Red Bull Kumite 2023, hosted in the South African city of Pretoria, did not disappoint as one of Street Fighter 6’s first pro-level tournaments.
During the single-elimination tournament, attended by some of Street Fighter 6’s finest players, we witnessed several surprising matches and results as the world’s best took their play to a global stage. One particularly standout upset saw South Africa’s Jabhi ‘JabhiM’ Mabuza best Hajime ‘Tokido’ Taniguchi (one of Street Fighter’s all-time greatest players) five sets to three, and he did so with a standard DualSense controller.
In between the hair-raising matches, though, I was given the chance to speak to several professional players. I asked each their thoughts on who they thought were currently Street Fighter 6’s best characters. And there were a few names shared across the board.
It’s highly likely that professional-level opinions, and tier lists, will change over time. Especially as DLC characters and balance patches periodically come to Street Fighter 6. At launch, though, here’s who some top-level players consider to be the strongest characters in the game.
Benjamin ‘Problem X’ Simon (UK)
- EVO 2018 champion, Red Bull Kumite 2021 winner
- Chosen fighter at Red Bull Kumite 2023: Lily
“I’d say Dee Jay, Ken, Luke and JP. All the tier lists I’ve seen say that Lily is the worst character in the game, but I disagree. I think it’s probably Zangief, actually!”
Problem X isn’t wrong about Zangief. The hard-hitting grappler is posing a problem for lower-ranked players online, who don’t yet know how to best deal with his unblockable command grabs. However, as you reach the upper echelons of play, Zangief is tough to play unpredictably, a trait that isn’t shared by fellow grappler Manon, who boasts a strong mix-up game and fares well in several matchups.
Derek ‘iDom’ Ruffin (USA)
- Capcom Cup 2019 champion, EVO 2022 Street Fighter 5 finalist
- Chosen fighter at Red Bull Kumite 2023: Manon
“In my opinion the top three strongest characters are Luke, Guile and Ken. I think Juri is up there as well. Actually I think Juri might be better than Ken. So Luke, Guile and Juri, I think are the top three.”
Luke, alongside Ryu, can be considered one of Street Fighter 6’s all-rounders, but that doesn’t mean his offense is compromised as a result. A healthy selection of target combos can keep opponents guessing, and his fantastic normals (aka regular, non-special moves) let players lead into combos with relatively low risk.
Marie-Laure ‘Kayane’ Norindr (France)
- Celtic Throwdown 2019 Soul Calibur 6 winner, Mixup Invitational 2018 Soul Calibur 6 finalist, co-creator of Nacon Daija arcade stick
- Presenter at Red Bull Kumite 2023
“I would say Ken and Juri. And Dee Jay I think has all the tools. I think JP has some weaknesses, but is helped by some of the gameplay mechanics. Dee Jay has all the tools, though, and manages many matchups very well.”
Kayane is right in saying that Dee Jay has a robust tool kit. The Jamaican world warrior is extremely unpredictable, owing to his rapid dashes and Drive Rush speed. His unique feint moves can also be canceled into other normals and specials. As a result, you never quite know what to expect from a top-level Dee Jay player, and he’s always a blast to watch in action.
Adel ‘Big Bird’ Anouche (UAE)
- Red Bull Kumite 2023 champion, Slash N Dash Emirates Showdown Street Fighter 6 winner
- Chosen fighter at Red Bull Kumite 2023: Marisa
“I feel like Luke, Juri and Ken might be the best characters right now. And you can add Guile to that. I feel like these are the clear-cut best characters in the game. And then the tier right below them, I feel like that’s where Marisa belongs. I don’t think she belongs in the top top tier, but definitely just below the best characters in the game.
Up until now, Marisa wasn’t really considered to be among Street Fighter 6’s strongest characters, despite her simple combo strings that provide massive damage output. However, Marisa can make as much use of the Drive Gauge as any other fighter. All it takes is one successful Drive Impact or Perfect Parry from her for you to potentially lose a significant chunk of health. Big Bird proved this when he took Marisa all the way to the final, where he bested Christ ‘Akainu’ Onema’s Guile.
What makes these Street Fighter 6 characters so strong?
Among the players we talked to, a select few characters got repeat mentions. It was almost unanimously agreed that Ken and Luke are among Street Fighter 6’s strongest characters. Luke is the poster boy of the game, taking center stage here after debuting as Street Fighter 5’s final DLC character.
Both Ken and Luke put forward incredibly strong offense, and are relatively straightforward to pick up and learn. Both are extremely good at controlling space at the close-to-mid range. Ken can keep opponents at a distance with his Hadouken projectile, but he can push you into the corner easily with his Tatsumaki Senpu-kyaku special (which also works in the air) and Drive Rush plus Dragonlash combo.
Guile is another character several pro players see as a problem. And for good reason. Guile is the master of zoning (ensuring opponents are kept at a set distance) in Street Fighter 6. He’s able to charge up Sonic Boom projectiles to keep opponents at a distance. And anyone who dares to jump in will more than likely find themselves on the receiving end of his Flash Kick special.
Lastly, many Street Fighter 6 players are seeing Juri as a tier list topper. Juri has excellent, long-reaching normals and pokes which can be canceled into specials and high-damaging combos. Her Enhanced Saihasho projectile, while costing a resource unique to her, is a high-pressure projectile that can easily catch you off guard. Juri’s level 2 Super, Feng Shui Engine, raises her into a more powerful state, thus making all those normals and combos even more terrifying.
It’s worth noting that while the above characters are certainly strong, and will appear at the top of several professional players’ tier lists, it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily overpowered. It just means that they have an easier time being able to access high-damaging tools, whereas other characters like Cammy and JP require a bit more planning and setup.
Street Fighter 6 is a remarkably well-balanced game around launch, and we’re excited to see how future balance patches affect the state of the roster, as well as how DLC characters like Rashid and Akuma will fare against the established cast.
Getting into Street Fighter 6 for the first time? Capcom has a Street Fighter 6 personality quiz that can help you choose your first character. And when you're ready to head online, check out our Street Fighter 6 Battle Hub guide to learn the ins and outs of online play.
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Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.