Behind the Story

Grand Master Challenge
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  • Yuvega
  • I’m still just a kid with his games, at heart. Even though I may look old.
  • // Chapter 1
  • Yuvega—a forty-something salaryman working at a typical company. Well-kempt appearance, polite demeanor. He was no different during this interview.

    But take heed: When this man is in the arcade, he transforms into a different person. A person with an unparalleled disdain for losing, who will chase down any opponent who has beaten him, never relenting until he has turned the tables. In his own words, he’s been a “game geek” since childhood. “My mentality has never changed.”

    “Man, are you sure you want me? I feel like there’s got to be someone more interesting you could use (laughs).” That’s what Yuvega thought when he was first approached about competing in Kemonomichi 4. But when Yuvega’s name came up as a candidate to face Kotaka Shoten, there’s a reason Umehara gave the go-ahead with little deliberation. It was because he had gained confidence in Yuvega through past experience.

    It was about twenty years ago. Yuvega, who lived in Osaka at the time, embarked on a trip to Tokyo with some of the regulars from his home arcade, Nagase UFO. They had made plans with Umehara beforehand to face off. That was the first meeting between Umehara and Yuvega.

    “Oh yeah, I played thirty games against Umehara’s Guile and lost 12-18 (laughs).”

    Regardless of score, they’d agreed to play thirty matches, with 15-15 being a tie. Those were the rules. As the Street Fighter II community’s most competitive person, Yuvega remembers it well.

    Umehara also remembers agreeing to a set number of matches.

    Umehara: “That was around the time I started playing in that format.”

    The “format” he refers to is that in which players set a specific number of matches prior to facing off. In arcades, players would just repeatedly jump into each other's games to see how they stacked up against one another. Even with no explicit agreement, superiority and inferiority would inevitably surface. However, this was only between the players themselves, and they could say whatever they wanted. It was just one aspect of the scene.

    Umehara: “I guess I couldn’t afford to lose anymore because I’d lost in CVS2 (laughs).”

    Umehara had won three consecutive official tournaments: Vampire Savior (a.k.a. Darkstalkers 3), Street Fighter ZERO 3 (Street Fighter Alpha 3), and Capcom vs. SNK Millennium Fighting 2000. The Capcom vs. SNK 2 Millionaire Fighting 2001 national tournament was supposed to be his fourth consecutive win and the culmination of his career. However, Umehara was defeated on the very stage upon which rested his hopes. The damage was severe.

    Umehara: “There was no internet, and the results weren’t publicized. I didn’t like the fact that some guys took advantage of that to talk themselves up.”
    Until he was defeated at the CVS2 national tournament, he didn't care what people said about him. The overwhelming achievement of winning three consecutive official tournaments had given him a sense of security. Now that was gone.

    Umehara: "I couldn't let it go now that my signboard was gone. It's like I was trying to crack down on the trash talkers (laughs).”

    During that period, he played people in a variety of titles, establishing rules beforehand. There were times when he traveled to distant places by himself. On the way back and forth, he would get off the train at regional stops and play against locals. These were true "expeditions" with a spirit of conquest.

    The strength to defeat an opponent in a single instant. The boldness to wait for a golden opportunity with cat-like vigilance. Tactics so daring, at a glance they looked reckless. These were the fundamental strengths of Yuvega that Umehara sensed when he actually played against him.

    Umehara: “I was able to beat him the first time, but ever since he moved to Tokyo I’ve never been able to beat him again. Even knowing his singular devotion to Street Fighter II was his whole identity, I was impressed by how good he was.”

    He had a firsthand trust in Yuvega, gained by playing against him. That’s why he didn’t hesitate to select him for Kemonomichi.

    Umehara: “I’ve got a knack for picking a time, a place, a number. I’ve always wondered why I win so much. Infiltration* made me realize I’m good at this kind of thing. Now that the game has become a competitive sport, there’s less need for that sort of cutthroat grudge match, but it reminded me of my origins. Those experiences back then were the basis for the so-called ‘FT10’ format.”

