In traditional sports, the very elite are those that can transcend mere technical mastery, and become synonymous with the word “athlete.” Players like Derek Jeter, Michael Jordan, and Pelė come to mind. People whose prowess and dominance make them household names.
In the world of the FGC, which is more niche than its esports brethren, one man has taken to a pedestal similar to Jordan and Jeter. Daigo “The Beast” Umehara has been a pro gamer longer than Panda Global’s Punk has been alive. Most famous for Evo’s Moment 37, Daigo has consistently stayed a top competitor for more than two decades. And with the backing of team Cygames Beast, and sponsors including Twitch and HyperX, the veteran is poised for continued success. For Daigo, the big results just keep on coming, with his recent win at Fight Club NRW 8 his second tournament win on the trot.
What lets someone stay so competitive for so long? What allows a man to be good not only at one game, but at different games and different patches? While at Evo 2017, I was afforded the opportunity to talk to Daigo about longevity as a pro gamer and what it takes to stay on top.
You’ve been able to stay very competitive in fighting games for an extremely long time, longer than a lot of people in this scene. What is it about yourself that attributes your ability to do this?
One the biggest reasons that’s been contributing to that is that I keep my pace, I keep at my pace with a frequency of how many hours you put into practice, the quality of practice you get, do not get affected by the results of tournaments. If you are a competitive player, whether you do well or bad at a particular tournament, it would affect your state of mind or change your lifestyle so to speak, but I have allowed that to myself. I keep consistency to my approach to game practice and I would say that’s a contribution.
A lot of people think that pro gamers need to put a lot of effort into the game and cut out unnecessary things like a social life or having a partner. Do you think that is important when you’re a pro gamer to have a more balanced lifestyle to have a partner, a social life and things of that nature?
I do know that there are some folks that try to cut themselves out from any social life or social activities, but if you think about it, Fighting games are something that you have to compete against another person so you need another person to practice with to improve yourself. So in the long run, it is extremely inefficient to try and pursue that route to play games all the time and that’s all you do. It might work out for some people for a period of time, but not long term at all. And to me, a person who can seek out practice or any sort of help from other players have to have humanity or communication skills to be respected among the community so that you can work together to work towards your own goal. Share your goal with other people and work together, and I think that’s essential to compete in FGC long term.
When it comes to preparing for long events such as EVO which is longer than any other tournament. What do you think is most important for new players to keep in mind to make it from start to finish?
From my own experience, it of course important to focus on the quality of match each time. But it’s long days, many matches that you have to go through. If you are tired or if you are not focused, it is just meaningless. You have to be able to maintain your energy throughout the day and throughout the events, and you have to prepare for that physically.
What is your typical day like? From start to finish, what is the average day?
My typical day, unless I hang out with my friends till late in the evening the night before, I usually get up around 6:30 to 7:00 am. Usually the first thing I do is go for a walk, then I come back and eat breakfast, then I practice at home, or I go to a friend’s house or a gaming house and practice. That’s my day.
Shifting gears a bit, How did the whole Daigo Umehara Fighting Gamers come about? Did they reach out to Daigo? Did he reach out to them? And what did he think about the whole process about working on a Manga?
The first book “A will to keep winning” was published by Shogakukan in Japan, and the new publisher which is Kadokawa which is the publisher manga, came to us and said “Oh why don’t we publish the sequel of the first book.” We thought about it and we talked, but what I said to them was “I would like to turn it into a manga, and especially to cover my team during the time I spent hours and hours in the arcades where I met so many people and made great friends and learned so much valuable lessons through those people” and that’s how it came about. And in the beginning I told my stories of what happened, my day to day to life, we spent hours at the arcade every day, so we have so much stories to tell, and I conveyed that to share that story to the writer and the illustrator. So, I was overseeing the project in the beginning but now it’s volume six in Japan and since they know all the stories, they sort of took over the project and I just sign off the paper, and that’s it.
I just finished reading the first volume, and I think it’s pretty good. But it’s kind of surprising to see how cocky you were as a teen, compared to how I experience you as an adult. Were you really that snarky back then?
Yes, absolutely true.
It was such an interesting thing to see. Me and the other writers were talking about how serious Daigo can be. We were reading the manga, and were like “This is Daigo?” What’s kept you so invested in Street Fighter and the community? There’s a lot of people who come and go, what’s made it so important for you to stay invested, as you have been?
When I first saw Street Fighter 2 and lost myself in it, it just devoured me. I wanted to play and I kept playing, and over the course of playing it was just not a hobby any more. It [passed] the point of just being a hobby. I grew up being told by my father that “If you find something you’re passionate about, just pursue it, invest yourself in it.” So, I met Street Fighter 2 I was searching for something I could lose myself in. When I found Street Fighter 2, I knew it was for me. It was what my father had been telling me about. For other people, Street Fighter or fighting games in general is just a game. It’s not a life time venture. But I knew back then already this is something I want to keep myself at. Doesn’t mean I was aiming to become a pro because they didn’t exist back then, but I just wanted to keep playing.
What do you think is a weakness of yours in play and how have you been trying to tackle it?
Simply put, fighting games are basically two people fighting against each other with rock paper scissors. The complexity of the game varies whether the game only have the element of this rock paper scissors where a complicated game will have more elements than that. So I tend to find myself getting bored with a game that only contains those three elements. If I were to pick my weakness, it would be that I find it boring but it’s a thin line there because if you have fun with the simplicity you stop improving yourself, you don’t try to expand your strategies or play style so it’s a balance on how to entertain yourself and how not to get bored with a particular game.
What is something you would like to see implemented in Street Fighter 5 Season 3?
At the moment, no matter how skilled player you are, or how new, I think the game play tends to be similar because each person’s characteristics or play style doesn’t shine in this game. I would like to see some new system to be added to change the status quo of the game at the moment, such at V triggers, a player can only pick two or three or gauge one or three, but what if a player can choose to pick 2 gauges, or 4 gauges. It allows the player to adapt their own strategy. And that’s what’s lacking in this game right now. Character or personality difference don’t get reflected in the game style.