In this interview series, I’m catching a glimpse of what it is like to be in one of the lesser-known international scenes: Australia. Outside of their annual majors–Battle Arena Melbourne and OzHadou Nationals–you hardly hear much from the land down under. While majors happen frequently on the Western hemisphere, they are one of the most infrequent participants in larger events. That, however, doesn’t mean that Australia isn’t a threat at all.
One of the players emerging from the Australian scene would already be known to some, who may have seen the ArcadeStream tournaments in 2016: Christian “ROF’ Dedalija came to Korea as an absolute unknown in the scene. He quickly made his mark, joining event after event at ArcadeStream and consistently making top 3. Since returning to his native Melbourne, he has quickly shown himself to be a threat in the country, making top 3 in the very first tournament he entered upon his return.
I caught up with ROF to talk about the scene in Melbourne as he compares it to what he left behind in Seoul.
Corey “Missing Person” Lanier: It’s been a while since we’ve last talked personally. How has your transition from Korea to Australia been so far?
Christian “ROF” Dedalija: Societally, there’s a huge difference between the two, and it takes a while to get back into the swing of things. But when we’re talking about Street Fighter, there’s also a huge difference as well. They play completely differently here, so you have to adjust to that as well.
Missing Person: What are the key differences between Korean play and Australian play?
ROF: In Korea, they mix it up a lot. They won’t just keep using the same moves and tactics on you. In Australia, if they see something that works against you, they will keep doing it until you finally adapt and make them pay for it. So here, they have a mentality where if you’re exposed, they’re just going to keep exposing you. Once you plug that hole, they’ll find the next thing that exposes you. They also tend to do a lot of wake-up supers. They also still do a lot of wake-up DPs–despite them getting nerfed–and I have to get used to that.
In Korea, I feel like they’re more experimental in their play. If they find something that exposes you, or even when they themselves get exposed, they just immediately change their strategy. Otherwise, they tend to play more fundamentally solid, and experiment more in their play.
Missing Person: Which do you feel works more in the long run: the solid but experimental play of Korea, or the abuse of people’s weaknesses in Australia? Or do you feel like it is a matter of meta play?
ROF: If you want to win, you have to stick with what’s working. That means exposing and exploiting people’s weaknesses. The thing is that in Australia, most people play online. So while they’re exposing and exploiting people, they aren’t experimenting. Online is precisely where you want to experiment. There’s not much to risk in doing so online—you don’t lose much in terms of prizes or bonuses. I feel like Australia needs to adopt the Korean approach more and experiment a lot more online.
Missing Person: So what about you? What game did you start with and what year did you start playing in?
ROF: I think the first game I started playing was Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha.
Missing Person: Oh my god, that game was my drug of choice when I was a kid!
ROF: I loved that game! I would play on the PlayStation 1 controller, and I’d always get blisters on my thumbs because I would mash so hard. I was too young to know what was going on at the time. I was just in love with the characters and the music. God damn, the music in that game was amazing. That’s what really got me into Street Fighter. But naturally, it didn’t get me into playing it competitively. Even growing up, there wasn’t much of an emphasis on Street Fighter. The emphasis was mostly on other multiplayer games, because Australia has such a small population.
Then there was this one time when I was walking through a shopping center, and was looking through the selection of games at the store, and I saw Super Street Fighter IV. My first reaction was, “What? There’s been four?! Where have I been?” So I picked up the game and started with Juri. I played her all the way up until Ultra. Then I switched to Seth. So I started that game in 2010, and since then, I began to play Street Fighter more actively. But the moment I decided to take it to the next level was near the time when Street Fighter V was about to release.
Missing Person: So in Street Fighter IV, you ended off the series with a more gamble-heavy character like Seth, but made a switch in the opposite direction with Birdie in Street Fighter V. Explain this switch.
ROF: Truth be told, when I first started in SFV, I did go the gamble route and chose R. Mika. Don’t judge me. [laughs]
Missing Person: Too late. [laughs]
ROF: I saw her in Street Fighter Alpha 3, and when I heard she was going to be in Street Fighter V, I decided I wanted to play her. I tried hard with her, but couldn’t find any rhythm with her. Still, I stuck it out with her for a while. I liked the character and wanted to play her.
Then I saw footage of the Japanese player Crusher playing Birdie, and at that time my perception of Birdie was that he’s horrible. His Dolphin Dive was slow and easy to react to. He had slow buttons and limited combo potential. But here’s this Japanese guy dominating with the most underused character in the game at the time. So I decided to give Birdie a try. And I found that I was getting into the rhythm I was missing with R. Mika. I couldn’t understand why it was working but I knew it was. I finally realized that he was as much a gambling character as R. Mika is.
