Trash talking is a time-honoured tradition in the fighting game community, and few are better at it than Bronson Tran. Known as "the mouth of NorCal", this veteran has been a threat at Tekken events for over a decade, and made his return to competitive play this past weekend at the 15th instalment of the NorCal Regionals fighting game tournament series. Due to his personality, Bronson alone was given an additional opportunity to express himself on stream by providing commentary for his own Tekken 7 matches.
This decision almost immediately backfired on the broadcasters.
Bronson's unique turn on the microphone started out innocently enough, wishing his winners finals opponent, South Korean player Chung-gon "Poongko" Lee, good luck. He quickly veered off the rails with the follow-up: "You don't understand me, but you're gonna need it." Before even plugging in his arcade stick, Bronson said his goal was to simply "beat [Poongko's] arse" and told official commentator "Tasty Steve" Scott to "shut the hell up". It was clear from the start that NorCal Regionals was now the Bronson Show for the thousands watching both in person at the Sacramento, California venue and at home.
Before his first match began, it appeared as if Bronson was willing to provide more detailed commentary, explaining his choice to play jaguar-masked wrestler King as a counter to the Demon Flip setups available to Poongko's Akuma, on loan from Street Fighter. But much like football players who get mic'd up during high-profile games, the production team's choice to give Bronson this unique platform was more about entertainment than in-depth analysis. He was more than happy to oblige.
Much like King's strikes, Bronson's voice-over was fast and furious. Upon converting a well-placed knee into a lengthy combo, the longtime player yelled, "We got him, we got him!" Getting caught by Akuma's divekick, he let out an elated, "Oh shit, he got me!" telling the crowd to calm down once he lost the round, to copious amounts of laughter. He even turned his sights on Poongko, asking the player to remove his shirt after each game.
No matter how much shit was talked, however, Poongko wasn't going down without a fight, and Bronson even acknowledged his opponent's skill when applicable. But not even losing could dull Bronson's spirits. After dropping a round to the South Korean competitor, Bronson landed a difficult attack known as the Rolling Death Cradle, a multi-throw that requires precise inputs and can be broken by the opponent at multiple instances. His celebratory screams are the definition of "headphone warning".
Even so, Poongko made a quiet comeback, tying the game count at 2-2. With just one game to go and a grand finals appearance on the line, Bronson jokingly turned to the stream chat for tips on what he should do. Was King the optimal choice here, or should he switch to newcomer Claudio? Despite calls for the latter, Bronson stuck with the wrestler. "Fuck it, fuck it. I got this shit," he told viewers, choosing instead to pick a different King outfit. "It's a new character, I'm taking off the cape."
Bronson's last game against Poongko was relatively quiet, perhaps due to the seriousness of the match at hand. He won handily, taking three straight rounds, and quietly said, "I'm the best." It wasn't entirely clear whether he was talking to himself, the commentators, or the cheering crowd, but he was qualified for grand finals.
Fortunately, Bronson's outlandish performance at NorCal Regionals didn't end against Poongko. Heading into grand finals against Tray "Princess Ling" Sherman, the supreme trash talker implored his opponent to remove his headphones. Princess Ling refused, but Bronson couldn't care less, leering over his monitor and telling the younger player, "Read my lips: I got you!" after taking the first game.
Princess Ling soon tied the score at 1-1, causing Bronson to reel back in his chair. "Oh, that was close," he exclaimed, motioning to the crowd. "That was so fucking close!" Win or lose, it was apparent that Bronson was having fun, laughing into the camera and asking commentator Mark "MarkMan" Julio for help. A rare moment of insight came when Bronson took his second game, forgoing a guaranteed combo for a tricky mix-up situation instead. "Alright guys, I know when I hit that and do a dash cancel, I get a combo, but I'm really nervous right now," he explained. "Just letting you guys know, yes, I understand there is a combo after that, but I'd rather play the mix-up game at this point."
Bronson's most veteran move, however, came when Princess Ling asked to change the stage.
Similar to Super Smash Bros., Tekken 7 features a wide array of battlegrounds with differing architecture. As such, the varying walls and floors can make or break high-level matches, but Tekken competition instead relies on random select instead of striking stages like Super Smash Bros. When random select fell on Akuma's stage, Abandoned Temple, Princess Ling asked Bronson if they could choose again, claiming the stage causes lag. Bronson's response? "Good players adapt. You're complaining about lag? You play online!" He would win that match, eliminating Princess Ling by a score of 3-1.
Unlike his win against Poongko, Bronson's response to defeating Princess Ling and walking away NorCal Regionals champion was anything but low-key. Jumping out of his chair, Bronson walked to the edge of the stage, addressing viewers and his opponent directly. "You hear me chat? I'm the fuckin' best! This fuckin' kid is playing professional Tekken everywhere he goes and I just beat him! I have a job and I just beat him!" But even as he popped off, Bronson still took time to shake Princess Ling's hand, showing that even the most vicious trash talk is done more for the love of the game than outright disrespect.
As one of Tekken's greatest American players, Bronson has always been in the spotlight, even as he tries to distance himself from competition. His most recent achievement, placing second in Tekken Tag Tournament 2 at Evo 2013, came after a short retirement, and he's spent the last few years continually referring to himself as a casual player. But after his performance this past weekend, it's clear there's still a little bit of that young, hungry competitor left in Bronson Tran, who is more than happy to provide a side of drama with his high-level play.