It seems like every time Shoryuken bumps into Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi, he wins. In 2016, we sat down with him in Seoul, South Korea to discuss his victory alongside Mago and Momochi at Street Fighter Crash. Fast forward one year, and the Murderface has dominated his way to an Evo title in Street Fighter V, capturing his first Evo title in ten years over Victor “Punk” Woodley, who had previously shown himself absolutely dominant in nearly every event he entered.
After the confetti fell and while the stage was being torn down, we sat down alongside Amanda Stevens of SageGnosis.com and Cameron Gilbert of GameSpark.jp in a round table interview to discuss Tokido’s huge win at Evo 2017.
Amanda Stevens [SageGnosis]: You have stayed very competitive for a long time. What is it about yourself that allows you to stay at the highest level?
Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi: That’s a hard question. Recently the level of play has become increasingly higher. Previously, I could just practice in training mode then play in tournaments. This way made it easy to get to top 8. Nowadays, it’s not enough. Everyone wants to be on top. For me, gaming is just special. I spent so much time in my boyhood playing.
I’ve had to practice a lot lately, but in a new way. I don’t just think about execution and setups anymore, but mind games. Not only just mind games, but my own mental fortitude needed shaping. I’ve also played a lot more to desensitize myself to tournament nerves, so that I treat every match like casuals. Also, since tournaments tend to be a long grind, I have had to work on my own physical endurance so that I won’t tire out late in the day. I’ve had to try a lot of new things lately, so that is probably why I remain at the highest levels.
Corey “Missing Person” Lanier: One of the things you said on stage with Gootecks after you won was that you learned how to control your opponents. So I want to go back to grand finals with Punk. Before the reset, you gave up one round in game one, then took that game. Then in game two, you dropped the entire game. The rest of the set, and even past the reset, you looked completely in control. Were those rounds and games you dropped a part of establishing control, and seeing what Punk was capable of?
Tokido: Yes, at first we had played a lot of casuals. I knew his strategy, and I’m pretty sure he knew mine as well. Usually we have great sets together, and I feel like the Akuma/Karin matchup is rather even. So with Punk, usually we are just trading rounds. But today, I felt as though he was nervous or something. Until Evo, he was winning a lot. He had never really been in a pinch. I felt like this time, he felt like he was in a big pinch.
So when I was playing him, because of this, he was playing far more defensive than he usually does and was making way more mistakes than usual. I can tell this because I have a lot of tournament experience. From there, I was able to control him easily.
Cameron Gilbert [GameSpark]: In Season 1, you weren’t able to play your trademark character of Akuma, but in Season 2, he came out. Now that you’ve won Evo with him, how do you feel about the character as opposed to previous versions of the character?
Tokido: Before Season 2 released, they had announced the character and I immediately said I’d switch over. I didn’t care about tiers. In Season 1, I picked Ryu in lieu of Akuma, but if Akuma would come I would change my character. At first, it was very difficult for me, because Ryu was very strong in Season 1. He was actually better than Akuma. But now, I can honestly sit here and thank Capcom for Akuma. Akuma is definitely the best character for me.
For ordinary people, maybe Balrog and Ibuki are best. But tier lists aren’t based solely on ease of use, but potential. Akuma is a very difficult character, but I feel as though he has the highest potential. But I’m certain that Akuma fits me perfectly, and I was able to show that at Evo.
Stevens: You are on one of the premier fighting game teams [Echo Fox]. For instance, you have Justin Wong, JDCR, Momochi, Julio Fuentes, and others to bounce off of. Compared to other times in your career, do you feel like this the best time for you as a fighting game player?
Tokido: The week before Foxcon, I stayed with Justin in San Jose. There are so many good players there. Punk was also staying there. I practiced with a lot of good players that week. Without Justin, this wasn’t possible. It’s a very good team.
Missing Person: The last time I talked to you, we were in Korea and you were a free agent. Today, you have Echo Fox and an Evo title. How much can you attribute this win to your team, compared to when you were having to self-support yourself to go to events?
Tokido: I’m very happy to win this tournament for Echo Fox. I think in fighting games, winning is most important. However, I feel like I also have other things to show. I succeeded in both at Evo. I won and showed what I wanted to in fighting games. I hope this is a big contribution to the scene.