It sounds funny when you think of it that way. But if you look at other Birdie players like MenaRD, 465_ht, they take risks in every single situation that they find themselves in. In between block strings, they do Bull Horn. The EX version of it is ridiculously unsafe, but they’ll do it and make it work. I feel like you have to gamble a lot with Birdie to actually win. He has great footsies and neutral, but that will not win you the game. While footsies may be a part of Street Fighter V, you also have to rely on pressure as well. With Birdie, pressure comes with risk. When I do the EX armored moves, they are completely unsafe. But if I want to get into the opponent’s head and do some real damage, I have to take those risks. So I’ll throw out risky moves and command grabs to take the match. I feel like he may be even more of a gambling character than R. Mika. So I decided he has good ranges and a lot of gamble, and stuck with him.
Missing Person: You actually made some big waves in Korea when you started playing there. How much did the time spent playing there help you reach the level you are at currently?
ROF: It helped me out tremendously. At ArcadeStream, there was this mentality where the foreigners play together, and the Koreans play together. So there was this mindset where the foreigners needed to beat the Korean players. So the more I played, the more I wanted to show the Koreans that while they were gods at Tekken and they had some of the best Street Fighter players in Infiltration, Poongko, and Laugh, that people from lesser known countries like me from Australia, or Gaston “zZInsaneZz” Reid from Brazil were just as competitive as they are.
I started out having a two-hour session with Hyounoo “Drakefang” Sung, the owner of ArcadeStream, where I beat him 31-0. I came back about a week later, and he told me he wanted me to join Team ArcadeStream. Shortly after that, I participated in SpiritZero’s Road to Evo tournament, and got Top 16. But that was my first tournament ever. When I look back on it, I actually realize I could have done way better. My top 16 match was against ZzangMoo, who is one of Korea’s best Zangief players. That is the perfect match for Birdie, but I lost it because the nerves got to me. I didn’t even use any bananas during the whole match. Every time I see that match, I want to scream at the screen, “Use a banana!” but instead I just throw out cans.
After that tournament, I realized that things were going well. And playing good players like Poongko, LikeWhiteBread, XYZZY, NL, Sandbag, M. Lizard, and Infiltration really improved my game. Playing them made me play a less risky Birdie. Now that I’m back in Australia, and they play more towards exploiting weakness, I’ve become more risky. Now I feel like I’m more balanced in playing the game fundamentally well, while also incorporating that risk that’s required of Birdie. I’m hoping I can fuse both of them together and do a lot of damage.
Missing Person: You mentioned you hadn’t ever played in a tournament in Australia, but had you ever played any offline locally?
ROF: There was a bit of a local arcade scene in Melbourne, but I wasn’t too aware of the scene in Australia at that time. At the arcade, I only played about four guys there: there was an Akuma, a T. Hawk, a Seth, and a Ryu. You’d occasionally get another player to come in, but there were only these four regulars to play. That only lasted for about four months because the arcade shut down. There was nothing much I could do then but go back to playing online. Plus the price per play on the arcade cabinet was $2.00. If you play five matches and lose them all, you’ve just spent $10. So where I was, there was no real scene.
I just now only realized there was a scene, but it’s between a 45-minute to an hour away from me. It’s a little hard to get there, but I try to go as often as I can.
Missing Person: Which is definitely hard, especially after you lived in Seoul and could hop a train and be at ArcadeStream in 20 minutes tops.
ROF: Now that I know there is a scene, I know that they have a fortnightly tournament with only a $4 entry. This is great, but I’m also fairly certain this is the only place in Melbourne that offers Street Fighter. Naturally, other cities have scenes, but this is the only place I know of in Melbourne, and it’s a great length away from me. Obviously in Korea, everything was closer and more centered around Seoul, so it was easier to play.
Missing Person: With the offline scene developing, how do you feel about the general level of play in Melbourne? I know you’ve told me personally before that there are about 3-4 players, yourself included, that are amazing, but how are the lower levels developing?
ROF: I remember playing a certain player last year. Then when I ran into him again at a tournament in Melbourne, he had improved drastically. I know for a fact that it’s because of the offline play that he was able to improve. On top of that, you can talk to players during and after your matches so that you can coach each other on how to play matchups. It does help, and it’ll continue to go like that I believe.
We want to get out there and show people we are a force. You have Keoma that has shown how good Brazil and South America can be. Plus you have a plethora of people from Europe, North America, and Asia. But you really have no one, outside of HumanBomb who is now in Hong Kong, who has really put Oceania on the map. Now we need a new face who can represent us, so I really want players to show up and do their best to represent us.
