In fighting games, the most important skill a player can have is the ability to clutch. No amount of lab work or frame data analysis can replace a player’s heart in a final round situation — it is in those moments where champions are forged. Perhaps one of the best players to look to for this style in action is Team Liquid’s Du “NuckleDu” Dang.
NuckleDu has taken clutching from an individual round scenario and scaled it up to clutching an entire Capcom Pro Tour season with his back against the wall. Last year was not a great start for Du. After a solid final year of Ultra Street Fighter IV — including an EVO top 8 appearance and a win at Combo Breaker — his Street Fighter V career had a shaky start. The first major SFV tournament, Final Round XIX, produced an uncharacteristic 12th place finish for the Guile main. Though he came to master the mechanics of the new title over the coming months, gold still eluded Du. Despite his strong play and ability to perform in high risk situations, Du found himself just barely losing out on the cusp of Grand Finals appearances.
However, around fall of last year, something clicked. As the Pro Tour Finals loomed in the not so distant future, Du found his groove. It was as though he had managed to mass download the habits of every player on the Tour at once. Counterpicks became a breeze, his corner traps became ever deadlier with each passing weekend, and his pacing was refined to a science. In the span of three months, Du found himself in Grand Finals five times, which was in stark contrast to his single Finals appearance in the first half of the year. More importantly, four of those five appearances resulted in the now dual-main taking home the top prize! Everything came to a head for NuckleDu in December at CPT Finals. He breezed through his bracket with only brief flashes of struggle, ultimately taking a 3-1 finish over Evil Geniuses’ Ricki Ortiz to take home first place and a cool $120,000.
Now, Du finds himself in a similar position to where he was at last year’s Brooklyn Beatdown. 2017 has been pockmarked with successes and let downs, from a 1st place finish at Combo Breaker to an uncharacteristic 12th place at ELEAGUE. Balance changes have hit Du hard, but in recent months, he seems to have found his footing once again. Following his Top-8 finish at EVO, NuckleDu took a less intense schedule for a brief period to focus on honing his technique for the home stretch of the 2017 season — the results have been immediate and intense. Last week, he swept through Dreamhack Montreal, defeating Justin Wong in both Winners’ and Grand Finals, in convincing fashion. As the field begin to hit the sticks here in Brooklyn, Du’s refined play will hit hard. With his sights set on retaining his title in 2017, there is no doubt that we’ll a strong finish from Du this weekend as he approaches his powerful end-of year form.