As the first person ever to win two marquee Evo World tournaments over a single weekend, John “ChoiBoy” Choi is really good at Street Fighter. If you’ve ever met John Choi in the Losers Bracket of any tournament, chances are you’ve lost to John Choi. He was kind enough to answer five of my questions, and even obliged several extra follow-ups.
Maj: You’ve been the first name everyone associates with NorCal for as long as i’ve been part of this scene, but i know that the original NorCal/SoCal rivalry was Thomas Osaki vs Tomo Ohira. How did you inherit the crown from Thomas Osaki?
ChoiBoy: This is pretty simple. Thomas dropped out of the scene after Super Turbo days and got into Quake. I stuck around and been at it ever since. Thomas did return a couple of years later and even attended EVO, but he got caught in the black bracket of death and was eliminated by me. :)
I’ve been in the scene for a long time and organized various events including Super Battle Opera qualifications and NorCal Regionals. I like NorCal very much and I don’t see myself living anywhere else. Especially since I just bought a home here. So you can expect me to be continuously involved with the scene here for as long as I can!
Maj: Ah okay. So if Thomas simply vacated the throne, was there anyone you had to beat to claim his position? There must have been other players vying for that spot.
ChoiBoy: The other players are names you may have heard of: Jason Cole, Jason Nelson, Graham and Alex Wolfe. They are all excellent players but due to other life obligations, their level of participation has waned over the years. Note that ‘other life obligations’ is simply a euphemism for getting old and slow. Believe me, I feel it in my joints whenever I play on my ancient MAS stick. =)
Note that it wasn’t until years later that Ricky Ortiz became a household name. Now we have great new talent to replace the old guard such as Ryan “Filipino Champ” Ramirez and Vance “Vangief” Wu. I’m sure you will hear those names for a long time to come.
Maj: You once told me that you only need to practice a couple of hours per week to stay on top of your game. Yet you’re one of the only players to successfully make the transition from oldschool Street Fighter to highly technical newschool games likes SFA3 and CvS2. You even won ST and CvS2 in the same year at Evo2k8! What’s your secret?
ChoiBoy: I don’t have a secret. I guess you can attribute some of my success to my simple play style and character. I’ve mained FB/DP characters such as Ryu for a very long time. Due to years of experience, I’ve developed good fundamentals that can apply in multiple SF versions. This also doesn’t require lots of practice time as Ryu does not need crazy execution or combos to be effective. Just the basic FB/DP game is effective enough to keep you competitive.
I guess knowing Ryu fundamentals keeps you kind of timeless. I don’t have the best execution, the fastest reflex, or the most technical knowledge about a game, but I’m able to get by with timeless techniques. I don’t do anything fancy or complicated. I just throw some doukens and mash on DP and it somehow works! :)
Maj: Haha doukens. Come on now, no need to be so modest sir. If the FB/DP game is so basic, then why is Ryu always represented by the same 5-10 players in major tournament finals? You must be doing something right!
ChoiBoy: Ryu’s character design is wonderful because he is simple to play but difficult to master. In general he tends to be a pretty balanced character with not just a few overpowered moves to rely on, but rather a large set of standard moves that often have very specific uses.
So his solutions for gameplay situations are much more complex than some other characters. His gameplay may look simplistic but there are very minuscule things that mean a lot. As a result, a lot of new players tend to lean towards Ryu during the early stages but often end up hitting a plateau and end up switching to a different character.
This may be why you don’t see expert Ryu players just coming out of nowhere, as it takes a long time learn to use him effectively at high levels. I’ve always liked his design, so the years of experience I’ve dedicated have allowed me to enjoy some success now.
Maj: You’re one of the few people who stands a legitimate chance of winning multiple Evo events every year, but it seems you never really got into SF4/SSF4. What’s been holding you back?
ChoiBoy: There’s a few reasons for this. One reason was that when SF4 was released, I didn’t like the game all that much. It was very different from previous SF verions and it took me a while to get used to it. Now I enjoy the game a lot more but back then I didn’t want to get into it much.
Another reason was I was enrolled in grad school which ate into most of my free time. And finally family matters kept me very occupied. My father was diagnosed with cancer which led to a lot of family changes. As a result, I naturally curved back on SF. I went from attending multiple tourneys a year down to only EVO and a few local ones.
However, I recently finished my graduate program and my family matters have sort of passed. So I’m trying to get back into things. Hopefully I’ll be able to give it a real go at EVO next year.
Maj: In your professional opinion, why does Justin always lose to Daigo?
ChoiBoy: This question is a little unfair to Justin. You can replace Justin’s name with any other and it would be the same result, “Why does _____ always lose to Daigo?”
In general, Japanese Street Fighters are ahead of the rest of the world. This is mainly a result of their incredibly large player base. Naturally, areas with the largest talent pool to choose from end up having more success than counterparts with smaller pools. This is the primary reason Koreans rule the Starcraft world, Americans own Marvel, Chinese own ping pong, etc.