Missing Person: What are the biggest difficulties in getting the proper representation of Australia and New Zealand in the fighting game world?
ROF: One of the biggest we have such difficulty in getting represented outside of our own scene is that we’re so far from everyone else. With Americans, they can travel to South America and other regions with relative ease. For us, the closest thing we have is Singapore and Southeast Asia Majors, and that is an eleven hour flight at best for us.
Missing Person: What about events like Japan Cup?
ROF: The thing is, when I went to Korea, the flight was 14 hours. Japan’s even further away than that. If we want to put in that effort to go to a tournament outside of Oceania, we have to put in a lot of effort. I know Americans talk some about jet lag if they go to play in Europe, and vice versa. But it’s a lot easier for them compared to us to make those trips. I mean, have you ever seen an Aussie at NCR? No, you never really see that happening!
The second biggest issue is that we’ve relegated ourselves to mostly playing online. I feel like the more we focus on playing offline and banding together to help each other improve, the better it’s going to get. But it’s almost an impossible hurdle for us to overcome the biggest issue, which is the travel. I guess one way to do so would be if Capcom helps out the Australian scene by sponsoring more events. The bright side is that Battle Arena Melbourne is coming up in May and is on the Capcom Pro Tour. But hopefully, more things like that will crop up.
Missing Person: And how is the netplay in Australia?
ROF: [laughs] The internet here is absolute ass. Please make sure you include that quote verbatim, if you can, please find a way. I am downloading a game on Steam right now, and the download speed peaked at 1 mb/s, but that’s the exception and far from the rule. There’s no cable or fiber optic internet where I live. We are on ADSL2+.
Missing Person: I didn’t even know that was still in usage.
ROF: That is how bad the situation is. We are ranked 65th in the world for internet speeds.
Missing Person: And this is a “developed country.”
ROF: [laughs] Yeah, sad to say.
Missing Person: Is this Britain’s way to continue punishing you guys for starting off as a prison colony?
ROF: [laughs] I guess we do still have to pay for our crimes, and my family isn’t even English. The funny thing is, there’s this player named MiM in Perth on the other side of the country that I magically have a good connection with. Any other player from Perth is unplayable but her. Think about this, I can’t play people from my own country online! My best bets are playing against Sydney, Melbourne, and possibly Brisbane and Tasmania—that little island south of the mainland that nobody cares about. [laughs] And sometimes New Zealand works out as well. But if you get five bars from where I live, it’s likely to be someone from Sydney or Melbourne. So the offline scene is a life saver because Street Fighter V netcode and Australian internet doesn’t mix.
Missing Person: Do you feel like teams such as Dark Sided coming up in Australia is going to help get players out to more events outside of Oceania?
ROF: I’d say it has helped. If you look at their Twitter feed, they’re promoting their players a lot, as well as promoting their products and doing giveaways. So they are promoting themselves and getting the name out there. Especially when you have legitimate esports teams like Dark Sided involved who are serious about wanting to win.
I feel like not a lot of Japanese or American players want to come here because there’s not much incentive to come here at this point. While I do feel like the teams do help, we need to push to give more incentive for players from other regions to come here. That way, we will get a chance to play some of the top players in the world. I’ve been lucky enough to play players like Tokido and Mago at ArcadeStream, but a lot of players here haven’t. Getting those top players over here so that we can study them and become accustomed to how they play first hand should be our main focus.
Missing Person: How difficult is it to get cross-city events, such as against Perth or even for closer proximity, against Sydney?
ROF: Well, I’ve only been back for a short while, but I know Kevin “Burnout” Kim went to New Zealand recently with a couple of Melbourne players, and he won the tournament there. I believe when people from other states come out to these events, it’s not a big contingent that comes. Judging from recent events, I don’t think it’s that often.
It all boils down to incentive, and there isn’t much of one to travel out of state here. People judge it on how much it costs to go versus the return on that investment, and it just isn’t enough to bring them out.
Missing Person: So your best chances at even playing other Australians you don’t know would be at BAM or even OzHadou Nationals later on in the year?
ROF: Exactly. Those are the events that bring out all of Australia and New Zealand because when these events happen, the world comes out. The Australian scene is hungry to play all the players from Korea, Japan, and the rest of the world. So there’s incentive in doing that just because they can improve their games by playing the best. On top of that, there’s the prize money that brings people out or even the chance at getting CPT points.
