Pepeday exploded into the public Street Fighter consciousness with an astonishing win at Mad Catz’ Ultra Street Fighter IV tournament at Tokyo Game Show last year, blowing past some of the best players in the world – including Daigo, Mago and Bonchan – to secure a trip to Evolution 2015.
From there, a series of successful crowdfunding campaigns put together by the subreddit r/Kappa helped send the El Fuerte player from Fukuoka to a number of foreign tournaments, including The Fall Classic 2014 (5th place), Canada Cup 2014 (1st place in singles and teams), and Northeast Championships 15 (2nd place).
Since the start of 2015, Pepeday hasn’t had many opportunities to travel overseas, but he’s still performed well in Japanese tournaments, winning the WAR BEGINS!! team tournament in March, and teaming up with Justin Wong, Pugera, Ryan Hart and Poongko to tie for 3rd at the 5th Topanga Charity Cup.
He also just wants to have fun, as you’ll see in this interview, where we ask him about his history playing fighting games, the finer points of maining Fuerte, his goals for Evolution 2015, and that time he was saved by Mike Ross.
Jason: Starting off, can you tell us a little bit about your history playing fighting games?
Pepeday: I started playing fighting games in summer 2009, about midway through vanilla Street Fighter IV’s lifespan. At the time, I was going to arcades to play Gundam vs. Gundam, and a friend suggested I should start playing Street Fighter. The rest is history.
Jason: I didn’t know that! Do you still play Gundam Vs.? Did any skills transfer to Street Fighter?
Pepeday: I’d like to play with my friends again sometime, but I don’t think I’m going to get too serious about it. (laughs)
As far as things that helped me when I started playing Street Fighter, Gundam definitely taught me a lot about reading ahead in situations and following the flow and momentum of a match. Probably the same kind of thing you pick up from any competitive head-to-head game.
Jason: Did you originally play El Fuerte? What made you decide to pick him?
Pepeday: I was originally interested in playing Ken, but I couldn’t really do his combos. There were tons of other players using shoto characters, so they had lots of matchup experience. I couldn’t win at all, and was on the verge of giving up.
But then I ran into 501, a local Fuerte player from the same prefecture as me, Kumamoto. He’s the one who showed me what was so cool about Fuerte, and is pretty much the guy who taught me everything when it comes to playing the character. I mean, I had no idea Fuerte was even in the game before that! (laughs)
After I saw 501 play the character a little, my reasons for picking him were basically, “He’s so cool! Like just the way he looks! And the stuff he says! And he’s really fast! And tricky! And he can run!” (laughs)
Other characters have to work their way forward inch by inch, fighting to control the pace of the match. Fuerte lets you control the pace, and landing the El Fuerte Flying Giga Buster on someone is the best feeling ever! No other character in the game is as cool as Fuerte, period!
Jason: If you had to narrow down your favorite thing about the character, what would it be? Is there anything you don’t like about Fuerte?
Pepeday: I think my favorite thing about Fuerte is how everything about him just exudes positivity and fun, like just watching him run around at neutral, all his win quotes, everything. And he’s infectious! People who play him just naturally find all this positive energy welling up within them!
What do I not like about Fuerte? …Nothing. (laughs)
Jason: Compared to previous versions of Street Fighter IV (Arcade Edition, ver. 2012, etc.) how strong do you think Fuerte is in Ultra Street Fighter IV?
Pepeday: He’s definitely gotten stronger! Honestly, he was probably bottom five in 2012. He didn’t have any way to combo easily from normals, so he lacked damage and consistency. They fixed that in Ultra by buffing his Quesadilla Bomb. He can combo into it from normals now, and the EX version was made into a good invincible reversal that can beat backdashes and focus attacks.
The old Q-Bomb didn’t combo, and even if you tried to react to focus attacks with it you’d still lose randomly due to how slow the startup on it was. Tons of characters had guaranteed punishes on it too, so I didn’t use it at all. Even after Ultra came out, I had a hard time believing the news that they buffed Q-Bomb. “Did they really make it stronger?” I wondered.
The first step was to completely re-familiarize myself with the move and integrate it back into my existing game plan, which took a while (about 10,000 bombs?). While I couldn’t land the move at first, I slowly started to realize what a potent counter Q-Bomb was to other characters’ options, and at this point I’ve basically figured out when and why to use the move to destroy my opponents’ plans in a lot of situations.
Pepeday: I go into training mode to experiment with things I notice while playing against other people, but for the most part I practice by just playing a lot of matches. There are tactics and matchup-specific things you can only notice by playing people, you can practice combos during matches, and even if you make mistakes I think playing people improves your nerves and overall mental game.
And I mean, more than anything, the strongest thing about Fuerte from the original version onwards wasn’t his Q-Bombs or wakeup game, but the strength of his footsies and neutral game. He’s the only character in the game who can run, after all! To improve your neutral game, you have to play tons of matches against all sorts of characters, players and personalities.
