NARF 2019 Recap: Big Winners HotDog29 and NuckleDu Close Out CPT 2019 Season

The 2019 Capcom Pro Tour has reached its last legs. From Georgia’s Final Round to Puerto Rico’s First Attack, the CPT has witnessed competition on stages all around the world – and now, it has finally come to a head as its last Super Premier Event crowns not just one winner, but two, solidifying the Global Rankings ahead of the long-awaited Capcom Cup.

The North American Regional Finals marked the very last of two Events of the CPT 2019, giving players a final chance at both glory and coveted points before the rankings finalized at the season’s end. With 1,000 points and a whopping $50,000 on the line, competitors from across the globe gathered to test their might at the Tour’s final Super Premier Event – the third of its kind, awarding its first-place victor a major leg up in the standings and an opportunity to shake up the competition in a major way.

The rise of HotDog29

Standing as the last open-entry tournament of the season, NARF 2019 marked a massively important opportunity for both qualified players and those on the cusp of making the cut. Likewise following SFV:AE pro Adel “Big Bird” Anouche’s historic win in both the European Regional Final and Open Premier at EGX, the possibility of yet another double-victory at the NA Regional Finals was rife amongst fans – and it nearly happened, once again.

Hong Kong representative and Dictator main Yeh “HotDog29” Ho is a familiar face in the 2019 competitive season. Having won PPL Masters against an “impossible” matchup with Kichipa-mu’s Zangief, HotDog has scored top placements in tournaments throughout the year – and his psycho-powered reign wasn’t over, despite his comfortable spot in the Capcom Cup rankings. Sticking to Winners’ side over pros like Street Fighter League’s Jonathan “JB” Bautista and even Menat main Naoto Sako, HotDog boasted an impressive win streak at NARF, but his first match in Top 8 pitted him against the Tour’s top ranked fighter for a nail-biting battle.

“Vroom, vroom!”

Sitting at the number one spot in the Tour’s global rankings, Punk has wowed SFV:AE fans around the world this year by earning the most points in CPT history: but his record-breaking streak wasn’t enough in the face of HotDog29’s clean play, who took the set against his opponent in a stunning 3-1 run. With Punk knocked into the losers bracket, this meant that HotDog would go on to face EVO 2018 champion Benjamin “Problem X” Simon, another notable Bison main – but a Shadaloo mirror match wasn’t in these players’ futures.

Rather than sticking with his EVO-winning character, Problem X opted for Abigail – a choice that HotDog claims was based on the “knowledge-based” nature of the Bison mirror. “The Bison mirror is actually kind of like a knowledge battle,” he admitted. “The mirror is like, if you have more knowledge in the matchup, you know at this range to battle my whiff, or you know how to make the Psycho Blast whiff to punish that. But if we have the same knowledge of the matchup, it can be pretty random. In the mirror match with Bison, whoever gets knocked down will lose.”

“Go home and be a family man!”

Despite Abigail’s status as the game’s largest grappler, HotDog dispatched Problem X with ease, securing a spot in the season’s last Grand Final at an Open Premier. Knocked into the losers bracket, Problem went on to face America’s Du “NuckleDu” Dang in the Losers Final for a Bison vs Guile matchup – a battle that he ultimately lost, which Du later repeated in his very first game with HotDog in Grand Finals.

Having taken out second-ranked pro Bonchan, Du stood as America’s favorite to win the Premier, making a hard-fought run in the losers bracket after being sent there by Bonchan, himself. With a load of cash, points, and pride on the line, it seemed like the 2016 Capcom Cup champion had pride and momentum on his side – but HotDog’s Bison was more than ready for the Guile matchup, taking the first game 2-0 with a skillfully-timed punish after baiting a grab from his opponent.

“I think Problem X had two things he suffered from in the matchup,” HotDog said of the Guile-Bison battle. “One, his V-Skill, and the other one is jump-ins. Actually, jump-ins, we have to react to it, but sometimes, when we’re playing against Guile, we have to look for the fireball to do the V-Skill to stop it. …I think the difference is, I take care of the V-Skill pretty well. I’m pretty confident in doing that. In Hong Kong, we’ve got a pretty good Guile, and I always train this matchup.”

A Psycho-Powered victory

With his Guile so easily dispatched, NuckleDu opted instead for Cammy to counter his opponent’s Bison. HotDog clearly struggled with this matchup, which led to NuckleDu resetting the bracket 3-1 – but HotDog wasn’t relinquishing the victory so easily, prompting Du to pick World President G for their final game. It was this decision that ultimately led to HotDog’s victory, who took the last Super Premier on the CPT over Du and squashed any hopes of another double-victory for the 2019 season.

“The only thing I could do is download Du’s patterns of jumping in,” HotDog said of NuckleDu’s Cammy. “Du is very good at randomizing his choices – sometimes jumping, anti-air low, sometimes dive kick. Cammy is a very simple character, but Du was playing her very flexibly. It gave me a hard time. I’m glad that he changed to G after resetting 3-1, because his Cammy is unpredictable.”

From one fight to another

The last Open Premier of the year was finally in the books, allowing the North American Regional Finals to commence in a mountainous mental battle for all players who took part in the Premier’s Top 8. With Gustavo “801 Strider” Romero, Punk, and Du coming from hard losses, it was an uphill struggle for all three American pros – but their fighting spirits weren’t extinguished in any capacity in spite of their previous results, with both Punk and Du making it to the Grand Finals.

These two players didn’t meet in the Grand Finals, alone: in fact, they also faced off in the Winners’ Finals, with Du counter-picking Cammy against Punk’s G. Although Punk later switched to Chun-Li, Du knocked his rival into the losers bracket in a clean 3-1 set using G – a character he would use once more against Punk in the Grand Final, with Punk opting for his main character, Karin.

Du or die

It was do or die for the former Capcom Cup champion against the season’s top-ranked pro, and his desperation showed in their final meeting. Managing to score two games against Punk, Du was at set point when his rival appeared to pull for a bracket reset. With both players whittling each other down to their last legs, Punk scored a much-needed throw, placing Du at a hair’s breadth of health – but Du managed to score an EX combo and a well-timed jab, making a huge comeback and taking a major victory that he dedicated to his late high school principal.

“The memory I have of [my principal] is, she wouldn’t yell at me for skipping school,” Du explained during an emotional post-game interview with FGC historian James Chen. “She would tell me to ‘be different.’ …Don’t be afraid to take risks.”

With a baby on the way, Du is not only representing his future family, but also America for the Street Fighter League Finals at Capcom Cup. With less than a month before the season’s final showdown, there’s a lot for fans to anticipate as the competition comes to a close. Who will take the Last-Chance Qualifier? Will viewers see a first-ever repeat Capcom Cup champion? Which country will win the SFL Finals? Time is quickly ticking down to the last battle, where spectators around the globe will witness the rise of a new “True Champion.”