The path of a champion: looking back at the ESL MKX Pro League Season One finals

After eight weeks of ESL MKX Pro League qualifiers in North America, Europe and CIS, ESL crowned its very first fighting game champion last Saturday. Prodigy Sonic Fox and renowned veteran REO met in the grand finals to battle for the first ESL MKX Pro League champion title. The victor would walk away with a grand prize of US$60,000 as well as the ESL MKX Pro League belt.

The two competitors were seeded together in the initial round of 16 and were fated to meet again in grand finals. However, both contestants traveled on different paths. Sonic Fox won his way directly to the grand finals, remaining entirely in the winner’s bracket. REO, though, had a much more strenuous path after having been defeated by Sonic Fox and sent to the loser’s bracket in the very first round of competition. 

The first ESL MKX Pro League champion

The ESL MKX Pro League Season One started and finished in the same fashion for the two contestants, with REO and Sonic Fox having to fight one another in their first and last matches. Both players are champions of their respective eras: REO reigned supreme in Mortal Kombat 9 and Sonic Fox dominated in Injustice: Gods Among Us.

Sonic Fox demonstrated a level of fundamentals that took the NRS community by surprise.  Nobody was prepared to deal with Sonic Fox’s new and improved neutral game. He is typically known to crush his opponents after making a strong read from the neutral game followed by imposing a series of setplay on his opponents. This time around he integrated patient play, zoning and footsies to control the neutral game. He closed the grand finals in a classic manner, performing a death blow x-ray to win the final round of the set. The winner of the ESL MKX Pro League Fatal 8 and Mid-Season Showdown is now the winner of Season One, awarded the grand prize of US$60,000 and crowned the very first MKX Pro League champion!

REO demonstrated one of the most fundamentally sound ways of maneuvering traditional zoning – remain calm, don’t over-commit, walk forward, maintain your spacing and, most importantly of all, know when to attack. After fighting his way through a demanding losers’ bracket, REO displayed astounding mental focus as he went up against Sonic Fox, who would ensure he tested his limits. Being down 3-0, REO opted for a character switch from Tanya to Shinnok in an attempt to deal with Fox’s Kitana. It worked in his favor initially and secured him a win, but ultimately it wasn’t enough. REO went down 4-1, placing second along with receiving the still-substantial prize of US$25,000.

The champion

Sonic Fox displaying intense focus

Sonic Fox defeated some of the most skilled players in the NRS community in order to secure his position in the grand finals on the winners’ side of the bracket. His path in the brackets consisted of REO in the round of 16, Perfect Legend in the quarterfinals, Big D in the semifinals and finally Pig of the Hut in the winners’ finals. Every step of the way Sonic Fox was pushed to the limits – and he was using his fairly new character Kitana, which made his victories that much more impressive. He trained very hard to build a character from the ground up in time for the finals knowing not many would be prepared for such a drastic change in playstyle. As a high-profile player, this strategy proved immensely successful, with him dominating the tournament with very clean and fundamentally sound play.

The worthy adversary

YOMI REO, the Mortal Kombat 9 legend

The trek to grand finals was no easy task for REO as his upsetting loss in the round of 16 set him on a long road through the losers’ bracket. A very high degree of mental fortitude was required to maintain composure throughout six matches of the highest level before going up against the winners’ bracket finalist. As a high-caliber player, REO’s adaptation and ability to make comebacks during the heat of battle gave him the edge he needed to overcome the competition. LL Taco, CrazySteady, A F0xy Grampa, Big D, Perfect Legend and finally Pig of the Hut were eliminated by REO as he fought his way to the grand finals. The odds were against him as he had to battle tremendous competition before facing off against Sonic Fox once again.

The dark horse

Lar, number one seed from the CIS region

Upon his arrival, Lar was unknown to most North American contestants. Defeating CrawlingShadow and CrazySteady, he quickly earned a reputation as the dark horse of the competition. Lar fought the deciding battle for CIS in the semifinals against Pig of the Hut, who when interviewed referred to Lar as “the hardest person I played today”. Unfortunately, Lar was eliminated by Perfect Legend in the losers’ bracket, placing fifth.

The people’s champion

The fans’ choice winner, the British A F0xy Grampa

Season One fans’ choice champion A F0xy Grampa bested Master VHD in the round of 16 and found himself up against Pig of the Hut, where he would be put into the losers’ bracket. A F0xy Grampa defeated former adversary from the fans’ choice event Nivek in an electrifying set that came down to the wire before moving on to fight REO. A F0xy Grampa was one of the favorites to win Season One, but unfortunately it was not meant to be. Although he led the set against REO, he was unable to close it out as REO’s adaptation and intelligent reads kept him on lockdown while under pressure to eventually eliminate him from the tournament, placing seventh along with Madzin.

Europe’s last stand

Representing Germany: Madzin

Europe’s last stand fell to Madzin, who, after being put into the losers’ bracket by Big D, eliminated CheapEddie and then engaged in a very tense set against Perfect Legend. On the last round of the last set of his tournament life, Madzin put all of his meter on the table and attempted to trick Perfect Legend. He performed a Sub-Zero x-ray cancel, which appears to be an unstoppable attack only to be cancelled at the last second to impose another mixup. This high-risk decision didn’t turn out well for Madzin as Perfect Legend called the bluff and took the match with an EX spin, sending him out of the tournament in a seventh place two-way tie with A F0xy Grampa.

The former champion

Back to back EVO champion Perfect Legend

The two-time EVO Champion Perfect Legend sent LLL Taco to the losers’ bracket then fought Sonic Fox in the quarterfinals. In the final round against Sonic Fox, Perfect Legend mistakenly let the run mechanic go without a cancel. This input error cost him the match, where he would then continue fighting from the losers’ bracket. Perfect Legend crushed the opposition in the losers’ bracket, sending CrawlingShadow out of the tournament and defeating both the last remaining European and CIS representatives. His momentum was halted by REO, who knocked him out of the tournament, with him placing fourth and taking home US$5,000.

The character loyalist

Pure focus from Pig of the Hut

The Kenshi of America sent two European contestants, CheapEddite and A F0xy Grampa, to the losers’ bracket before running into Sonic Fox in the winners’ bracket finals – this was where his streak would come to an end. Pig of the Hut’s ability to condition and instill fear into his opponents in conjunction with excellent meter management allowed him to open up many opportunities in his game plan. From strategic zoning to boldly running up to an opponent from full screen and throwing them, he demonstrated good decision making on many levels. After his loss against Sonic Fox, Pig of the Hut was eliminated from the tournament by REO, taking home the third place prize of US$10,000.

For all the event VODs, check out the playlist on the ESL YouTube channel.

Additionally, make sure to follow ESL Mortal Kombat on Facebook and Twitter to get all the latest information on the second season of the ESL MKX Pro League!


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