    Kemonomichi’s roots. This was how Yuvega and Umehara first met.

    *Mad Catz Unveiled Japan – Umehara vs. Infiltration was a Street Fighter IV AE Ver. 2012 first-to-ten set held on September 20, 2013 at Tokyo Game Show.
  • // Chapter 2
  • Yuvega had been a gamer since childhood, but it wasn't until high school that he awakened to Street Fighter II. He became an avid player at the arcade in his hometown, located in Ishikawa prefecture.

    “My arcade was where the strongest players in Ishikawa got together. But I wasn’t acquainted with any of the regulars. I was always a loner.”

    It was natural for fellow players to reach out to each other and form communities. An opponent was not only someone to be defeated, but also someone with a common interest. There was no internet, let alone social media, so the arcade offered a rare opportunity for players to interact “on the spot.”

    But for Yuvega, who “wasn’t much for mingling,” the arcade was a place to play matches—nothing more, nothing less. Players like him were not uncommon. People who played alone were accepted as such. The arcade was just as much a place for them.

    “I was in ‘Gaiden,’ you know. Regulars at my arcade saw my face on the DVD and were like, ‘I’ve seen that guy before!’”

    “Street Fighter Gaiden” was an SFII event held in 2005 and produced by Umehara. It was an invitational event featuring sixteen skilled and well-known players. Yuvega was among those invited. At the time, it still wasn’t the norm to be able to view matches via livestream. It was a closed event with no spectators, and the only way to watch was to purchase a DVD. Because it was produced by Umehara, it attracted attention not only from Street Fighter II players, but also from other fighting game players, as well as the regulars at Yuvega’s arcade.

    “Since I kept playing SFII I eventually saw them again. ‘Oh, hey! You were at the arcade, weren’t you? I saw you on Gaiden.’ They hadn’t even known my name before.”

    Even though they used to play each other, they’d never spoken or known each other’s names. It had already been ten years since the days of squaring off back home in Ishikawa. It was truly an arcade-style encounter.

    After getting into college, Yuvega left his home in Ishikawa for Osaka. The proximity of his college to Nagase UFO sealed his fate. By stumbling upon this Street Fighter II mecca, Yuvega was dragged into a swamp of endless battle.

    “I discovered it on the day of my entrance exam. I was feeling relieved after the exam was over. There seemed to be an awful lot of arcades in that shopping strip, so I went into one and it was only twenty yen a credit, with eight SFII cabinets, four pairs. Twenty yen is pretty rare, you know? So the place attracted all kinds of people.”

    Nagase UFO—a famous spot responsible for producing numerous high-tier players. Yuvega, Aniken, Otochun, Komoda, Tsuji, Shooting D, Mayakon… All the best players played here, night after night. The SFII boom was long over, but that didn’t matter at Nagase UFO. In this environment, where the quality and quantity of opponents were among the best in Japan, Yuvega was able to improve his skills rapidly.

    Nagase UFO was another situation where Yuvega and the other players “knew each other’s faces but didn’t hang out together.” But that didn’t stop him from being aware of their presence. They wouldn’t let him win the way he wanted to. There were numerous players that made him think, “Gee, that guy’s good.”

    One day, at a tournament somewhere else, he ran into a player from Nagase. Surrounded by unfamiliar players, he must have naturally been struck with a sense of camaraderie. One of them approached the other. That was the start of Yuvega the “loner” gradually opening up to his peers.

    “I was a student, so I didn’t have money. Even at twenty yen a play, if I was losing I would run dry in no time. I had no choice but to borrow money from regulars and pay it back with my monthly allowance from home.”

    He had become close enough friends with the regulars that they were able to borrow and lend to each other. Dense competition played out until closing time, and then they would stay inside after closing, chatting to cool down their blazing spirits. Such days became a common occurrence.
  • // Chapter 3
  • If one were to describe Yuvega’s fighting style in a word, the word would be offensive. He pressures the opponent, baits an opening, and lays in with maximum firepower. That he ranks among the best SFII players in terms of comeback ability is a point none would contest. Arguably, his is a play style that takes full advantage of the high firepower of his character, M. Bison (Dictator).

