entirely.

In the middle of May, Canada Cup Vancouver Series brought together Justin Wong, Kane Blueriver, and BeeBall as part of a Pan-American Marvel exhibition featuring long sets between all three distinguished champions. However, it was an up-and-coming Seattle player named Jibrill who surprisingly stole the spotlight in the preceding Marvel tournament. It began when Jibrill sent Justin Wong to the Loser's Bracket in the early rounds with his expert command of the team "Zero May Cry." In Winner's Finals, Kane Blueriver continued to struggle against any and all Zero players and was dismantled by Jibrill 3-0. When Kane returned for Grand Finals, he attempted to thwart Jibrill by fielding alternate teams. But this desperate experiment only accelerated the carnage and condemned Kane to his second shutout in a row. The feature exhibitions that followed unflinchingly exposed a new disparity of power between all three accomplished players. The most entertaining of these of was probably Justin Wong vs. BeeBall that featured a surprisingly effective switch from Frank West to Magneto by the Canadian challenger. However, this change-up wasn't enough for BeeBall to escape his 15-9 defeat at the hands of Justin Wong. Things went considerably worse when BeeBall fought Kane Blueriver and the hometown hero was brutally obliterated 15-4. The final, marquee matchup between Justin Wong and Kane Blueriver finally settled any lingering doubts about Kane's position among the remaining Marvel 3 masters. After humiliating Filipino Champ at Winter Brawl and dominating Chris G at West Coast Warzone, Kane Blueriver cleanly outplayed and outwitted Justin Wong, earning himself a decisive 15-10 victory. The following week at Toryuken 5 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, FChamp serendipitously came out of retirement after Justin Wong bowed out of the Marvel 3 tournament. FChamp looked somewhat rusty when he lost to Flux 3-1 in the Winner's Side of Top 16. But by the time he ran it back with Flux in Loser's Finals, FChamp was properly firing on all cylinders and quickly swept the match 3-0. This familiar momentum reinvigorated FChamp enough to easily defeat RayRay in both sets of Grand Finals and take down his first Marvel tournament in over half a year.

Combo Breaker 2016 returned to Chicago, Illinois at the end of May and offered the ultimate proving ground for the next generation of Marvel contenders. The high-flying fireball RyanLV continued trading shots with rival Morrigan players and decked Terry Bogard 3-1 in the Winner's Side of Top 8. Also in Winner's Bracket, Dual Kevin put his year of exceptional progress on full display by shutting out the perennial legend Justin Wong. Down in Loser's Bracket, Wong had his Canada Cup runback against the feisty Zero player Jibrill. In the fifth and final game, Wong proved that he still possessed his Marvel mojo by orchestrating a classic Akuma comeback] capped off [with a rarely-seen Raging Demon finish. Unfortunately, this spectacular feat cost every meter of his fabled "Wong Factor" and there was nothing left to prevent Wong's 3-1 defeat at the hands of Terry Bogard. In Winner's Finals, RyanLV stomped Dual Kevin 3-0, sending the Midwest's final hope down to Loser's Finals where he was surgically dissected by Terry Bogard 3-1. When RyanLV and Terry Bogard faced off again in Grand Finals, it appeared like it a repeat of their prior encounter. RyanLV charged ahead to an early two game lead, but quickly struggled to close out a third victory. Things began to unravel in Game 3 when RyanLV strangely sacrificed his anchor Phoenix (either by accident or terrible judgement). In Game 4, Bogard needed no help killing RyanLV's Phoenix after landing a beautiful, meter-stealing combo with Morrigan. However, it was Game 5 where things really went off the rails for RyanLV. After building over four meters for his anchor Phoenix, RyanLV wasted three of them on a flubbed Morrigan input. Amazingly, he was able to recover and made a snap decision to kill Bogard's Strider rather than save the meter and rely on his X-Factorless Dark Phoenix. This bold gamble left Bogard with nothing but a pixel on his anchor Morrigan, but a reckless charge by RyanLV sealed Phoenix's fate, allowing Bogard's Morrigan to easily clean up the final game. This dramatic deterioration in the first set of Grand Finals was eerily reminiscent of RyanLV's gut-wrenching failure against Chris G at Undefeated.