Gilbert: [in Japanese] In Japan, fighting games are considered old man’s games, making it harder for younger players to come in and pick up the genre. In Japan, BlazBlue is really the only fighting game that gathers a young audience. Given that fighting games are so important in your life, how do you help young people understand what is so great about fighting games?
Tokido: [in Japanese] One of the ways we can open up the appeal of these games to younger players is to have great events like Evo, with big prizes to show that you can make a living off of playing these games. Making that happen is up to the event organizers. Hopefully, the young players will come in and have really fast reactions and energy. As they keep winning, they’ll run into these old school players, who will beat them down. When they do lose, they’ll realize that there’s all this money involved, but there’s a lot more to this. So the older players will provide that experience for the new players and help them grow.
[in English] It’s very difficult to learn from winning. When you lose, you have to struggle and think a lot. This isn’t just important in fighting games, but in society and in life.
Missing Person: In Evo 2013, you got second to Xian, and you hadn’t won an event at Evo since 2007. To be fair, you were also playing multiple titles at the same time and constantly getting top 8 in multiple events in one year. Now, you are clearly focused solely on Street Fighter V. How much can you attribute stepping back from all these games to this win?
Tokido: Because of that, I can practice a lot and think a lot. I was always searching for something to win. Actually, the old school players taught me a lot about what I should do. It’s a little complicated, so it’s hard to put it into few words. I was able to learn from older players about how to deal with various situations. Actually, because this is a Street Fighter title, I was able to take a lot from Super Street Fighter II Turbo players and apply what they gave me here.
Missing Person: So your conditioning strategy worked very well in the top 8 of Evo. Now, what happens if you were in a team tournament? Like go back to Street Fighter Crash, where you, Mago, and Momochi had one game each. How do you adjust yourself to that?
Tokido: It’s almost the same for me. However, due to it only being one match, I have to decide more about what I want to do over how to control my opponent. It becomes a different dynamic. You don’t fully know your opponent in one match, but you know your teammates. So I can give advice to them, and they can also do the same to me. It’s much more relaxed. In team tournaments, you train in a different way than if it were singles.
Missing Person: With Street Fighter V, the game has become global, and it’s much more difficult for any country to truly dominate the game. I heard that there will be a Korea vs. China 5-on-5 exhibition at a salty suite after Evo. Who do you think would win, and if Japan was represented, do you think they would win?
Tokido: At the highest levels, I think Japan is the best.
Missing Person: So do you think you could take a team in to best them?
Tokido: I think so, but it would depend on the opponents. Who are they?
Missing Person: Xiao Hai is leading the Chinese team, and Verloren and XYZZY are leading the Korean team.
Tokido: And it’s tonight?
Missing Person: Yes.
Tokido: It would depend on how tired I am after I eat. If I don’t sleep. In normal conditions, I believe Japan would win. But with it being night, everyone is probably tired. Still, I think Japan would win. We have Daigo, Fuudo, Nemo, and Bonchan. They have different philosophies in fighting games.
[While the exhibition was scheduled, the plan ultimately fell through when Xiao Hai couldn’t find enough Chinese players willing to play.]
Missing Person: You obviously don’t have to worry about Capcom Cup points. It’s a long way away, but are you thinking about Capcom Cup at all yet?
Tokido: You’re right, I still have five months left. I’ll still be playing and practicing. I need to seek out more, not only about playing the game, but generally about how to prepare. It will take some time as well as trial and error.
Missing Person: I saw your sister and brother-in-law on the floor congratulating you after your win. Is this the first time you’ve had family at any of your events?
Tokido: No, they’re here every year. They live in Las Vegas.
Missing Person: No kidding! So do you stay with them while you’re here?
Tokido: Actually, I don’t. I prefer to stay at the hotel.
Missing Person: How amazing was it for you to win in front of your family?
Tokido: Actually last year, we watched top 8 together in the audience. I was able to tell them things like, “Infiltration is a really good player from Korea,” as well as general information about fighting games. But this year, it was me on stage. I was able to perform for them. It was an amazing feeling.
[Feature image courtesy of Shane Shrestha]
Shoryuken interview: Tokido talks about his fighting game philosophy