In Japan, there are only a few professional video game players who can make a living just by playing games. Out of these people, Food is a talented and unique gamer, who has been working as a pro since 2011.
He is a world-class player of fighting games such as Virtual Fighter and Street Fighter IV. He is a member of Team GRAPHT, and he is sponsored by Razer Inc., an American company which specializes in computer hardware for games.
In 2016, he participated in 16 overseas competitions, and he even won second place in EVO2016, one of the world’s biggest fighting video game tournaments.
On top of this, he has won first place in the national competitions of Gunslinger Stratos three times, and he is known to be one of the top players in Japan.
Recently, Food has started playing Shadowverse, a very popular digital trading card game (DCG) and has appeared on various media.
When we hear ‘pro-gamer’, we tend to think of someone who continues to play and become stronger in only one game. Why does Food join competitions of many different games, and why can he win in all of them? Our friends at KAI-YOU conducted an interview with him, and asked him about his thoughts.
The Fun Part of Being a Professional Gamer
──For many years, you have joined and won in various fighting game tournaments. Why is it that you have started to play Shadowverse, which is a game of a completely different genre?
‘I just play games because they are fun. Regarding DCG, I have also played Magic: The Gathering. When playing card games, you have to think of strategies to defeat your opponent, and I think that’s what makes them entertaining.
I think that the fact I started to play Shadowverse became famous because the game’s title was already well known. Compared to other DCGs, Shadowverse is rather reasonable with its billings. Although it has a very deep story and much content, you don’t have to pay that much money. The fun thing about being a pro gamer is that you get to continue playing the game if you enjoy it.
Anyway, I’m playing Shadowverse just for fun, and I’m not spending as much time on it as I would when I’m trying to win a competition. There are so many players for this game that are a higher level than I am. Compared to when I’m playing fighting games, I’m playing Shadowverse in a rather relaxed mode.’
──Have you played Gunslinger Stratos over and over again?
‘Yes, I have played Gunslinger Stratos tons of times. There is a national competition for this game in which approximately 2,000 players join and the prize money is 10 million yen. Out of the five times I’ve joined, I’ve won first prize in three of the competitions. Nevertheless, I play Gunslinger Stratos only when I’m getting ready for the competition. For most of the time, I’m playing fighting games.’
The Tip for Winning: Study Your Opponent
‘I believe that the results of a competition strongly depend on the aspect of luck. With that said, when I think of why I can keep on winning in competitions, the answer is that I try to study my opponents, rather than just study the game itself.
──So, you mainly play fighting video games. Last year, you won second place in the Street Fighter V Division of EVO2016. It has been over five years since you won the competition for Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition in 2011. How do you maintain your high-level skills?
‘It may be that I’m better than other people at analyzing my opponent’s videos. In fighting games, the characters’ tricks do not suddenly come out; the players show preliminary movements when pressing the game controller. So, I watch my opponents’ videos and check the patterns of how they move when they try to release the tricks.
I also watch my own recordings. This is to find my habits and the movements that I keep on doing unintentionally. Usually, I lose whenever my opponents know my habits and they take advantage of this. I don’t realize these bad habits while I’m playing, but I find them by watching my videos or when someone tells me afterwards.
Well, even if I check the opponents’ videos beforehand, the opponents are checking them too to fix their weak points, so they often show different movements at the actual competition. At the end, everything just depends on luck.’
Those who are Selfish and Can’t Get Along Well with Others Will Not Win
──I see. It is important to analyze various data. Do you ever play games alone for a long time?
‘I really don’t like playing alone at my house, and personally think that there is no point in doing it. You become skillful in playing games by gaining more knowledge about them, so I believe that it is more important to think about the game than actually playing it. I also believe that the effective way to go through this thinking process is by talking to others, rather than just thinking to yourself. The more people there are, the more knowledge I can gain.
I think that people have an image of gamers to be shut-ins, but I always go outside. I often go to arcades, not to play the games, but rather to check out how other people are playing them. Some players say that there is no point in watching people who are bad at the games, but I disagree. I watch them and try to learn things from them too.
After going to the arcades, I love to go drinking with my friends. We watch videos of game-playing while drinking. Just to watch people playing games is something meaningful to me. I think that I can absorb a lot of things from various elements.’
