Jonny Lai “HumanBomb” Cheng emerged onto the scene like many others, a virtual unknown, but unlike many others he arrived with a bang. Holding dual citizenship with his native Hong Kong, he emerged out of Australia in 2012 to take 5th at Evo 2012 with his precise Sakura play. Since then, his name has always been near the top of the tournament results whenever he makes it out, despite infrequent attendance. He also turned a lot of heads last year — as well as busted a lot of fantasy brackets — at Capcom Cup 2016 by defeating Infiltration in the very first match.
While at Evo 2017, we sat down with HumanBomb to discuss his success and the state of the scene in Hong Kong.
Corey “Missing Person” Lanier: HumanBomb, how was your Evo experience this year?
Jonny Lai “HumanBomb” Cheng: Last year I couldn’t break into top 32. However this year, I got 25th.
Missing Person: So, obviously some improvement.
HumanBomb: And that was with Chun-Li getting nerfed this season. Somehow I managed to do better with a weaker character.
Missing Person: I remember seeing on your social media accounts how nervous you were at the beginning of the season seeing Chun-Li’s changes. How do you feel now?
HumanBomb: I still think Chun-Li is not that good. The way she plays in Season 2 is totally different. She lost a lot of things, including the safety on instant air Lightning Legs, and now her crouching jab is four frames instead of three. In Season 1, I started everything off of crouching jab. Now I have to use crouching short. It definitely handicapped her damage.
Missing Person: Did you have difficulty adjusting? I specifically remember playing you last year, and you were one of the best players in using her instant air Lightning Legs.
HumanBomb: At the beginning, everyone struggled, including me. I wasn’t too thrown off by the instant air legs, but the crouching jab really threw me. I had to adjust all my combos.
Missing Person: So let’s take a walk back through Street Fighter V. During Street Fighter Crash, you were the killer on the Southeast Team — a team with GamerBee and Poongko. They were both struggling, and you were crushing people. What was going through your mind?
HumanBomb: The first two weeks, I didn’t play well. But later, I started to get my footing. I think the best moment was playing against Team Razer. I was able to beat Fuudo and Infiltration twice, but I lost to only Xian.
Missing Person: I remember people being so shocked that you took out Infiltration there. The crowd reacted in absolute shock. What prepared you to play him?
HumanBomb: There was another Nash player in Hong Kong. We trained a lot together. We had played this matchup inside and out. Every time I went online, I always seemed to match up against him. Then we’d play casuals offline together as well. I had so much experience against Nash that I was well prepared for Infiltration.
Missing Person: I remember seeing how hard you fought to get into Capcom Cup. You were so close in the Asia Regional Finals. You got seventh, losing to Itabashi Zangief. Talk me through this match. What went wrong?
HumanBomb: This was heavily favored for Chun-Li in Season 1. However, you can’t discount a player like Itazan. His mindgames are so strong. He always makes smart decisions. I was leading 2-1. He came back to beat me 3-2, and even perfected me in the last game. It was similar to what he did against Moke in top 8.
Missing Person: But then fate threw you in Capcom Cup anyway. Due to a sequence of unfortunate events, two players dropped out, and you found yourself with a spot in the bracket.
HumanBomb: Yeah, Tse4 didn’t get his visa in time. Then CCL also dropped out. This allowed Yukadon in as well as me in the very last slot.
Missing Person: How did that feel? You deserved to be there, obviously, but at the same time, you got in on a technicality.
HumanBomb: Regardless, I felt happy. It’s the biggest tournament with the most prestige and the highest prize pool. What made me happiest was knowing my first match was Infiltration.
Missing Person: As soon as I saw the bracket, I expected you to win against him. UltraDavid initially called it an upset. Did you disagree with that?
HumanBomb: Honestly, so long as he picked Nash, I was confident against him. He had been using Balrog and Rashid at that time, so he could’ve used either of them to throw me off. But he stuck with Nash. It was still close. I beat him 3-2, and it went to the last round.
Missing Person: Let’s say hypothetically that he did switch to Balrog or Rashid on the final game, do you think it would have ended differently?
