Justin Wong Interview – The Fighting Game Legend Discusses Fatherhood, Career History and Rivalries
While attending the Reno Revolution tournament, we spoke to Justin Wong about his personal life, viewpoints, and history with the Fighting Game Community.
Justin Wong is arguably one of the best fighting game players in the world as he has won nine EVO (Evolution Championship Series) titles throughout his career across numerous titles. Starting with Marvel vs Capcom and spanning across other franchises like Street Fighter and Samurai Shodown, Wong is undeniably a master of the genre.
Over the past few years, Wong has had major shifts throughout his life, including becoming the father of an adorable baby girl and sponsoring other players. Over this past weekend, he attended the Reno Revolution tournament in Reno, Nevada. As a local, I was able to sit down with Justin and discuss with him his life changes, thoughts on the fighting game community, and his competitive history.
Cameron: First off I want to congratulate you on becoming a father.
Justin Wong: Oh, Thank you!
C: What’s it like being a father and how has that affected your gaming career now having this new profound responsibility?
JW: It’s pretty tough. A lot of times I don’t get to practice as much as I use to because I would either be watching Harper, changing a diaper, or I don’t want to press the buttons too loud because she’s sleeping. So a lot of times I’m mainly just watching videos instead of getting hands-on experience. I would say that affects my gameplay, but because I’ve been focusing more on the content creating side and also the influencer side I’ve been doing better at stepping that up versus my overall pro gaming skills.
C: For CEO this year you decided to sponsor five players to help them compete. What made you make that decision and do you see yourself that more in the future?
JW: I’ve been sponsoring players for a long time now. So usually LostSoul is someone I sponsor a lot. Before Shine got picked up I sponsored him at almost every tournament for the past two years. It’s one of those things where I feel like I understand where people are coming from where they don’t get an opportunity. A lot of players get overlooked, right? I want to give them an opportunity to understand that it is not that easy. Especially when people on Twitter are like “oh, this guy should be sponsored,” and I’m like “what defines that?” I stream a lot so I watch a lot of people and I watch a lot of streams so I know who I believe deserves a chance to go to a major tournament, show off their skills, and maybe get a sponsor.
I don’t really look for a return from these players. I don’t ask if they win “hey give me money,” or “refund me your plane ticket and hotel.” I just want them to get their feet wet in the water and become bigger than they already are. It’s just one of those things where I want to give back to the FGC (fighting game community) because the FGC has given me so much. It has given me my life. I have been playing games forever and without FGC I don’t know what I would be doing. Maybe I’d still be living in New York, poverty life, but I would say now because the FGC has been supporting me so much I want to do the same for them.
That’s why I sponsored five players for CEO, and at EVO I sponsored another five players. It’s just really nice and I obviously see myself doing it more in the future for major tournaments, but I would say now after EVO is done it is hard to pick a good tournament to sponsor somebody. It’s towards the end of the year, but we’ll see. A lot of times some people do ask me “Hey, can you fly me out?” and I don’t like that. Usually, when I feel like sponsoring somebody I’m going to do it. It really just depends on my mood, the tournament, and if I really believe that this person deserves a shot.
C: For those players that are looking to get sponsored, what is the best way to approach you if they feel like you’d be willing to give them a shot?
JW: Investment. You have to show me that you’re willing to spend your own money to go out to a major. When I was growing up I never told my family, so they never helped me get to a tournament. I had to win local tournaments. I had to grind and work a part-time job at Dave and Busters or Circuit City and save up that money to fly out to a tournament. Flying out to a tournament is really expensive. You’re probably spending $700 minimum. If you’re going to EVO you’re spending $1,000 minimum. I need to see you investing your own money, your own time. If you’re a streamer, you can do a donation goal to take you to a tournament. I need to see how much do you want it.
Just because you get ultra diamond or ultimate grandmaster online – that means that you’re good at the game but it doesn’t tell me how bad you want it. So I feel like, when players invest their time I’m going to know that. I’m going to know the non-sponsored players because when you see a stream you’re going to see players with a tag, with no tag, and you can tell from there that this player has invested their money to go to this tournament. So I would say a huge plus for me is if I know you’re going to pay your own way to go to a tournament. Eventually, because there are so many tournaments, you can’t go to all of them. I keep by, I keep trying because I’m a super stream monster and I think that’s one of the deciding factors.
C: What fighting game do you think has been overlooked the most in the past decade?
JW: Oh man, over a decade? Tekken. I feel like now Tekken is now super hot, but Tekken was always cool, it was always great.
