This weekend, the eyes of the fighting game community were on Season’s Beatings V: Redemption. Not only were North America’s best players in attendance, marquee international players Daigo Umehara, Momochi, Choco Blanka, GamerBee and Starnab were special guests. I had the privilege to interview Bruce “GamerBee” Hsiang from Taiwan and get to know him a bit. Read on to learn about some of his fighting game philosophies, the Taiwan fighting game scene, and his experiences at EVO 2010 and Season’s Beatings V.
Note: The bulk of this interview was conducted on Saturday (day 2) of Season’s Beatings V, shortly before the Team USA vs. The World exhibition. The last section of the interview includes post-tournament thoughts after he won 1st place in Super Street Fighter 4 singles tournament.
Protocol Snow: Let’s start by talking about what brought you out here. Season’s Beatings (SB) is one of the major fighting game tournaments in the U.S. This is only your 2nd U.S. tournament, with EVO 2010 being your 1st. How does your experience at Season’s Beatings compare with EVO?
GamerBee: When I went to EVO, it was my first time coming to the USA and I was an unknown player. It was a big decision to come all the way from Taiwan to Las Vegas and the expenses were considerable. Nobody in the tournament was expecting anything from me. I was put in loser’s bracket right away when I lost to RyRy in the 2nd round of pools. That put a lot of pressure on me because I had flown so far and was on the verge of being eliminated from the tournament so quickly. But I continued fighting and at the end of the night, I had advanced into the semifinals.
With SB, I was invited to come to this tournament and now people know who I am. I feel more pressure here than at EVO 2010, but it’s pressure of a different quality. I don’t want to let down the people who invited me here and the people who are excited to watch me play. I have to mentally prepare myself so I can play my best and avoid being humiliated.
Did you do any special preparation for Season’s Beatings, knowing you would possibly be playing Justin Wong, Daigo, Arturo, Momochi, etc. in the tournament?
I did not do any special preparation targeted towards any specific player. Instead, I focused on refining my personal playstyle and raising my overall level so I can better compete with the tournament field as a whole. I feel that rather than worry about other players, I should focus on improving myself. This is my approach to tournament preparation because it’s impossible to anticipate when I may be challenged by a very talented player I don’t recognize.
Can you share some insight into your team strategy for the upcoming 5v5 Team USA vs. The World exhibition? Such as, what is your strategy for player order?
(Note: at the time of this interview, about an hour before the exhibition match, we did not know that the exhibition would be a round-robin format. We had assumed it would be a standard Pokemon-style team battle where winner stays on.)
We do not have any particular strategy. We’ll probably have Choco Blanka lead off the battle and then we’ll decide from there. We actually haven’t met to discuss this yet. There’s not much to strategize. When someone on our team loses and we have to send a new person in, we’ll talk then about the most appropriate match-up.
Players from the world over come to EVO, but it is still predominantly a West Coast event. Season’s Beatings is more of a East Coast / Midwest event, although this year there was great representation from all over North America. Have you noticed any general differences in playstyles or skill levels between West Coast vs. East Coast?
Hmm… well, to answer this question, top players are traveling to all the big tournaments around the country. Justin Wong, Marn, Sanford, Mike Ross, etc… these are all high caliber players with unique individual playstyles so it’s difficult to make any generalizations about a particular region.
What about in pool play, when you fight good players who may not be top level? Any observations about the differences in competition between EVO and Season’s Beatings?
I haven’t noticed much difference.
Just as an aside, people really like the SB venue at Momo2 entertainment facility because of the easy access to food and drinks. They especially rave about the Korean food and boba tea drinks (aka bubble tea). Did you try the boba tea here, and what did you think?
No, I have not. Is it any good?
I think it’s rather mediocre. But I’m from San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles, home to the largest Taiwanese community in the USA. We have casual eateries with boba tea drinks on practically every other block. Lots of fierce boba competition.
Of course, it’s a little hard to compare that L.A. environment to this in Ohio. Boba tea was invented in Taiwan after all so I think our country makes it the best. *laughs*
Speaking of L.A., you’ve been confirmed to compete at SoCal Regionals on Nov. 5-7th. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Sakonoko (the Japanese Cammy player) has also been confirmed to be there, with possibly more international players to be announced soon. You play a lot of Japanese players on Xbox Live, but have you played Sako yet?
I played him a long time ago on Xbox Live. He is very talented but we played so long ago, I don’t think that past experience will be very helpful at SoCal Regionals. We both have improved a lot since then.
I heard you were planning on doing some training in Los Angeles in preparation for SoCal Regionals. Are you staying in the USA until that tournament?
Yes, after Season’s Beatings is over, in a couple days I will be going to SoCal. I will be staying in the Los Angeles area for a few weeks until SoCal Regionals.
With you and RB (Rufus and Guy player, 13th place at EVO 2010 SSF4) both making strong performances at EVO, there has been increasing interest in the Taiwan fighting game scene. How strong is the community in Taiwan? What is the competition atmosphere there like? How do you feel Taiwan ranks on the international level?
