EVO 2019’s best story was the unstoppable rise of Pakistani Tekken player Arslan Ash

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The best Tekken player in the world had to overcome visa and travel challenges to win the year’s biggest tournaments.

“The story here is this guy cannot be stopped,” said commentator Aris, as 23-year-old Arslan Ash mopped the floor with EVO 2019’s Tekken 7 champion. Tekken 7 had an exciting grand final at this year’s EVO fighting game tournament, but not because it ever really looked neck-and-neck. South Korean champion Knee, who won EVO last year and has been a powerhouse in the Tekken scene for years, never looked like he had the match under control.

Knee scrapped his way through a few rounds, but Arslan pressed on relentlessly, and then all of a sudden it was over: With a perfect sidestep and two quick jabs, Arslan was the new EVO champion. The excitement was in knowing just how hard it was for Arslan to get to that point.

Arslan Ash is undoubtedly, in 2019, the best competitive Tekken player in the world. Earlier this year he beat Knee and the rest of Tekken’s finest at EVO Japan, ragged from two-and-a-half days of air travel across five flights. Arslan is from Pakistan, and has had trouble getting visas for countries like Japan and the US just to compete. Pakistan has a huge Tekken community, according to Arslan, but few of its players compete internationally, and his sudden dominance over the last year has taken the Tekken world by surprise.

Dominance really is the right word: Arslan stayed in the winners bracket through all his EVO 2019 matches, beating Knee in the semifinals and another Tekken favorite, Anakin, to make it to the grand final. And then he took down Knee again, without a bracket reset (meaning Knee, fighting from the loser’s bracket, couldn’t take enough rounds to force a second set, which often happens in nail-biter grand finals).

And it’s not like EVO and EVO Japan were Arslan’s only accomplishments. He won another tournament in Vegas the day before EVO, casually tweeting that it was a good warm up. Since winning EVO Japan in February he’s been gaining attention, and the fighting game community has rallied behind him—a project called the EFight Pass helped Arslan get a visa to travel to the US.

There’s a new reigning Tekken 7 champion and he hails from a region whose gaming prowess has not been given a chance to make itself known until today.

On August 4, Arslan “Arslan Ash” Saddique, a 23-year-old from Pakistan, edged out Jae-Min “Knee” Bae in the grand finals of the 2019 Evolution Championship Series (EVO) in Las Vegas—one of, if not the biggest, fighting game tournament series in the world. Saddique won almost $14,000 in prize money.

It’s the third time Saddique has bested Jae-Min, who many from the gaming community considered a “god” of the game. It’s a monumental win, considering the former was virtually unheard of a year ago.

 When Saddique won EVO Japan, a similar but smaller event in Asia, back in February, many in the gaming scene considered it a fluke. EVO Japan isn’t as considered as prestigious as its North American counterpart and has only been around for two years. But he solidly backed up his win, becoming the first player to win both EVO and EVO Japan in the process. His 2019 EVO championship win has cemented him as this year’s best Tekken player in the world.

“[Saddique’s] win makes history in the FGC (fighting game community), but especially for Tekken,” John Joshua “JJ-kun” Perez, Tekken 7commentator for Gariath Concepts, told VICE. “Aside from the fact that he won [both EVO and EVO Japan], he came from an unknown region from the Tekken community.”

EVO hosted 9 official fighting games this year, including Tekken 7, whose competitive scene is centered around a few countries: Japan, the United States, and South Korea.

This year’s top eight consists of players from those very same countries: four players from Japan, two players from South Korea, and one player from the United States—all of whom have experienced success in their respective regions for the past few years. Saddique is the exception. He’s the most inexperienced competitive player of the eight and is the first Pakistani player to participate in the event since 2011.

After playing former titles like Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and The King of Fighters, Saddique burst into the Tekken 7 competitive scene in 2018, during the FV X SEA Major Malaysia, where he finished 9th. He did so not without some difficulty. Among other things, he had to overcome Visa issues and a lack of funds.

Saddique then broke headlines in his next tournament in Dubai, where he earned the championship after first besting Jae-Min, his eventual foe at this year’s EVO. He defeated the South Korean gamer again at the TGU x SEA Major Thailand 2019.

It’s this third win against Jae-Min that has convinced players that Saddique is not just a fluke. If you’re still not convinced, just watch the 2019 EVO Grand Finals:

“Players from Pakistan, like Korea, are very good players and are very competitive,” Saddique told theScore esports. “When they saw that I won, they’re working harder and becoming better.”

He added: “They set me as a benchmark, right? So, now, if they’re working hard, becoming stronger, it is ultimately beneficial for the whole Pakistan [FGC] community in Tekken, right?”

Saddique’s phenomenal breakout is bringing attention to the potential talent pool in Pakistan. It’s leading others to think about what else the Pakistani fighting game scene has in store for the rest of the world.

“The lore is just beginning,” Perez added. “Arslan said that he isn’t the greatest player of Pakistan. I just wonder how great Pakistani players are.”

This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA and pcgamer.com

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