Beyond the Summit held its first traditional fighting game event this last weekend, inviting 16 Dragon Ball FighterZ players to Southern California for a four-day tournament. But even with competitors such as Dominique "SonicFox" McLean, Goichi "GO1" Kishida and Sho "Fenritti" Shoji in attendance, one surprising figure stood alone as champion when all was said and done: Eduardo "HookGangGod" Deno.
Despite only beginning offline competition a few months ago, HookGangGod has quickly risen to the top of the Dragon Ball FighterZ scene. He attended (and won) his first Next Level Battle Circuit in February, and since then, he's been a regular at the weekly Brooklyn tournament and majors across the US.
This dedication has given HookGangGod the opportunity to play some of the world's top talent, and he put that experience to good use at the Summit of Power invitational.
Four months ago, Eduardo 'HookGangGod' Hook had never entered a tournament in person. He had been shooting up the leaderboards in Persona 4 Arena and Guilty Gear for years while preferring to risk frame delays and shaky network connections. But Dragon Ball FighterZ got the self-described 'online monster' to see if tournament play was worth it.
That said, his weekend didn't start as well as it ended. During the initial round-robin stage, HookGangGod was dealt a devastating 0-3 loss by Christopher "NYChrisG" Gonzalez, but he would rebound with victories against Derek "Nakkiel" Bruscas and Jon "dekillsage" Coello.
His performance was good enough to grant him a winners bracket position in the finals stage, where he won three tight sets against a contingent of global heavyweights en route to grand finals.
After losing an exhibition earlier in the weekend, HookGangGod entered his rematch with Vineeth "Apologyman" Meka ready for revenge. Both players are known for unconventional team compositions that revolve around Piccolo, a relatively weak character in Dragon Ball FighterZ that HookGangGod has described as "too much fun" to give up.
Their previous exhibition had one goal - to decide the best Piccolo player - and Apologyman's decisive 5-1 win all but ended the discussion. HookGangGod's tournament performance, however, was much better. In the final game of the tournament set, he made use of a superior backup shell in Cell and Vegeta to overwhelm Apologyman, showing that Piccolo is just one piece of his overall strategy.
As arguably the best Dragon Ball FighterZ player in the world, GO1 was the clear favourite to win Summit of Power, but he would have to deal with HookGangGod before moving on in the bracket.
Upon landing his first attack in the first game, GO1 activated the superpowered Sparking mode and immediately killed HookGangGod's Piccolo. This left GO1 without the ability to heal a hurt character, and HookGangGod was able to calmly come back and the first and then the second game in rapid succession.
Not about to be undone, GO1 took two games of his own, sending them into a final match with a spot in winners finals in contention.
In the fifth game, HookGangGod switched his team order by placing Cell in front rather than Piccolo, allowing him to get a much faster start on GO1's own Cell due to the character's immense damage potential.
Despite the stronger opening moments, HookGangGod was eventually forced to make a solo Vegeta comeback that was made a tad bit easier by his super meter advantage. After crossing up the opposing Vegeta in the corner, HookGangGod got ready to go one-on-one with GO1's Bardock, who was still at a severe resource deficit.
With one clutch play after another, HookGangGod sent GO1 to the losers bracket, setting up a winners finals match against Fenritti that no one had seen coming.
HookGangGod's fight with Fenritti went down to the wire again. Down 2-1, he was able to force a crucial final game. This time around, though, he had to do so without the stifling strength of Cell's offensive tools after losing him in the early moments of game five.
He slowly whittled away at Fenritti's slight lead until, again, only Bardock was left to contend with. In the end, it took one final superdash to seal his opponent's fate and lead HookGangGod to the grand finals.
It wasn't much of a surprise that HookGangGod's grand finals opponent ended up being SonicFox, but it was a little strange to see him enter the championship match from the losers side.
In addition to SonicFox's ridiculous talent, HookGangGod would also be fighting against history. Despite numerous run-ins at Next Level Battle Circuit, he has never been able to win a match against the fearsome fan-favourite, but he would have to do so if he wanted to walk away Summit of Power champion.
As the grand finals began, it quickly became clear that we were in for the long haul. HookGangGod and SonicFox traded wins as both tried to clinch a third deciding game. But where SonicFox applied the trademark pressure and mixups of his revamped team, HookGangGod was happy to sit back and make sure he put himself in promising positions.
His smart use of surprise airdashes after airborne block strings continued here, catching SonicFox off guard in game four. But even after all that work, HookGangGod fell victim to SonicFox's rampage, losing the last game of the first set without killing a single character. Both players composed themselves as the bracket was reset and they were faced with one more race-to-three.
Unlike the first, this second set was what commentators such as Michael "IFC Yipes" might call "buss arse". HookGangGod looked like a completely different player, running roughshod over his opponent in a 3-0 rout.
SonicFox was frequently reduced to only Gotenks, but a strong neutral game can only carry you so far when faced with such dire circumstances. With the tournament on the line, HookGangGod didn't rush to victory but instead maintained a resolute defence in the face of SonicFox's last ditch efforts.
After being reduced to just Piccolo, all it took was one more cross-up to seal the deal.
With the entire house celebrating, HookGangGod seemed dumbfounded by his win. "I don't even know what to say," HookGangGod said through laughter as the commentators silenced the growing crowd. "It all paid off. I'm so happy. Piccolo!"
Dragon Ball FighterZ is in an extremely good spot right now. After SonicFox and GO1 blotted out the sun in the early days, the rest of the scene has stepped up to provide legitimate challengers, even if HookGangGod didn't think he'd be among them.
"Honestly, I was gonna be happy with, like, fourth or something," he added. "When I beat GO1, I was like, 'I'm too good right now.' I probably played the best I've ever played in my life. Shoutouts to [PlayStation Network] for getting me this good. The online warriors, they got me here. In tournament, I get nervous, but today, I was like, 'I have to win. Forget all that nervousness, I'm just gonna play the best I can play.'"