There's nothing fake about the rivalry between Street Fighter 5 pros Kenneth "K-Brad" Bradley and Joshua "Wolfkrone" Philpot, but on Thursday Eleague gave the pair a chance to play it up for the cameras. It isn't exactly a years-long feud, but it's already a popular one. The first notable stand-off between the pair happened last January at Frosty Faustings IX, where Wolfkrone beat K-Brad. After that, the two kept the rivalry hot with some online trash-talk, leading up to an epic match at Final Round 20. K-Brad won 2-0 and got right in Wolfkrone's face afterwards.
Wolfkrone walks out partway through the post-match segment with his opponent K-Brad.
At the time, Wolfkrone accepted his defeat with grace. Or so it appeared. He sat there and took it while K-Brad stared him down, not appearing to respond or engage and playing the role of not-at-all-sore loser.
K-Brad faces down Wolfkrone after defeating him at Final Round 20.
That was only a few weeks ago. Eleague's SF5 competition, which kicked off this week, has chosen to play up the rivalry between the pair. Eleague got lucky, in some ways, since they announced that K-Brad and Wolfkrone would be in Group C together back on March 2, before the pair's Final Round 20 face-off. Luckily for Eleague, the rivalry stayed interesting given the fact that K-Brad won that match, and put on a show in the process, thereby kicking off a narrative. Now it was time for the next chapter in the story, which would involve either Wolfkrone losing again and solidifying his humiliation, or Wolfkrone winning and adding further power to the rivalry.
Eleague did not play this one subtle. In the opening desk chat before Group C kicked off their matches on Thursday, the hosts played the viral clip of the Final Round 20 moment when K-Brad got nose-to-nose with the defeated Wolfkrone:
Tournament host Richard Lewis kicks off the segment by pointing out that K-Brad got fourth place at Final Round 20, but "people ain't talking about that" because they're talking instead about his face-off with Wolfkrone specifically. "We said we were gonna upgrade the thug levels," Lewis continued. (The idea of "thug levels", as well as the term "thuggery", have become memes in the fighting game community after the Capcom Pro Tour notoriously banned "thuggery" in their 2016 player rulebook.)
Playing up a rivalry serves as one way to make matches more exciting, plus it justifies all the extra commentary time and player interviews that Eleague has built into its SF5 streaming schedule. Since I questioned those organisational decisions earlier this week, I'm happy to see Eleague trying to build more of a narrative now. This is what I expected from the season: A surreal but fun FGC show that feels a bit more WWE, with a mix of sports and storyline. It makes sense.
Lewis then showed off the now-infamous clip of the two players facing off. After that, Steve "Tasty Steve" Scott piped up to point out how rivalries in the fighting game community work; since players have to face off over and over at local events, they can end up with some long-standing beefs.
But would anything unfold between the players during their match? The fighting stayed virtual, not physical, between K-Brad and Wolfkrone -- well, unless you count the trash-talk in their post-match interview, which we'll get to in a second. More notably, Eleague chose to bring a security guard onstage during their event, which could either be overkill or bad-arse depending on who you ask. It looked like an expectation that something would unfold between the pair that necessitated bringing a security guard closer to the match, and within the eye of the camera.
Longtime fighting games commentator David Philip Graham, AKA UltraDavid, tweeted his own scepticism about the presence of the security guard at the event, saying it was "clearly used for comedy". Eleague host Richard Lewis responded, saying that security guards have been present for the entire event but that they were simply moved closer for the sake of that one match. Lewis then pointed out that if Eleague hadn't brought security out, "you'd be whining we didn't do enough to protect the FGC". We reached out to Richard Lewis for more about the organisation of the event, but were unable to get further comment before publication.
Before the match, Wolfkrone kicked off the pair's player interview by saying, "let's see what happens when [K-Brad] doesn't have a horde of people behind him… it's just me and him, one-on-one." Wolfkrone then clarified that K-Brad has "the whole FGC behind him". But Wolfkrone claimed to be the better player, no matter if he's popular or not. The exchange may not have made logical sense -- having a cheering crowd at Final Round 20 was probably more of a distraction than a benefit -- but it did make emotional sense. It worked as an exciting set-up for a match that did not disappoint.
Wolfkrone backed up his trash talk with results, using his character Laura's mid-level fireballs to stump K-Brad, who couldn't manage to counter fast enough. Wolfkrone stayed quiet and peaceful during the game, focused on his plays. It wasn't a total stomp, by any means; K-Brad won the second round, but Wolfkrone took the first and third. From a narrative standpoint, it all worked out great for Eleague.
Whether you think the security guard was corny or cool, there's no denying this post-game exchange between K-Brad and Wolfkrone also deserves to go viral:
— ELEAGUE (@EL) March 30, 2017
This post-match interview features K-Brad trying to compliment his opponent's style, at least at first, but Wolfkrone responds by laughing and walking away from the interview. K-Brad gets heated and calls Wolfkrone an "idiot", then follows it up with, "Is this kid stupid?" When interviewer Malik Forte asks if the beef will ever end, K-Brad says, "I think there's something wrong with him." Aside from laughing and pacing on and off-camera, Wolfkrone doesn't engage much in this conversation. But he doesn't accept K-Brad's compliments, either. At the very end, K-Brad continues to trash-talk, saying, "As a person, I just don't like him." Then, Wolfkrone finally gets on mic to respond: "Who gives a fuck?"
Cue the debate as to whether this whole conversation is real or just staged! I think it's a bit of both. The players are definitely rivals, but they're playing up that rivalry for the sake of the fans and the cameras. I don't know whether K-Brad is being serious when he says he doesn't personally like Wolfkrone. But I do know that if Eleague wants to continue showcasing rivalries like these, then the rest of the players had better step up their theatrics.