C: Do you have a specific Tekken like Tekken 5 or Tekken 6 or just the franchise in general?
JW: I would say Tekken in general. I was a huge fan of Tekken 5. I played a crap ton, but I feel like the Tekken community didn’t get a lot of love that they deserved. Compared to now, everyone has bandwagoned and jumped in like “I’m going to play Tekken now,” and it’s great. Tekken World Tour did a lot of good things, especially the new rules with the dojo, so that’s really cool. All this time Tekken has always been there, always been hype. I love watching it. The talent worldwide, it rivals Street Fighter or even surpasses it because of so many places like South America, Pakistan, and then you have the dominant countries like Korea, North America, Japan, and the U.K. Then you have these fairy tale Cinderella stories of players from third world countries winning. Last week I think Peru defended the home turf against Korea, Japan, and Thailand, that’s amazing. Tekken deserves all the love.
C: Tekken is kind of similar to SoulCalibur right? SoulCalibur’s competitive scene has been inconsistent for a while, but now it has started to rise up again. What are your thoughts on that?
JW: Yeah. I think it is because there weren’t that many tournaments that put SoulCalibur in their roster. Obviously now SoulCalibur is an EVO game and is being taken more seriously. People got sponsored from Singapore and Japan who play the game. I would say the problem with past SoulCalibur games is that the community itself kind of just waited. I think that’s the main problem. If you want your game to grow you have to step up and like I said before invest your time, invest into your tournaments and locals making it popular, making it known. That’s what the internet is here for, to make people notice your game and your community.
C: If you could bring back one game to the competitive scene which would it be?
JW: Oh man, I’m going to say Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3. I love that game a lot. Not as much as I love Marvel vs Capcom 2, but I just love how passionate the community was. I believe truly the last time EVO was super hype was during the Marvel vs Capcom 3 series. Now you don’t get that same passion, same emotion in my opinion. If you watch some of the crowd reactions, it’s insane. Even now people are trying to revive it. It still does well, there are still a lot of entrants for it, but I want to see it back on the EVO main stage because the rivalry, the stories, the passion was just so crazy, so good.
C: Yeah definitely! That actually helps set up my next question. It seems that Marvel vs Capcom Infinite was a let down for fans of the franchise. What do you think Capcom needs to do to bring players back?
JW: Well, Marvel vs Capcom Infinite looks bad, but the game itself is actually pretty good. If you’re a hardcore fighting game fan, you would like Marvel vs Capcom Infinite, but in terms of the aesthetic of how it looks? Trash. But, if Capcom wants to win back the fans, I really do feel like Marvel vs Capcom 3 had the perfect layout. The character select screens, how the characters look, how they were designed in terms of creativity, it was just so amazing. The fact that the select screen was a comic book, it was a legitimate comic book, it looks beautiful. The characters itself, like Spider-Man, that’s a real Spider-Man. I think they should just make a sequel to that version of the game and call it Marvel vs Capcom 4. Don’t call it Marvel vs Capcom Infinite. You need to keep using the numbers, in my opinion, to get that same “oh I’m so excited for this game,” mentality.
I do believe that Marvel Infinite would have done well if they released it during the same time as Avengers: Infinity War, but because they released it a year before the movie came out and it wasn’t polished as well. If they spent another year, it would have been a huge success. It was too rushed in my opinion. You’re trying to compete against Dragon Ball, where it looks beautiful. You can just watch Dragon Ball for days because of how amazing the art is and even the transitions from the actual anime to the game, it’s super on point. A lot of reasons why Marvel vs Capcom Infinite did so bad is because of poor decisions from Capcom.
C: So you’re primarily known for playing side by side fighting games like Street Fighter, Samurai Shodown, and Marvel vs Capcom. Have you ever thought about competing seriously in arena fighters like Tekken or SoulCalibur? Maybe Smash Bros?
JW: I used to play a lot of Tekken. I got Top 8 for Tekken 5 at EVO once, but I really do believe that in today’s competitive series if you want to play a main game and do well at it, you have to drop your current main game. If I wanted to get good at Tekken 7 or Smash Brothers I’d need to drop Street Fighter for that or whatever I’m playing to only focus on those to games. There is so much to learn, the competition ceiling is really far. The amount of players that are so good at a game, it’s a lot, and because of that, it’s not easy to pick up any game that is a major game or has a pro tour. You have to take it really seriously. There are other people that main the game, only that game, breathe the game, and they’ll body you. If I wanted to play Tekken 7 super hard competitively then I would drop everything else. If I want to play for fun, then I will play for fun.
