Unlike the Guilty Gear team we interviewed earlier this week, the group that ended up qualifying as America’s BlazBlue: Chronophantasma EXTEND representatives for ARC REVOLUTION CUP 2015 were the odds-on favorites to take the whole thing. Regarded as three of the best BlazBlue players in the country, Nakkiel, SKD, and Lich demolished the competition to secure their spot in the prestigious Japanese tournament.
In order to gain a sense of their thought processes heading overseas, we sat down with the players for a lengthy roundtable discussion, touching on topics like the status of North America’s anime fighting game community, any special preparations they are making before the main event, and more.
Is there any backstory to the formation of your team, or did you see the announcement and that was it?
SKD:It was pretty fast.
Nakkiel: Yeah, it got announced and right away I was like, “I just want to have a messed up team.” So I asked SKD and Lich if they would team with me, and then Dora asked them to team with him. That was the only thing that held it up I think, but when the rules came out no Japanese players could play, we just decided, okay, let’s come together.
So it was just immediately done?
Nakkiel: Yeah. My reasoning was that I didn’t think I could form a team of players from just [the Pacific Northwest] that I would feel comfortable playing against SKD and Lich, so I was like, “I need to get on that team.”
SKD: It’s always like you don’t want to play against these people too; you also team with somebody because you don’t want to play against them in a tournament.
Going into the tournament, how confident were you that you could take it all the way?
Lich: Fairly, but we were definitely worried about Huey’s team [Editor’s note: Huey253, dsmoove, and Jona]. Outside of that, there weren’t too many teams entering, so there wasn’t too much to look out for.
SKD: As far as preparation went, just hearing about it, I felt like we could do this. We definitely probably had the best chance at winning, but you can’t let your guard down.
Lich: You can’t sleep on anybody
SKD: Definitely. So going in we were pretty confident. The day of I was feeling really confident, even though I didn’t get to play.
Nakkiel: I think the main thing that caused us to worry was the fact that it was best-of-one format, single elimination. We didn’t want to go in feeling ourselves, going, “This is going to be free,” because if you drop a game, that’s it. Even if you’re better than players, you can still lose games to them. It’s scary.
Lich: Just one game. Very scary.
Nakkiel: In retrospect, I think most people just kind of assumed that our team was gonna win, from what I’ve heard. I think if we had lost that would have been considered an upset.
SKD: Like that Guilty Gear upset? That was great.
Nakkiel: Oh yeah, upsets are great, that was super exciting. So I mean, if we had lost, I would have been disappointed, but I would’ve been very impressed with Huey had he managed to run that all the way back.
SKD: Also, when it got to the point where I was waiting to play in grand finals, once it was down to one player I had to beat, I was super confident about that. I got to watch them for two games, and just be really ready to play. At the point where Nakkiel beat dsmoove, I was like, “We should have this.” It’s really hard to beat everyone, like all three of us, in a row, so that would already be difficult. And, as a player just watching, I definitely had the advantage to scope them out first. At that point I thought, “We got this, I feel like we just won.” I mean, it wasn’t over at that point, but yeah…
Is there anything specific you are doing to prepare for ArcRevo as a team or to get ready for the environment you’ll be in?
SKD: Well, one thing I kind of gave a lot of thought to was how even the “weaker” Japanese players approach the game differently. I think getting ready to play players that adapt in a kind of different way…hmm, it’s kind of hard to articulate. Just playing them, I got different kind of vibe; putting that into words is a little difficult. There’s a lot going on, it’s a really subtle thing.
The main thing is that I feel the way Japanese players as a whole adapt is pretty different than what I’m used to playing. I definitely did get used to it playing against them over the weekend, so I just wanted to keep that in mind before going in. I mean, we’ll have time to play before the actual tournament so that should help, but personally I’ve been thinking a lot about playing against a different style of player, making sure that I don’t take things for granted that I’m used to from playing here.
