The Rise of NuckleDu

From beating his uncle to beating the World.

FEB 06, 2018

“When he[my uncle] beat me, I bought a PS3 with money I didn’t have and bought Street Fighter 4. I trained every day… I eventually invited him over to my house and we played and I won.” - Du “NuckleDu” Dang, from an interview with Bornfree.

The beginning of NuckleDu’s story is one told time and time again in the FGC and across all competitions. It is the story of the salty runback. Despite never having played Street Fighter, NuckleDu’s ego could not allow his uncle to be better at him in this game. The fact that his uncle could lord it over him was too much and through pure spite, NuckleDu picked up the controller and became a Street Fighter player.

The hatred of losing and the ego to believe that you should win. That is the backbone of all competitors. He already had the mindset of a great player and all he needed now was the motivation. Watching Justin Wong play Daigo Umehara at EVO was the trigger that started it all.

“I’ve been poor all my life. My family has always had to struggle for money… So man, what can I do to help? And then that was when I discovered Daigo vs. Justin Wong at EVO. What the hell is this?” - NuckleDu on becoming an FGC player, from an interview with Bornfree.

NuckleDu rose through the ranks of Street Fighter 4 quickly. He was in many ways the vanguard of the next generation of Street Fighter players. Before the internet had become widespread, the only place to play Street Fighter and become the best was in the arcades. That was where players rose up and learned how to play Street Fighter. But online play was introduced in Street Fighter 4 and brought a whole new generation of players to the front. NuckleDu was the first of them, the vanguard of a new generation.

NuckleDu symbolized a generational shift in the North American Street Fighter scene and perhaps that was why he was able to tilt so many pro players with in-game taunts. It was surprising how effective this tactic was, as Street Fighter culture is rougher around the edges. Trash talking is not only allowed, it is encouraged. Bigging up one’s own ego and throwing shade on your opponent was just a part of life. All NuckleDu did was taunt by putting shades on his character or later on in Street Fighter V by teabagging his opponent. He had found a new way to taunt his opponents that didn’t require talking, but in-game action. If you want me to stop doing this taunt, then make me. And few of his opponents could and that made it more frustrated to a point rarely seen from people who had grown up in the rough-and-tumble arcade environment.

By the end of Ultimate Street Fighter 4, NuckleDu was the best player from America and the best Guile player. He was a classic defensive Guile that put up a wall and slowly broke down the opponent. But NuckleDu took a classically defensive character and gave it an offensive twist while still keeping the strong fundamentals of defense. This ability to play both aggressive and defensive styles became a hallmark of NuckleDu’s play.

Sadly for NuckleDu, Street Fighter 4 ended and Street Fighter 5 took its place. When the game was released, Guile was not part of the initial cast. The mechanics of the game had changed and NuckleDu suffered as a result.

NuckleDu was suffering as a player and as a person. He had depression and was struggling with thoughts of ending his life. Personal issues made it easier to bring that thought to the forefront and he was close to ending it all with a bullet to the head. His dog had given him some light in that darkness. Team Liquid upon hearing of his predicament tried everything in their power to get him better, and the community reaction was sympathetic and emotional. It shocked NuckleDu as he wrote, “I honestly did not expect people to react that way. I thought people only cared about me when I do well at a tournament, but people actually cared about my physical and mental well being. Thank you for your concern guys. I will come out of this stronger, and see it as a second chance.”

Depression is an ongoing struggle that never goes away, but NuckleDu had been reinvigorated. He had faced the brink and had come out the other side a stronger person. One month later Guile was released for SFV and the best form of NuckleDu’s career began in 2016. He started to rise up the ranks with top finishes and victories. His big run starts at the beginning of October. He went on a four tournament streak where he won the Fall Classic, got 5th at SCR, won Canada Cup, and the CPT Regional NA Finals. By that point in time, NuckleDu wasn’t just the best American Street Fighter player, he was the best player in the world. The best players in Japan recognized this fact and created a study group to destroy him at the Capcom Cup Finals, the biggest prize pool that Street Fighter had ever seen.

They failed. NuckleDu crushed everyone with such ease that calling it a competition is almost an insult to NuckleDu as that would imply it was competitive. NuckleDu had reached the pinnacle of his career thus far. He had become the best player in the world and had won one of the biggest tournaments in Street Fighter history.

But the story didn’t end there. The cycle continued. Now it was NuckleDu who was on the receiving end of the salty runback. Players like Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi and Zhoujin “Xizohao” Zeng swore revenge on NuckleDu for their repeated losses to him. Xiaohai, in particular, created a Twitter account for the sole purpose of talking trash to NuckleDu in English for the Western world to see. Now it was NuckleDu’s turn to be on the other side of the generational shift as Victor “Punk” Woodley rose up to dethrone him as the best player in America.

NuckleDu’s time as the best player in the world was brief. He was still among the best players in the world, but others had surpassed him both regionally and abroad such as Victory “Punk” Woodley and Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi. NuckleDu was still bringing in incredible results as one of the best players in the world throughout the year: 3rd place at Final Round XX in early March, NCR Regionals 1st place in April, 5th place at EVO in July, titles at both DreamHack Montreal and Denver nearing the end of the year. But what was most impressive about NuckleDu was his maturation as both a player and a person.

At the beginning of NuckleDu’s story, he started off as a poor player with aspirations to become the best player in the world to support his family. Now he has done more than that. With his newfound prosperity, he now acts as a role model for the FGC. He isn’t just one of the best players in the world, he is actively trying to help those in need or give chances to players to make their mark on the game as he had. He sponsored 3 players to attend EVO 2017. When he won DreamHack Montreal, he donated his winning to Hurricane Irma relief. When personal issues flared up again, he resolved to drop out of the Capcom Cup Finals 2017 and focus on his health rather than his career.

NuckleDu was a player who started it all from spite. To prove that he could beat his uncle in a game of Street Fighter. He has risen as the vanguard of a new generation of American Street Fighter players to become one of the best players in the world in 2016. 2017 saw NuckleDu build on that legacy as a role model and competitive player in the FGC. As 2018 gets under way, it will now be his turn to inspire. He has reached the top and just as the battles between Daigo and Justin Wong inspired him to play, his own matches and story will inspire the generation after him to pick up the joystick.

Photo Credit: Red Bull // Cameron Baird