The Taiwan fighting game scene is fairly weak. A proper environment is necessary to nurture any fighting game scene and unfortunately we do not have the components to truly develop our community. Our biggest weakness is that we have a small player base. We need a lot more players with a greater variety of playstyles in order to challenge each other and elevate our competitive level. Luckily we have excellent Internet in Taiwan and can challenge Japanese players on Xbox Live and play matches with no lag. Without that experience playing against Japanese players, we would be much weaker. But nevertheless, we always strive to improve and play our best.
The most well-known Taiwanese SSF4 players are probably you and RB. Can you recommend 2-3 more top Taiwan players everybody should pay more attention to?
GiPie (El Fuerte) — He is a very determined player and plays an excellent El Fuerte. Be sure to look for his match videos.
lsy9983 (M.Bison/Dictator) — He has exceptional self-control with an individual style.
Other than your performance at EVO 2010, what other notable tournament achievements are you most proud of?
I participated at SBO in Virtua Fighter.
So in the past, you’ve been a good player but maybe not quite top level status. Now that you’re one of the top players in the world, can you talk about what you worked on to help you reach the top? Is it improving your mental game, execution, motivation, or other factors?
I don’t consider myself a top player. Maybe in the Taiwanese scene, I am. But on the worldwide stage, I am not, especially when compared to Japan. My philosophy is that if I want to get better, I can’t consider myself a top player. I have to constantly fight better competition to improve myself and not get stagnant. If I start thinking that I am a top player, I will become complacent and will not work as hard.
I still have a lot of areas to improve in, such as experience and reaction speeds. I win a lot of matches that I don’t deserve to win. In Super Street Fighter 4, often the winner of a match can go either way. Luck plays a role in SSF4. I want to improve my skill to the level where I can control the match from beginning to end.
Coming into EVO, not many people in the U.S. knew you. After EVO of course, you’ve become a recognizable player to everybody who follows the competitive SSF4 community. Do you feel people treat you differently now, and how do you feel about that?
At first, I was a nobody at EVO. But when I advanced into semifinals and then to top 8, people started noticing. Americans are so friendly. When they come up to greet me, they are always smiling and shaking my hand! I am always happy to meet new people at tournaments. No matter where in the world we come from, we fighting game players share a common language, hobby, and passion. I think it is amazing that through fighting games, we can become so easily acquainted with strangers.
What motivated you to come to EVO, making your first trip to the USA?
I was playing Super Street Fighter 4 a lot and had worked hard to improve my skills. My friend Zhi recommended that I go to EVO and test my skill on the worldwide stage because he believed that I had a chance of performing well. I decided to follow his recommendation.
Did you expect to perform as well as you did? (5th place singles tournament, winner of after-hours Salty Suites buy-in tournament)
I don’t enter a tournament with a pre-set goal to make it to top 8, to win the tournament, etc. My philosophy is to take each match one at a time and not think so far into the future. If you win, don’t be too happy and let the victory go to your head. Compose yourself and get ready for the next match. If you lose, don’t be too sad because everybody will lose at some point. Reflect on the match, try to think about what you could have done differently, and then move on. Both winning and losing can affect you emotionally and cloud your judgement. Don’t spend too much time thinking about the past. Live in the present.
I noticed both at EVO and Season’s Beatings, you were wearing NVIDIA shirts. Are you sponsored by them or any company?
In April 2010, I helped NVIDIA Taiwan with promotions for 3D glasses and their NVIDIA 3D Vision technology. They held public demonstration areas where people could test out the 3D glasses and challenge me in Street Fighter 4 PC.
So your involvement with NVIDIA started before EVO 2010. At that time, you hadn’t become a Street Fighter 4 star yet. How did NVIDIA find you?
I was invited by acquaintances I have at NVIDIA Taiwan.
Is NVIDIA helping to support you in any way? Are they a sponsor in the sense of providing a salary and supporting travel expenses?
Not in that way. After I helped NVIDIA out with that promotion, they gave me a 3D monitor and glasses but that was the extent of any compensation. They are not paying me to wear their shirts but I enjoy wearing them to competitions as a favor to them and out of goodwill and loyalty.
Do you think they’ll sponsor you in the future?
It is not impossible, but I am not expecting it and don’t think it’ll happen.
Did you know that recently many players in the U.S. have been sponsored? Ricky Ortiz, Marn, Justin Wong, Juicebox Abel, just to name a few. Also Daigo is sponsored by American company MadCatz. Are there any Taiwanese players who are sponsored in any videogame?
Not in any fighting games. I think the only sponsored players are with PC games like Starcraft.
When you returned to Taiwan after EVO, you had a couple TV appearances, including a report on Taiwan national news. Did this spark increased interest in the fighting game community in Taiwan? Have more people been showing up at Taiwan tournaments?
We have a very small community in Taiwan so anybody who plays fighting games already knows everybody. Despite the TV publicity, there has been no difference in the growth of our scene. There is no greater interest in fighting games. The same number of people as before are showing up at tournaments, which is only a handful.
That’s a little surprising to me.
