How Pakistan became Tekken esports’ unlikeliest powerhouse

Several countries are renowned in the field of esports, including the USA, China, Japan, and South Korea. These countries consistently produce top players in various esports, including fighting games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and Dragon Ball FighterZ. The domination extends to Smash Bros., with most top players hailing from the US and Japan, despite a few breaking the pattern in Mexico and Sweden.

Tekken was once similarly dominated by specific countries, especially South Korea, home to renowned players like Byeong-mun “Qudans” Son, Hyun-jin “JDCR” Kim, and Jae-min “Knee” Bae, known as the “King of Tekken”. Despite not being undisputed leaders, the USA and Japan were equally formidable with an impressive roster of talented Tekken players.>

When an unknown player from Pakistan made an impressive debut at EVO Japan, shocking the Tekken esports bigwigs, the world began to take note.

Pakistan was unlikely to most as the next esports powerhouse. Facing pervasive poverty, natural catastrophes, and a lack of official distributors for Xbox or PlayStation, the country seemed an improbable candidate. However, its thriving arcade culture, particularly in cities like Lahore and Karachi, nurtured a formidable Tekken player base.

Despite their regional prowess, Pakistani players were hindered from global participation due to passport limitations. The low-ranking Pakistani passport and financial constraints made it challenging to obtain visas to countries like South Korea, Japan, and the USA. This created a cyclical hurdle for Pakistani players, until 2019, when Arslan “Arslan Ash” Siddique seized his opportunity.

Arslan, a native of Lahore, spent his early years honing his skills in the city’s arcades. In 2018, he managed to obtain a visa to attend the 2018 FV X SEA Major in Malaysia. His respectable Top 12 finish led to a sponsorship with the UAE-based organisation VSlash esports. They funded his attendance at the 2018 OUG Tournament in Dubai.

In Dubai, Arslan’s exceptional performance caught attention. He made it to the Grand Finals and took down Knee, one of Tekken’s best players, even causing some to dismiss it as a temporary upset. However, Arslan proved his skill once again.

Arslan’s journey to the EVO Japan was marked with visa and finance issues, sleep deprivation, and hunger. Despite the disadvantages, he managed to beat Knee again and overcame a string of formidable opponents to face the Philippines’ AK. Thanks to Arslan’s unstoppable form, he won the EVO Japan title, marking a significant upset in esports history.

Arslan added to his accolades by defeating Knee in the EVO 2019 final, becoming the first Tekken player to win both tournaments in the same year. He went from an unknown player to being crowned as the world’s best Tekken player, putting the Pakistani Tekken scene on the global map.

Arslan’s victory made the international community aware of Pakistan’s Tekken prowess. More Pakistani players began receiving sponsorship opportunities, including Atif Butt, the current Tekken World Tour champion. Recently, Team Pakistan emerged victorious at the Gamers8 3v3 Nations Cup. Today, Pakistan is being acknowledged as a leading nation in Tekken. As EVO 2023 approaches in Las Vegas, the esports world awaits Arslan’s performance.

Pakistan’s ascension to the top of the Tekken scene has been gradual and impressive. However, without Arslan’s first visa to Malaysia, the country’s players might have remained unnoticed. This underscores the global nature of gaming and the hurdles many countries in the global south face just to compete. The potential for gaming talent is vast and while we may never discover all talent, the accomplishments of Pakistani Tekken alone are worth celebrating.

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