HumanBomb: He probably would have won. I didn’t have as much experience against them compared to Nash. I knew that match too well.
Missing Person: Recently you’ve stayed busy promoting the game in Hong Kong. Every time I look, I see you’re doing interviews on tvA.
HumanBomb: I’m also now helping organize monthly tournaments in Hong Kong.
Missing Person: How do you feel Hong Kong is doing in embracing and learning the game?
HumanBomb: We have a lot of good players, but we even received an influx of players in Season 2. In Hong Kong, the best player in Hong Kong was not me, but Tse4, a Balrog player. But after the patch, another player emerged that is doing better than us named HotDog44, and he uses M. Bison. He placed 48th at Evo this year. We also have Chris Wong who is becoming well known, as well as a Laura player who beat Kindevu in pools.
Missing Person: That’s interesting, because while you’re saying Hong Kong’s scene is growing, other scenes have seen a decline. Why do you think Hong Kong is gravitating toward this game?
HumanBomb: Recently, more companies have been sponsoring events in Hong Kong. The government is interested in sponsorship. There’s also more money involved, so it attracts new players.
Missing Person: Do you feel like Hong Kong players have any difficulties they face in improving?
HumanBomb: There aren’t many tournaments, but the players that are playing seriously are getting dangerous.
Missing Person: Do you feel like the visa issues also are a hindrance?
HumanBomb: It’s actually better for us than the mainland Chinese players. The only reason Tse4 didn’t attend Capcom Cup last year was that he didn’t apply in time. But the turnaround time on visas to the United States from Hong Kong is much faster than in China, and less likely that a player will get rejected. Players like Xiaohai who constantly travel have a good track record of returning home, so it becomes much easier for them to get their visas as well in the mainland.
Missing Person: We also caught a glimpse into your personal life, as you now have a girlfriend. We saw her all weekend wearing a Chun-Li costume, cheering you on. Has she started playing the game since meeting you?
HumanBomb: I’ve taught her some, but she isn’t too serious yet. She’s considering learning more. We’re hoping she’ll enter Evo next year.
Missing Person: So if they’ve had a taste of HumanBomb…
Humanbomb: …wait till they get a load of Rose Ma. [laughs]
Missing Person: When we first heard of you, it was at Evo 2012, when you placed fifth with your impressive Sakrua. At that time, you were representing Australia, and you do have dual citizenship. How do you feel about the Australian scene, especially now? Do you feel like they’re strong, or are they behind the rest of the pack?
HumanBomb: I feel like they’re still fine. The problem in Australia is they can’t really connect to each other online. If you go coast-to-coast, the internet is too bad to have a serious match. It also makes it hard to connect to players outside of the country as well. In Hong Kong, I can play players from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore without problems.
Missing Person: So has the move from Australia back to Hong Kong helped your game?
HumanBomb: Yes, definitely.
Missing Person: So with your Australian ties, do you plan on attending OzHadou Nationals?
HumanBomb: I’m considering it. I honestly didn’t enter many tournaments prior to Evo. I only entered Battle Arena Melbourne 9 and Saigon Cup. After Evo, I might fly a bit more. There’s one in Hong Kong in August, and one in Taiwan in October.
Missing Person: Any chances of you coming back west for events, such as Canada Cup or SoCal Reigonals?
HumanBomb: I’m considering my chances in those events. As you know, it’s a huge investment to fly to the United States and Canada for events from Asia. So if you invest that money, you want to be able to win. There’s too many good players now.
Missing Person: You’re notorious for your Chun-Li in Street Fighter V. You were notorious for your Sakura in Street Fighter IV. Here’s the $100,000 question. If Capcom announced Sakura for Season 3, would you drop Chun-Li for her?
HumanBomb: I would definitely use Sakura. But I would also consider Chun-Li for a pocket character, in case she supplements some bad match-ups.
Missing Person: Are there any shout-outs that you’d like to give?
HumanBomb: Shout-outs to the Australian and Hong Kong scenes. And a special shout-out to my girlfriend, Chun-Li.