Joe “LI Joe” Ciaramelli was one of the greatest stories of Evo 2016. Having been within the FGC his whole life — and having his passion for the scene previously recorded in I Got Next —he was the lone American hope in a field filled with Japanese and Korean killers. He is most certainly the inspiration that showed that Americans could eventually capture a title in Street Fighter V at Evo.
While at Evo 2017, I caught up with LI Joe after his pools to discuss the year since his Evo moment and what the future holds for him.
Corey “Missing Person” Lanier: Joe, how has Evo been for you this year?
Joe “LI Joe” Ciaramelli: Evo is always sick. It’s not even about playing and competing. It’s a great atmosphere. You get to see some great matches and play all the games that aren’t out yet. Regardless of results, it’s amazing.
Missing Person: How do you feel about a chance at repeating last year’s success?
LI Joe: Not too good, only because I haven’t played that much. I also switched characters to Urien after Evo last year. I don’t have the experience that I had last year. I was grinding hardcore back then. This season, I haven’t been doing it so much. But I’ll always do my best.
Missing Person: I know you get a lot of questions about Evo 2016, but I don’t often hear people talk about how your matchup with Eita went. How did you handle him so well?
LI Joe: I had actually played him at GameWorks three days before that. He beat me 5-4. From that, I had a good idea on how he played. Up until then, I was nervous as hell. There were a lot of people behind me and a lot of pressure to do well. But I just decided to push through that, block it all out, and do the best I could.
Missing Person: And then how did it feel knowing that your dad was watching you that whole time?
LI Joe: It was exhilarating, but I honestly didn’t know he was coming. He did it as a last minute thing when he heard that I got top 8. I honestly didn’t even know he was watching me in the stadium when I played Eita.
Missing Person: From that you were able to parlay that into being on ELEAGUE. How was that experience for you?
LI Joe: It was quite the experience. Obviously, I didn’t do very well. It was hard to explain, but I wasn’t very comfortable in the matches at all. So it was rough playing, but being there was amazing. They took great care of us. They fed us, they drove us around. It was such a cool experience. But then to be called back to do desk work was even more amazing.
Missing Person: Do you feel like Urien was part of the reason for your discomfort?
LI Joe: Honestly, I don’t think so. It was me more than anything else. Urien is a great character. I can’t be mad at stuff like that at all.
Missing Person: How did you feel with all the Joe reaction memes that were circulating across social media during ELEAGUE?
LI Joe: It actually made me feel good. People used to think that I did that for show. But that’s not the case. I didn’t know they were filming me. I had no clue that they had a camera on me the entire time. So I was just authentically reacting to the matches, then they came up to me afterwards and said, “By the way, we filmed all of your reactions.”
Missing Person: So besides playing, what else are you doing for Evo?
LI Joe: Well, I came in early on in the day to do some work for ESPN. So you’ll see some interviews posted that I took part in. I have a couple things in store, including being on the house microphones with IFC Yipes for Street Fighter V top 8.
Missing Person: Let’s backtrack to 2008 and 2009. You were a major component in the I Got Next documentary. Thinking back to the scene back then, did you think that we would get to where we are now?
LI Joe: Not at all. We used to talk about it and dream about it. But the discussions we had back then are literally what’s happening now, and it’s crazy to think about. When we were dreaming of playing in stadiums and having huge venues with huge sponsorships and people supporting us, it’s now here.
Missing Person: So which of the new fighters that are being showcased at Evo are you most hype about?
LI Joe: Definitely Dragon Ball FighterZ and Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. I want to finally try out Dragon Ball on a stick. The last event it was at, you could only use controllers. I can’t get the most out of the game on a pad. I’m just bad with a pad. I can’t experience the game how I want to with anything but a stick. But from what I could gather, the game is very responsive and smooth. Marvel is also looking like it’s becoming fun, so those two games are what I’m looking forward to.
Missing Person: So what are your plans for East Coast Throwdown this year?
LI Joe: This year we’re really just trying to spice up the tournament. We’ve done the same thing for a while now. So this year, our goal is to try to break the mold and start fresh. We have a new venue this year. We also cut down on the games so we can focus on running the best event we can. We’re hoping within the next couple of years, we’ll have something bigger and better than what we had before.
Missing Person: Did John Gallagher leaving last year make organizing this event more difficult for you?
LI Joe: No, honestly, it’s still going strong. John was a major help, but I still have other partners that help me out too. John is a great asset, and I miss him. But we’re just doing the best we can without him.
Joe ultimately fell short of repeating in the top 8 by losing in his first match of Round 2 Pools to MJ |Gama. He later joined IFC Yipes in doing commentary for the audience at Mandalay Bay for top 8 of Street Fighter V.
For more information on LI Joe’s major — East Coast Throwdown — please visit their website.