It doesn’t matter if you’re on the Evo main stage or playing Marvel vs. Capcom with your friends — The intensity in fighting games is always the same.
It’s a duel; two people relying on their guts, their reads and their reflexes. You win on your own terms, after making enough smart decisions over the course of 90 seconds. I’ve always appreciated the honesty in that.
I’ve been playing fighting games competitively for more than a decade, and in that time I’ve seen thousands of players filter through the scene. But there are a select few who are on another level. How can you tell? You’ll see them do things that seem impossible. Have you ever played a game of Street Fighter against someone who seems to read your mind? Then you know what I’m talking about.
I’ve had the privilege of facing off against the best players in the world in practically every fighting game under the sun, and in my opinion, these five are the toughest to beat.
It feels right to start with the first guy who really opened my eyes to what it takes to compete at the highest level.
Eddie Lee was the best player on the New York scene when I showed up. I didn’t even know who he was when I first met him, I just remember he absolutely destroyed me and my friends in the first Marvel vs. Capcom at an arcade after we got out of school. I probably spent something like $20 in quarters trying to get just one win on Eddie. And I couldn’t — at all. He put me in my place.
As I started to get more involved in the fighting game scene, I learned more about Eddie’s reputation. On the East Coast and probably beyond, everyone knew him as the best. He was dominant in every game he touched — Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter III: Third Strike, it didn’t matter. I’m someone who plays a lot of different fighting games — everything from Killer Instinct to Mortal Kombat — so I think Eddie was an early inspiration to cast a wide net. I made surpassing him my goal.
But no matter how much I worked, he was always one step ahead of me. Eddie Lee was the king of “lame.” In fighting game talk, to “play lame” means to turtle throughout the match, bait out compromising moves, and just generally prey on the other player’s impatience. I remember watching him, and seeing how he won and I tried copying his strategy to see how he would deal with some of his own medicine. As I got older and better, I started taking games off Eddie here and there, and eventually he took a break from the scene.
I took over his throne after that. I was the best in the arcade and winning all these tournaments. But then two years later, Eddie returned to the scene, and I was sweating. During the two years he was away I didn’t come close to losing to anyone, but those games with Eddie were on a different level. Overall, I think I have a winning record over him now, but he was still the guy I always looked up to. Without him, I don’t think I would have the career that I do.
Eddie still comes around every now and then. In 2011, he randomly showed up to a local tournament and beat everyone in the loser’s bracket before disappearing again. I was like Damn, this is like some rare Pokemon thing.
There’s such an aura when you sit down next to Daigo. When I play against him, it’s like I can feel his Dragon Ball power level radiating onto me. He’s just so famous, and he’s done so much for the community, and he’s won all these tournaments. He’s the god. And when you play him, you realize you can never get a read on him.
Usually when I sit down next to a player I can run through my flowchart and figure out what they’re trying to do, and then approach the match accordingly. You can never do that with Daigo. You have to play your best game to have a chance against him. Your reactions need to always be on point to counter his. If you take one second to take a breather — boom — you’re done.
I’ve played Daigo a bunch of times, and I’ve never known what to expect. Is he going to go on the offensive? Is he just going to lay back and throw fireballs? If I’m studying matches online, within five matches of watching the same person I can identify all their habits and nuances pretty quickly. But if you watch five Daigo matches, it feels like you’re watching five different players. He’s that good.
Also, I have to mention the Daigo Parry. It’s become the most famous moment in fighting game history.
It was Evo 2004 at Cal State Pomona. Daigo and I were playing to see who would meet KO in the Grand Finals. Everyone there wanted to see me win, and it looked like I was about to when I got Daigo down to one pixel of health. So I popped my super move to finish him, and he parried every single one of my 14 strikes. I was 17 at the time, and when it happened I was just like, This is impossible. Remember, this was before social media. I had never seen anyone do that before. I thought it was a guaranteed win. When he started parrying I just thought Oh, he’ll mess up eventually.
Yeah, I thought wrong.
He even used the fancy shoryuken to kill me afterwards for the maximum punish. I was just like, “Dude, I’m not even mad. That was sick.”
Chris G is the mirror version of me. We’re from the same city, the same arcade and we always end up going up against each other in tournaments. It happens all the time because we like to play multiple fighting games. When I go to a tournament, I know there’s a pretty good chance that I’m going to face off with Chris G at some point. It’s become almost a joke between us. You know in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, where Scott fights Nega Scott? It’s kinda like that.
Our strategies are so similar. We both love defense and baiting the opponent, so when you watch us play against each other, we’re both going to be mostly blocking and trying to launch a counterattack. What’s funny is that regardless of what fighting game we’re playing, our strategies don’t really change. Our sets look the same in Marvel, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, whatever. There’s never any doubt you’re watching a Justin Wong–Chris G match.
I’ve known Filipino Champ since he first started playing fighting games. He started from the bottom, and he just kept getting better and better.
What makes him stand out is how he digests a fighting game character. Like, let’s say he’s playing a character that has 30 moves. Filipino Champ makes sure that all 30 of those moves serve a purpose. The old-school mentality of fighting games usually means you take about 10 viable moves from a character and use them as your bread and butter. But Filipino Champ rejects that mindset. He thinks outside the box in how he plays, and that makes him really tough to compete against.
I see it all the time. Filipino Champ’s main character in Street Fighter is Dhalsim. I never lose to Dhalsim, but I’ve definitely lost to his Dhalsim. His defense is amazing, his reactions are on point, and he’s got a crazy arsenal compared to other Dhalsims — who are pretty much helpless once you get in close.
When I watch Filipino Champ play, it’s like he can see the Matrix. At the beginning of Street Fighter IV he was playing against Daigo, who was using his usual Ryu. At the time, everyone thought Daigo was unbeatable, but Champ played the Dhalsim-Ryu matchup perfectly. It got to the point where Daigo was telling other people “that Dhalsim is just too good.”
Filipino Champ puts his heart and soul into any character he plays, and it really shows.
When I’m playing in a tournament, Tokido is the guy I fear the most.
Tokido is my demon. Straight up. Usually I’ll eventually beat players. I’ll be like, “I got you this time!” But I was never able to fully conquer Tokido. He’s so good. In my mind, he’s definitely the best fighting game player of all time. He’s been successful in everything he’s played — Marvel, Tekken, Street Fighter, Guilty Gear. Basically, if I was the Terminator, he’s absolutely the T-1000. Everything I do, he’s able to do just a little bit better.
He plays really aggressively. Like when you’re up against Tokido, you know you’re gonna have to deal with someone up in your grille throughout the entire match. His biggest strength is that he knows how to make people crack. And when Tokido makes you crack, it hurts afterwards. You lose all composure, and you’re done. There’s no coming back from when Tokido cracks you. You’ve got no chance to win the round.
The dude is a mad scientist. It’s like having to go up against a robot. When I see his name next to mine in a bracket, I’m shook. I’m confident against everybody, except for Tokido. He makes me doubt himself.