Competing in a Street Fighter tournament is hard, especially if you're blind.
But that didn't stop a Dutch player by the name of "Sven" from managing to take a few sets off his opponents in the early rounds of Spain's Sonic Boom tournament for Street Fighter 5. Playing as Ken, Sven faced Musashi's Akuma in a best-of-three series that saw the traveller from the Netherlands come out on top.
In each match, Sven used Ken's aggressive style to keep closing the distance and pummel Musashi. When both fighters are right on top of one another, vision matters less than a keen instinct for timing and unleashing counter-combos.
In an interview after the match, Sven explained that he went blind around the age of five due to cancer. "I was afraid that I was not able to play computer games anymore because I was blind, but then Capcom released Street Fighter II on the SNES and I was so happy I was able to play the game just by the sound," he said.
He's been playing different entries in the series ever since, as well as other fighting games like Killer Instinct and Mortal Kombat, but Street Fighter V in particular has proven a welcome upgrade thanks to the depth of its sound design. "Street Fighter 5 has really good sound effects," Sven said. "I play with a headset on so I can hear left and right what's going on. When a character's kicking and punching they make sounds in different ways. You have to study the sounds for a long time."
Damascus, his interviewer and one of the casters for the fight, remarked on one particular moment when Musashi came at Sven from above and Sven anti-air blocked in time to prevent his opponent from finding an opening. "That was like you actually knew where he was," said Damascus. Sven likened it to how players learn to react to visual cues at an almost subconscious level. Whereas they might see the animation for an opponent shifting weight in preparation for a heavy kick and institutionally respond, Sven does the same but for auditory cues.
For this reason he said cross-ups, where an opponent jumps over you and reverses the direction of attack, are the hardest for him to cope with because of the length of the uncertainty as the other player is hovering silently in the air.
While Sven is unique he's not an anomaly. Blind players have been making waves in a number of different fighting games. Sightless Kombat is a Killer Instinct player known for tinkering with the game's menus and options to make its auditory clues stand out more, while Blindwizard has stunned people with his performances in Smash 4 matches.
In the end, while Sven himself didn't make it into the bracket stage of the tournament, it was also only his first one. He purchased a PS4 last fall and has only been playing Street Fighter 5 for less than a year. In other words, he's just getting warmed up.
You can watch the entire match below.