December 12th, 2016 marks the day where SAINT (Choi Jinwoo) was crowned the King of Iron Fist. Coming first in the Evolution Championship Series 2016, being a great player and a great person, there is no one more deserving of his revered title. Once again, congratulations.
Although the King of Iron Fist Tournament Grand Final was a spectacular event, it’s already been covered to death by poorly informed “gaming” outlets and the like. However, unknown to most, there was a small bout of drama that occurred during the tournament. Hidden behind his sincere smile is a (very warranted) modicum of irritation.
Anyone who watched the tournament would know that SAINT had a bit of joystick trouble before his first match against Nobi. It delayed the start of the match a little bit, but it seems it was swept under the rug pretty well, especially since very few people know the details. I recall Aris promising to find out the specifics and report what happened. Lychee and I did explain it to him, though I’m sure he didn’t follow through. That being said, I’d argue it was something of a big deal.
Before getting into it though, some groundwork needs to be laid; Korean and Japanese players use different kinds of joysticks. A common misconception is that Korean sticks have bat-top handles and Japanese sticks have ball-top handles. While this may help distinguish between the two in most cases, it doesn’t make it seem like there’s much of a difference. Without going into too much detail, the inner workings of the two types of joysticks are very unalike, so they feel completely different. It’s significant to the point where the tournament organizers arrange staff to swap the control panels on the arcade machines during the tournament, so that Korean players can use Korean sticks and vice versa.
Since the players were free to use their native controller, the Korean arcade supplier approached their players with a proposal. They said they’ll cover the Koreans’ flights, all of their meals and accommodation, organize a tour guide, you name it. Essentially, they offered to pay for their holiday. “In exchange”, they said, “we want you to use our joysticks for the tournament.” That was all.
Of course, the arcade panels that they wanted the players to use are the ones installed in Green Arcade. While not top of the line equipment, it’s what the players use all the time and what they’re used to, so there was no reason for them to refuse the offer – their holiday was basically free! Naturally, all of them accepted. Except SAINT.
Despite living literally next door to Green Arcade, SAINT instead chooses to commute an hour to Switch Arcade to play Tekken. He has connections at that arcade and actually works with them to make joysticks, which he then uses when he plays the game. Needless to say, it’s clear how meticulous he is about arcade controllers, so it’s not so surprising that he refused the arcade suppliers’ offer.
In response to SAINT’s answer, the supplier simply cut him off with an “okay then, you’re on your own.” This is the reason he spent his entire time in Japan hanging out with Lychee, Mr. NAPS, Anakin, the Namco Sugamo players and staff and myself. When he came to Japan, we went to Namco Sugamo, where I discovered he’d brought his own parts over. After explaining the situation, the staff graciously allowed him to borrow an arcade panel and modify it with his own parts so that he could use it in the tournament.
During the tournament, things were going well. SAINT played through all of his pools with the comfort of his own controller, but disaster struck when the time came for him to fight Nobi. The general consensus seems to be that he was forced to use a Japanese stick, but that wasn’t the case – I have photo evidence of this. However, it is true that he wasn’t allowed to use his own arcade panel.
Despite his insistence, the tournament organizers lent him a deaf ear and only responded with “it’s already a Korean stick, just use it”, and “these are the rules, we can’t delay the tournament for you”. His panel wasn’t in use and it only takes the better part of two minutes for the panels to be swapped, but he was refused nonetheless. With a grimace on his face, SAINT was forced to sit down and play the match, unfortunately bowing out 0-2 to Nobi and getting kicked into the losers’ bracket.
Now at this point, you might argue “it’s not that much of a difference” and “it’s just placebo”. Of course, I agree completely. It’s not as if he was unable to play the game at all simply because he had to use a slightly shoddier joystick. However, the problem lies therein.
SAINT was forced to play an important tournament match against one of the strongest contenders after being denied a simple service, which no doubt affected his mental state. Even if it is just placebo, placebo means everything in a tournament. If someone needs to use their own stick or wear a frog hat to play at the top of their game, then I say give them their own joystick. Let them strap five frogs to their body. The mental game is everything.
In any case, it’s quite clear that SAINT performed much better once he was back on his own stick. His movement proficiency and execution all but doubled – all three of us pictured above can attest to this – and you can rewatch the stream VODs to see it for yourself. If that isn’t proof enough, he was also easily able knock out Nobi in the losers’ bracket and move on to the grand final.
However, this wasn’t even the worst of it. After toiling through the loser’s bracket and finally reaching Chanel, SAINT showed a brilliant performance by claiming five straight games and going all the way to match point in one fell swoop. It was at this point that Chanel called for a stick swap.
It’s common knowledge that Chanel is a terrible sport. It was clear as day to anyone watching that there were no issues with his joystick, but he requested that his panel be replaced regardless. He used the time he bought to recuperate, and it worked out for him. He was able to win two games back and obtain his own match point. As frustrating as this may be, it can also be argued that he made the strategic decision. This is a discussion for another time, though.
The true kicker, if you will, of this entire affair is what the announcers said while Chanel’s arcade panel was being replaced. Only those at the venue or watching the Japanese stream would be aware, but it was said that “the players have the right to have their control panel swapped at any time”, and “everyone should be allowed to play in their best condition”.
But what about SAINT?
Considering the scale of the tournament, this contradictory statement and lack of professionalism was deeply disappointing. To make matters worse, none of the parties involved seem to show any sign of making amends, although at the very least, I hope they are aware of the situation and we won’t see anything similar in the future.
If it weren’t for this ordeal, who knows what the tournament bracket would’ve looked like? If SAINT had beaten Nobi the first time, he may not have fallen into the losers’ bracket and be forced to climb all the way back up to grand finals and reset the bracket to win. Despite this, after only a few minutes of complaining at dinner, he completely dropped the topic. He deserves praise for this alone; truly a gracious champion. It’s exactly because he’s so forgiving that I feel like the world needs to know the truth of the topic.
And how do I know all of this? Of course, it all came straight from the horse’s mouth.