Approximately 11 months ago, Lyon “Lyonidas” Buhagiar has just finished 9th in the Tekken 7 European IESF Qualifiers, after making it second out of a gruelling group stage which also featured Finland, represented by World-renowned Claudio player Jopelix as well as Dutch legend ArtofAce. Unfortunately making out of the group was not enough for Malta to qualify, as Lyonidas immediately met Why from Poland who made quick work of our hero (and later on won the whole thing) knocking him out at 9th and therefore excluding him from the top 6 who then were supposed to qualify for the Offline Finals in Eilat, Israel, an event which was unfortunately cancelled because of the current global pandemic which was in full effect.
This year, however, Lyonidas was hellbent on not letting the chance escape him again, and after a year of training against the best of Europe. This training took place particularly in tournaments such as the Intercontinental Fight Club, also known as ICFC, an event hosted by tenomedia pitting the biggest names in all of the continent against each other for weekly prize money as well as a leaderboard final putting on the line some sick prizes. Lyonidas however amped it up a notch and took his training also to Italy, where he represented officially FULLSYNC for the first time and competed among the best in the country as well as Korean ace Frannawilliams and Spanish killer BlackKazama in the Arcade Tournament hosted by Tekken Emilia, placing 9th among names such as DanielMado, ManuelMitraglia and Crossfire to name only but a few.
This all takes us to last week, where in a format much akin to an actual World Cup in football, Lyonidas played one best of three match a day against his opponents in the first qualification group, with the top 2 proceeding to another group stage for the final chance to make it to Eilat. Malta’s group was stacked with talent, as apart from the Maltese there were also MitrustStorm representing Italy, known as Europe’s best Nina player, Deadeye from Spain and ArtofAce, the dutch legend once again crossing paths with Lyonidas in IESF Qualification. Things got hairy immediately, as Malta vs Italy ended in a loss for Lyonidas. Italy suffered defeats at the hands of Spain and the Netherlands as well, which placed Malta dead last in the group. It was then a do or die situation, a situation which did not take the fight out of Lyonidas but instead fueled the young competitor to bring out his 110%.
An emphatic 2-0 victory against ArtofAce all but brought back Malta’s hopes to make it out of the initial group stage, and victory of the dutch against Spain meant that the winner of Malta vs Spain would be the one to proceed. Lyonidas and Deadeye had met multiple times in tournament before, and the latter had beaten the Maltese every time, so it was not only pressure from being knocked out but also against an opponent he had never beaten before. Another stellar performance was given by the Maltese player, as he cruised to another 2-0 victory, putting Malta first in the group on head-to-head and sending Spain and Italy, two candidates for victory of the whole IESF tournament, crashing out of the competition.
The job was only half complete, however, as another group stage pitting six qualifying countries took place Sunday the 26th of September, with the top 4 reserving themselves a spot in Israel. This was another arduous task for Malta, as they were inserted in a pool with the qualifiers from the other groups in the first group stage; Luxembourg, France, Belgium and Portugal, as well as the Netherlands who made it out of Malta’s own group.
Belgium’s representative particularly is one of Europe’s brightest stars when it comes to Tekken 7, having registered amazing results at the extremely young age of 19, the world is really PiKaH’s oyster when it comes to fighting games. PiKaH is also one of Lyonidas’ training partners, making their encounter in the group an even closer affair.
The group being formed of six players meant that 4th place was enough to make the cut, therefore two wins out of five possible games would be enough to qualify. Lyonidas had a good start with a victory against Portugal, but then lost at the hands of Fuhito from France. The third match against Luxembourg’s representative started grim for the Maltese as well, as he lost the first game. 2020’s Lyonidas would have been flustered and thrown in the towel, but having made amazing strides forward in his practical game but most importantly his mental, Lyonidas bit on his mouthpiece and made a comeback to win the tie with a score of 2-1, making qualification almost sure with two victories on hand.
Game four against the Netherlands was more of a group placing issue rather than a qualification issue, with Portugal and Luxembourg drowning in 5th and 6th places, unfortunately only getting one and no wins in the whole course of the stage. Lyonidas however was still focused, and riding the momentum from his previous victory, made quick work of ArtofAce and registered an extremely confident 2-0 to secure qualification beyond all doubt. The final match for Lyonidas was against his buddy PiKaH, an encounter which went down to the wire but the Belgian edged it with a score of 2-1.
Thus concluded the group stage, with an emotional Lyonidas happy beyond his wildest expectations at the prospect of travelling to Eilat and representing his home country Malta, and with the opportunity to meet so many other world class players representing their homeland in an Offline Finals in Israel which will be sure to keep Lyonidas supporters glued to the tournament results, supporting the Maltese. There honestly could not have been anyone better than Lyon to represent Malta in this tournament, as with his work ethic and dedication he is by far the hardest working player in the Maltese islands.
Asking Lyonidas a day after the event, with the emotions settled and the pulse definitely more stable, we try to take a peek at what was going through his head in the crucial moments of this past week.
First of all Lyon, massive congratulations for making it out of the gauntlet! It was a great journey to watch unfold.
1. How did you feel on Wednesday night after the game against MitrustStorm, coming out on the losing end and learning that Italy had been beaten by the Netherlands and Spain, making Malta the bottom of the group with only two games left?
At the time, after I lost the game I was really concerned that I needed to win my other games to qualify for the next phase. I was a bit shocked at the end that Italy’s representative did not make it through. It just shows that the level of the competition is much higher than I expected.
2. What was your state of mind having to face Deadeye, a player you played multiple times but never beat in tournament, with the possibility of either making it out of groups or being eliminated from the whole thing?
When facing deadeye, I knew I had the capability to beat him because when I encounter him in online ranked, I did beat him before. But I knew that when it comes to high stakes like these, I usually tend to choke. So I really tried to take it game by game and round by round so that I don’t focus on the bigger picture. I think that is what actually made it possible for me to defeat him finally.
3. How did you prepare – mentally and game-wise, for your games in the first group stage and the second one?
At this stage of the competition, I think that one needs to work more on their mental game rather than the actual gameplay itself. Don’t get me wrong, if you don’t study the game you won’t proceed. But mainly I had to prepare mentally since I lack confidence in my abilities. Regarding the group stages, I treated them the same, I had a mission to pass and with luck and effort I reached my goal.
4. How were you feeling Sunday evening, before the event? How was your mental state? Did you believe you could do it or were you scared of the opposition?
After I qualified for the playoffs on Friday, I didn’t stop thinking about what I needed to do to qualify for the finals. I was feeling very anxious, but deep down I knew I had what it took to make it. Thanks to my peers who kept me distracted throughout the weekend I came into the playoffs a bit less anxious than I expected. Regarding my opponents, I have faced some of them before so I knew what to expect.
4. This is your second attempt at IESF and you made the finals now, how are you feeling, knowing you will be representing your country internationally? Are you more scared of the massive challenge which stands ahead of you or more motivated to give your best in front of some of the best players of Tekken in the whole world?
It is a great honour to be able to represent my country. I know that this is a massive opportunity to strengthen my skills in the game and I won’t take it lightly. To have a small country be able to compete with these massive giants is a dream to many. But thankfully I’ve made it a reality. Considering the challenge I face when I’m at the finals, I think the best way to approach it is to take it game by game and be happy with whatever the result would be.
We would like to take the opportunity to wish Lyonidas all the best at the IESF Offline Majors in Eilat, Israel in November. We are sure that he will make not only Malta’s colours proud, but even FullSync, for who he is currently playing as our first ever sponsored athlete!
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