That name may not mean anything to you. That name may mean everything to you. Having been in the competitive scene for over a decade, he’s widely considered to be one of the (if not the actual) greatest fighting game player of all time. To me, Daigo Umehara reflects a feeling. The first time I remembered video game players sharing a sense of community.
Evo is a fighting game tournament that, in recent years, has flourished into a spectacle. Thousands of people cram into event centers to watch the world\’s greatest clash in a number of popular titles. Of those, the Street Fighter series has always been a staple.
In 2004, Evo was different. Something that would become somewhat of an explosive sensation was still just a baby, learning to stand up.
At two years old, those massive stadiums were still meager gymnasiums and hotel event rooms. Those crowds of thousands were still a small yet familiar crowd of only the most dedicated. But it was here, in this small group of the dedicated, that two Street Fighter III players would put the spark in place that brought Evo to what it is today.
Daigo and Justin Wong, are matched in the loser\’s bracket finals of Street Fighter III: 3rd strike. In the final match of round 1, Wong’s Chun-Li was seemingly pulling ahead with a flurry of kicks. In what should have been a sure win for Long, Daigo did the seemingly impossible. I’d love to paint a beautifully worded picture of what happened, but it is one of those genuine moments you have to see to truly believe. This is genuinely my favorite moment in video games.
Each of those blocks was an individual input. Daigo saw what was coming, he braced with his Ken, and executed defensive godliness. You don’t have to be a an expert at anything to see how special this moment was.
The world agreed.
Exploding onto the internet like a Red Hadoken (see what I did there?) People who didn’t even care about video games were watching this video and staring in awe at what was happening. I remember showing the clip to my Freshman world history teacher, a man who despised console games of all kinds, and feeling a smug satisfaction as his eyes popped to attention. Even though it was short lived, people were somehow rallying around fighting games as if it were some kind of event! It was all thanks to that tiny moment, that cemented Daigo as an all time great.
Like most internet sensations, Evo plateaued for some years after that. People’s interest faded towards other flashy events in gaming. The fighting tournament began to retreat into a shadow of that moment. It would eventually see a renaissance to what it is today with the introduction of streaming services like twitch, making the scene accessible to anyone with a screen; as well as the much rallied inclusion of Super Smash Brothers Melee to the tournament roster. Even in that shadow though, Daigo’s success remained a shining beacon of how exciting these events could be.
Fast forward to 2016.
Lupe Fiasco, a popular hip hop artist, and enthusiast of fighting games, starts to make a noise.
In a short lived twitter feud over Marvel Vs Capcom 3 with a skilled player named Mr. Gonzo, Fiasco became a big talking fighting game prospect of his own invention. The two talked a big game on each other, cracking wise, escalating quickly to rudeness. Eventually, Fiasco would back down from a money match challenge from Gonzo for a ridiculous sum. It was in the downfall of this feud though, that a harmless tweet from Fiasco would catch the attention of Madcatz, Daigo’s sponsor, and lead to a matchup that would once again blow people away.
Fiasco\’s short lived twitter feud with Mr.Gonzo
The two would meet at an exhibition event for the newly release Street Fighter V and engage in a friendly match. Everyone expected Daigo to unleash a no mercy blood bath. Personally, I imagined it would be like Steven Seagal fighting a toddler.
Once again, I could pen the match in intricate detail, but if you’re reading this, you likely know the outcome.
Lupe Fiasco won.
I was wrong! We were all wrong! Everyone was surprised! Even Lupe didn’t see it coming. At the time, I was awestricken. Now though, I’m so happy it happened that way.
I do want to take a minute to emphasize that moniker I gave Street Fighter V; “newly released.” I believe that was an important reason the match happened the way it did. I never in a million years believe Daigo would lose to Fiasco again.
That isn’t the point of this story, though.
Once again, the internet was exploding. The event was trending on twitter. Youtube was lighting up. Mind you, much of it was pitchforks over Lupe somehow committing blasphemy.
Even so, voices were speaking and their words were for fighting games. Once again,for a brief moment in time, there were people talking about games like they were special. There are very few moments where something like a fighting game becomes a talking point around the world. Granted, it did take the appearance of a superstar that transcends gaming culture, but I like to think that some of those people that found our corner might stick around for a while.
That is why this match had to happen. That is why Lupe had to win. If Daigo had performed as expected, it would have disappeared the next day. You’d be reading about something else, and the fighting game scene would have missed a spectacular moment for our culture. Even if it goes as quickly as it came, it’s such a fantastic sentiment to feel like we are part of something big once again.