Whatever was going through RyanLV's mind before the last set of Grand Finals, it wasn't eased when Bogard landed yet another Soul Drain combo to steal away Game 1. After winning Game 2, RyanLV was in a favorable position to secure Game 3 by nailing an infinite combo on Bogard's penultimate character. However, one savvy commentator predicted how this plan might backfire, and that tragic scenario came true when RyanLV failed to finish off Bogard's anchor Strider. Rather than kill Phoenix only to have her revive, Bogard deactivated his Ouroboros orbs after gaining the life lead and deftly avoided taking damage in the final, frantic seconds. Despite this disheartening loss, RyanLV came back strong in Game 4 and took the final set all the way to the deciding game. Game 5 was ultimately determined early on by another questionable decision by RyanLV. After gaining four meters with Chun Li, RyanLV spent two of them swapping in Morrigan. Although Bogard's Morrigan was eventually withered away as a result, this left RyanLV's anchor Phoenix starved of resources and susceptible to dying prematurely. This grave miscalculation allowed Bogard to run roughshod over RyanLV's remaining team and finally clinch his very first major Marvel 3 championship.

At the end of June, Community Effort Orlando 2016 brought out an eclectic mix of old and new faces for Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Filipino Champ had trouble in pool play when he encountered Ranmasama and thought it wise to fool around with Ghost Rider (a hot mess of a character that had previously been his undoing). After trailing 2-1, FChamp finally returned to his other hot-headed fighter, yet he still managed to lose to someone with supposedly irrelevant opinions. Years of taunting his way to the top finally caught up with FChamp when he was eliminated in Top 16 by the Floridian ninja Marvelo. But just when one Marvel master fell, another one shockingly rose again from the underworld. After a lengthy hiatus, zoopmeister general Flocker made a dramatic return to the Marvel scene, putting Kane Blueriver to the ultimate test in Winner's Finals. As a former EVO champion and Zero player par excellence, Flocker was an especially challenging foe for Kane Blueriver. Despite losing the first two games, Kane never retreated to his alternate teams as he often did against other commanding Zero players. This renewed confidence paid off handsomely for Kane when he turned the tables on Flocker by sweeping all three remaining games. In Loser's Final, Flocker defeated the previous CEO champion Full Schedule just as he'd done earlier in the Winner's Side of Top 8. Grand Finals was yet another seesaw battle between Flocker and Kane Blueriver, but Kane once again proved his preeminence by taking the set 3-2 and winning his fourth major Marvel tournament of the season. Two weeks prior to EVO, the Socal Marvel 3 community organized their own high-rollers tournament called Pasadena Regionals 2016. In Winner's Finals, Chris G duked it out with his old rival Filipino Champ who boldly shifted to one of his meter-building Phoenix teams in Game 2. However, FChamp's absurd implosion in the third and final game left him facepalming after being officially labeled a Marvel fraud. FChamp returned to his stable Magneto / Doom / Phoenix lineup in Grand Finals, but it wasn't enough to rescue him from yet another classic shutout courtesy of Chris G.