    Though his strategies are sophisticated, when it comes down to it, he relies more on feeling than on logic. He’s willing to take risks and make decisions that experience might warn against. For example, there’s a move called the “Hover Kick.” It’s a big move that can travel across the entire screen, but if it’s blocked, a massive punishment is all but guaranteed. The move is synonymous with M. Bison, and Yuvega lands it when it counts.

    “Simply put, it’s intuition. I guess the reason my attacks land is because somehow, I know my opponent’s tendencies.”

    There was a time when M. Bison players were divided between “Yuvega” and “everyone else.” At the time, Yuvega's style was based on what is commonly referred to as "people reading," and relied on a very personal sensibility. Even when other M. Bison users tried to study Yuvega’s outstanding ability, they couldn’t figure out how to imitate him.
    The timing to make a decision is instantaneous, and if you make a mistake, you’re doomed. The muscle memory he acquired in the harsh environment of Nagase UFO put Yuvega on a different plane of thinking than that which informs typical character strats. It wasn’t something one could learn to imitate in a day.

    “I was pretty heavily influenced by Aniken in the Nagase days… He used to always say, ‘Hesitation is defeat.’”

    What Yuvega learned from Aniken, who was “a similar type,” wasn’t a so-called strategy.

    “He’d get lost, hesitate, then get nailed by Otochun’s Super Combo and lose. I watched it happen from the sidelines and realized, ‘Ah man, you really can’t hesitate.’”

    Things changed in the mid-2000s. This was when Taira Vega showed up. He was a newcomer from Yokohama, and relatively young at the time. Despite his fearless and aggressive personality, he developed a style that focused on logical and systematic strategies that had never been seen before. He raised the bar for all M. Bison players at that time. In a sense, it was the exact opposite of Yuvega’s approach, and would elevate him to an equal position as one of the two best M. Bison players.

    “Muteki-kun told me at the time that Taira-kun was better than me. And he was. You could even see he had the higher win rate.

    Muteki Guile was a specialist when it came to fighting M. Bison. Against Taira, he “normally lost in casual matches,” and Taira’s win rate exceeded Yuvega’s.

    “To be honest, I copied Taira’s strategies quite a bit. I even had him teach me some things himself.”

    Taira raised the bar for M. Bison strategies all at once. Many players studied his tactics, including Yuvega, who adopted them eagerly.

    “This might sound like bragging, but thanks to him, I became a lot more powerful myself.”

    Even now, he is constantly working on new ideas. As for his Guile game, which continues to be rebuilt and updated, he says, "It's totally different from the old days.”

    He acknowledges his rivals regardless of age or career, and without being constrained by the style that has supported him up to that point.

    “I take the good parts and rearrange them.” He’s a player often said to have a rough style and an aversion to losing, but his underlying flexibility is another major weapon in his arsenal.
  • // Chapter 4
  • “To figure it out on your own—to formulate a solution and have it ready for next time. I think that’s what everyone else does, but I can’t do that.”

    Yuvega says that his “biggest flaw” is he can’t “figure out how to go from 0 to 1” on his own. One must have some level of ability to think for oneself in order to become a top player, but in his own opinion, that is the case. His “greatest merit,” meanwhile, is probably his ability to listen. According to him, it is the other side of the same coin as his “greatest flaw.”

    “I can’t do it. So I ask around. I don’t notice these things on my own, so I have other people make me notice them.”

    1. Immediately, and 2. without being choosy about whom you ask, 3. listen in earnest.

    Maybe the key points can be summed up thusly. After a match is over, you’ve lost and vacated the seat, you grab whoever’s around and ask them. The best person to ask isn’t the person you played, but “someone who was watching over your shoulder.” Opponents are “surprisingly unaware” of what’s going on.

