CouchWarriors League 2020 Finale Recap

For an event which was never meant to have happened, the CouchWarriors League Finale put on an incredible show.

Tournament organisers CouchWarriors have always had big plans for the Australian fighting game community, getting more ambitious with every year. There’s no doubt that in a happier version of 2020, this inaugural season of their unified national championship circuit would have culminated at Battle Arena Melbourne, with the international elite of fighting games watching on amid the intense atmosphere of a major tournament. 

That triumphant spectacle will have to wait now, at least until next year’s BAM. But the fighters themselves – the best 16 players in each game across a year of online and offline events – wait for nothing. The 2020 CWL season would still crown its champions, because ultimately the players are here to prove themselves.

As rough as 2020 has been, to be able to say you were the best this year still means a lot! Their discipline and commitment to their craft helped to elevate a well-run online event to the next level, creating a Finale weekend which justified the year of hype that preceded it.

DragonBall FighterZ

The weekend’s entertainment began early, as a one-night DragonBall Fighterz tournament raised the curtain for a weekend of streams. This was technically an exhibition, since DBFZ was not an official CouchWarriors League title for 2020 – but it was a part of their 2019 circuit, and giving this bracket its time on the Finale stage was a great way to acknowledge the strong community who have stuck with DBFZ for the long haul.

And with the support that came out for the game and eventual winner Sean “Aehan” Harden, plus newly announced DLC putting it back in the news this week, it wouldn’t be surprising if DBFZ became a true CWL game again in 2021.

Street Fighter V

After the previous night’s raucous dragon-rocking, Saturday was suddenly thick with competitive tension. Nobody likes to go 0-2, least of all proven tournament winners like these players. But a tiny invitational field like this leaves no time for padding egos. Some of these world warriors were about to get washed faster than a post-COVID restaurant table.

Christian “ORDER|ROF” Dedalija was doubly determined to not be one of them. After dominating for long stretches of 2019, the forced shift to online-only play seemed to seriously hinder his momentum, leading to a string of painful recent defeats in CWL Online play. Several came at the hands of Fraser “FREESER” Johnson, a player with similar characters and playstyle to ROF but the opposite trajectory in his competitive results.

ROF was forced to limp into the Finale in 5th place, mostly fuelled by wining Victoria’s only in-person events at the start of the year. But he delivered here on the big stage, avenging himself over FREESER  3-1 in Losers Quarters and taking high seeds Travis Styles and Xavier “Darksided|Somniac” Nardella to close sets to finish 4th.

That left us with a predictable top three of Travis, Somniac and Ervin-Jason “pahnda” Garanovic. Each of them had correctly identified their main rivals in the pre-bracket interviews; no wonder, when between themselves the three accounted for a whopping 8 trophies from the year’s 14 CWL events!

Somniac was the ladder leader after the regular season, but more through his incredible consistency than anything else. Travis in particular has always been a bit of a demon for Som’s Dictator, while pahnda seemed certain to rip away that 1st place finish with an incredible late run of form on Akuma… until he accidentally slept through the final ranking tournament!

But perhaps that bitter experience was the fuel his raging demon needed. Forced into a grueling home stretch of 14 games against Travis plus a full 7 against Somniac, pahnda showed incredible mental stamina, keeping up his signature high-pressure offense until the final hit of the final round of the final game. After surviving Travis’s attempted finishing blow, pahnda unleashed a hellacious last ditch assault, knowing that he couldn’t hold out against any further Balrog offense. 

After building his season on confident reads and signature rushdown, it was deeply satisfying to see pahnda clutch the championship off a fearless offensive shoryuken. Like all the weekend’s winners, his efforts were rewarded with a $300 cash prize and a KeyCade hitbox-style controller. But most vital of all, he can boast about being the best Street Fighter player in Australia… at least until next BAM.

Smash Ultimate

With CouchWarriors opting for a smooth blend of Smash and traditional FGC entertainment on each day, Smash Ultimate became the second game to crown a grand champion for CWL 2020. 

This was by far the hardest bracket to predict on form, as Ultimate’s questionable netcode meant that many top players had been less motivated to compete after COVID forced the CWL to move online. There was no doubt the 16 invitees were all worthy of the chance, but individual matchups were far from certain. Even season points leader Sebastian “SebPro101” Poli-Tabone was happy to downplay his top seeding, predicting he might not even make it to Winners Finals.

Unfortunately for Seb, his grim forecast proved to be right on the money. After a season where he repeatedly dominated and gatekept online Ultimate, Seb had his nose bloodied almost immediately in a 2-3 loss to Harry “Nurd” Malikoff. Left facing a nightmarish Losers run, Seb rallied to eliminate Andrew “Kanga|Shadrew” Isokangas 3-1, but then found himself up against his most frequent rival this season: Aiden “Dura” Scalza. 

