So, five Koreans, a Vietnamese dude, and a Filipino dude with big hair walk into a bar.
Yeah, it sounds like a bad joke, but that’s actually a pretty accurate description of what happened just last week. The day after NorCal Regionals concluded, John Choi hosted Seonwoo “Infiltration” Lee, Ryan “Laugh” Ahn, Sebastian “ThyAllMighty” Nguyen, Rom the Bomb, myself and my girlfriend Jean at our favorite ratty Korean bar in Sunnyvale, California.
While we were slammin’ bottles of O.B. and ordering up skillets of kim-chi fried rice, I managed to squeeze in a very impromptu interview with these two South Korean Street Fighter players that come from very different backgrounds.
Ryan “Laugh” Ahn has been a part of the Shoryuken.com and EVO scene for quite some time now. After living a majority of his life in the United States, he’s moved back to South Korea and has kept his Street Fighter spirit alive. He’s even turned his passion into a business selling Korean parts to the rest of the world at eTokki.com. I’ve always known Ryan to be one of the coolest dudes I’ve met through Street Fighter, and seeing him again, the sentiment is still the same.
Seonwoo “Infiltration” Lee, born and raised from South Korea, is largely new on the scene, but he made huge waves in communities by placing 3rd at last year’s EVO Championship event. With several top 8 appearances here and in Europe, he’s made a name for himself while also putting South Korea on the international map for Street Fighter. After meeting him, I realized that he too is a cool, laid back, humble type of guy. If you ever get a chance to see them, be sure to stop by and say hi.
Check out the interview below. It’s been loosely translated, and please keep in mind we were a bit tipsy and had somewhat of an interesting night.
Yoon: Why did you guys want to come to NorCal Regionals?
Laugh: It was only one week after the RevaLAtions tournament in LA, and both tournaments were ones that we were very interested in attending for more than half a year. ReveLAtions had a lot of big names attending, which is why we wanted to go there, and NorCal Regionals was a tournament series that I’ve known about and wanted to attend for many, many years.
Yoon: What did you guys like the most about NorCal Regionals 9? What would you change if you could about the tournament?
Laugh: If I could change one thing, I’ll say I wish there was more Air Conditioning (laughs…) However, NCR is a tournament that has that traditional American tournament feel, which is something I really look forward to.
Yoon: Describe the difference between Korean tournaments and American tournaments.
Laugh: Korean tournaments are not as community involved – they’re typically run by corporate parties, and I feel like sometimes they could take a bit more time to do it the way the community would like it. American tournaments, even though they may get delayed at times, they want to do it the community way.
Yoon: Why are you not playing StarCraft and why are you playing Street Fighter? What drew you in initially in a country where there are more popular games?
Infiltration: It was by far the game I remember the most growing up. When I started playing Street Fighter IV, it brought back this nostalgia of fond memories of playing back in the day. However, the first game I started playing competitively was Street Fighter IV.
Laugh: When I was like, 6, Street Fighter II was the first arcade game I’ve ever played, ever since then I stuck around. I didn’t get smart about the game until way later, but Street Fighter II was where I started.
Yoon: Okay, for real. Do you guys play StarCraft? I KNOW you guys have some sick siege tank/lurker micro.
Laugh & Infiltration: (Laughs…) No, we don’t play at all.
Yoon: Laugh, I know you’ve been a part of the American scene for quite some time and you are a familiar face, but Infiltration, you’re somewhat of a new face especially to American players. How often have you come to America?
Infiltration: EVO 2010 was my first time ever, and this trip to ReveLAtions and NorCal Regionals was my second time.
Yoon: What do you like the most about America?
Infiltration: The free-spirited and hype atmosphere and how they get into it is incredible, and the passion that American players have.
Yoon: What do you dislike about America?
Infiltration: [Jokingly] Alex …Valle? (Laughs around the table)
Yoon: You’re obviously very focused on the Street Fighter IV series, but are there any other games that you’re playing these days?
Infiltration: I’m interested in Marvel vs Capcom 3, but there’s no scene in Korea, especially compared to Arcade Edition, so I’m focusing more on that instead. I’m very interested to see what happens when Street Fighter X Tekken comes out and how the scene in Korea responds.
Laugh: For me, I gave Marvel a chance, a true run at the game, but it basically reconfirmed that I do not know how to play that game. (Laughs…) I’ll be playing Street Fighter X Tekken for sure though.
Yoon: Describe the scene in Korea more – is it arcade oriented like Japan, or is it more console focused like America?
Laugh: For the longest time, Korea did not have Arcade Edition in the arcades, anywhere. As a matter of fact, we just got it like a month and a half ago.
Infiltration: Yeah, so what we would do is run training mode in Super at home, trying to analyze and figure out theoretical Yun and Yang strategies and counters to them. Then, once it came out in arcade, we would try those strategies and see if they would work. The Arcade Edition was the battle ground, Super at home was the training room.
Laugh: Now that AE has come out on consoles, it’s really time to figure out the matchups, train hard, and do well in tournaments. We have weekly tournaments at arcades right now where about 20-40 people show up, and from time to time, when a big game gets released, we’ll have a national tournament, so those will get 100 players or so. We’ll be training up to enter our Korean national tournament for Arcade Edition the weekend after.
Yoon: For the both of you guys, who are the players that inspire you the most to get better?
Infiltration: With no regional restrictions, I’d have to say Poongko. In vanilla, Poongko was playing Ryu, which I didn’t feel like it fit his play style exactly, but now that he’s playing Seth in Arcade Edition, I think that he’s found a character that fits him perfectly. He’s one of the players that people don’t really know what to expect from him, so I’m looking forward to him doing his thing at international tournaments. [Note: Poongko coincidentally went on to win Shadowloo Showdown this past weekend.]
Laugh: I’m sort of the opposite. The player that inspires me the most is actually Infiltration.
Collective Group: Awwww. <3
Laugh: I started playing fighting games in America, watching and admiring players like Justin Wong, Valle, and Choi, and I always strived to be a player like one of them. And then this guy comes around [points to Infiltration], and out of nowhere, he started winning and doing all of the things I was striving to do. I’m so excited to see how far he will go.
Yoon: So, I know both of you guys are planning to attend EVO, but do you have any plans to come to the states regularly afterwards?
Infiltration: It’s difficult for me to attend these American tournaments since they’re expensive and I’m not very fluent in English at all. I’d love to attend every single American and European tournament, of course, but it will only be when I am able to go. I will always try to make it a possibility though.
Sebastian: Do you guys ever go to Japan to train?
Laugh: I haven’t, actually.
Infiltration: I haven’t either. Japan is very well known for their big player base and their Street Fighter skills, but Korea also has their notable players, though the base is not as large. I feel that the level of players in Korea allows me to have a good training experience – as good of an experience as training in Japan.
Yoon: Okay, honestly. Who’s the best in your opinion: America, Japan, or South Korea?
Infiltration: Right now, American level and Korean level are too hard too judge. The skill level between all three countries – Korea, Japan, and America – is so little that anyone from any country could trump over the other.
Yoon: Last question: Favorite American food?
Laugh: After living away from the states for this long, the thing I look back to is… the philly cheesesteak. It just comes to my mind from time to time. The other thing that I miss – it’s really not fancy at all – but I really miss mashed potatoes and Gravy.
Jean: MASHED POTATOES AND GRAVY ARE THE BOMB!
Laugh: Yeah! Totally! But see, in Korea, for some reason, we get mashed potatoes, but… we get no gravy! Gravy!!! We have KFC, we have Popeyes, but we have no gravy!
Infiltration: I gotta say, from my time in California, In & Out Hamburger!