    “So you lose, right? After a losing streak, you go, ‘Did you see that?’

    The people around him were desensitized, so sometimes they say, “No, I didn’t see it.” It’s inevitable, since the players gathered there are all thinking about their own matches. Even so, he would persist: “But you must have seen a little. Tell me, did I do something wrong?”

    “Then they’d be like, ‘No, you didn’t do anything wrong,’ but I’d say, ‘Obviously I’m doing something wrong if I’m losing. Tell me something—anything.’ If you ask that persistently, something will come out (laughs).”

    It’s more than a bit of a nuisance. But no one can be that upset to have their own insight so sought after. Those worn down by his persistence sometimes show a wry smile. It’s such a daily occurrence at this point that sometimes people jokingly ask him to “pay up for the intel (laughs).”

    The scene for older titles like SFII has a small overall population, so players of all levels play against one another. In an ongoing title like Street Fighter V, there’s no shortage of evenly matched players, but that’s not necessarily something to be desired.

    Even so, the key is to ask for a wide range of opinions, without worrying about the skill level of the other person, and accept them in earnest. You never know where you might find a good hint.

    What about the person answering? If the asker is serious, they can’t say anything too flippant, and they’ll probably be glad there’s someone seeking their help. They’ll think about it their own way and try to come up with an answer, to output their analysis of the asker’s match in a way they’ll understand. It’s a process people should do for their own matches, but sometimes you’re more observant when you’re thinking about someone else’s match. It can also serve as a sort of validating training. There are many benefits for both the person asking and the person being asked.

    “No one else asks, do they? Like, even when they lose…”

    It’s surprisingly rare for a player to ask another player’s opinion. Even though it's a competitive game, it's still a game, and some people just want to play it their way. This may be even more the case for those who specifically choose to play an older game.

    “I wasn’t originally the type who could take honest advice,” says Kemonomichi event organizer Umehara. The only reason he’s come to be able to accept other people’s opinions is because he’s “done so much.”

    Umehara: “When you have my type of personality, first you try to get by on your own. But no matter what you do, things don’t go well. Somewhere along the way it starts to feel hopeless. You keep going until you’re all worn out. Once that happens, you can’t help but be humbled. You go, ‘Fine, I guess I could ask someone (laughs)…’ This was true for gaming as well as back in my mahjong days. I’d try to think things through for myself, but sometimes there were just walls. So I’d ask a mentor. From then on I’d just accept what they said with humility.”

    To keep trying until “all worn out,” and with no choice left. In a way, it’s very in character for him.

    Umehara: “I don’t know if Yuvega-san was like this to begin with or if he had some realization, but I do think his ability to ask for advice is a weapon in his arsenal.”

    But isn't there anyone else out there with a similar attitude toward asking for advice? Yuvega mentions an unexpected name.

    “Back in the day, I had a one-off set against Tokido’s Vega (Claw). When it was over, he came up and asked me, “Yuvega-san, excuse me! How do you counter this move?!”

    Tokido, a pro gamer also slated to compete in Kemonomichi 4. This was back when he was still an amateur player of multiple titles, and was competing in Tougeki’s Street Fighter II event. Yuvega laughs as he recalls the experience. “’Oh man,’ I thought, ‘he’s just like me. He’s the same type.’ Since we were so alike, I thought, ‘Oof, I’m not sure I like this guy. He’s going to be a pain to deal with.’”

    In an age when "wanting to teach" was ridiculed, the style of "wanting to be taught" may have been one of the keys to improvement.
  • // Chapter 5
  • Guile vs. M. Bison (Dictator). It comes down to how M. Bison’s firepower will get through Guile’s stable defense and apply decisive damage. It’s a matchup where M. Bison must make the first move.

    Yuvega has always employed a variety of techniques, including some irrational ones, to break through Guile’s defense. He’s the type who “burns brighter the worse the odds.” Even still, it seems that the number of winning moves has decreased against Guile, who is “better than ever.”