The head to head between these two has been decidedly Seb-favoured to this point, so much so that the younger Dura had named SebPro as his main tournament demon. And while Dura had tasted victory over Seb in the upper bracket of CWL August, it was Seb who had the last laugh in their Grand Finals rematch. 

But a challenger with Dura’s tenacity cannot be denied forever. In a turning point for this evolving rivalry, he took Seb to game 5 at Pokemon Stadium and then patiently, clinically disarmed his explosive R.O.B with pokes and pistols, bundling the #1 seed out of the event.

Dura’s 5th place was one of several impressive finished on a day where the newer cadre of online warriors who have seized the spotlight in 2020 proved they aren’t just going to melt away once normal competition returns. CWL September’s flashy champion Andrew “Khami” Mantineo ambushed Shadrew with a 3-0 win in round one to help contribute to his early exit. And Perth Pikachu phenomenon Fryd Ryce – who only started attending tournament seriously in July – continued a meteoric ascent by running through the entire Losers Bracket, scalping DD, Srikar “GG|Sriks” Jha, and Tomas “DT|Luma” Parrish on his way to 4th place.

The eventual gatekeeper for these upstarts proved to be Jdizzle, who after knocking Khami into Losers in round 2 went on to eliminate both Dura and Fryd Ryce in succession. His presence in those Losers side games was thanks to old foe Joshua “Kanga|Ghost” Francis, who often seems to have Jdizzle’s number in head-to-head encounters. Today though, Ghost had everybody’s number – running through not only Jdizzle but DD and Nurd as he made his way to an unlikely Grand Finals berth! 

It was a massive result for Ghost; while his history of success ensures he’s never disregarded, his past 12 months have been forgettable in terms of tournament results. He had only barely scored enough points for the year to earn an invite here! But here he was, playing online again and seemingly unstoppable.

Jdizzle made a spirited 2nd attempt at reversing their matchup history in Grand Finals, but couldn’t even manage a bracket reset as Ghost polished things off 3-2 to become unexpected CWL 2020 Champion.

Smash Melee

The last day of CouchWarriors League 2020 opened with the older of the supported Smash games (and ironically, the one with the superior netcode). As with Smash UItimate, the season’s Melee leaderboard had been almost monopolised by one player: in this case, Josh “GZ|Sora” Lyras.

Actually, Sora had been significantly better than even SebPro had in his respective game, to the point that it at times became tough to keep my coverage exciting! Over the breadth of 2020; through online and offline competition, Sora was nigh unbeatable. If there was a CWL ranking event he didn’t win, it was likely one of a few he just didn’t attend. The only exceptions to this were the May and June editions of CWL Online monthly, where he lost to Jacob “GZ|Sock” Waddell and Miles “LGC|DonB” Dobney respectively before returning to the top of the podium in July.

Of course, this meant there was a very straightforward narrative for this Finale; was anybody capable of threatening Sora’s victory lap? Who would take on the role of Ghost for today, rising from the hyperbolic time chamber of quarantine to demonstrate their honed tech?

As it turned out, nobody did. Despite the theoretically tougher all-invitee field of competitors, Sora was able to just march down the upper bracket, defeating Redact, sundowns, and dice|Nangs to make Winners Finals without much of a scare. Waiting for him was his seeded opponent, DonB, one of the few who has been able to overcome Sora in the past. Sora swept him 3-0 and advanced to Grand Finals. Who would stand against him now?

As it turns out, prior to the disheartening loss against Sora, DonB had handed out a decisive 3-0 drubbing of his own against GnomeDome. Gnomedome (who also goes by Skeleduck in the community) had shown up as one of CWL’s in-form players over the last couple of months; enough people had faith in him to install him as a sub in this Finale invitational field. 

Having already beaten Kai “CW.SA|Kaiza“ Pisani as well as Sock to start his run, GnomeDome didn’t lack for form or confidence against top players, and he immediately proved that by eliminating veteran gatekeeper Kanga|Dekar, Nangs and then DonB himself in Losers Final. This time GnomeDome ran the 3-0 result back the other way, setting himself up as Sora’s challenger in Grand Finals. 

But while commendable, his comeback run made very little impact on the man in question. Sora ran him over 3-1 with a reset to spare, making formal what we already knew about the Melee power structure in Australia. Still, even a predictable result shouldn’t stop us from appreciating Sora’s remarkable dominance this season, which set a very high watermark for any individual CouchWarriors League performance going forward. Bravo!

Tekken 7

With the CouchWarriors League season rapidly drawing to a close, only the Tekken crown was left to be decided. This game was by far the most unpredictable and closely contested throughout the year, and even in this small field there looked to be a number of players who could potentially win if the stars aligned.

