Tips from the pros: How to topple SonicFox

Gail Fisher for ESPN

Dominique "SonicFox" McLean gets better and more intimidating the bigger the stage and brighter the lights. So, how can he be beaten in the world's biggest fighting game tournament, Evo, this weekend?

Since age 16, Dominique "SonicFox" McLean has been an unstoppable force at the Evolution Championship Series. With three consecutive titles in games developed by NetherRealm Studios -- Injustice: Gods Among Us and Mortal Kombat X -- there's no guessing as to why SonicFox has such an enormous target on his back.

In his fourth year competing in a NetherRealm game on the biggest stage in fighting games in Las Vegas starting Friday, he'll have his work cut out for him, but this time in Injustice 2.

The Injustice 2 Pro Series has hosted two major tournaments prior to Evo: Combo Breaker in Chicago and Community Effort Orlando in Orlando, Florida. The first went to SonicFox, but the second did not, as he finished third.

But no matter the game, whether Injustice, Mortal Kombat, or SonicFox's favorite, Skullgirls, his opponents say it's not as much about what he does in-game that matters. SonicFox's ability to leverage his legacy and prestige to mentally manipulate, or psych out, his opponents is what makes him one of the fighting game community's best professional players.

"He knows that he's in your head, not the other way around," professional player Martin "Madzin" Niedziela, a longtime SonicFox opponent in Injustice and Mortal Kombat, told ESPN. "He knows when you try to infiltrate his realm. The only way you can beat that is by not giving into it and just doing your own thing. He has to figure you out, not the other way around. You do your thing, put the pressure on him and not give in to his thoughts and his play style, because that's exactly what he wants."

SonicFox has clawed his way out of tough situations before, just by waiting an opponent out and making them nervous. In the Evolution Championship Series 2016 grand finals, SonicFox was unexpectedly met by Sayed "Tekken Master" Ahmed, who took SonicFox through a grueling set. SonicFox, however, played patiently and let Tekken Master defeat himself by being overwhelmed in such a daunting atmosphere.

So what can a professional in NetherRealm games do to defeat Sonic Fox? Well, for starters, SonicFox's Echo Fox teammate and long-time rival Brad "Scar" Vaughn says it's all about match tempo and not giving SonicFox control over how face a game plays out.

"You can't let him dictate the pace of the match," Scar said. "You have to match his reads, you have to match his execution. You cannot mess up. As many times as I fought him, it came down to making bad reads or bad execution. You have to make the same reads as him, you have to keep the same pace, and you can't let up against this guy at all. Any mistake you make, he will capitalize on it and he will break you."

Community Effort Orlando 2017 champion Nicolas "Whiteboi" Andersen agrees with Scar's sentiment.

"You can't let him control the pace, because he knows if he can control you, you'll lose," Whiteboi told ESPN. "He will just do everything he wants and that's it. You saw [Frank "Slayer" Perales at CEO 2017], Slayer never left him, he kept on him, kept toe-to-toe with him. You have to do that, you have to show him that you're not afraid of him. Theo did that against him earlier in tournament, showed that he's not afraid. That's what you have to do."

Scar believes there is a future where players can overcome SonicFox. He said it's all about preparing for the games mentality, studying SonicFox's mentality and analyzing how you can refute his dominating playstyle and mind games.

"You have to play damn near perfect in order to beat him," he said. "I know that's hard, but that's what you have to do. People are still trying to figure out how his mind works and how to crack that puzzle that is Sonic Fox."

With names like Slayer -- the Community Effort Orlando 2017 runner-up -- capable of defeating SonicFox and returning old blood like Jivan "Theo" Karapetian, the general consensus is that there will be players who can finally dethrone SonicFox, potentially making it his hardest Evo to win. With over 850 entrants, the pool will be thick of players who are gunning to not only beat SonicFox, but finish in the top 8 of the prestigious event.

"What's so beautiful is that the bottom level of play is rising," Slayer said. "The platform of good people is so big right now, you have no choice but to sit there and grind with everybody, even the people who are coming up. Because that person will beat your ass one of these days. It's all up really."

"There's a lot of new blood, there's a lot of great players," Scar continued. "Back in Injustice, everyone was a character loyalist, no one was challenging him like today. But now that there's a lot of new blood, it's a new game, people are picking up multiple characters to cover different matchups, so it's going to be harder for him to keep up. It's going to be harder for him to dominate like he did in the past."

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