    “I do think Guile has the advantage,” he says with a wry smile, “but there’s always a way.” Yuvega is himself a family man, as well as a busy salaryman. Nevertheless, he manages to keep up with his training and studying, frequenting the arcade as often as four days a week.

    There are two things he keeps in mind when it comes to playing matches.

    The first is to try as hard as possible to “play against a variety of opponents.” Yuvega has focused on that for every FT10 event he’s entered in the past. In recent years, when he fought E. Honda at an event, he trained against Yukinofu-kun, Nia, Nagata-san, Nakamu-san…”—all players of ability matching his own.

    “You absolutely cannot just play the same one person,” says Yuvega. His opponent for the upcoming event, Kotaka Shoten, seems well aware of this himself.

    “Kotaka plays against a variety of people. He’s even called on me before and asked me to use Dee Jay.”

    The Kotaka Shoten vs. Ito (Dee Jay) matchup of Kemonomichi 2. For Yuvega, Dee Jay is merely a sub-character he uses sometimes to unwind, and yet he was still among those Kotaka Shoten asked to spar, fighting “one hundred or two hundred matches.”

    “I wasn’t the only one, he played all kinds of people who play all kinds of Dee Jay. He probably has a considerable number of training partners.”

    Sparring against a variety of opponents gives you a broad perspective. Yuvega’s method is to “leave no stone unturned, play, and listen.” This is related to the unevenness in the community’s skill level caused by its small population of players. It is possible for the so-called “optimal solutions” to not be aggregated into common knowledge the way they are in the latest games, so a player has to collect a variety of opinions and come up with their own best answer.

    The second point is “the extent to which you’re aware of your own softness.” It’s obvious from past Kemonomichi events that Kotaka Shoten doesn’t tolerate softness. He creates setups where not only incorrect choices, but even choices generally accepted as correct can come up short. With this high hurdle in mind, Yuvega says he preparedness is his “theme.”

    “My personality is such that I don’t feel any pressure, as long as I’ve prepared myself. If you told me to do it on the spot, my heart would be racing.”

    He’s a player who’s good when an event is under way, but it’s thorough training that supports this strength.

    “When the time comes to face off against someone on my level, if I haven’t prepared for it, I’ll lose. I’m no prodigy. I mean, you can’t get anywhere if you don’t put in the effort… That’s all there is to it.”
  • // Chapter 6
  • In Nagase’s heyday, “It was all about Tsuji and Otochun. Occasionally Aniken and Shooting D.” Yuvega says he’s happy to see the younger generation come to the fore with players like Kotaka Shoten. “They’ve come to flip things on their head.”

    “So Fujimon, MAO, Ito, they’re all happy. These guys have come to flip things. They’re clearly stronger than us. It’s gotten interesting, it’s like the Sengoku [warring states] period.”

    The fight against the new generation has become a source of motivation. “Lifetime service” can take many forms, but this response is very characteristic of Yuvega. “My mentality hasn’t changed since I was just a boy with his games.” Therein lies a youthful sensibility.

    Christmas is just around the corner at Nakano TRF, a game center in Tokyo. There, Yuvega is in his final crunch. He’s taken time out of his busy schedule of family and work to rush to the game center to train. Every minute counts. "Fifteen minutes, right?” He confirmed the time he had given in advance. That's how focused he is on Kemonomichi. Would he be able to fully tap into his abilities at the main event?

    “That's the point, really. That's the thing I want to make sure I do right. Winning and losing will come later.

    “I think my opponent is probably thinking the same thing. It’s really a battle with yourself. Because the whole concept for how we’re fighting is different this time than it was in past Kemonomichis.”

    Kotaka Shoten’s opponents to date have been Aniken (Ken), Ito (Dee Jay), and Kurahashi (Ryu). All matchups where the pace of the match is largely set by shooting each other with projectiles. Meanwhile M. Bison is a character whose fighting style focuses on rushing down the opponent. It’s a different approach than we’ve seen in past matchups.