What I’ve polished the most over the years from playing is my frame of reference for everything. Rules of thumb, basically. I didn’t own the console version originally. Training mode didn’t exist for me. So my background is built on that kind of arcade-centric experience of playing tons of matches.
Jason: Any advice for aspiring Fuerte players around the world?
Pepeday: First, you have to get used to using Q-Bomb. I’m pretty sure there were a lot of players who never used it up until the changes in Ultra. I never used it myself, which meant I had to struggle constantly as I got acclimated to using it again, but if you just stick with it you’ll get used to it, guaranteed. Once you get used to moving while maintaining a charge, you’ll be able to experience firsthand just how much scarier it makes your neutral game. I still haven’t mastered it myself, but it’s a move that will save you as a Fuerte player in tons of situations. When things seem bleakest, that move will light the way forward.
The second important thing to polish and master is precise, delicate spacing. I imagine a lot of people out there probably watch the way I use Q-Bombs and think, “Oh, that Pepeday! His playstyle’s so crazy!” But the only reason I use Q-Bombs the way I do is to force the opponent to move or resort to other options. What’s essential to making that work is good spacing.
My mentor starting out was the legendary Fuerte player TKD, and I can’t recommend watching his match videos enough to get an idea of correct spacing for the character. I’m still watching them to this day, and in total I’ve probably watched his videos more than anyone in the world. (laughs)
Also, even though Fuerte was buffed in Ultra, he has low HP and no good reversal moves without spending meter, so he requires very strong defense to survive. If you put in hard work and research, though, your defense will improve. You need to master every element of defense, from when to backdash to delayed crouch techs. Whether you can execute your defensive options better than your opponents is going to affect your win rate more than anything else.
Fuerte isn’t a character you can learn and master in a few days, but if you put in hard work, you’ll absolutely be rewarded. Don’t give up!
Jason: You had the opportunity to attend The Fall Classic and a few other tournaments in the United States and around the world last year thanks to crowdfunding efforts from r/Kappa. How was that experience for you?
Pepeday: The Fall Classic was actually my first overseas tournament, but I was extremely interested in going to one since watching Evo a few years ago. When I found out I was going to be successfully crowdfunded, I was so happy I practically jumped out of my seat!
Compared to Japanese tournaments, the atmosphere was completely different. That goes for players as well as spectators. I’m not saying one’s better than the other, but the way players show respect to each other even if they lose at foreign tournaments is wonderful! Even if they’re people they’ve never seen before! When I shook hands with players after a match, I could feel they meant it from the heart.
And the spectators were amazing, too. They didn’t discriminate, and went wild when either player put on a show and played well. That kind of environment can draw out a player’s potential and make them play even better than usual. I’m hoping we can bring more of that kind of culture back to Japan and have tournaments with an even more unique atmosphere than what we currently have in the future.
I also can’t thank everyone who helped fund me enough, especially drmike from r/Kappa, who helped set everything up. To give a chance like that to me, someone from the middle of nowhere in Japan…seriously, thank you.
Jason: You played Snake Eyez in a first-to-ten at The Fall Classic last year. What did you take away from the experience?
Pepeday: I was pretty confident going in. I have a lot of experience in the Zangief matchup, and had the opportunity to practice with some of Japan’s top Zangiefs prior to the event. Once I actually played Snake Eyez though, it became clear to me that even though he wasn’t an expert on the Fuerte matchup, his sheer tech, reads, and reactions made that nearly irrelevant. If he;s studied the matchup since then and we played another first-to-ten, the outcome would probably be different. I could feel just how good he was from playing, and I was blown away by some of the stuff he did, to the point where I just had to stop and give him a thumbs-up. (laughs)
I’ve lost to Japanese Zangiefs in first-to-tens before, and while I’m honestly not sure which character has the advantage in that matchup, that exhibition with Snake Eyez helped me acutely understand just what makes him such a popular player worldwide.
I mean, I knew about him from Evo 2014 and other events, the same way I knew about iPeru’s Fuerte. I kind of underestimated him and figured he wasn’t that strong compared to Japan’s Zangiefs.
But like I said above, once I got to play him in person all of that changed. This simple, pure feeling – “I want to root for this guy!” – welled up inside me. Once I found out he was the same age as me, I couldn’t help but become a fan of his…and start thinking of him as a rival. (laughs)
With him being the same age as me, and knowing how awesome a player he is, I’m hoping one day to have the chance to fight alongside him, regardless of country or team affiliations.
Jason: What was running through your head when Poongko took his shirt off during Canada Cup 2014’s grand finals? How did you push through that pressure, and what made you decide to imitate his behavior at later tournaments?
Pepeday: When Poongko took his shirt off, I was thinking, “This freakin’ guy!” In a good way. (laughs)
Poongko has this ability to draw people to him, either through his personality, the way he talks and acts, or yeah, him taking off his shirt. I respect that so much, and I really want to try to become a player like that. You can think of my decision to remove my shirt during the grand finals against Smug at Northest Championships as an act of respect towards Poongko.
