Daigo Umehara Answers Capcom Unity’s Questions (Part 3)!

Jun 01, 2010 // s-kill

It’s been a while since Part 1 and Part 2 of “Umehara answers Unity’s Questions,” but fresh from the man himself comes a new, epic installment.  For those that don’t know, Daigo is one of the greatest fighting gamers of all time.  In this piece, he answers your questions about his inspiration, memorable moments, his path to inner peace (!), the West vs Japan, and female SF players. 

Some of this is long, but also contains some of the deepest answers on these subjects that I’ve ever seen, so I’d say it’s definitely worth your time.  In particular, he even managed to capture in words my own early struggles with playing games “seriously,”–the way people outside the game reacted to the fact that I played in tournaments in my free time–and how even their compliments could seem insulting.  I’m sure many of you have been in a similar situation, so it’s very cool to hear one of the best in the world describing it so well.  Brings a tear to an old street fighter’s eye!

PS- pic comes courtesy of Spencer Wu’s great shots at the EVO APAC tournament that Daigo won over this past weekend. 

PPS- to my fellow Street Fighter top player haircut watchers, yes, that does look like a new perm for Daigo!

–Tell me the moment you felt truly proud about playing video games?

I played and played videgames in my teens. I lost myself in games. I felt guilty at the same time, feeling pressured from the social norms, but I could not stop playing it.  I struggled dealing with my passion and what was expected.

As I started to win many games, people started to notice me, but I hated when people told me that I was good, just so easily. I felt like it was just too easy for them to say not knowing how deeply I loved playing game. That’s how much I loved it. I could not even express how much I loved it. It was a part of me. For them to say anything about my gameplay made me feel that they could say it because they had a distance from the game world. To me, they were implying “it doesn’t mean much to me, but you are still good at what I don’t really care about.”

I felt I was being ridiculed. It made me angry. But as I got wiser through life experiences in my twenties, things started to shift a bit. I gradually started to realize gameplaying skill was something special I had. All those years, it didn’t even occur to me since it was completely a part of my life. I also realized that it was the space I owned and feel at ease. I hadn’t even realized the existence of the space, let alone the significance of it. Everything about gaming started to take a clear shape in my senses.  And in the recent past 1 – 2 years, I have come to fully appreciate my skills, the only thing I am good, and best at, realizing that it is something special. Without my passion, hours and hours of gameplay, and my game skills, I would not be here today.  I get invited to tournaments all over the world, and people recognize me. People root and cheer for me, ask me for my autograph and handshakes. That truly makes me feel happy. The thing I absolutely hated and avoided in the past. When I’ve come to terms with my own feelings and truly appreciate what I’ve got and where I am, video games and playing video games came to mean so much more for me. A fan came up to me and asked for a handshake. I was truly happy and shook his hand. That was the moment I felt so happy to have been playing video games.

-What was your most memorable tournament?

There are 3. One is EVO 2003,SFIII final. I lost against a Japanese player, KO, though. The other one is the first trip ever I made to US and overseas tournament, where I fought against Alex Valle. The last one is official Capcom vs. SNK 2 tournament in Japan.

–Which tournament did you enjoy most?

2 before the last EVO. EVO 2006 or 2007?

Though I lost horribly, but I had so much fun hanging out with the other players afterward. We got so drunk and Alex [ed. note–Alex Valle] and I played arm wrestling, and all kinds of silly stuff. Man, I got so drunk. Though we may not be able communicate perfectly, we can get connected. And I think we all had great fun.

–What is your inspiration?

My family, in particular, my father.

My father believed not telling his children what to do. My father told me to find anything I like and become good at it.  If I were to leave a foot print on the earth as an individual, I thought of pursuing mastering gameskills. 

–Fighting around the world vs. fighting in Japan. Do you change your play style?

I do. It’s because there is a trend in fighting style. Let me explain to you in rock/scissors/paper game.  Say, in Japan, there is a trend of using rock because of the shared information that it’s the best and that point, scissors are not popular, and I would use a paper against rock trend. But I don’t know what the trend is the US, so in order to find that out, I tend to play prudently in the beginning. And what’s good about the match system there is that they let me play many more matches, so it works the best.

-Are there any drawbacks to your skill and celebrity? Do you wish you were not famous?

As people’s expectations grow, the more I pressured. But I am confident that I have worked so hard to not to let that influence my play.

If my gameplay had not been recognized, I think I would have become a delinquent child having worked so hard! (lol)

-Any story of SF player camaraderie to share?

When I was in my early teens, I didn’t really believe in friends – I will spare you from the story now. I was playing at an arcade in Akihabara and missed the last train of the day at Kanda station. For someone in their early teens, missing the last train is pretty bad you know. I called my parents, and sure, they were super mad and worried. I told my dad that I had missed my train and had no means to go home. He told me to take a cab; I told him I had no money. So we settled with me taking the first train (5 am or so) in the morning home. So I thought of killing time at a Denny’s till then. Suddenly, the guy I was with asked me “wanna get on?” pointing out the back of his bicycle. You know, it would take 3-4 hours from where we were to home.  I was like what are you talking about? It’s just way too far. On top of that, that person was usually blatant, not really friendly, and comment spiteful remarks, but we somehow got along and we hang out playing videogames. We got to my parent’s house after 3-4 hours of him pedaling, me on the back. He was soaked with sweat. As soon as I hopped off, he waved, turned around and left. Imagine, he had to rode back for hours again. That was then, I realized that what a good friend meant.

People care about themselves. They prioritize themselves over the others. I saw that when I was little and I hated it.  But gameplaying and winning the game was clear cut and straightforward.

Many of the serious gamers have certain complexes about themselves – let it be their looks, back ground, status etc. Some sort of scar or stigma. I know that as a person who had had those traumatic feelings. You don’t need to treat them overly sensitively because they too would be sensitive to that kind of treatment, but you should keep that in back of your mind. They may not be sociable or dislikes associating with the others. I was like that myself, so I like those who keep a lot of those feelings to themselves. I can relate to them and want to tell them “it’s ok, you don’t have to worry about those things.”  I’m not trivializing their feelings, but I want to tell them that there are much easier way to deal with it and live life.  It’s not like I have overcome those issues, but that I just came to think “so what.”  But I do totally understand their challenges.

–Do you think more female SF participation would help the SF community grow?

The number of female players has to increase so much more to have a real effect on the community. Even doubling the number of women would probably not do much.

First of all, if we talk about male players, their motivation of playing a game has to be pure and come from passion for the game. A lot of what happens in reality is that male players start to come to a particular arcade for a particular female player. Their interest is not game, but it’s her. So my question is what happens if the girl finds a boyfriend or you get her? I’ve seen some players grew so fast that people wonder what the hell had happened to him. It is like a steroid, and it does work so fast at the moment. A female player motivates them to play, but since their playing game is not a natural way, rather forced to play a game, they are not persistent. It can be a short term affect but because the number of female players are limited, their participation to the community somehow gets misread by the rest of the players, and I don’t think they can bring a long term effect to the community under the current circumstances. They have to increase so much more in terms of numbers to come up to the male players.

On the other hand, in the West, the situation might be different because the gaming environment is different with lack of arcades. So I would encourage the Western community to try out different options and see what works. I endorse EVO inviting more female players into the community. If it doesn’t work, we know it didn’t work and get to try something else.