    “He has to deal with a rushdown character. It’s a completely different way of fighting. It’s the first time [in a Kemonomichi]. For all I know, he’s the more nervous one… He might be worried he’s going to lose. He’s probably not feeling very calm on the inside. I think I’m the calmer one.”

    Many say Guile has the advantage in this matchup. On the other hand, it’s a matchup that "requires a higher level of skill on Guile's part," and with M. Bison’s difference in firepower, the actual gap between the two characters will likely be smaller. That seems to be Yuvega’s feeling.

    “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, but I’m trying to calibrate myself so that I’m able to bring out the full extent of my ability. Unless something really goes wrong, I think I’ll be able to play well when the day comes.

    With multiple pairs of cabinets set up, the arcade easily has more than ten players gathred despite it being a weekday. The energy of the place is reminiscent of the arcades of old. Player after player invades the setup where Yuvega is seated. They all play Guile.

    “All I can do is be grateful. Whenever there’s a first-to-ten event, whether it’s me or someone else, people are always willing to use their sub-characters to help out. [Is that the culture?] Yeah, there’s a shared desire to cooperate. I’m grateful for it. They’re sacrificing their own time to be here, it’s precious.”

    One of the Guile players who has invaded his game is Seo. I was able to speak with him. His usual character is Chun-Li, and he’s a top-ranking player whose skill goes recognized by all.

    Seo: “[Guile] isn’t my main so I’m not much help in matches, but I can look for things in Training Mode, and report back whenever I find something. I’ll capture videos and be like, ‘Look what I found.’”

    He tries to figure out how he can lend a hand. It seems he has his own thoughts on the matter.

    Seo: “I main Chun-Li, but…Yuvega was the first person to really acknowledge my ability. There was a time when I beat him a little. After that, he was everywhere I went (laughs).”

    A bad loser, Yuvega came for payback. It’s all subjective, but Seo says, “If Yuvega hadn’t paid so much attention to me, I probably wouldn’t be playing Street Fighter II.

    Seo: “I mean…no one ever took that much interest in me, you know? I don’t know what it is, but I realized how much he was thinking about how to face me. And it wasn’t just about the character, it was about Seo’s Chun-Li… What could make me happier than that?”

    He took him seriously as an opponent. You can understand that without logic. For them, there is no richer form of communication than playing each other in the game.

    People continue to invade Yuvega’s game. Even when the opponents taper off, a random voice rises up from the crowd, asking, “Any Guiles around?” and soon enough, another player answers the call. Such unbegrudging cooperation is surely part of the culture here, but Yuvega’s attitude of striving for his best is probably also related. It’s a sort of trust he’s built up. Yuvega once described himself as a “loner who doesn’t like to mingle very much.” That same person now has the support of a legion of friends.

    He’s also a devoted family man. How will this impact that? It’s likely a point of concern for any middle-aged gamer.

    “I don’t have their blessing, exactly; it’s more like they’ve come to accept it. It’s not like this just started yesterday (laughs). I was honest with them, though. It was a little embarrassing, but I showed them the promo videos. “Look, it’s your dad,” I said. [My kids] said they couldn’t watch. They couldn’t watch it all (laughs).”

    How does his family feel, seeing their father taking the game so seriously? Age and gender have nothing to do with having a passion. It’s passion that makes things interesting. Yuvega’s example speaks greater volumes than words ever could.

    “I’m still just a kid with his games, at heart. Even though I may look old. But that’s why I want to hold onto those days when I was young, to just be stupid and, at the end of this year, go wild!”

    Just a kid with his games, for life. The season of youth doesn’t end.
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  • // Other Story
  • ・SUPER STREET FIGHTER 2X :: Kotaka Shoten.


    ・DODONPACHI DAI-OU-JOU :: fufufu


    ・PUYO PUYO TETRIS :: kazu

    ・PUYO PUYO TETRIS :: Amemiya Taiyou

    ・STREET FIGHTER 5 :: Kawano

    ・STREET FIGHTER 5 :: Tokido