Latif set for his international return at money match ahead of Evo

by Tim Lee

For two-and-a-half games, Abdullatif “Latif” Alhmili tried neutral jumping, focus attack feints, backdashing and flame kicks to close out his ironclad defensive opponent Keita “Fuudo” Ai to no avail. He was one round away from exiting what would be his best tournament showing at this point. The round began and Latif found himself in the corner against one of the worst characters to deal with, Fei Long. One missed reversal flame kick and then a missed anti-air before a miracle explosion into his ultra-attack, one more guess left, and Latif bets it all on a lightning uppercut that Fuudo blocks for the victory.

Second place at the 2011 Evolution Fighting Game Championships (Evo) in one of the hardest tournaments ever in the history of the fighting game community cemented Latif’s reputation and legacy as one of the greatest players in the 2000s. And soon after, in 2015, he would leave the scene entirely with no more passion to play the games that brought him so much renown. Without a consistent scene to practice against or good netcode to train internationally, the stress of placing highly in limited opportunities wasn’t worth the work.

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“I returned home to Saudi Arabia and thought about what I wanted to do. I started playing in 2002 and it was a huge part of my life, gaming in general, and I lost interest in playing everything,” Latif said. “When it came to fighting games, I tried to be the best player in casuals and tournament play. Back home there was no scene to play against. Why would I train and play for one event when others can play all year? It didn’t feel fair.”

Latif focused on his mental and physical health as well as creating a real estate business following his college graduation after his competitive fire went away. He was left without a game, a community and a passion for games. He would be almost radio silent for six years.

Fast forward to 2021 and to the arrival of Guilty Gear Strive. Latif’s Twitter sent out a signal to the fighting game community: “We are back!”

With just three words and a blistering 45 second clip of a Zato-1 bullying a poor Ky Kiske, the return announcement was public.

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Latif was shocked that his announcement did so well. People remembered who he was and even more so were excited that he was back to his game of choice. What was just a healthy push from his brother to play the new Guilty Gear became the new thing he couldn’t put down. For a person who admits that he only expects the best results from whatever he does competitively, it also meant the return of tournament Latif.

“The newer games are easier to grasp, it’s less technical, but it’s nothing compared to older fighting games. It didn’t feel like Guilty Gear. There was no aerial recovery, it wasn’t as fast, and the damage was insane -- I never seen such damage in any fighting game,” Latif said. “But I kept playing and I just got hooked. After two weeks, I participated in the The Big LEVO 3 tournament and managed top eight and qualified for ARCREVO EMEA Finals and won that.”

Just seven months after his return tweet, Latif put together a dominant 3-0 sweep in the grand final of the ARCREVO EMEA Finals. Latif had returned to world-beating form and became the face of his region despite an incredibly long layoff. The skills and intuition that propelled him into the spotlight never disappeared, and with renewed spirit to be the best at a game yet again, it was only a matter of time.

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Latif’s adaptability on the fly and intuition on when to press regardless of frame data or situation is second-to-none, and his confidence in the control of his character is arguably his biggest strength. His tools as a fighting game player, execution and his level of analysis, makes him one of the best “feels” players to ever play a game. A relatively new competitive landscape in Guilty Gear Strive and an easier learning curve with great netplay to train against top players has made the journey to winning tournaments faster than before.

“I see and react instead of preemptively setting up a plan. I just go with what I feel is correct, so it’s hard for opponents to get a read on me. I adapt on the fly, and it’s my strength. I believe I have a higher IQ than my opponents and only people who play at the highest level can see that.

I train smarter than the other players,” Latif said. “I think a lot and study my mistakes while I play, and my process speed helps elevate my gameplay. I’m usually the latest to study tech or people that play my character. I don’t believe I am a talented player, but I grind and put in the work.”

Photo credit: Stephanie Lindgren

With Evo taking place this weekend it’s only fitting that the return of Latif to international play is back at the tournament that truly introduced his name to the fighting game audience. He will represent EMEA as its best player but believes that the region’s top competitors can take out the best in the world. Although he says EMEA’s top-level player numbers are slimmer than other regions and that they lack some character-specific knowledge, it doesn’t strike his confidence in saying they will place highly because of the level of their play.

Maybe more exciting than the tournament itself is the first-to-10 money match Latif will play against North America’s finest, Julian “Hotashi” Harris. Although Hotashi considers himself the underdog in their match, Latif acknowledges his opponent’s intelligence and reactions as well as the troublesome playstyle that runs opposite of his own more calculated and safer approaches. Hotashi plays a high-risk guessing game and constantly puts his opponents in difficult situations where they must predict correctly or die.

Read more: Ahead of Evo, Hotashi confident going in to money match vs. Latif

“He’s random as hell, and it’s rock paper scissors all day long with him. He’s a do-or-die kind of player, but he’s good at guessing and that’s why he keeps winning,” Latif said. “I respect him as a player, but his character is extremely scrubby -- that’s a fact. If we played Season 1, there would be no way he would win. Now, he might have a chance because his character’s changes really benefit against the Zato-1 match. He’s smart and knowledgeable and can deliver it easily. He does some nice things and he’s quick with his reactions.”

When asked whether he meant what he said about Hotashi’s play being random, he laughed and said “why not?”

“I have the best Eddie control and the best zoning of all the Zato players. I have the best defense, and when I play against him, I don’t think he’ll have enough practice to beat me despite all the great Zato’s in North America.”

Game on.

Lead photo credit: Stephanie Lindgren

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