Nakkiel: I haven’t personally been doing too much, because I experienced it last year. I think the benefit this year is that it’s on console, so it’s not necessary to go play a huge amount of arcade games just to get used to the arcade setup. Learn to play with your stick at a different height, sitting in a different seat, and the screen size is huge. Depending on how you sit, it’s actually kind of hard to see everything on the screen, like how you do on a console setup. The first day I was there, I found myself having to turn my eyes to look at the opponent’s meter. I remember a distinct couple of times RYO’s Relius was pressuring me, and I looked at his meter to see if he was going to try and do anything, then I would get hit by his 6A overhead. I’m thinking, “This is messed up.” It’s just so big (laughs) it kind of threw everything off. I talked to Lord Knight, saying it felt faster or something, but I’m pretty sure the screen size just messed with me.
Anyways, like SKD was saying about how they play, they are ridiculous, super patient. It’s actually really crazy. I remember (you can just go watch it), I was playing Shingo in the first round, and pretty much the entirety of the first two rounds he did almost nothing, like at all. So, I was about to double perfect him since I tend to play against those types of players pretty well, but I made some really stupid mistake, I don’t remember exactly what. He took that and just swung the momentum completely back into his favor and I just lost. The fact that they are willing to wait so long for something like that is really different from most Americans. A lot of American players will just sort of run face first into a lot of things I guess. I don’t know if that’s the right way to say it, but they’ll just kind of beat themselves into a wall until they figure it out, rather than just watch and try not to make a mistake until they know what’s going on.
Lich: I, personally, have been doing a whole lot! For one thing I picked up a bunch of extra hours at work because I am broke right now, and I need to go to Japan! So that’s important, but also I’ve just been thinking about how I approach the game a lot more. I got really motivated after Evo. I mean I’m going to Japan, this is my best opportunity to improve, but I just want to be there so bad. I’ve really just been thinking about my mentality while fighting more, and I’ve been thinking of concepts more in-depth, or at least trying to. We’re gonna be sessioning soon, so I’m gonna be trying. Try to talk more too, and try to apply those concepts I’ve been thinking about in my head. Communication is really huge, as people are talking about now, and I do think there’s definitely not enough. So I’m going to try to talk more.
So, you guys have been communicating consistently, even with the Guilty Gear players? Earlier you said you have a LINE group.
Lich: Yeah, we have the LINE group. Right now we’re all just talking; it’s really kind of an unorganized thing and we’re all freaking out, at least I am. It’s cause things are up in the air as far as trip details go so that’s what we’re talking about at the moment.
Since we don’t know who’s qualified yet, I can’t ask specific teams you’re worried about, but is there anything specific that is worrisome?
(This interview was conducted before team lists were made available, while the lottery process was still in progress)
SKD: The level of play in general, you should be scared.
Lich: You’ve never played them before, you don’t know what they play like, and the level of play in general is higher.
Nakkiel: Oh my god, the format, it’s so scummy. You can just do stuff and get away with it a lot of the time, until you get higher up. It’s hard, but it’s also beneficial too. Even though I was clearly weaker than the top Japanese players last year, they still gave a lot of respect just because they don’t want to drop a game. I think it works out for us in that way too, since nobody wants to play wild when it’s that scary. Unless you’re like Konan, he’s just nuts. It’s really interesting for the Japanese players who play each other all the time, then maybe they’ll try to do something weird to catch somebody off guard, but other than that everyone is usually too scared of getting knocked out in one game to do something crazy.
What do you see as the current state of competitive BlazBlue in North America? There’s been a lot going on with recent announcements of a new version coming.
SKD: As for the recent announcements with the new versions, it doesn’t really change what I’m going to be doing over time. I guess for that kind announcement with the scene as a whole, some people kind of take it as, “Oh man, new BlazBlue coming out, I don’t really wanna play EX anymore. Why would I play that when there’s new BlazBlue?” But, that’s a pretty bad mentality to approach games as a competitive player. I think those people who are saying that are not really the competitive ones. As for our scene, the American scene, everyone is definitely getting better. The gap between Japan and the United States is getting smaller. It’s really just a handful of committed players, and I don’t think the new announcement will change much in terms of motivation.
