For many years, Daigo Umehara has been the icon of the fighting game community. Fans have lived vicariously through him, experiencing the ups and downs of competition. But we’ve always been kept at arm’slength when it comes to really getting to know him and many of the top Japanese players. Lately, Daigo has become more open to talking about himself mentally and physically, giving the public a window into the mind and soul of the fighting game god we know as “The Beast.”
I recently chronicled Daigo’s resurgence during ELeague’s Regular Season play. He finally felt comfortable in Guile’s boots (his chosen character for Street Fighter V after Ryu was severely nerfed in Season 2.) By now, most know of his internal struggle between playing to have fun and playing to win and it seems he’s finally found a balance.
Of course, winning helps cure the blues.
“Before switching to Guile, my mind was filled with questions about whether I should stick with Ryu or not. I agonized over it. All those thoughts have a way of popping into my consciousness during a tournament, but ELeague was somewhat different,” Daigo told Yahoo Esports in an email interview after ELeague Regular Season.
“I was well aware of the significance and scale of the event, and I understood that I should do better to represent my sponsors; I have to win. My mind was focused on winning. It was a sensation I hadn’t felt for a while. To be clear, it’s not that I don’t focus on winning on Capcom Pro Tour but a long season allows us to pace and adjust ourselves over the course leading up to Capcom Cup. ELeague was one time only so it allowed no room for distraction.”
For better or worse, Daigo believes competitive players stop having fun and lose some of the “old school” pride of winning when fighting games becomes a job. When you’re traveling week after week, competing in tournaments, fulfilling sponsorship obligations, signing autographs, or livestreaming at events, it’s easy to see how one could lose perspective of why we played fighting games to begin with.
After advancing from ELeague Regular Season to the Playoffs in April, Daigo tweeted about pride in the old days.
“The money is nice but I don’t believe money is what drives us. What drives us is our competitive nature. Many of us — myself, certainly — have forgotten those days when there was no money at stake. Only a burning desire to win against ‘that person.’ That desire is the core of a player’s pride — a ‘Street Fighter’s’ pride– and back then, we all had it,” Daigo said.
“Growing up, I wanted to be number one at anything I laid my hands on. When I discovered Street Fighter, I completely lost myself in it. I wanted to become the world’s greatest. My tenacity to win overwhelmed others. They thought I was crazy. But in the process of maturing and taking care of my personal and professional obligations, I have come to realize it’s not all about winning. There are other important things in life you have to take care of. But now, I really do want to win. I’m about to turn 36, and I feel that burning desire to win. I haven’t felt this way for a long time.”
Daigo finished 13th and 17th at DreamHack Austin and Battle Arena Melbourne, respectively, before ELeague Playoffs. Not the greatest results, but it was progress, especially in a long CPT season. We saw a renewed Daigo compete in an incredibly stacked weekend, which featured ELeague Playoffs and Red Bull Kumite (Combo Breaker was also that weekend, but he did not attend.) Daigo competing at ELeague (where he was eliminated by Yusuke Momochi right away) on a Friday and flying straight to France to compete Red Bull Kumite was nothing short of a superhuman pro gaming feat.
After the loss to Momochi, Daigo reflected again on his performance and well-being; this time looking specifically at his lifestyle. He wants to get healthier and give up alcohol, something that could add endurance and stamina to his already hectic traveling lifestyle.
With likely very little sleep, Daigo looked sharp for most of Red Bull Kumite, despite being put into the loser’s bracket in his first match against Korean Birdie player Hanbyeol “Xyzzy” Lee.
“Little by little, both my play and my spiritual state have been improving. ELeague gave me a sort of self-awakening experience and I’m glad I got to take part in Red Bull Kumite with the new mindset. Of course, it was rough having to fly there and put in more long hours the very next day after ELeague,” Daigo said.
Daigo’s confidence seems to have translated to a more aggressive approach with Guile. He was willing to take more risks and play up close, similar to how he would have played Ryu against his opponents. He absolutely mauled Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi in a fast 2-0 victory, which included two dizzies and a perfect round.
“Midway through Kumite, I found my stride in the game and that gave me a big confidence boost. But I’m not content to leave it at that–my efforts to improve are ongoing,” Daigo said.
One has to wonder what the rest of 2017 holds for Daigo. He’s currently 59th on the CPT Global Leaderboard with 85 points. He also has to deal with the recently released Street Fighter V balance patch, in which Ryu received some buffs (some invincibility back to his Dragon Punch specials and range added to normals) and some slight nerfs to Guile (charge time increased for special moves and V-Gauge changed from two to three boxes for V-Trigger).However, the changes didn’t appear to be enough to sway Daigo away from Guile for the foreseeable future.
“I intend to still use Ryu a little bit but the fact remains he has an uphill battle against the top-tier characters, so I will be sticking Guile as my main,” Daigo said.
“Guile has gotten weaker but I think the game is moving in a positive direction overall. That’s the most important thing. Simply playing the game has become a rewarding experience for me and that won’t be swayed regardless of what direction the game takes.”
We’ll see how Daigo Umehara continues to adapt in and out of competition, with CEO 2017 as his next stop.
Michael Martin covers SFV and the FGC. Follow him on Twitter @Bizarro_Mike.