As for pushing through the pressure in that situation and the mindset it took to come back…I was completely up against the wall, so I erased all negative thoughts and hesitation from my head, buckled down and told myself, “You have to take risks and make a stand or you’re not going to win!” That, more than anything, is why I was able to make that comeback against Poongko happen.
I mean, I always want to play with that kind of spirit, but a lot of the time cold hard logic comes to the fore and I end up prioritizing theory over hard reads. Fuerte, on the other hand, is a character who’s all about making the read, setting the play, and winning. Being able to make the other player ask, “Is this guy serious?!” is essential. So being on a big stage, fighting for my tournament life against a world-class opponent was actually the best possible situation for me to be in. It forced me to play like a madman.
Jason: After winning, Canada Cup Gaming’s Chi-Rithy said you told him that “Fuerte isn’t Street Fighter!” What did you mean by that?
Pepeday: It’s something I often say to players who are having trouble with the Fuerte matchup. Fuerte’s a Street Fighter character, sure, but there’s a huge line separating his gameplan from everyone else’s. The biggest difference is that he can always force decisions on the opponent due to how many 50/50s he has built into a lot of his moves, so you have to have a solid, consistent plan to deal with his shenanigans. I think that’s the main reason people tend to hate him. (laughs)
You can almost think of him as being a minigame within Street Fighter IV. Once you realize, “Oh, this is a different game,” I think you’ll be able to have more fun fighting him and figuring out the matchup.
Jason: Your Twitter profile lists Mike Ross as one of your “Gods,” and after Canada Cup you wrote that you were “saved by Mike.” Can you talk about the background behind that a little? Have you had the opportunity to play Mike at all in Street Fighter?
Pepeday: Even now, Mike is one of the gods I worship! Back when I was preparing to head home to Japan after Canada Cup, my flight ended up getting canceled due to bad weather. It was then that Mike showed up and helped both me and Poongko out with sincere friendliness, handling the steps to set up our return flight, and taking us around sightseeing in the meantime.
Everyone I’ve had contact with overseas has been great, but Mike Ross’ compassion and warmth has stuck with me the most. And I played him, but he wasn’t using Honda – he was using Makoto! Or as he called himself, “the best Makoto!”
Jason: Can you talk about some of the strong players from your local community? Anyone you think more people should know about worldwide?
Pepeday: There are tons! First up are EX Pugera and Michael-tan, two teammates of mine from Fukuoka Gamers Club. They’re pretty much world-class, and they’ve both had experience competing overseas (Pugera got 9th at Evo last year and recently attended NorCal Regionals and Community Effort Orlando). And they’re both so young! I mean, I’m 26, so I’m still young, right? But they’re even younger than I am, and super good to boot! I’m looking forward to seeing how both of them do in the future.
There’s another player from my home area of Kumamoto named Yamachan (he also sometimes goes by the name Niku-udon Z) who I want to put out there. He’s a Cody and Rolento player, and as far as Cody goes I think he might be in the top three worldwide. His footsies and knowledge of character matchups is incredibly thorough, but his greatest strengths are his razor-sharp hit confirms, immaculate decision-making, and precise spacing for every move he throws out. No other Cody comes close when it comes to those areas, as far as I’ve seen. And more importantly, I’ve never been able to beat him! Even though Fuerte’s supposed to have the advantage in that matchup! (laughs)
I also want to nominate a Chun-Li player named Matsuri. She’s easily the strongest female player I’ve played during the course of my career, and I think the fighting game scene needs to promote female players and draw in people from all genders and walks of life. The one unfortunate thing is that she doesn’t have a lot of experience in big tournaments, especially overseas ones. If she had the chance to go overseas, I bet she’d get a lot of support. I really want to see that happen.
Jason: Do you have any other plans for Las Vegas besides attending Evo? Any sightseeing?
Pepeday: I wanted to bring my family along, but with two young kids to take care of and a lot of uncertainties about the trip, we ultimately decided against it. Whenever I attend tournaments, I always want to check out the area and do some sightseeing, but I’m also there to win, so I have to make sure I’m in condition to deliver a top performance.
That said, my goal at Evo this year is to win! I’m attending through completely different and new means than all the other tournaments, and I’m hoping to turn that into strength that will push me through to the top! And then I want to go to Capcom Cup!
Jason: Besides winning, do you have any other goals you want to achieve at Evo? Any foreign players you want to get games in against?
Pepeday: I’m aiming to win above all else, but I’ve dreamed of attending Evo for a long time, so I really just want to have as much fun as I can up there on that stage of dreams. Winning and having fun go hand in hand, you know! (laughs)
As for who I want to play against…Poongko! And if grand finals somehow ends up being me and Poongko, I want it to be my Seth vs. his Fuerte up there on the Evo main stage. (laughs)