The Evolution “Chamionship” Series boldly ascended to the next level of esports entertainment in 2016. For the first year since EVO established itself in Las Vegas, there would be no more cramped ballrooms bursting at the seams with raw, melding humanity. Instead, the first two days of EVO 2016 were held at the spacious Las Vegas Convention Center while the final day was played out on the grand stage of the Mandalay Bay sports arena. Also, it was announced that the Street Fighter V Grand Finals would be simulcast live on both twitch.tv and ESPN 2. Finally, against all odds, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 not only returned to EVO 2016 but also earned one of the five coveted spots in the Sunday lineup at Mandalay Bay. This extraordinary boon for the Marvel community spurred everyone to give it their all in the hopes of winning what most assumed was Marvel 3's last and most spectacular championship. Similar to the previous year, there were some incredible Marvel 3 matches played off-stream. Thankfully, this wasn't the result of poor planning, but rather an unavoidable consequence of such tightly condensed Marvel talent. The Texas grappler Jan sent Nemo to the Loser's Bracket early on in pools. When Nemo faced off against Jan a second time, he had already gained himself a one-man cheering section. Up 2-1, Nemo attempted to chip out Jan's anchor Shuma in a scenario reminiscent of his match against FChamp at West Coast Warzone 4. But Shuma survived with a sliver of life and eked out a close victory to equalize the series 2-2. The deciding game featured a rarely seen "happy birthday" raw tag combo which instantly turned the match on its head, allowing Nemo to narrowly prevail 3-2. Also in pool play, the headstrong rabble-rouser IHeartJustice took on the meticulous tactician Coach Steve. In Game 2, IHeartJustice either baited or blundered his way into getting his point across to both of Coach Steve's remaining characters. However, things got truly intense in Game 5 when back to back double kills left both players with only their respective anchors remaining. With Coach Steve's Dr. Doom withered to nothing but a pixel, the raucous crowd began cheering for Justice's Captain America to carry the day. One soaring air grab later, and Dr. Doom was finally taken down to the delight of all who love Truth, Justice, and the American way.

Fortunately for the viewers at home, most every important match in Top 32 was put on stream, beginning with Kane Blueriver's epic showdown with Jibrill. After being demoralized by Jibrill at Canada Cup Vancouver, Kane looked outclassed once again and quickly lost the first two games of his Winner's Bracket match. But Kane dug deep within himself, as he had before against other rivals, and clutched out a crucial Haggar comeback in Game 3. Following a decisive win in Game 4, Kane took a moment to meditate as he had at EVO 2015 during his pivotal match against Justin Wong. This brief respite served Kane well, allowing him to crush Jibrill in the final game and revel in the satisfaction of his well-earned victory. Two "old masters" of Marvel 3 had a nostalgic runback of their EVO 2013 Grand Finals when Flocker and Justin Wong reunited in the Winner's Side of Top 32. While leading 2-1, Flocker had Justin Wong dead and buried but a howling drop resurrected Wong's Akuma and brought about a swift reprisal on Flocker's first two characters. Flocker still held onto the lead with his anchor Hawkeye but was too terrified to press a button. Wong slowly exploited this fear by inching his way closer and then slugging Hawkeye when Flocker least expected it. This incredible failure brought about a full-on collapse by Flocker in Game 5, providing Justin Wong with yet another fortuitous victory. But Wong's good luck didn't last forever, as he was soon sent to the Loser's Bracket by Angelic 3-2.

It's doubtful that any Marvel player wanted or deserved to make Top 8 more than the game's most enduring champion, Chris G. However, Chris G's unshakable "EVO curse" was about to make its fateful appearance during his Winner's Bracket match against Joey D. The first two games went largely in Joey D's favor, but critical drops in each of those games gifted Chris G a comfortable 2-0 lead. Joey D finally managed to close out Game 3 thanks to a disgusting Vergil comeback, but soon found himself back against the ropes in the following game. Chris G's anchor Vergil appeared to have the series wrapped up but a calamitous error by Chris G allowed Joey D to steal back the game and equalize the score 2-2. Chris G was absolutely gutted and nearly on the verge of tears following this brutal reversal of fortunes. History was repeating itself again before Chris G's very eyes — an underrated Zero player, ruinous mistakes, a sizeable lead squandered. All the elements were there, and that familiar feeling of inescapable doom weighed heavily on Chris G's shoulders. Friends and supporters gave encouragement to Chris G as he sat, head in hands, brooding at the character select screen. A rousing cry of "Chris! Chris! Chris!" rippled through the crowd but was soon overtaken by competing chants from Joey D's Midwest contingent. As the camera turned to capture the frenzied mob that wrapped around these two competitors, it also revealed a beautiful panorama of passionate Marvel devotion. While other games were given large stages and dedicated viewing areas to watch their Semi-Finals, Marvel was again relegated to the far corner of the hall with nothing but a handful of spare monitors to crowd around. But rather than retreat to a more comfortable scene, Marvel watchers packed themselves five rows deep and stood on chairs for hours just to support the game they loved. This unspoken bond of loyal kinship was finally put into words with a spontaneous chant for the game itself and the community that continued to give it life. After a very long intermission, Chris G finally composed himself and was ready to fight his final game against Joey D. Things began favorably for Chris G, as he easily disposed of Joey D's first two characters, but a ferocious Vergil turnaround threatened to be Chris G's ultimate undoing. With his Dr. Doom coming in bleeding, Chris G chose to X-Factor defensively in order to see Vergil's mixup. This allowed Chris G to weather the storm and gave him time to find the hit that sealed the match in his favor. Chris G breathed a heavy sigh of relief, for it seemed that he had finally escaped the frightening clutches of his "EVO curse." However, there was still one final match remaining for Chris G to qualify for the Winner's Side of Top 8.

