Now that the dust has settled from the what has been an incredibly exciting EVO World Finals in Las Vegas, I got a chance to talk to Mr. Daigo Umehara of Team Mad Catz and pick his brain about this year’s tournament. Daigo, known for being the world’s most talented and acclaimed Street Fighter player, comments on his overall experience, his top 8 matches, his “evolving” personality, and more.
Y: Tell me about this year’s EVO 2012. What were your thoughts about the tournament itself, your performance, and your overall experience this year.
D: I had the most fun ever. There were so many more people at EVO than I’ve ever seen, and greater energy and excitement. It was just great! I am so sure that’s how everyone felt. I was so happy to be back there once again.
The level of the competition has also risen significantly. My bracket was filled with very strong players and it was not easy to make it through. However, it assured me that I was in good condition overall when I made it through.
Y: Describe your level of confidence just before EVO and just before finals day on Sunday. How strong were you feeling? What were your thoughts on the other competitors that you were facing in the top 8? Any surprises?
D: Though many Japanese thought they would dominate the scene, I knew the competition was going to be very tough before going to EVO, witnessing the level of US competitors. But I was still surprised to turn out to be the only Japanese left in the tournament. I naturally felt that I had to roll up my sleeves, realizing the level of the competition was higher than I anticipated.
We saw new faces and many more countries were represented in the top 8. Not only US and Japan, but Taiwan, Korea, and Puerto Rico, etc. We saw much more variety than last year, and that made it more exciting and fun for me, and I believe, for the audience as well. It truly showed the size and significance of EVO and the beauty of the community we belong to.
Y: On finals day, you fought Infiltration, an Akuma player, and Xao Hai, a Cammy player. Describe those matches, your strategies and if you could have replayed it, what other approaches you may have taken that day.
D: I had played against Infiltration before and anticipated he would play the way he did back then. But he completely surprised me with a new play style. Given the size of competition of EVO, the most desirable victory title everyone wants to have, it is obvious for any player to change his/her gameplay, yet I don’t know why, I didn’t even think he would. I was too fixated on my assumption. That was my oversight. He got me, I felt.
It was my first time to match against Xao Hai. His orthodox and stable play style conveyed his confidence. The character combination was familiar to me enough that I just thought to myself before the match that I would play as usual.
I don’t dwell on my matches thinking “I should have… could have…” How I would play with them is something I would determine when and while I play. They played well; I need to work harder. And I will. I am very looking forward to have a match against them in near future. I feel very excited about that.
Y: After so many years of intense training, some people are speculating that at this year’s EVO, we started to see a “newer, friendlier and happier” Daigo with a bright smile and more personality. Is there any truth to this? Has there been any evolution in your personality, or are people just reading too far into it?
D: Ha ha! I think I am the same as before. I am not aware of any change about myself. But if people felt that way, I guess that was true (lol!). If anything, I could think of the cause being my familiarity with the energy and atmosphere of the US community and feeling happy being at EVO.
Y: Just looking back 5 or 10 years ago, the Street Fighter competitive scene and EVO has seen an incredible rebirth and growth beyond anything anticipated. Did you ever think Street Fighter was ever going to go this far? What has surprised you the most?
D: Of course I never imagined it. I am sure neither the other old-timers who played SFII in real time did. SFII’ (Edit: Champion Edition) was the peak of fighting game popularity, we experienced the decline, and I think there was a general feeling among ourselves that it would never come back again. The younger members of the community probably think this is how we always have been, but what we saw was a revival. The SF scene revived and is still going strong. What a happy surprise!
But what we can’t forget is that EVO was always around and supported the community throughout the hard period. The EVO guys never gave up on their passion. In a way, they were going against the trend and pushed through their own belief. I take my hat off to them for their efforts and significant contributions they have made. I have nothing but respect for them. We owe so much to those guys behind our community’s revival and success today, and I am personally grateful to them and that we have had them. We would not be here today without them. I am also happy for their success.
Y: The story of bringing Osamu and your involvement is actually something that really touched myself and many other gamers around the world. Describe what happened, what caused you to get involved, and what happened afterwards. Did you guys get any games in at EVO?
D: I was also in awe of the compassion and power of the US community they extended to Osamu, who is a person living far away outside of the US and whom they had never met. That was just amazing. Once again, it made me realize how great our community is, and made feel happy about who we are and that I belong there.
What we tried in Japan is small in size but very significant as well. I hosted a 64-player-open tournament with a help of Taito Station. Osamu participated in the tournament, and Osamu and I also had an exhibition match. For the first time ever in his life, he was able to play at an arcade, on an arcade machine, with fellow players. For the first time, we were able to share the precious experience, as equally as we should have been able to with anyone, yet it was not possible because arcades didn’t accommodate physically handicapped players.
One of the greatest things about the video games is equality. Age or physical differences do not matter, but the opportunity was not even given to him. The Taito Station folks totally got my objectives, and they were enthusiastic and helpful from the very moment I reached out to them with the idea. They proactively worked with Osamu directly to configure his customized controller to be hooked up on the arcades. I thank Taito Station for their kindness as well.
Y: If you could change EVO and help take it to the next level, what would you suggest?
D: I totally hand it to them and have nothing to suggest.
Get this – they have been running the tournament for over 16 years, and it is truly for the players. For the years of experience and success not only strictly in tournament logistics but sustainably growing the community, backed up with the communal approval, it’s obvious that no one better understands about the community and how to run tournaments than the EVO folks. I was blown away by the introduction of their scholarship offering to the youths. They introduced the pay-per-view HD stream viewing and all the profits go to the scholarship for education for the community members. They always have smart and great ideas, and their ideas are effective. In my opinion, there is no one more qualified to suggest what to do next than themselves. I have nothing but respect for EVO.
Thank you to MCZ|Daigo Umehara for spending the time to do this quick interview, and shoutouts to Shino for the translation and Karaface for the images! (Especially of the one with Daigo smiling.)