C: Following up on that, you decided to drop out of Street Fighter to focus on Samurai Shodown at EVO this year. What was your decision behind that?
JW: So I don’t really play Street Fighter V anymore like that and during EVO my main goal was to focus on Samurai Shodown. Samurai Shodown and Street Fighter V were during the same times, and I just wanted to focus on Samurai Shodown because it’s my current favorite fighting game. I’m not a fan of Season 4 of Street Fighter V. I love watching, but I hate being the one taking the mixups because it’s super oppressive. There’s not a lot of balance when it comes to defensive side versus offense. It’s a super aggressive game. That’s why I’m not a huge fan of this version of Street Fighter. Samurai Shodown has a lot of good options for both offense and defense, so I really think that Samurai Shodown by SNK is a really good game for people to pick up.
C: What are three tips would you give an inspired competitive player itching to become pro?
JW: One is execution, you need to practice execution. A lot of times people drop combos and if you drop combos you lose. So execution is a really huge key, practice your execution. Two, I would say, understand frame data because with today’s games it really revolves around frame data knowing when it’s plus or when you’re minus. It’s kind of like doing math. You need to be really good about understanding that if I kick you at this range I’m going to be plus here, or if I punch you at this range I’m going to be minus so I shouldn’t press another button. Number three is watching a lot of YouTube videos, watching a lot of streams, and watching a lot of all that stuff to know your competition so you have knowledge of what you’re going to be up against in the future as well as what are the things that separate their gameplay to your gameplay and how you can put their gameplay into your gameplay. Also, if you ever run into them you know what their tricks and strategies are, so you can look for them and counter them.
C: Based on your social media, you like to watch anime in your free time. Do you have any other hobbies? Any other games or franchises you like outside of the fighting game genre?
JW: I love puzzle games, I love MMOs, and I love RPGs. I’m just a natural gamer in general. Usually, it’s really hard to find games that aren’t time-consuming. I probably haven’t played an RPG for a really long time. You’re probably going to spend forty hours minimum for a good RPG trying to one hundred percent everything. I like to play non-fighting games that are quick. The current ones being mobile games. I’m a huge mobile game believer so now I’m playing Skullgirls, I guess that is a fighting game, and Teppen, a new card game. I love card games. Pokemon GO, and I am waiting for the new game that’s coming out next week: Pokemon Masters. I guess that’s a fighting game as well, but I’m definitely excited for Pokemon Masters.
I usually travel with my Switch everywhere and try to put more time into RPGs, so anytime they put up a classic RPG I’ll buy it. I’m hoping one day they will put Parasite Eve on the Switch, that’ll be nice. I know it’s on the Vita, but I’m not trying to carry two handhelds with me.
C: What would you consider your favorite fighting game of all time?
JW: Favorite fighting game of all time is an easy one, Marvel vs Capcom 2. I went super hard in the arcade and console. I have all the versions, Xbox, PS2, and Dreamcast. I’m a super huge Marvel vs Capcom 2 collector. That’s a game where I can lose track of time. So if I have a game that I can lose track of time then that means it’s a really good game for me.
C: Who would you consider to be your one true rival?
JW: Hmm…I would have to say it depends because there’s an old rival and a current rival. The old rival is Sanford Kelly. Sanford Kelly is the first player to beat me in a Marvel vs Capcom 2 tournament. There were also times where he would beat me in other games we played because we’re both multi-gamers. We play each other a lot in different games. For current, I going to say Chris G. He plays all the games I play as well and he also plays very similarly to my style. We both come from Chinatown Fair (a video arcade in Chinatown, Manhattan), so we kind of have that root. It is kind of cool that my two rivals are still from the arcade era of where I grew up.
C: So you are a nine-time EVO champion. Just an honest question, do you consider yourself overall as the greatest fighting game player of all time? If not who?
JW: Oh man… *laughs*
C: *laughs* I don’t know if you’ve ever been asked this question.
JW: I have, but it’s hard. I would say results-wise I’m probably the number one fighting game player of all time, results-wise. It will probably get beaten by SonicFox, but I will say in my heart who I believe is the best fighting game player of all time: Tokido. Tokido can play any game and be good at it and he has proven that. I would say because there are so many tournaments in America and I get invited to so many tournaments around the world, it just looks like on paper I’m the best fighting game player of all time. Based on results, sure, but based on my personal preference I’m going to say Tokido.