Masato “Bonchan” Takahashi is one of the best Street Fighter V players in the world.

He had an incredible 2019, winning CEO, VS Fighting, Evo, and Celtic Throwdown.

However, with COVID-19 cancelling all CPT events this year, Bonchan hasn’t had a chance to defend any of his titles. Despite the lack of high-level tournament play, Bonchan did have a chance to show off his skills at the recent Japanese esports Grand Prix, where he finished in third place behind tournament winner Keita “Fuudo” Ai and runnerup Tsunehiro “gachikun” Kanamori.

Bonchan was on fire on day one of the tournament, advancing all the way to the winners’ side of the top eight. Bonchan defeated Ryo “Dogura” Nozaki in a thrilling Karin vs M.Bison match. 

The 2019 Evo champion even showcased his fierce Sagat’s fireball game and aggressive playstyle against Junichi “crusher” Tanabe to advance into day two of the competition.

But when he faced Fuudo’s Poison in the winners’ final, Bonchan made the decision to stick to Sagat, eventually losing 0-2.

“I thought Karin wasn’t a good matchup and felt I had to use Sagat instead,” Bonchan told ONE Esports. “Both characters don’t seem to do well against Poison. Poison is probably the character that needs the most countermeasures at the moment.”

After the tournament, we were able to catch up with Bonchan to talk about the Grand Prix, the SFV:CE meta, and his thoughts on the current Capcom Pro Tour.

While Bonchan dominated 2019 with Karin, he’s been feeling her recent nerfs, saying, “She is obviously powered down at present. Her overall strength has gone down considerably because of the decrease in stun value, the stun gauge changes to other characters in the game, and the difficulty of continuing her attack after throws. It’s something that’s hard to convey to the audience because it does seem like nothing has changed. Even so, personally, I think Karin isn’t that weak and I feel that I can still use her in games.”

Bonchan further explained that Karin isn’t the only character feeling the effect of balance changes: “It seems that the reason why it has become difficult to win in tournaments is that the characters who were thought to be strong this season are actually at a disadvantage.”

In fact, Bonchan went as far as to say that “half of the winners from last year’s top eight wouldn’t be able to keep their positions this year if the CPT was still being held.”

COVID-19 has had a huge effect on fighting game esports this year, with the entire Capcom Pro Tour ultimately cancelled. Without any major tournaments, Bonchan has been reflecting on his success last year.

“If you just look at the results alone, last year was my best year,” said Bonchan. “But if you ask me what made it different? I actually didn’t do anything different, I think it was just all the experience I’ve built up finally paying off. I practiced as normal and didn’t go into any tournament expecting to win. I think I just used better strategies than those around me, and I was able to do that thanks to how much experience I’ve built up.”

Bonchan is one of the most experienced players on the circuit, and has been playing Street Fighter professionally since 2012. “I know more or less what to look out for at these tournaments,” said Bonchan. “So I’m able to consistently read my opponent’s moves, for both offense and defense.”

Bonchan also credited some of his success last year to playing more confidently after getting on a roll: “When you’re on a winning streak, I think it’s easier to play with some confidence, so it’s also easier to get results.”

As for this year, while Bonchan is concerned about missing out on the usual level of high-level play he gets on tour, he’s also been enjoying a break from the hectic travel schedule of the Capcom Pro Tour.

“I’m worried that the time I get to spend working on gaming will decrease but I also think that getting to take a break is a good thing because I personally want to take on new challenges while broadening my activities and experience.”

Of course, Bonchan is also looking forward to returning to top-tier competition, remarking, “When there are lesser tournaments, we players lose a sense of fulfillment and achievement. So I’m looking forward to returning to a time when these tournaments will be held more often again.”

Bonchan will be competing this weekend in the Capcom Pro Tour East Asia 2 tournament. This will be the final Capcom Cup 2020 qualifier for Japanese players.

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