Even without being a regular competitor, Justin Wong always has fighting games on his mind. At the age of 35, he continues to think about how to make the FGC stronger. Inven Global had the opportunity to talk with Justin, and discuss his new role as a content creator, his current thoughts on the FGC, and why he thinks Smash is so special.
You’ve been with Panda almost for an entire year now. You’ve spent a decent amount of time focusing on building yourself up as a content creator. How has that been for you?
It's been great. I understand we're in a pandemic, and usually we're kind of used to — at least for the FGC — traveling everywhere around the world, participating in tournaments. But to be honest, this was something I wanted to start doing a lot more often, because I want to stay home more often. I wanted to be with the family more often. So when Panda approached me and helped my YouTube grow more, and explained to me what it's like to be a stronger influencer/gaming content creator, I really took it to heart.
And from there, it's been a blast. I've been busier than usual just because there are so many things to do. I feel like when you're in this field, it just never stops (which is great, I like staying busy). But the transition has been nice and the fact that I'm able to reach out to more people on a casual level has been pretty awesome. Just because they learn so much just from the knowledge that I possess from playing fighting games for over 20 years.
You’ve stated in the past you think being a gaming influencer is better than being a pro gamer. A year more into that life, does it hold true?
Yeah, it's just less stressful. If you're just strictly a pro player, you're kind of forced to make sure you always have to win or make top 3. You have to go to every event and live on the plane. So it gets pretty stressful just from a mental standpoint and a physical standpoint with changing time zones and everything. But when it comes down to it, from a gaming content creator perspective, I like the fact that it's another option for a lot of people to get into.
When it comes down to people getting into gaming, I would say it's harder to become a pro player compared to a gaming content creator, just because your creative freedom is what you need to create content and grind. While grinding does make you better at the actual game, I think from a competitive standpoint it's a lot harder to stay consistent and get on that level of making top 3 every single time to make money or win a prize pool.
Also, FGC prize pools are very low. So when you come down to it, just from a monetary standpoint, I would say gaming content creators have it much better. Just because Twitch and YouTube are such nice platforms to stay consistent and grind to make some money.
When you stream on Twitch, it's pretty awesome. You don't need 10,000 live viewers. You could have your own small community and that community is gonna support you with subscriptions and donations. Then, you can also take that content and post it on YouTube and try to build a fan base as well. So you're really having so much more time to just be comfortable and play the games you want to play.
"SonicFox is godlike. I know there was a debate of who's the top 4 Mount Rushmore FGC players: SonicFox is already on it, in my opinion."
With the competitive grind in mind, how are FGC players able to do it for so long? In a game like League of Legends, it's impressive seeing someone compete for five years or more. You and Daigo have been doing it for 20! Not only that, instead of adapting to patches, you're adapting to whole new games. And you have to travel constantly. How is this possible?
One reason why FGC competitors can stay so consistent, even regardless of age, is I would say our player base is still pretty small. When you compare FGC to other esports games like League of Legends, there are so many more competitors that are trying to get to that diamond platform or get scouted out an LCS team. So that's one.
Two, I would say from the FGC side, we have a history of over 30 years. I think the first competition for Street Fighter was in 1994, maybe earlier. All that history carries over to other players, and some have been playing forever. Daigo has been playing before me. Alex Valle also has been playing before me. And when it comes down to a new fighting game, anytime a new one is out, it just carries over. They're just really good at understanding how to play a new fighting game.
That's another reason why we stay on top. If you look at Japan, the majority of the top players there at the moment are more older players versus younger players. I think it's one of those things where you can keep playing fighting games for a really long time. Even 20 years from now I would still probably be pressing buttons. And I think I would probably still beat a lot of players 20 years from now. Maybe not the best, just because my fingers might fall off, but I would probably school 70% of the players still, just because of just my knowledge in general.
One rising player that causes a bit of divisiveness is SonicFox. A lot of people are hyping them up to be one of the most legendary players in FGC history, while others see them competing in too weak of games. Do you think the criticism towards SonicFox is warranted, and do you think they're on the trajectory to be a player spoken of the same way people speak of you, Alex, or Daigo?
SonicFox is godlike. I know there was a debate of who's the top 4 Mount Rushmore FGC players: SonicFox is already on it, in my opinion. Just because SonicFox started so young and has played so many different games already.
I think that my first interaction with SonicFox was like 2013. I played Sonic in Killer Instinct. And it was the first round of a tournament. And Sonic was really good. I was playing KI, and I think Sonic was just dabbling into it. But I was really surprised how good Sonic was.
So Sonic's been playing in FGC tournaments for a long time, like eight years now, maybe more. So I do think that Sonic's gonna keep winning more tournaments and doing really darn amazing things. And even though people say Sonic only wins in those games — Sonic did win an EVO for Dragon Ball FighterZ, which was pretty darn huge, because everyone thought that Japan would win that game free. And the grand finals were Sonic and GO1, where Sonic clutched out. So I think that all the people that say, "Oh, you can only win smaller-base games"... that just destroyed that part of the argument right there. I think this is more that people don't like to see consistent winners and want more different variety.
Which is fair, it's always fair. When I was growing up and I played in all these tournaments, I kept winning. I had haters all day, I had haters all the time that wanted me to lose. Even people from my arcade wanted me to lose. There was no cheering squad going on. But yeah, Sonic's definitely the new version of me when it comes to multi-talented fighting games, being consistent, and winning all these events and keeping forward.