The definite favourite on form was absolutely Naveed “Kanga|Chand NY” Iqbal, who has proven to have a significant edge over the rest of the community over the last few years. Aside from securing equal first on points in the regular season with three clean event wins, Chand NY was also the season champion for Tekken 7 in BAM Path to EVO – the precursor to CouchWarriors League.

Chand NY would be tough to beat on form, but not impossible. Late qualifier Dee-on Grey almost laid him low in their exhibition set at October’s Tekken Online Challenge, where Dee-on was the tournament champion and Chand the secret post-bracket boss.

The most dominant players from the monthly CWL Online events would also back themselves on a good day: Harlem “Harlem” Barriball tied Chand’s leaderboard total for the season and has the confidence to win big events, while Chris “Stuckles” Stuckey has been 2020’s most consistent performer, with 7 Top 8 finishes. And that’s just the players who seem standout contenders; one of the beauties of Tekken is the potential for a rogue matchup or player to throw a spanner in the works of even the most polished tournament machines!

But after a year full of tournament surprises, this final and most important Tekken event played out like it was scripted for a movie. There were no easybeats in the 16-player field, but wherever the early rounds pitted a top seed against a bracket assassin, the top seeds mostly showed their class and pulled through.

CWL November dark horse Jack “FAM|CottonSock” McCallum and Kun-Mo “FAM|Gun_Mo” Yon were vanquished by Harlem. Their fellow FAMILY member Raphael “FAM|Daitooka” Batskos emphasised his achievements this season by making it to Winners Semis before falling victim to Chand NY, which granted us the hotly anticipate Winners Finals between our dual season points leaders!

But the showdown didn’t look exactly how most expected; Chand NY shifted away from his recently preferred character pick of Marduk to play as the virtually forgotten Lars! His dynamic and unique style of Mishima martial arts seemed to catch Harlem unprepared, and any chance of an upset vanished in a quick 3-1 win for Chand that banished Harlem to Losers. 

Already in that shark tank were Stuckles, who was battling back after a 2nd round defeat to Nicholas “AFriendlyTree” McPhee, and exciting King specialist The Hangman Kid. While Hangman’s best form has been inconsistent in 2020, he did get a pre-event shoutout from Chand NY as the opponent he most feared to face – and the seeding did indeed have the two placed for a second-round showdown! I can only imagine both were disappointed when Brisbane stalwart Tom “yiggs” Ho toppled Hangman Kid in round 1, leading to his unfortunate straight-sets exit from the bracket. 

The Losers side meat grinder wound on, with Stuckles and South Australian champ Cheapies each stringing together three consecutive elimination match wins to square off in Losers Semis. Stuckles was fighting off limited practice time on his newly-released character, Kunimitsu.

But the transition seemed to throw off his opponents more than it slowed down Stuckles, who was able to outmaneuver opponents with the slippery ninja-thief as easily as he had with his signature Lucky Chloe. He recovered from a match down against Cheapies to reach Losers Finals, but neither his Kunimitsu nor Eliza could make much headway against the fast and flexible punishes of Harlem’s Julia.

This left us with the runback of Harlem vs. Chand NY, and from the quality of Tekken alone you got a sense that these were the right two competitors to have in the last match of the day. Fantastic defence from both players led to tennis-like rallying of pokes and strings, which were saved from the round timer only by their equally impressive knack for converting any eventual hit into optimal wall-carry combos.

What’s more, each of them found their chances to unleash some fancy-looking tech – particularly Chand, who continued to expertly maneuver Lars over and under seemingly reasonable approaches from Harlem at every opportunity.

Watching the rounds play out, it was incredibly hard to say who was playing better – a final round tally of 10 to 8 over four games shows that these two really were evenly matched. But on both occasions that a game went to a 5th and final round, it was Chand who clutched it out. Ultimately, that was good enough to secure him the championship! 

Chand NY remains the true final boss of Australian Tekken for 2020, but that title is never completely safe. It will be a thrill to watch him – and our other CouchWarriors League season champs – defend their crowns once we return in 2021!


For details on that announcement and to keep up with other Australian FGC news, make sure you check on the CouchWarriors website as well as the official site of the CWL. And of course thanks to our sponsors, players and organisers for making this inaugural season a success despite all the odds. May the FGC never die!

ProducerJosh Swift
Thomas Anderson
Thomas Anderson
A man in love with the stories of esports, Tom "TheWanderingBard" Anderson is a full-time writer and caster who has explored scenes from DOTA2 to CS:GO. He joins Snowball to highlight Australia's fighting game community, showcasing its hugely talented group of players and and expanding tournament calendar.

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