RedBull Esports athlete and Street Fighter V EVO 2019 champion Masato “Bonchan” Takahashi sat down with Inven Global to discuss career longevity, competitive format, and the future of Street Fighter.
You are now recently married! Has there been any sort of change to the way that you tackle playing the game professionally? Now that you also have to, you know... you spend a lot of time away from your wife. Does that change how tournaments affect you now?
Before we got married, too, it was already normal for me to be going to foreign countries all the time and competing. So there wasn't really any difference necessarily after getting married.
You know, last year, we talked about, sort of, how much more you have to travel under the new tour system. Now that you've been under the new Capcom system, are you more adjusted to having to travel more?
It's been really tough as a player, of course, it's a great thing to have more tournaments happening. But for, like, stamina-wise, it's been really difficult.
Ideally, then, what would you want the Capcom Pro Tour to look like, that would still allow you to compete at a high level, but maybe not have to go to as many places?
So, the CPT is really difficult, and I don't necessarily think that just making there be fewer tournaments would make it better. And maybe, right now, the CPT, the first – the top 30 can go to the Capcom Cup at the end, but I think it would be more interesting if they had a set number of competitors per region, could go to the Capcom Cup at the end, instead.
All right. You've been doing this for a very long time, and I know that you talk about how you take this as a fairly serious job. Have you ever thought about what your life will look like after fighting games?
So, since the first pro player in Japan was Umehara Daigo, and he hasn't retired yet, so we don't really know what the second career for a pro fighting game player will be, but I think now there's many commentators, and coaches, for fighting games, so maybe that, or creating my own team could be the next step after fighting games.
So there's no version of Bonchan that's not involved in professional gaming? There's no secondary career choice that he would want to make?
I think it's a possibility, like it's not that I'm limited exclusively to games, but of course I decided to work with games because I like them, and just like, in the current community, I can't think of something else right now.
As you said, the first pro gamer in Japan was Daigo-san, and he hasn't even retired yet. What do you think it is that allows players like Daigo, Himself, Sako, to be able to continue to play these games for so long? Where we see pro gamers in other games, not even just fighting games, retiring much younger than they do?
So FPS's, pro players can retire as early as, like, 24. So I think fighting games are very different in that area. And because experience is so important, so players like Daigo have been playing since Street Fighter II, it's so many years ago. And I've been playing for fifteen years. So even more than reaction times and the physical movements of your hands, your experience is more important in fighting games.
There was a period of time, both in the West, and in Japan, where it felt like fighting games were starting to age out, where they weren't attracting as many younger players as they used to, partially because of the end of arcade culture. It seems to be that that's no longer true, we have young players like Punk, John Takeuchi. Are you hopeful that fighting games will live a long, prosperous life, with a younger, newer generation?
I think, definitely, they have to keep putting an effort into increasing the young players, and helping the young players. So like, training with them, and talking with them, and encouraging them. Otherwise, the older, more experienced players can't continue fighting games either.
You say that the older players wouldn't be able to continue playing fighting games either. Is that just because of lack of people to play against and grow with? Or is it because there's only so much you can learn from the same pool of people?
Actually, as far as just skill in the game goes, I think that just the players who are here now is more than enough; practicing together, we can already play at a top level. But as far as the outside world goes, if they don't have young, new players to gather interest, and share their fighting games society with more media, and things like that.
You travel a lot, and have seen a lot of different communities, and a lot of different styles of fighting games. What is a community that you think has the potential to be a lot stronger if they were given more opportunities?
Actually, every region, I feel, is very high level right now. Back in, like, Street Fighter IV, I felt like Europe was kind of, like, it had potential, but they weren't really reading their potential. And even in Street Fighter V, back in season 2, I thought Europe could do better than they were, but now they're really high level.
As far as the region with the most potential, I think, right now, it's South America. Specifically, they had CPT in the Dominican a little bit ago, and the way that the community was really excited about the events made me think that they really have a strong future.
We haven't heard a lot about what's going to happen with Street Fighter V: whether we're getting another season, whether, you know, we're gonna get Ultra Street Fighter V, or we're gonna get Street Fighter VI? Personally, what do you hope the future for Street Fighter looks like, hopefully a year from now, or two years from now?
I don't know what's actually going to happen, but for me, I think that they need to change the system itself, of the game. Just adding new characters, at first, is maybe interesting, but then it's just the same thing; many times; over and over. This will remain this way unless they maybe make a new title, or Ultra Street Fighter V is changed, actually change the system itself.
Because players now are so good at researching the game and figuring things out, that if they don't make the system complicated on some level, it's going to be interesting at first, and then once they figure things out, it's not interesting for the pro players anymore.
So, ideally, you would potentially want to see more iterations of Street Fighter, to keep the game consistently fresh, versus just patches over time, right?
As we all know, as people who love fighting games, we don't just love one game: we're interested in watching, potentially, other games. Are there any games that interest you a lot, as a fan and as a lover of fighting games? And if so, who's a player that you think is really, really good in that scene?
I watch Tekken; the Tekken Pro Tour, especially. And I don't play myself, so I don't know too much about the game, but there's something I really love about the Tekken community, that I wish we had in Street Fighter V.
In a recent Tekken Pro Tour, the winner was a player that nobody really knew, like not a pro player, from Pakistan. And after he won, he said, “There's people a lot stronger than me in Pakistan”, and everybody, like, it's just so shocking. We wish there was a person like that in the Street Fighter community, to kind of turn things over.
This has been a very good year for you, probably the best for Street Fighter V. What do you think it is about, specifically, this season, or this iteration, of Street Fighter V, that has allowed you to play at this really level, versus some of the other years?
Of course, both Karin and Sagat got buffs this season, so they're stronger than they were before, and that definitely really helped. If I'm playing a weak character, I can't win as much now, whereas before, if I played a weak character, I could still win, because people around me didn't have as much of an understanding of their characters and the game.
Now, people around me, like Tokido, and Fujimura, they play really strong characters, like top tier. So if we're both equally as good at the game, but one of us is playing top tier, it's harder for me to win. So I think my characters getting buffed was the biggest reason.
Is Karin really the character that you really want to be playing right now? Or do you wish you could play something, and not necessarily be part of the Karin nation right now?
I always really wanted to play Sagat, and only Sagat, but it's impossible in Street Fighter V to only play Sagat, he's just not good enough. I think it's because he's really difficult to balance. So if Sagat was good enough, that you could play every matchup with only Sagat, he would be too strong; he would be the best character in the game. So of course I would really love to play only Sagat, but I couldn't make a living without Karin.