──Is gaining information important for other games besides fighting games?
‘Yes, indeed. Therefore, whenever I go to an arcade, I go to the popular area with the most people. This is because many other gamers gather in those places.
In regards to Gunslinger Stratos, I chose the most famous arcade among the game’s fans. This game is fought by four players on each team, so I got the chance to play with other gamers at the arcade. I posted on Twitter, “I will always be here at this arcade”, so many high-skilled players came to fight against me.
Everyday, from morning to night, there were skilled gamers at this arcade. Of course, many game fans who wanted to see these players started gathering as well, and the arcade became very famous. The machine of Gunslinger Stratos has a camera equipped and you can take a video of yourself, so I got the opportunity to speak with the other gamers while watching these videos.
Nowadays, I think it is very hard for a selfish person who does not get along with others to win a game. It becomes difficult for those people to learn about the latest information, and thus, they have a higher chance of losing. Therefore, I’m sure many gamers are trying their best to become friends with everyone.
Life Should be Fun, and That’s Why I Play Games
──When I interviewed you in the past, I strongly remember how you were playing a game with someone that you had just met at the arcade. Do you think anything of yourself changed after you became a professional video game player?
‘I do sometimes get asked to write an autograph or to take a photo with a fan. Nevertheless, the things I do every day have not changed at all: I play games, I talk with other people and think about the games, I find my own strategies, and I play the games again. Therefore, I do not feel a big change.
However, I do feel that I have gotten old. Most of the people playing Gunslinger Stratos are in their 20s, but I’m in my early 30s now. When I was 20 years old, I felt that a 30-year-old man was very old [laugh]. Normally, people who are my age are doing things that match their age.’
──You have been playing games since you were a child, and you have now become a professional gamer. Has there been anything that you have given up on doing during this long journey of yours?
‘No, not really. I have always believed that living a fun life is the ultimate goal, and I have always thought about how I can live an entertaining life. For some people, it may seem like I gave up on doing certain things while growing up. However, I truly feel that playing games is the most fun thing for me to do, so in that sense, I don’t think I missed out on anything.
Actually, I think that I am very lucky that I got into playing games. I have spent a lot of money and time in playing games, and I learned many things through my experiences.
I might one day change my job and feel, “Being a gamer was meaningless”, but that is very unlikely to happen. Even if I retire from being a professional video game player, I’m sure I will always be playing games for fun.’
Playing eSports at Tokyo 2020
──During the time when you were about ten years old and you started playing fighting games, the environment of game-playing in general had started to drastically change. On 18 April, it was announced that eSports (electronic sports) will be a medal event at the 2022 Asian Games in China. Do you think that eSports could become an official sport at the Olympics in the future?
‘It is very difficult to decide whether a game is categorized as a type of eSport or not. I heard that the standards will be set in the near future. Do you think Hearthstone and League of Legends, which are both popular eSports, are under the same category as fighting video games? I personally think that they are completely different, as much as soccer and swimming are.
However, Prime Minister Abe wore a Mario costume at the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympics, and I think that was done to promote the Japanese game culture to the world. Therefore, if eSports were to become an official sport in the Olympic games, I hope it would be first introduced at Tokyo 2020.
Well, there are so many popular games around the world so I assume that fighting video games would not be chosen as an Olympic event [laugh], but if it does get chosen, I would love to join. After all, in recent years, fighting games have been gaining a lot of attention because of the increase in competitions with big prizes.
Right now, I am joining a competition hosted by an American TV station. This competition costs 25 million yen and the winner gets 15 million yen. In order to have more young people to play fighting video games in Japan, I think it is very important for a Japanese player to win in this competition. If people see me winning 15 million yen, I’m sure there would be a lot of people who would start playing games. I think I have a great chance in this competition.
If I win, I want to open an izakaya. I just love to drink.’
Interview/Article: Io Kawauchi, Editior: Kento Hasegawa (Date of Interview: 12 April 2017)
The writer of this article, Io Kawauchi has written the book Break! Ima wo Tsukiyaburu Shigotoron (Break! The Sensational Theory of Working) (Futabasha). In this book, he writes about ten Japanese people, including Food, who each started out as an ordinary person but since became a world champion. These talented people have their own theory of working, and their ideas are full of hints that would help many creators and business people! （Check here for more information.）