Well — it wasn’t an actual panda but it was still just as surprising.
In 2018, there was nothing more shocking than when Jeong “Rangchu” Hyeon-ho became the Tekken World Tour champion with Panda. Even six years later, the determination of a young player to win it all with a character everyone considered to be a joke is still one of the most celebrated stories in professional fighting games.
First, let’s briefly touch on why everyone considers Panda to be one of the worst characters in Tekken 7. She’s a “big body” character so she has their weaknesses (slower moves and easier to hit due to size). What’s especially crippling for her is her bad movement. Backdashing and sidestepping are key to both your offense and defense in high-level Tekken. Panda, thanks to her stumpy legs, just doesn’t move as fast as the rest of the cast and when you couple this with being a big body it becomes difficult for her to ever get an advantage.
So, why would Rangchu decide to play a character that has remained bad even to this day?
The answer to that is rather simple. “I wanted to main an uncommon character that people barely play and Panda is one of them,” Rangchu said in an interview with Core-A Gaming. “And I’m not very good at sidestepping but you don’t really have to with Panda and she has a long reach which is why I use her.”
This admission of weakness and deciding to play around it is what makes Rangchu special. By choosing to stick to Panda and focus on what he’s already good at, he was able to take the Tekken World Tour by storm in his debut year.
Busting into the scene as a bear
Rangchu was already playing in Asian tournaments before he decided to enter the Tekken World Tour in 2018. It didn’t take long for people to start buzzing about this low-tier underdog from Korea taking names from top competitors. He made many top-eight finishes on his road to the Tekken World Tour Finals, with his most impressive finishes being 4th in REV Major 2018 and 2nd in the Tekken World Tour Taiwan Challenger.
Throughout this journey, there were two walls that Rangchu couldn’t overcome. One was Tekken legend Bae “Knee” Jae-Min and the other was 2017 Tekken World Tour champion Son “Qudans” Byeong-mun. It was inevitable that he’d be facing these two again in the Finals and that he’d need every advantage he could get in order to beat them.
Persevering, no matter what the tier lists say
“In tournaments, the strong characters are really common… so you can practice a lot with them,” said Rangchu. That’s not the case with those characters that are considered low-tier. There’s a knowledge gap that you can exploit when it comes to playing unpopular characters. Of course, they’re considered weak for a reason but when you have someone as skilled as Rangchu pushing a character to their limit you can get surprising results.
That’s what took place in the 2018 Tekken World Tour Finals. After getting swept by Knee in the winners’ semi-finals because of character switching, Rangchu stayed with Panda all the way. He eventually got his revenge on Knee in the losers finals with the character he’s most known for. After that, Rangchu did the unthinkable – beating the 2017 champion twice with what was objectively the worst character in the game to become a Tekken World Tour champion.
A Panda winning the Tekken World Tour was unprecedented but this is a core lesson in fighting games. Despite what popular opinions and analysis might say, it’s your own skill and confidence that’ll carry you to victory. Rangchu becoming the 2018 champion is proof of that and we’re likely to see more of these kinds of stories when Tekken 8 comes around.
Banner photo by Robert Paul, image from Tekken Wiki.