LAHORE: After years of gaining prestige and fame for individual accolades and performances, a team of top Tekken players from Pakistan have won an international trophy together in Riyadh – and it’s taken years of hard work getting there.
The final standings at the Nations Cup in Riyadh last week, the first country-based Tekken tournament, showed Pakistan at the top, unbeaten, and the rest of the world looking on in awe. The event, called Gamers8, was organized by the Saudi Esports Federation, bringing together 16 national teams from all over the world.
South Korea finished second, Japan third and the United States fourth. Team Pakistan received a cool $500,000 prize money for finishing first.
But this was not the first time Pakistan has reached the apex of professional Tekken. Arslan ‘Ash’ Siddique, considered one of the best players in the world, won the Evo Japan Championships in 2019 and 2023, and the Evo World Championship in 2019. Atif Butt won the Tekken World Tour in 2022, and Imran Khan, who finished the Riyadh tournament without losing a single match, came second at the Evo World Championship in 2022.
But the trio’s triumph has been years in the making, ever since Siddique started a boot camp to practice with, and train, other players in Lahore, after his first international win in 2019.
“It started as a small dream,” he told Arab News in a phone interview on Thursday. “Now after all the bootcamps, all the practice, we’ve finally done it, we’ve proven Pakistan has the strongest Tekken community in the world.”
The $500,000 prize money was something even a veteran champion like Siddique hadn’t experienced before.
“This is not the first time I’ve played in Riyadh, but this the biggest tournament I’ve ever seen, with such a prize money,” he said.
On the way to bagging the prize, Siddique and his teammates had to beat Korean players ‘Knee’ — the highest earning Tekken player of all time — and ‘Ulsan’ and ‘Chikurin.’ Indeed, most international finals end up a slog between players from Pakistan and South Korea, Siddique said.
In addition to Red Bull Gaming, the champion is co-sponsored by Twisted Minds, a Saudi-based esports team, which added to the pressure of winning:
“I had to do well, to repay their faith. Twisted Minds is one of the biggest esports teams in the Middle East. So, it felt like I was representing two countries instead of one.”
“The funny thing is that I used to enter tournaments with these guys [his current teammates], and normally you hope one of them loses so you don’t have to face them in the next round,” Siddique said, laughing. “But this time our feelings were clear, we wanted to win together so we were doing everything together, making strategies together.”
Siddique said he was now looking forward to the Evo World Championship 2023 in Las Vegas.
“Imran Khan is confirmed to go, I am going, and the rest, well we are trying to arrange visas for them,” Siddique, who has had visa problems before, missing two tournaments in Europe, said.
His teammate Atif Butt, part of the winning trip, said he was having visa troubles ahead of the Vegas tournament.
“My [Jordanian] sponsors and I are trying to figure [the visa situation] out, but you know, there’s already a time constraint, just 30 days left,” he told Arab News.
“Look at how the Saudi government has made all this happen through their esports initiative. Our government should do the same.”
But Butt hasn’t let the uncertainty detract from what he’s achieved or wants to in the future: “Everyone there [Riyadh] wanted to take the trophy back home to their countries, we also wanted to prove ourselves in the community, prove that we are the best region in the world [in Tekken].”
Like Butt, Imran Khan is also sponsored by Jordan-based FATE Esports. The quiet one of the trio, he said the team faced “some difficulties” during the tournament but changed character picks and “experimented a bit” to overcome them.
“Difficulties” for a player who went the entire tournament without losing a single game?
“That’s just luck you know, it doesn’t mean I’m the best player in the world, but together, Pakistan is strongest.”