There could be more chances to play each other through online tournaments, especially if Capcom sanctioned them. I don’t know how they could do that with the terrible internet here though.
Missing Person: Petition the government to roll out better internet?
ROF: There’s actually new internet service rolling out that’s better than what we’ve had. The problem is that my area is having to wait another year and a half to get it. Once the internet improves and there starts to be more online events, that could also help the scene in Australia tremendously.
I also think that getting more teams like Dark Sided involved in the FGC in Australia would help out tremendously. Dark Sided is already doing great work within the FGC, and a few more teams would definitely change the landscape. Then there could be team battles that promote friendly rivalries, and that could help the scene out as well.
Missing Person: What would you be your top 3 in the power rankings in Melbourne?
ROF: [chuckles] Well, I don’t like boasting.
Missing Person: Well, I know you’re putting yourself at #1.
ROF: I’ll merely say that I’ll beat RedStar easily. [laughs] (Note: For context, ROF participated in a 5 on 5 exhibition against top Korean Tekken players in Street Fighter V. After beating one player named RedStar, he jumped up from the arcade cabinet, grabbed the extra headset from the commentary booth and exclained, “RedStar is free!” into the microphone. Sadly, the footage of the moment was never uploaded to YouTube from the ArcadeStream Twitch channel and is lost forever.)
Missing Person: I was about to ask who you thought was more free, Australia or RedStar.
ROF: I’d never say anything of the sort about Australia, unless it was on stream. [laughs] But all jokes aside, I’d judge it on a couple of merits. I believe Somniac is the best player in Australia. He’s currently ranked #1 online in the region. I know Somniac recently tweeted about me that he thought I was going to be a killer in Australia.
Missing Person: I actually do remember when he came to Korea for that one ArcadeStream tournament.
ROF: And I’m sure you remember that one time in that one ArcadeStream tournament where I beat him, right? That’s a secret between you and me.
Missing Person: I don’t think it’s a secret any more.
ROF: [laughs] I forgot to tell you to take that off the record! But I’d actually say based on tournament results that ZG is probably #2 in Melbourne right now. But with Somniac’s approval, saying I’ll take down names at BAM, on top of the fact that I’m currently #3 right now on CFN for the region, I say I do deserve a spot on that list.
Missing Person: What’s it going to take to get you to Evo?
ROF: [laughs] Evo would be a dream. I would love to get to Vegas and experience the hype. Just the chance to see all these amazing matches with players playing at their best would be crazy. If I go though, I want to do some damage and let people know who I am. What’s it going to take to get me there? I don’t know, maybe some financial help or a sponsorship would have to be in order. I really want to go, but tickets from Australia are ridiculous. If I were to spot the ticket myself, it would likely be next year.
Missing Person: So what are your personal goals with Street Fighter V?
ROF: First of all, I want to help promote the Australian scene and shine the spotlight on players that most people don’t know, but deserve to be known. Secondly, I want to beat those players that are already established as great and do some damage. Oh, and I also want to get Birdie buffed. I feel like Birdie can be a good character, but you just don’t see him enough at a high level. The reason for this is how many risks you have to take with him. I don’t think he needs drastic buffs, but he needs some improvements for his quality of life.
Missing Person: Now are you being completely objective with your argument, or is this more like the Mike Ross, “E. Honda is ass,” in Super Street Fighter IV argument?
ROF: [laughs] I wouldn’t say that he’s ass. Let’s just say for instance that Laura is a better character than Birdie. No arguments there, but Laura is a bit similar to him. The key differences between the two are that Laura is safe on nearly everything, and Birdie is unsafe on nearly everything. While that can be a positive for him that you can do things that will shock people who won’t expect you to do something so unsafe, he does still need a few buffs.
For instance, his slide used to be at -5 frames on block. That meant you could punish with mediums against it. Now it’s -7, which means that heavy moves can now punish it. That used to be an option after knockdowns in lieu of dashes. Now it’s too large a risk to do.
Now, you have to play Birdie a lot more defensively, using cans and bananas more so that you get V-Trigger faster.
Missing Person: Are there any special shout-outs that you’d like to give?
ROF: I definitely want to thank Somniac for putting out on the market here in Australia. Special shout-outs go to Drakefang. Without him and ArcadeStream, I would’ve never been exposed to the Korean scene in the way that I was, and I wouldn’t be the player I am today. One more shout-out goes to zZInsaneZz for teaching me the Mika matchup. His Mika is so dangerous and just constantly pressures you. Because of him, I am incredibly comfortable in the matchup.
Additional source: ArcadeStream
[Feature image photo courtesy of Gaston “zZInsaneZz” Reid]