What happens when Japan's most famous professional gamer gets on nationwide radio and he's interviewed by two TV personalities that plays videogames but simply at a casual level?
Staring last week, the JAPAN FM NETWORK radio station is airing a two-episode interview featuring non-stop talking with Daigo "The Beast" Umehara and two TV personalities, Shouko Nakagawa and Goro Yamada.
The Madman's Cafe has translated the conversations in episode 1 between the three members, which are pretty hilarious and shows a different side of the Beast, regardless of how much you know about the hardcore fighting game scene.
- So Umehara-san, what sort of a job is a professional gamer? You can bring food to the table by just playing games?
Daigo- Well roughtly speaking, yes (laughs). The sponsoring company gives us sponsorship fees, that's the way things generally work for us right now.
- How many professional gamers are there right now?
Daigo- In Japan? For fighting games, there's about 10 players...
- The number of pros are growing? Is it because of Youtube and stuff?
Daigo- Ah if you put those stuff (people who make a living via Youtube videos) into account, the number probably gets higher.
- So Umehara-san, you're a professional fighting game player that specializes in Street Fighter, is that correct?
Daigo- Erm, games that are "similar to Street Fighter".
- By "similar to", what exactly do you mean?
Daigo- 2D fighting games, so to say.
- What's the popular fighting game right now?
Daigo- Right now, it's Street Fighter 4.
- So there's other fighting games too, like Tekken and KOF
Daigo- Ah yeah, actually, Tekken is called a 3D fighting game...
- Oh it's different? So what's the difference between a 2D and 3D fighting game? It's probably not just the graphics, right?
Daigo- Yes. Basically speaking it's whether the game has field depth or not. But aside from that, 2D games have more of a fantasy side to them, like you can shoot beams out of your hands. 3D games are more about hand-to-hand combat.
- So these games are really well-developed that they're good enough for professional use?
Daigo- Ah actually, that's sort of iffy. Personally I've never seen a "perfect" fighting game yet, although it depends on what you consider to be perfect. I think any game meets the condition for professional use as long as it's a game where the professionals can bring in hype, bring in more spectators and help sell more copies. People talk a lot about competitive gaming nowadays, but I think that fighting games still have a far way to go in development for competitive usage.
- Oh wow. So when you say "competitive gaming", you mean matches between professional players?
Daigo- Actually, it's a complete mix of amatures and professionals. There's not that many professional players yet (laughs)
- What's the character that you're best at right now?
Daigo- That'll be Ryu.
- He's like the most standard character, the face of Street Fighter, so to say.
Daigo- Ah yeah. People are particular about their characters even though it's a world with professionals and competition. It's a world where players will get considered to be cool or become popular because they use a certain character. It's not nessesarily a scene where using top tiers is everything.
- Let's say then, that both players are using Ryu. Like two professionals going head-to-head with Ryus. Will it become like "I'm the better Ryu!" ?
Daigo- Ah in that sort of case, let's say there's a really strong player who picks up on Ryu. When that happens, there'll be times when the other players will avoid using him because they'll get overshadowed. Cases like that actually happens.
- So you really need to show off some swaggy gameplay, not just get the wins?
Daigo- Yes. So there's actually players that are really good at the games but haven't been able to go professional.
- Huh, what's up with that?
Daigo- I mentioned a bit about it earlier, but unless you're popular you can't help the sales of products. If you're really popular though, it doesn't matter if you win or lose. Myself as an example, I'm sponsored by a company that makes PC peripherals and controllers, and you get people buying them, so I think it's a market where image is really important.
~~~ Intermission ~~~
- We hear that you had a talent for videogames since you were a kid. Were you good at all genres since the beginning?
Daigo- Not really, maybe just better than my friends. I started off from Mario [like any other kid] and I was 'the kid who loved videogames' in my classroom. I wasn't that good at Mario though. Actually, I'm not that good at other genres aside from fighting games (laughs)
- Did you play Dragon's Quest or PuyoPuyo?
Daigo- I didn't really play Puyopuyo but I played a lot of Dragon's Quest.
- So up until then you were kind of normal. From there, how did you become like, "I'm really good at Street Fighter" ?
Daigo- Well, I was always the type that didn't really like losing, that was my personality. I was 11 when Street Fighter 2 came out, and after a while of playing, I was thinking in my own world that I'm the best player at the game.
- You were using Ryu since then?
Daigo- Yeah, Ryu.
- So the series has changed since then and there's more characters, and there's also the newer generation of players that loves the games. Has it become an age where you have more rivals?
Daigo- Right now? Yeah totally, because the more popular the game gets, the more player population it'll have, and that leads to an overall higher level of players.
- So do you have any worries that newer stars will take the spotlight, kind of like how it is in show business?
Daigo- (Laughs) Well I need to win so it does create some tension, but on the other hand it gets more fun and that takes up more than half of my feelings.
- Huh that's really pure-spirited. So it's not like "let's take care of this new kid before he gets big" ! But you don't think to yourself, "Man, this arrogant newbie" ?
Daigo- Actually I do! (Laughs) I do, but it's good, all I need to do is just beat them. Simple as that.
- Say that you've caught a cold. Does your gameplay get weaker? You know, when your physical condiditon isn't that great?
Daigo- Ahh yeah, I get weak, pretty weak. For example when I'm hung over, I'm completely weak.
- You lose your playing senses when you're like that?
Daigo- I think that fighting games aren't all about logic because they happen in real time and there's something like an instinct which is really important. It makes you sense things like "this guy, I swear he's trying to go for that move" from their subtle movements. But when I'm drunk I totally lose that (laughs). All I can see is stuff on the screen.
- Are there opponents that are hard for you to beat? What is it that makes them hard?
Daigo- Yeah there are. In some cases they're simply strong, in other cases it's human matchup. I'm human and I have habits too, and it's harder to play opponents that knows about them. But I work on overcoming opponents that I have a hard time with. That's how I've always been.
- So Umehara-san, where do these tournaments take place and how many people go to them?
Daigo- The biggest ones take place in America. For example in Las Vegas...
- Las Vegas!? It's almost like boxing!
Daigo- Yeah... about 7000 people will come and..
- Wow that many!?
Daigo- Yes, I think it's the biggest tournament for fighting games. That figure was for players and spectators combined.
- What sort of companies are sponsors [for players]?
Daigo- I haven't heard of any game makers that are sponsors just yet. Right now for example, there's internet streaming companies, and there's pc peripheral makers like in my own case.. those seem to be make up the majority.
- So how does it feel when you completely prepare yourself for a big tournament [like Evo] and lose?
Daigo- Just simply like, "too bad". I think in that sense I'm a bit different from other players, but...
- But, you basically have like a 90 percent wining rate, right?
Daigo- No, no way! (Laughs) Oh, are we counting casuals and practice matches? Well, it depends on the opponent.
- So Umehara-san, you're a professional and you have a contract. Do you lose your contract if you don't get above a certain rate of wins?
Daigo- Ah no, there's nothing like that. So far, I haven't heard of any players that've been fired after they've gone professional. Well maybe there are.
- Is there a ranking for the professional players?
Daigo- There's like a general idea but there isn't an official rankings board.
- Does the internet influence professional gamers and their popularity, sort of like "hey, this player is really good at this character" ?
Daigo- Nowadays I think it's the Internet that comes first. It's more like we get situations where a player gets popular, gets in the spotlight and then the companies make contact with them.