Nakkiel: Playing it over years, it’s definitely the same worry as whenever they announce a new version. The strong players will usually keep playing, just because that’s what they want to do, and I think the only the thing it really hurts is new blood. They see a new version and don’t want to pick it up until it’s out, but you should honestly just be playing the game period so that you can get a better understanding of it by the time the new one comes out. I don’t think entry or events are going to change much form what they are right now…
SKD: …but I do think the level of play is going to continue getting higher.
Do you guys have any opinion on the impact of long localization times on the difference of play between the scenes?
Nakkiel: I personally don’t think it’s a big factor.
SKD: Me too.
Nakkiel: I think the factor that hurts us the most is that we’re really spread out. That’s probably the thing that hinders America the most. You can probably go down to one of the downtown Tokyo arcades at any time and there will be ten of the strongest players there, and you can just keep going there and playing every day after work. In America, a lot of the really strong players are scattered.
Lich: There aren’t enough players, there aren’t enough players thinking about the right things.
SKD: I’m kind of optimistic about it. Catching up to Japanese players is already a really good sign. In terms of the Japanese release being earlier than the American release and that impacting the level of competitive play, I don’t think that is super significant in terms of how strong we are as players. A lot of things carry over; I mean it’s still Chronophantasma, we are still playing it. A lot of the main game actually stays the same. One of the things the American scene is getting better at is playing the game at a deeper level, instead of just analyzing information that would change from one game to another. So people are just getting better as fighting game players, which is essential towards bridging that gap. I think that’s one of the main things people just gloss over. Then they freak out like, “Oh man, Japan gets the game earlier than us, there’s no point.” (laughs) For starters, they’re strong players with that time difference, so we just have to do what we can at that point. But, we’re not currently at the point where that time gap really does much.
SKD: Yeah. I definitely feel like the level of play–I can speak for BlazBlue–is getting better. With the industry support, I think this is great, like this entire thing. Getting helped out by Aksys and qualifying for ArcRevo, that’s kind of crazy thinking about that. Even two years ago I wouldn’t expect that at all. From an industry standpoint and a level of play standpoint, things are getting better. Guilty Gear, well, we made it into top eight. Zidane did well, but he was always a strong player. I think they were always strong, but I think that game has a bit of a bigger gap in terms of the top level of Japanese play and the top level of American play. But there is progress.
Nakkiel: I think Guilty Gear, just by nature of the game and how long the top players have been playing, they are just deep in there. I feel like it’s starting to become a little more like BlazBlue, where there are a few really strong American players who are getting there. It’s also a more popular game right now, so the mid-level and lower level seems “worse”, just because there are more people you can watch be not very good at the game. At least in regards to ElvenShadow or Zidane or somebody, there are some American players who are strong enough to scare Japanese players in tournament. If you go read Rion’s impressions, he tweets about the night before top eight. He beat Zidane, but he spent five or six hours preparing for that matchup. The strong players are at least to the point where they garner some respect from the stronger Japanese players, but I feel like there’s probably sill a ways to go for that game. That game’s hard.
SKD: So much to know.
Nakkiel: I think Xrd helped a lot though, with having fewer characters in the game. With False Roman Cancel gone, the execution barrier isn’t really there anymore. There were certain intense timings for FRCs that Japanese players had down. Like Millia S Disc used to have an FRC on the startup that was two frame timing, and I think the only players I saw consistently doing that were Woshige and Nakamura. Having things not like that in the game anymore helps. Then you don’t have to learn so many matchups with less characters in the game, so matchup discrepancy within the country isn’t so much a thing. Now, BlazBlue has that going on with all its characters. I think it’s kind of funny, the games have sort of swapped places a little bit in that respect.
SKD: If you’ve been on the ball and played BlazBlue since it came out, you’ve accumulated a lot of general knowledge about the characters over time, so that’s something that we have.
