Christopher "NYChrisG" Gonzalez was in a tricky spot during the tail end of Combo Breaker's Street Fighter 5 tournament in St Charles, Illinois this past weekend. His opponent, Japanese fighting game god Naoto Sako, had him on the ropes in their losers bracket match. Down two games and on the brink of elimination, Chris took a deep breath and waited for what could be his last round to begin. And that's when he was tapped on the shoulder.
It was a "blink and you'll miss it" moment. As the intense match took a brief pause between rounds, a random spectator in a green shirt jumped out of his seat and ran up on stage. He stole Chris' attention, yelling something in his ear before heading back the way he came. While it's still a mystery what exactly this unknown community member told him, the damage was done. Chris wasn't going to continue the match after being distracted.
Confusion spread as the stream cut back to the Street Fighter 5 feed, and even the commentators thought it might have been an arcade stick malfunction that caused the delay. As things were sorted out in the real world, Chun-Li and Guile kept their distance. A minute and a half later, replays showed Chris completely taken out of the match by the interruption, removing his headphones as if he thought he was being spoken to by a tournament organiser. Sako, on the other hand, seemed unfazed.
Little information was relayed through the official broadcast, but a player on the scene named Alex Myers kept everyone up to date, sharing that the offender had been sent to the back of the ballroom before being escorted out of the venue completely by tournament organiser Rick Thiher. Reactions online ranged from, "That guy is an idiot," to, "That guy is a fucking idiot." My only thought was that he must be a pretty great fighting game player if he had advice for an Evo champion.
— Alex Myers (@AlexMyersFGC) May 29, 2017
Some were surprised he was able to remain in the venue at all, but Thiher has since explained, both on Twitter and during our own conversation, that they were waiting for official security in order to make sure he had no way of getting back inside.
"In his delusional thinking, Chris was his friend and needed his specific, unapproved coaching to calm down and perform at his best," Thiher told me. "After verifying who the attendee was via instant replay, confirming with him directly that he had in-fact gotten on our stage, and briefly conferring with staff over the appropriate response within Combo Breaker and the Capcom Pro Tour's combined event rules, we moved to eject him from the tournament venue. I escorted him to the back of the tournament venue to be watched by our organiser desk while I talked to our head of security. We wanted his full team aware of the attendee so that once he was ejected and waiting for his friend to pick him up, he or someone from his squad would be watching over him. Desk staff watched him while I waited for the security confirmation and then I escorted him out of the tournament venue."
Shortly after, it was decided that the competitors would restart the match, giving Sako the round advantage he had before the distraction. He slowly whittled away at Chris' lifebar to regain his round, making sure to maintain the same amount of super meter he had previously, but the meter built by being attacked made it so that Chris would have to spend it to make sure he didn't go into the round with any extra resources. At one point, Sako seemed to wait for Chris to do so but eventually gave up and landed the final hit. While he didn't have any meter before, Chris now had a single bar, a side effect of the general confusion that allowed him access to one of the game's powerful EX moves.
Chris actually got a free bar of super meter for being distracted lol. pic.twitter.com/MB7N3L9Zvu
— Ian Walker (@iantothemax) May 29, 2017
That controversial advantage ended up not counting for much. Chris took the next round, putting both players at match point, but Sako eventually walked away victorious. While he gave his opponent the usual complimentary handshake, Chris was obviously put off by the events that unfolded, shaking his head in a manner that's become commonplace in his losing efforts. His seventh-place finish was good enough for a small number of Capcom Pro Tour ranking points, but obviously not the result he hoped for. Sako lost one match later in a nailbiter against Balrog main Brian "Brian_F" Foster to end his visit to Combo Breaker tied for fifth.
On Twitter, Chris refused to blame the interruption for his tweet. "At the end of the day I lost," he noted. "Not gonna make excuses. Good stuff to sako." We reached out to him for more info about the incident but hadn't heard back at time of writing.
Oddly enough, this wasn't Chris' first run-in with an overzealous fan. After picking up his first Evo win for Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 in 2016, Chris was approached by a shirtless audience member who seemingly congratulated him on his win and then challenged him to a match, holding up his controller while the new champion laughed him off. He too was escorted away by tournament security, but not before earning notoriety as "the spirit of Marvel" for this brash confrontation.
As the community expands, tournament security continues to be a growing concern, and most events now employ a mixture of uniformed and plainclothes guards to ensure attendees are kept as safe as possible as they compete in their favourite fighting games. Due to this situation, Combo Breaker is likely to increase precautionary measures in the future.
"We'll be refocusing our stage team," Thiher said. "Multiple people are at the stage during finals to catch instances like this, but we collectively dropped the ball. I am confident that we'll over-correct for future events."