I think the reason is because the Taiwanese government has long associated video games with a negative connotation. People in Taiwan are generally conservative so they will not actively seek out something like this with a negative stigma.
Actually, I just remembered that thanks to the TV news report, people at my workplace found out about my EVO trip and fighting game hobby. It is interesting for them to learn about a different side of me. However, it is also bad news!
Because if I do something wrong at work, they can put on a disappointed face and say, “Gamerbee… how about spend less time playing games and try harder at work?” *laughs*
Have any strangers in Taiwan recognized you in public?
Do your parents know about your gaming career and what do they think about it?
Yes, they know. I believe they are proud of me, though I can’t say for sure. Regardless, I am old enough to be independent and to make my own decisions about what I choose to do.
After EVO, when you returned to Taiwan, a large group from your community was waiting for you at the airport to welcome you home. It seems that the Taiwan scene is very tightly knit and you are all friends. The U.S. fighting game community sometimes has a reputation for trash talking and bad blood. Does Taiwan have anything like that?
Not really. I have seen players pound the table or do things like that when they lose, but it’s always because they’re mad at themselves, not directed at other people. I don’t think there’s any player grudges or anything like that.
Why do you think that is? Cultural differences?
Americans are more outgoing and readily display their emotions on the surface. Sometimes they take their emotions too far and fighting games become far too personal. Taiwanese people have more self-restraint and know not to take it too far.
But that doesn’t mean America’s style is bad. I think playing in America is more fun than playing in Taiwan. People are a lot more active and vocal, which makes for more exciting matches. Especially when somebody makes a big comeback, the excitement and energy in the crowd is tremendous. It is so much fun to be a part of. Taiwanese players are usually more reserved.
In a previous interview by Season’s Beatings, you said that you have been playing fighting games for 20 years. What is your all-time favorite fighting game?
Virtua Fighter 3 or 4. I love the design and game mechanics of this series. Skill is of utmost importance in Virtua Fighter. There is not a lot of luck involved and the best player always wins. It is a very technical game where if you’re strong, you will win.
Do you have a favorite Street Fighter player to watch?
I like watching all top level competition from around the world.
What is your personal goal in Street Fighter?
The competition and the never-ending quest to improve myself is my favorite part about fighting games. My goal is to never stop striving to become stronger.
Recently Yun and Yang have been revealed for arcade version of SSF4. There are rumored to be several additional characters left to be unveiled — any Street Fighter favorites that you want to see?
Not especially. I think there’s already enough characters in the game! But if they want to add more, I want to see a Taiwanese character. Like how Juri is the first Korean character, I would love to see the first Taiwanese character in Street Fighter.
Final thoughts and advice for the fighting game community at large?
Have fun playing the game. Work hard at training and do your best in competition, but don’t take the results personally. Relax while you play because this is supposed to be fun. Don’t focus on beating a certain player. Instead, learn as much as you can, elevate yourself to higher levels, and things will take care of themselves.
Season’s Beatings ended with GamerBee defeating Arturo Sanchez, Justin Wong, and many other strong adversaries. He ultimately beat Momochi to win 1st place in the SSF4 tournament. After his win, I asked him a few follow-up questions as an addendum to the original interview.
Congratulations on winning! What matches in the tournament did you find the most challenging?
Arturo and Justin Wong gave me the biggest challenges. And I had to fight both of them twice! Those were the matches I was most worried about and the matches were extremely tense.
Were you caught off-guard by Justin Wong’s Makoto?
Yes, I was very surprised. But after I lost to him in winner’s bracket, I had some moments to think about the match-up more. When I faced him in loser’s finals, I was better prepared mentally to take him on. It was still a very close fight. Justin really gave me a scare.
What are your thoughts about the grand finals with Momochi?
Momochi does not know the Adon match-up at all, so I feel ashamed that the final outcome of the tournament had to be decided this way. After I beat him in the first set of grand finals and sent Momochi to loser’s bracket, we had to play a second set to decide the winner. At that point, I felt very badly for him and my heart wasn’t in it any more.
You shouldn’t feel bad about Momochi not knowing the match-up. It is his responsibility to prepare for all match-ups coming into this tournament. Japan had Super Street Fighter 4 just as long as everybody else in the world so I don’t think it’s necessary to make excuses for him.
*shrug* I don’t think it’s fair for Momochi. Even though I beat him, it is a hollow victory.
Yesterday when I interviewed you, you said that you’re not a top player. Now that you’ve won the Season’s Beatings tournament, do you think you’ve elevated your status?
No, I still feel the same as I originally did. Beating Momochi this way does not prove anything.
My sincere appreciation to GamerBee for taking the time during the tournament to chat with me. He is an incredibly humble competitor. No matter what he says, I believe he’s one of the top players in the world, and I’m sure many people will agree with me. GamerBee’s story does not end here. Look forward to his continuing adventures! Next stop: Southern California.
I will be posting on my site a collection of photos from Season’s Beatings in the next couple days. I hope everybody watching the tournament, both via the online stream and live at the venue, enjoyed the weekend’s events!
UPDATE: Photo gallery now up. Enjoy!