The young gun Dual Kevin had struggled all year long against Chris G. He changed up the order of his team and experimented with different tactics, and yet he never managed to prevail. This prolonged frustration, coupled with the heighted stakes that EVO always provides, elevated Dual Kevin's play to a pinnacle he had never reached before. Not only was Dual Kevin's clash with Chris G the best match of his brief career, it was also the best match of EVO 2016. Both competitors played intelligent, clean, magnificent Marvel, but it was Dual Kevin who played it just a little bit better. When Chris G was finally defeated 3-1, there were no tears, no slamming his stick, no complaining. This wasn't a curse, and it wasn't even Chris G's fault. Dual Kevin had simply outperformed one of greatest Marvel 3 legends and rightfully secured his spot in the Winner's Side of Top 8. As the evening began winding down, other elite Marvel competitors continued to rise and fall. Kane Blueriver once again qualified for the Winner's Side of Top 8 by steamrolling Clockwork 3-0. After losing to Paradigm earlier in the tournament, Filipino Champ was finally eliminated 3-2 by his longtime nemesis Apologyman. Clockwork tried to break his own "EVO curse" by finally making Top 8, but the future refused to change when Apologyman qualified instead by sweeping Clockwork 3-0. Chris G eventually earned his ticket to the Mandalay Bay by shutting out RyanLV, while Justin Wong rounded out Top 8 by eclipsing Jibrill 3-1.

The following day, thousands of spectators gathered in the Mandalay Bay arena to watch the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 EVO finals. This surreal extravaganza was unthinkable just a few years prior, but somehow the Marvel community had clawed its way out of poverty to reach the very pinnacle of fighting game excellence. Just like the previous year, there were several new challengers in the Marvel 3 Top 8. But there were also some genuine masters as well and only one foreign contender — the returning champion, Kane Blueriver. Kane went into EVO having fully proven himself the #1 Marvel player on the planet. By returning to Top 8 in a field of nothing but elite competition, Kane had already earned his title as one of the undisputed masters of the game. But Kane was never one to rest on his laurels and plowed through the Winner's Side of Top 8, securing his fitting position in Grand Finals by defeating Angelic 3-2. By now it seemed that Kane Blueriver was nigh-unstoppable, and the only hero who could save the USA from a repeat of last year's humiliation was one of the two remaining eternal masters. At the bottom of the Loser's Bracket, Chris G arrived on stage dressed to impress for his pivotal confrontation with Justin Wong. Whoever won this match would likely bear the burden of having to defeat Kane in both sets of Grand Finals. But Chris G had the added motivation of wanting to take home his first ever EVO championship. Down 2-1, Chris G almost fell victim to one of Justin Wong's incredible Akuma turnarounds. But a weak incoming mixup by Wong allowed Chris G to steal back the game and equalize the series 2-2. You could see Chris G's intense mixture of anxiety and desire following his slim survival. After a lengthy breather at the character select screen, Chris G went into the deciding game ready to attain victory. With his team being slowly whittled away, Wong found a grab on Chris G's Morrigan and X-Factored to guarantee the kill. Unfortunately, Morrigan spoiled this plan by living on a mere pixel, and Chris G X-Factored in return to replenish health and gain back momentum. But Wong remained undeterred and mounted an impressive comeback with his two remaining characters. As the last few seconds counted down, Wong began bombarding Chris G with chip damage in the hopes of gaining the life lead. After Storm was cut down by Chris G's Vergil, Wong's only option was to land a hit with his anchor Akuma. In a fitting redemption of his own failure at EVO 2013, Chris G timed out Wong's desperate Akuma and narrowly prevailed to keep his tournament hopes alive. Relieved and reinvigorated, Chris G soon went on a rampage through Loser's Bracket, sweeping Priest, Dual Kevin, and Angelic en route to challenge Kane Blueriver for the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 crown in Grand Finals. Game 1 began ominously for Chris G when Kane landed an unbelievable air grab on Morrigan and drew first blood in series. But Chris G was completely unfazed and handily won the next three games to reset the Grand Finals bracket. Not since 2013 had Chris G played with such suffocating dominance, and for the first time all year, Kane was unable to escape the annihilating onslaught. In three straight games, Chris G swept the final set and was so immersed in the moment that he barely realized when it was all over. The former tyrant who would have "killed" Marvel had he won EVO years ago was now the game's ultimate savior and received a heartfelt standing ovation from a joyful crowd of supporters. After many years of self-defeats and second-guesses at every EVO tournament, Chris G finally captured the only title that ever eluded him — "Evolution World Champion."

