After months of competition, the Dragon Ball FighterZ World Tour is nearing its January conclusion. Matches have been fierce as international competitors have fought for a spot at the finals, but the fiercest among them is apparently Ryota “Kazunoko” Inoue, who hasn’t stopped winning Saga events despite qualifying for the World Tour finale all the way back in June. And with every tournament the Japanese powerhouse wins, another last-chance qualifier opens up at the main event.
The Dragon Ball FighterZ World Tour was designed in such a way that competitors were encouraged to enter as many Saga events as possible in an attempt to win every Dragon Ball that was up for grabs. No one managed to pull off this monumental feat, but if they had, the format of the grand finals would have changed completely from a pretty normal double-elimination bracket to a lengthy one-on-one exhibition between the player who had earned all the Dragon Balls and the winner of the last-chance qualifier.
Kazunoko hasn’t changed the entire format of the event, but his victories have still had an impact. He won the very first Dragon Ball FighterZ World Tour event at Community Effort Orlando over the summer, defeating fan favourites like Dominique “SonicFox” McLean and Goichi “GO1” Kishida while en route to his surprise victory. Since then, he has continued to attend tournaments on the competitive circuit, winning two more Saga stops at South East Asia Major in October and Japan Round just last weekend. As the champion of three separate events, Kazunoko has earned three replica Dragon Balls and a legitimate argument for being the best player in the world, and his triumphs will result in more qualifying spots.
Instead of simply being passed down to whoever happened to place second at Kazunoko’s two additional Saga appearances, two more spots will open up as last-chance qualifiers during the championship in January. As the Dragon Ball FighterZ World Tour organisers had already planned for at least one such qualifier, this means that at least three will be played beforehand to fill out the grand finals bracket. For the players who enter these events, the stakes will be pretty difficult compared to your typical last-chance qualifier: these qualifiers will all be played as single-elimination brackets instead of the traditional double-elimination, meaning that just one loss will put someone out of contention. Fortunately, hopeful players can enter as many of these qualifier events as necessary, and now there are three instead of just one.
Funnily enough, there’s historical precedence to this multiple last-chance qualifier scenario. Back in the early days of the Tekken World Tour, when it was still called the King of Iron Fist Tournament, the North American finals in 2016 were preceded by nine last-chance qualifiers. This was due to the eventual North American runner-up, Hoa “Anakin” Luu, relinquishing his first qualifying victory so that he could compete in more qualifying events, which he would continue to win and then relinquish repeatedly before the regional finals in an effort to learn more about Tekken 7. While this made the North American championship crowded and hectic, it also made for a beautifully intense day of competition leading up to the main event.
While most of fans’ attention has rightfully been on the back-and-forth rivalry between SonicFox and GO1, Kazunoko has quietly become one of the most successful competitors on the Dragon Ball FighterZ circuit. And with each of his successes, he makes room for another player to sneak into the World Tour finals. Kazunoko’s next opportunity to do so will be at December’s CouchWarriors Crossup, the tour’s last Saga event. A finalised list of attendees has yet to be released, but Japanese players have been known to travel to Australia frequently due the countries’ relative proximity. Will Kazunoko try for a fourth Dragon Ball? It’s still unclear, but you can bet a tonne of his fellow competitors will be watching to see if he’ll open up yet another spot at next year’s finale.
Ian Walker loves fighting games and writing about them. You can find him on Twitter at @iantothemax.
Header photo: Kazunoko