Who’s the Best Fighting Game Player of All Time?

Last Monday morning, I posited on Twitter that Dominique “SonicFox” McLean just might be the best fighting game player of all time. Then, my mentions blew up.

Image Credit: ELeague

This tweet was coming off of yet another dominant performance of McLean’s, this time at Winter Brawl 12 in Philadelpha, PA. The young competitor won Injustice 2 using only a Ninja Turtle, and fought his way through a stacked Dragon Ball FighterZ bracket filled with tough competition from virtually all corners of the fighting game community.

McLean has been doing this for years. First, in Mortal Kombat, Dead or Alive, and Skullgirls. Now, in Injustice 2, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, and whatever else he happens to feel like playing at the time. With such an unstoppable streak across a variety of games and sub-genres, is it too soon to call McLean the best?

Fightin’ Words

Naturally, this question sparked lots of discussion about who fighting games’ Michael Jordan truly is. Names like Justin Wong, Daigo Umehara, and Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi came up frequently among those who chimed in, each with their own unique reasons to be considered the genre’s elite.

Speaking of John Choi…

Alex Valle, head of event production team Level Up and a multi-game legend in his own right, chimed in with a succinct and pretty agreeable breakdown:

Those six names laid out by Valle came up the most frequently, and they all have a legitimate claim to the throne.

Daigo is perhaps the genre’s first household name, holding a Guinness World Record for major tournament wins and giving birth to the ubiquitous Evo Moment 37 thanks to his unforgettable parry comeback against fellow legend Justin Wong. Umehara’s Wikipedia page contains a dizzying 20-year scroll of 1st and 2nd place finishes, from Vampire Savior and Guilty Gear victories in the late 90s and early 2000s to solid Street Fighter V results in the modern day.

And then there’s Justin Wong. More Evo championships than anyone in the world, including 8 between Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and 3. Possibly the most recognizable name in fighting games. Justin has proven his ability to win at just about anything, dominating launch-day invitationals for titles like Mortal Kombat, Pokken Tournament and Killer Instinct. But Capcom games are where he tends to put his focus, and he simply hasn’t made too big a splash in Street Fighter V as of late.

If we’re juding by longevity, Tokido just might be the winner. The “Murderface,” as he’s known, has been competing since the late-90s, with dominant performances in everything from King of Fighters to Tekken. He’s tore his way through prominent Capcom titles such as Capcom vs. SNK 2 , Super Street Fighter II Turbo and Street Fighter IV. And unlike Wong and Umehara, he’s still at the top of the pack in Street Fighter V, winning Evo 2017 and taking 2nd place at Capcom Cup 2017.

Enter Seon-woo “Infiltration” Lee. Perhaps the most dominant player of the late Street Fighter IV/early Street Fighter V era (and probably the best player of Street Fighter X Tekken’s short life), Infiltration looks frighteningly unbeatable when he’s at the top of his game. However, Infiltration has yet to truly dominate anything outside of Street Fighter, and hasn’t quite looked the same since his big Evo 2016 win.

And then there’s Christopher “NYChrisG” Gonzalez. Arguably the best Marvel vs. Capcom 3 player ever, with a ridiculously long streak of local and regional wins as well as an Evo 2016 championship. He’s also highly adaptable, with big finishes in games like Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter IV and V, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite and now Dragon Ball FighterZ. Like SonicFox, he seems to have plenty left in the tank.

That brings us to SonicFox. Considered the best fighting game player of the past few years, this 19-year old prodigy first made a splash with his Mortal Kombat and Dead or Alive play around 2012. In the six years since, he’s cemented himself as the absolute best NetherRealm player in the world, racking up an unrivaled amount of first place finishes across Injustice, Mortal Kombat X and Injustice 2. That’s on top of regularly sweeping Skullgirls tournaments, and taking top spots in games like Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite and Dragon Ball FighterZ from the moment they hit the wild.

So, who’s the best?

While it’s hard to pick a winner from my very un-scientific sweep of various Wiki pages, Daigo, Justin Wong, Tokido and SonicFox shine a bit brighter than the rest when looking at their complete body of work. Still, there are just way too many variables at play here (these folks all specialize in different games, to a degree), and far too few concrete stats out there to start judging these folks on pure wins alone. While there are some great resources out there for specific games, such as TheGameTwok, a stats-based site focused on recent Street Fighter circuits, much of the genre’s early days is left to word of mouth.

Is the best fighting game player of all time someone who can win at any game they play, like SonicFox? Or someone who is the undisputed best at a single title, like Daigo and Infiltration were in their prime? Do Evo championships weigh more heavily than months of consecutive regional wins?

There’s no clear answer, and it’s part of what makes competitive fighting games great. These kinds of heated discussions over “the best” mirror the Jordan vs. Lebron/Brady vs. Montana arguments we see in real sports, and are indicative of just how many legends the genre has already forged — and how passionate folks have become about their favorite competitors. It’s why we scream at our computer monitors during heated Twitch streams, or fill sports arenas to watch folks play video games, or shout at one another on Twitter.

But seriously, SonicFox is the best.