Almost instantly, Chris G was inundated with praise from admirers across the entire esports community. Journalists from the FGC and beyond were especially relieved that they no longer had to put an asterisk next to the name of the greatest Marvel vs. Capcom 3 champion. The media frenzy that descended on EVO 2016 made this long-overdue triumph bigger and crazier than Chris G could have ever imagined. Having basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton gush about Chris G and Justin Wong, calling them "some of the greatest champions that I have ever been close to," was truly a surreal achievement. However, one lone challenger refused to accept that Chris G had truly earned his EVO title. This enigmatic figure evaded the elite Mandalay Bay security team and ascended to the stage in slow, determined steps. With eyes fixed upon his destined target, he removed his vestments one by one in a meticulous ritual, like those performed by samurai assassins in preparation for their deadly business. Shirtless, wild-haired, and wielding his sacred weapon (an Xbox 360 controller), this mysterious warrior revealed himself to be the true final boss of EVO 2016. One match would determine Chris G's ultimate fate — would he win the day ... or lose his soul? Unfortunately, this climactic battle ended in a draw when the daring trespasser was escorted offstage by hotel security. This unknown eccentric was soon dubbed "The Ghost of Marvel 2" by the legion of amused spectators in the social media ether. Even after Capcom explicitly banned all forms of "thuggery" from fighting game events, the Marvel community remained like a haunting spirit, reminding the FGC of everything special that had been lost, good and ill, in the pursuit of money and legitimacy.

In late November, rumors began circulating that Marvel vs. Capcom 4 would be revealed at the PlayStation Experience event where Capcom Cup 2016 was hosted. After years of neglect and squandered opportunities, it seemed preposterous that Marvel and Capcom would collaborate again on another crossover fighting game. Even when this rumor was confirmed by Polygon, only the most faithful Marvel 3 enthusiasts believed a sequel was truly on the horizon. On December 3rd, before a massive crowd of diehard video gamers, the next chapter of the Marvel vs. Capcom franchise was officially unveiled to the world. Entitled Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, this new installment appeared to be a drastically streamlined, back-to-basics approach for the series. Gone were trademark elements like 3v3 team fighting and assist characters, replaced instead by teams of two characters augmented with "Infinity Stones" in a manner not unlike the old arcade title Marvel Super Heroes. But the good news didn't stop there. Three years after being pulled off the digital shelves, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was immediately re-released on the PlayStation 4, with ports to other systems (including PC) announced for the coming months. Marvel lovers in the audience could barely contain themselves when given this rush of incredible news. For the first time in what seemed like forever, things were actually looking bright for the Marvel vs. Capcom community.