Eventually, there's gonna be a new player that's going to be coming up. I think that is great to see because I don't want to be a top player when I'm 50, while everyone else is not amazing. I think that would be a terrible showing for the scene, just because we need younger players to step up and take over.
"When I watch Smash, Melee and Ultimate — it's just so sick. I love the movement. I'm a big fan of movement. [...] When you see them in the zone, it's the most beautiful movement ever."
Something that I admire about you is that you’re someone that holds a good amount of respect for Smash Brothers. Of all the people in FGC that dislike and sort of look down on Smash, why do you think you specifically have held admiration for the franchise?
I just appreciate competition. When I watch Smash, Melee, and Ultimate — it's just so sick. I love the movement. I'm a big fan of movement. When I was trying to dabble and learn how to move like that, I was like, "Damn, this is not easy to do!" And everyone's moving at lightning speed, super fast, not dropping the inputs, and not messing up. When you see them in the zone, it's just the most beautiful movement ever.
Most people that do have these experiences of saying, "Oh, Smash is not a fighting game" or "Smash sucks", it's just… I personally think that Smash Melee has literally top 3 hardest execution in a game in general. Just like wavedashing, L-Canceling, teching-chasing, getting all these combos down, chain grabbing — these are just not easy things to pick up. I feel like more people would have an easier time learning a modern FGC game versus playing Smash Melee or Ultimate. It's just one of those things that has a different mindset. And I appreciate that mindset in general.
Leffen recently won Guilty Gear EVO Europe, and also showed skill in Dragon Ball. If you had to choose one FGC player that you think would do well in a Smash title — Melee or Ultimate — who would it be?
Man, I don't know. It's tough. I know Momochi in Japan loves Smash Ultimate so he plays a lot of it on stream. I know Sonic was getting into Smash Ultimate, but then he stopped playing it.
I don't really see too many people from the FGC who would play Smash seriously, just because it's not something that you can side. You have to drop everything and main the game to become somewhat decent. Or, if you're serious, to get good at. It makes it a lot harder to decide who would want to do something like that. We haven't had one person that has made that transition, right? It never happened.
But then we also see from the other side where Smash players would come into the FGC, play our games, and have more success.
Do you think the FGC can benefit by being more open-minded on Smash?
Oh man, yeah! Definitely. I tell people all the time about this. I love how Smash events run their events, where they use the players in their trailers, or do crowdfunding to fly out other players, or do crowdfunding to make exhibitions and events happen. Stuff like that is great. I love that, because it makes it more of a show. But FGC, they're not open to these types of things at the moment. Not sure why.
The Smash community has amazing, super supportive fans. There are so many more spectators that go to Smash events compared to FGC events. People that go to FGC events are mainly competitors. You'll have some stragglers that are local people but you don't really see too many people fly to the event, besides EVO. But I feel like Smash in general, it's like, "Oh, this event's happening? I'm going to spectate." I went to a few Smash events to spectate. I went to like Genesis. I went to Big House. And it was a blast, I had so much fun watching there live.
A while back, you had some opinions on the JVNA controversy, something you were met with quite a bit of criticism on. Looking back on it now, how do you reflect?
I understand where the African American community comes from now. It's not my place to just forgive, just because she didn't do it to a Chinese person, or whatever. But I would say, when it comes down to Twitter, I just hate seeing people canceled. I understand why cancel culture's a thing but it just became one of those things where it's just so popular to do.
Everyone that has an influence is just a target for cancel culture if they do something bad or something that's taken out of context. I definitely believe that I was at fault for forgiving. But it's just that, my ideals of just understanding how cancel culture works — I'm just not a fan of it, personally. Now, I just make sure I stay away from those standpoints because anybody on Twitter can just make new accounts and just say some dumb things. And then, because we are human, we might sometimes bark back.
"Even 20 years from now I would still probably be pressing buttons. And I think I would probably still beat a lot of players 20 years from now."
What do you think needs to be done in FGC that isn’t being done at the moment?
There's a lot of things. Number one thing is seeing on Twitter how a lot of women don't get taken seriously in the FGC. I would love there to be more respect and more opportunities to women in the FGC. They work really hard behind the scenes and just want to be welcomed and not looked at in terms of guys being thirsty.
Besides that: more international representation. I would love to see more international broadcasts happen for countries whose primary language isn't English. For example, I love Evo. Evo's great. But I would love to have a Spanish announcer or Spanish commentary team. Stuff like that would be pretty darn awesome.
Where would we like to see Justin Wong in five years?
Oh, man, no. It's tough. I'm a family man. I guess I stay home, focus on family, work from home. I work in Arcade1Up, for example. So I do a lot of testing for their feature cabinets and retro stuff. Then I do Panda stuff afterwards, stream, YouTube, etc. My schedule is pretty packed in general.
But you definitely won't see me at every tournament around the world. Before I had my daughter, I was traveling 40 times a year. Yeah, that's not gonna happen. You'll see me at EVO, at Combo Breaker, at CEO. The really big stuff. The regional stuff: probably not. But you can catch me on twitch.tv/jwonggg, that's for sure.
I write. I rap. I run. That’s pretty much it.