Lich: It’s really hard for a new player just coming in. Also, I don’t know shit about Celica at this point.
SKD: With Guilty Gear, one of the good things about having a game that people are more familiar with system mechanics-wise and having such a small cast is that a lot of people can get the learning process out of the way faster and start focusing on playing the game in a deeper way. I see a lot of people improve as players through Xrd a bit. Speaking about mostly mid-level players, it’s definitely interesting to see that effect of having a smaller cast. I feel like it’s pretty helpful for Xrd’s level of play to get better. I know a lot of players are motivated for Xrd too, and it’s a widespread motivation not limited to just top players.
What are you personally looking to do moving forward after ArcRevo, and what do you want the scene, or even Arc System Works, to move towards?
Nakkiel: I really like the developer we’ve been getting. If I had to note something that significantly helped in our improvement in the last couple years, it’s because they started supporting America. Getting better is nice, it is it’s own reward, but people want something tangible. The pot bonuses, qualifiers, and so on are a big help. I just want to see them continue supporting majors in the country. It gets more people out there, it makes it a stronger major.
SKD: As far as the industry support goes, I think it’s good. In terms of how I’d like people to approach competitive BlazBlue, I think a lot of people need to work on their critical thinking and looking at the game in a smarter way. A lot of the analysis is really shallow, a lot of players aren’t even playing “the same game” as the top players, really. On a very black and white example you can talk about fuzzy defense, things like that, but that kind of stuff only comes to fruition because of more critical thinking and application of concepts. That kind of development and that meta does come from having a motivated playerbase. In my position right now, I feel like I’m trying to impart kind of like more abstract ideas. I don’t know how that is working out, but hopefully it works. But, I do think that the industry support is pushing things in the right direction.
Lich: I don’t know, I’m seeing a lot of good work from Huey and SKD to try and help the scene. I want to do something myself, but I’m not sure what I want to do yet. I want to make videos talking about more of that stuff, like concepts, but I’m not really sure how I’d do that. I’m just really happy to see a lot more people taking the initiative to try and help out.
SKD: Even seeing that is probably good for a lot of people. “Oh wow, everyone is so motivated.”
Lich: And then they get motivated.
SKD: Hopefully it stays, just talking about it isn’t going to do anything. You’ve got to really put in work and keep it up.
Nakkiel: In regards to content, I’d also like to start streaming more, but I’ll need to improve on that. I don’t talk a whole lot. And then work.
(Discussion about work and school eating up time)
Nakkiel: Work is a blow up.
I have Nakkiel and SKD in the same place at once so I have to ask. How do you do your hair?
SKD: I just wake up.
Nakkiel: Have good genes, wash it when it’s oily, get a comb, use conditioner. That’s it.
Do you have any final thoughts or messages for the Guilty Gear team in particular?
Everyone: To the Guilty Gear team: Deez Nuts.
(laughter through the call)
Nakkiel: No, but really, I hope they do well. Lord Knight is our boy, he’s great, I hope he does well.
Lich: GCYoshi carried my boy to Japan.
Nakkiel: GCYoshi is fucking ridiculous, forgive my language. He came to North West Majors and I beat him, and now I can’t even imagine beating him. That was like a two month gap. The speed at which he improved is ridiculous to me, that’s actually crazy. I am super impressed; I have pretty high hopes for their team too.
SKD: I feel like the reason he got so fast is he came from other games, like a BananaKen thing. Strong player that just gets adjusted to the game and gets really good really quick.
Lich: I’ve been friends with 2GB Combo since last Evo, so I’m definitely happy for him. He’s been doing very well in Under Night since forever. As for what I want out of ArcRevo, I wanna win. I think we can win. We have a chance. I don’t know who is there, but I wanna try. I’m going to work my hardest.
Nakkiel: I want to do well. I think we’ve bridged the gap, it would be nice to prove it. I’m definitely going to one and done some people.[hr]
ARC REVOLUTION CUP 2015 is scheduled for this Saturday, August 15. A companion interview with the American Guilty Gear team can be found here.