Daigo Umehara: 'I've never thought of myself as talented', talks about his gaming career and views on what winning means

Posted by Nicholas 'MajinTenshinhan' Taylor • May 30, 2013 at 11:20 a.m. PDT
Daigo Umehara: 'I've never thought of myself as talented', talks about his gaming career and views on what winning means In a 7-page interview with Tokyo Keizai, Daigo Umehara's life is detailed, and he explains his thoughts regarding his pro status in fighting games and what it has taken to bring him there. This article will feature several translated quotes from Daigo, as the original article is exclusively available in Japanese.

Below, you'll find the line Daigo started the whole interview with, and after that, there will be several quotes and excerpts covering different periods of his career.

Though I've been called "God's Hand" and "The Beast", I've never thought of myself as someone with talent. Actually, if we're only talking about talent, I think there are a lot of people who have more of it than I do.

Hit the jump to read more about Daigo Umehara.

In the interview, Daigo explains that during childhood, he had to move from Aomori to Tokyo, and had to make new friends. His main method of doing so was through games, and before long, he was the gamer kid in the neighbourhood, and everyone came over to his house to play games with him, and Daigo's favorite game being Street Fighter. But as he and his friends grew older, they found other interests, and started pursuing futures in sports or other fields, which led Daigo to feel that they were giving up on gaming too easily, making the young Daigo resolve that, partly out of pure stubbornness, he would become the best in the world at video games.

His resolve paid off as Daigo became well-known not only in Japan, but throughout the world, winning tournaments all over the place during his youth. He trained strictly, and was motivated to become the best. During the now legendary Evo Moment #37, Daigo managed to beat Justin Wong in a comeback that became world famous. When prompted by the interviewer about what went through his head during his comeback parry, after the whole crowd seemed to have long since given up on Daigo winning the match, he put it simply.

There are no definites in fighting games. Putting it that way, there was also no "definite" that Justin was going to win.

At that moment, I didn't hear the crowd roaring. If I had heard it, I don't think my comeback would have succeeded.

A testament to Daigo's power of concentration, it allowed him to not only overcome the odds, but to completely block out the roar of the crowd, leaving him to focus solely on the game in front of him. Despite this tremendous success, it was only a year later that Daigo retired from gaming and started playing Mahjong instead. While he did make some impact in the Mahjong scene as well, he also decided to leave it after having played it for three years.

During his time with both fighting games and Mahjong, Daigo explains that he viewed the winning or losing of the match at hand as unimportant. He said that if you only focus on winning at the moment, you aren't going to keep winning in the long run. Daigo also remarks that his goal was never to "win", but rather to "work hard to enjoy the hard work that leads to victory", and that every match is truly a battle against yourself above all else.

People who focus solely on the winning and losing of it all are bound to not experience significant growth.

At this point, Daigo grew tired of being in a competitive field, as he always enjoyed being a challenger more, and felt that with his reputation in Japan as "unbeatable", being a challenger was no longer an option. As such, Daigo decided to retire from both fighting games and Mahjong all-together. He had no plans to return to fighting games, but the future had different plans than Daigo had envisioned.

At this point, Daigo decided to start working with care of the elderly at nursing homes. This was partly due to his parents having experience in said field, but it also had to do with his willingness to leave the competitive field behind.

I couldn't stand watching people's sad, irritated or suffering faces after they had lost. I realized that in a competitive field, there was no way out of seeing this time and time again, and that felt difficult. So I decided to try something completely different from everything I've done before.

While working at nursing homes, Daigo realised a lot of things. Seeing old people who had grown senile, and people who could no longer do everything they used to be able to physically, he realized that he would one day end up in the same situation. This is when he decided that when faced with the choice of "do or don't", he would aim to "do" rather than "don't", so as to live without regret.

One day, on his way home from work, Daigo stumbled upon an old friend by coincidence. The friend got Daigo to come with him to an arcade in Shinjuku where skilled players gathered to play each other. This was right after Street Fighter 4 had begun appearing in arcades, and everyone was playing it. Daigo reminisces that he had no intention of playing games half-heartedly, but that his friend convinced him to give it a shot, and that Daigo easily beat ten people in a row.

Realizing that his absence from gaming hadn't dulled his skills as much as he thought, he experienced new found love for the game, and the rumors quickly spread throughout Japan that Daigo Umehara was back in gaming. Feeling that the games were still fun to him, Daigo began entering the Japanese tournament scene once more to polish his skills.

At this point, he was approached by arcade stick manufacturers Mad Catz who said that they wanted Daigo to become Japan's first pro gamer. Daigo explains that he felt reluctant, because on the one hand, he could play the games he loved again, but on the other hand, he had never heard of anyone who could make a living by playing games. He struggled with the choice between trying his hand at the pro scene, or just playing the games for fun as a hobby. At this point, he remembered his earlier resolution about living with no regrets, and resolved to try his hand at playing Street Fighter on a professional level.

He explains that while he felt a lot of pressure during these early days, he also had overwhelming confidence that "If anyone can make it as a pro player, it's me". Now, three years later, he notes that he's come to many realizations throughout his long gaming life, one being that "To win and to keep winning are different things. Sometimes, the two are even opposed to one another".

Daigo's book "The Willpower to Keep Winning" expands on this concept. A short excerpt is included below.

For most people, the better they get, the more they develop their own style within their gameplay. On that point, I'm different. I have no style. One might even say that I strive to not fall into the trap of developing my own style.

There's always a theory present in fighting games. "If I do this, I'll win" or "If I do this, I'll be in the most advantageous situation possible", which leads you into a sort of "pattern". Of course, I think the theory of it all is important. But if you rely only on theory, you'll get stuck in one pattern. If that happens, you'll win for now, but eventually you're going to stop winning.

Daigo recently held a lecture at New York University, during which he was asked the question "Why don't you ever try to win the easy way?", presumably referring to why Daigo doesn't tend to switch to top-tier characters all too often, to which he gave yet another simple response.

I want to improve myself as a player through my matches. That's why I don't try to win the easy way.

Another question Daigo received was "What's the best way to get better at fighting games?"

Love. If you can feel that you love what you're doing, that's the ultimate talent right there. Compared to that, all other merits or demerits are just small potatoes. Ever since I was little, my feeling of "I love games" remained undefeated amongst all other kids. I still hold on to those childhood feelings, which makes me believe that I can still grow and become even better than I am now.

Do you agree with Daigo's thoughts on what makes a good player? Sound off in the comments and let us know.

Original source: Tokyo Keizai.

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