The return of spring also means the return of MASTERCUP, an annual team-based Tekken competition that often provides some of the scene’s greatest moments of the year. As a prelude, the organisers held a special event called MASTERCUP Try that allowed players to compete for the chance to get a professional esports licence via Japan’s controversial system. With so much on the line, one player became quite emotional, particularly once he was forced to play against his friend and training partner in a pivotal, future-deciding match.
Genki “Gen” Kumisaka and Kouki Oyama are two of the best Tekken 7 players in Japan. While they don’t always make it to the finals, both have impressive resumes that include strong showings at important fighting game community events like Evo, Evo Japan, Thaiger Uppercut and Summer Jam. Part of this success can likely be attributed to the two players training together in their home town of Fukuoka. Both had presumably entered MASTERCUP Try with their eyes on the prize: earn a JeSU licence.
Over 200 other competitors had also entered MASTERCUP Try with the same agenda. The Japanese eSports Union (JeSU) and Tekken 7 developer Bandai Namco elected to provide professional licenses to the top three competitors. Holding a JeSU licence is necessary for Japanese fighting game players to earn money at official events. That’s because of competitive gaming getting classified as gambling according to the country’s existing laws. These licenses are a coveted item for most competitors who are looking to make a living through esports.
The promise of a licence made the fourth-place match a dramatic moment in the MASTERCUP Try tournament. The winner would go on to earn a JeSU licence no matter where they placed in the top three, while the loser would just barely miss out on official recognition.
And, wouldn’t you know it, that crucial Tekken 7 match came down to Gen and Kouki, the two training partners from Fukuoka. After eliminating his fellow Japanese player Keita “kagemaru” Takemoto at fifth place and realising who his next opponent was, Kouki first laughed and then collapsed into Gen’s arms, the enormity of the moment seemingly overcoming him before they even sat down at their arcade sticks.
Sometimes, fighting game matches between two players who know each other as intimately as Gen and Kouki do can be nonsensical to the average viewer, since the competitors already know the proclivities of their training partner and can often counter in unusual ways.
This MASTERCUP Try match, however, was an absolute treat for fans of Tekken 7 from beginning to end. With newcomer Shaheen, Gen managed to take control of the match early, utilising smart parries and slides to put Kouki on his back foot. That said, Kouki’s Julia was more than enough to even the playing field, and the players went into a third game tied 1-1.
From there, Gen and Kouki would trade rounds, neither one appearing to have a huge advantage over the other. Kouki’s defence proved difficult for Gen to break through, but Shaheen’s strong damage output meant that when Gen was able to get a hit, it would hurt. Still, Kouki persevered, clutching out a strong near-perfect round leading into the final round of the final game.
The crowd, sensing the importance of this moment, could be heard cheering loudly via the live stream. Gen seemed to feed on that energy. Whenever Kouki would gain a slight advantage, Gen would push back to regain momentum, a strategy that eventually earned him a third round, third game victory over his training partner. Gen leaned back in his chair at first, but then got up to console Kouki. The two players held each other as the latter sobbed.
“That says it all right there,” commentator Majin Obama said on the English broadcast, his voice rough from a full day of streaming. “That’s the homie set. That’s how it feels, win or lose. The licence is a piece of paper; it has no value. But you get on a stage, you get in front of a crowd that’s making noise the way this one is from all over the country, you get to play your homie on a big stage like that — that’s what it’s about.”
Playing fighting games competitively is an emotional experience, especially when an important match comes down to you and someone you care about. You can learn just as much about someone from sitting down for a long set of Tekken 7 as you can from a conversation, and when you spend day in and day out training with them, a bond is formed that can’t really be quantified. Gen and Kouki clearly have that kind of bond, and these moments at MASTERCUP Try show just how important it is to both players.