Nando Tovar is ready to shut the critics down again. He's prepared to exceed expectations and prove that his play was not a fluke. The time to prove to the fighting game world that he belongs with the best is now.
Tovar is one of the best representatives of the new generation Street Fighter players that originated in 2008 when Street Fighter 4 was released. He's a product of a culture that did not spend the majority of their days in an arcade, but in front of a television screen at home. With that, the same criticism that follow other newer players apply -- no patience and understanding of the neutral game in fighting games, conditioning, and the lack of an alternative plan when the initial plan doesn't pan out. However, as the Capcom Pro Tour continues and more newer faces place highly in major tournaments, this stigma will fade into the past.
His competitive journey began last year when he decided to participate in local tournaments to play people other than his friends. It was there he met up with James "Jame" Szeto, a fellow student at Cal State East Bay and competitive fighting game player, who then invited him to play with his group, "Pandora House."
Pandora House is a group of competitive players that consistently played together and helped the other through analysis, practice, and many games. Tovar honed his skills with these like-minded players and eventually transitioned from a consistent loser in tournaments to eventual challenger.
"When I first started playing, I had my own group that I beat, but in local tournaments I only won one or two games," Tovar said. "It wasn't until I grasped the game mechanics, watched and talked to other people, and asked a lot of questions that I started improving. A big part of competing is being aware of what you're doing and what people are looking out for."
In Street Fighter 4, Tovar was a contender at local tournaments, but placed highly in just two large majors -- Northwest Majors (9th) and Southern California Regionals (9th). But he never stopped improving. Even with the doubters and criticism that surrounded his character choice (El Fuerte -- a mix-up heavy character), Tovar pressed on and analyzed his play to improve upon each and every placing.
"I always saw improvements. It was discouraging to lose to the same player," Tovar said. "I would develop a mental block from it, but I would use that and analyze my play to try to beat anyone in the future."
Now, with Street Fighter 5, he's already off to a lightning-fast start with a fifth-place showing at Final Round 19 under his belt.
However, Tovar did admit that he came into Final Round with a distinct advantage -- his character, 'Rainbow Mika'.
"No one displayed the kind of play I used with that character," Tovar said. "I enjoy getting people upset with her. When you lose to her, it could be just one or two sequences. She's uncomfortable to play against. Realistically, I came into it (Final Round) wanting to win the whole thing."
Now, there's plenty of game tape for opponents to watch on Tovar, but that comes with the territory of success. The better you do, the more opportunity exists for others to beat you. He'll be the first to tell you that his improvement will continue regardless of the lack of surprise. When he started out in Street Fighter 5, Tovar lost often. He wasn't patient enough and lacked the understanding to succeed in the new game. He was forced to wait for his opportunity to attack, but realized that all you need in this game is one or two openings. Just play it cool and not overdo anything, walk the opponent into the corner, and reverse the panic onto them. Like many of the newer faces in Street Fighter, Tovar developed a patient mentality -- much like how the older players grew into it from their days at the arcade. The grind is just different.
The newer generation of Street Fighter players embodied the direction that Capcom went to with the fourth and fifth iteration of its franchise -- faster game play, lenient execution, and a game that emphasized risk and reward. But Tovar understands that nurturing is important for the next line of fighters. Much like his own start, community is everything for an incoming player.
"There needs to be a great learning environment to keep players interested," Tovar said. "We have to nurture players from a local-level and keep these newer players around."
Street Fighter 5 fits Tovar's style to a tee. It's a game that rewards dashing, jumps and reactions -- all the traits that a young person needs. For a scramble-based player, it allows him to create more opportunity without the work and play mind games with the opponent at the same time. Because of the faster game's pace, and the fact that his character hits hard, he could rack up victories without too much difficulty. As Tovar said, he's much more confident in his game with Street Fighter 5.
"I chose a character that catered to my strengths: good reads, reactions and the ability to frustrate my opponent," Tovar said. "Also, she could freestyle with her v-trigger as well. That's always fun to use."
The next stop for the budding star is Northern California Regionals. For Tovar, it's a return to his roots -- this was his first major tournament. It also represents the best platform for the player to really prove that his success is sustainable. The criticism for him, and many other newer players, still exist and it's up to their play to prove that it's all wrong.
"I'm a confident player. I understand that everyone is just human," Tovar said. "Everyone can be conditioned. When I play, I have strong mental strength. I built it up because I used to be easily frustrated. I'm hoping I have a good day when I play -- sometimes you just don't."
For those that want to see the new faces succeed, they should hope he will.