Of course, this isn’t to say that you can’t have good players come out of smaller pools but overall, the larger player base will have the advantage. Justin is an excellent player and if he was submerged in the Japanese environment, maybe we would see different results. Can you imagine if Justin grew up in Japan and Daigo in the US? What would be the result then?
A fat and obnoxious Daigo losing to skinny and calm Justin? J/king. I love you Justin <3 Maj: Haha i like how no matter how you flip the script, Justin still can’t drive. Seriously though, i totally agree with you that Daigo has a clear environmental advantage over Justin.
But i was wondering if maybe there was more to it than that. Is there something in Daigo’s style that gives Justin trouble?
ChoiBoy: Justin is an exceptional player and very good at adapting to your style. But Justin has a passive style and slowly drags out matches to really analyze and adapt your style. He is tough mentally and has been known to annoy and ‘lame out’ opponents so that they basically get tired and kill themselves.
Daigo is very good about pushing you off your comfort zone as you play. Sometimes he will be really aggressive. Sometimes he will run away (yes, Daigo does turtle as needed to win). And sometimes he just goes crazy (at least we think so).
An example is this past EVO in the grand finals vs Ricky Ortiz. Ricky is known for a very mean throw/dive kick mixup game whenever he gets close. The early few games, Daigo constantly DP’d whenever Ricky got near. He would just DP even without an ultra charged to do just a tiny bit of damage. But the damage he inflicted was not just against Rufus’ health. It was also for the meta game to throw Ricky off balance.
He basically trained Ricky that he will DP whenever Rufus gets near, no matter what. This really threw Ricky off and made him think twice about doing throw/dive kick trickery whenever he got near. Once Ricky got a little bit reluctant to attack freely, Daigo picked up on this and started to FB non stop and actually got close and rushed Rufus down.
Then in the final game you see Ricky do a dive kick to get near, then opt to block instead of doing a mixup. Daigo takes advantage by simplying throwing Ricky. Later when I talked to Ricky about the match, he stated, “All he did was DP! He played like a scrub!” It may seem scrubby but it was perfect to throw Ricky off balance.
Justin is exceptional at laming you out and adapting, but Daigo plays very unique and doesn’t allow himself to have a pattern to be picked up and analyzed.
This is one of the great traits of Alex Valle. Out of all the top players I know, he has one of the lowest execution skills, yet he manages to consistently be in the winner’s circle. I believe a lot of this has to do with his great intuition but also his very unorthodox gameplay. Alex does very non-standard things in many situations. It may seem like he’s “playing like a scrub” but his ability to always be unpredictable and do seemly stupid moves is actually really smart in the meta game. And this is easily reflected in his consistent tournament standing.
Maj: Wow, good answer sir. Truthfully though, the real question i wanted to ask has nothing to do with Justin. Daigo vs Justin happened to be a convenient example, but mainly i’m wondering what’s going on in your head when you watch matches?
ChoiBoy: I love watching matches as it gives me new ideas and techniques to try. But other than just watching as an observer, I also like to watch matches from just one character point of view. That is, I pretend I’m controlling one character and think about how I would attack/defend with each situation as the match progresses on.
This helps me to pick up on my patterns that may be too obvious or not ideal per situation. If I feel like I’m always thinking, ‘Do attack A’ whenever I get placed in the same situation, this is something the opponent may pick up on as well. So I try to come up with several ways for dealing with every situation and hence increase my repertoire of responses so that it is harder to pick up on.
I encourage players to watch lots of match videos so that they can do this. And also watch videos of yourself. It’s always easier to pickup on things as an observer than the participant.
Maj: Okay, let’s wrap this up with some more quality nostalgia. Tell me a Mike Watson story that predates the internet.
ChoiBoy: This doesn’t predate the internet and Mike may hate me for this but here goes nothing. :)
Mike Watson is half Chinese if you didn’t know that. He doesn’t really look it so I had no idea either until one day he busted out his Chinese when we were at a restaurant. I was thinking to myself, how does a white guy speak Chinese so well?
Anyway, the Asian blood must be strong in him since he is a super light weight when it comes to drinking. Just give the man 1 Corona and he is donezo. The time we were all in Japan for the US vs Japan event, he drank a few beers and was completely done.
As he stumbled down the steps to get to the train, he threw up all over the stairs. I then look up and see the police walking over to us. I was thinking like an American and thought, “Oh shit, Mike is going to jail for public intoxication.”
Well this was Japan and things are very different there. The police simply asked if he was okay as they helped him up. When we said he was fine, they were very courteous and just left us be. Quite a change from what you would see in the states. Anyway, I think his tolerance has gone up and he can now down 1.5 Coronas. ^_-
John Choi has placed within top 8 at numerous Evolution tournaments, in addition to winning the CvS2 and SSF2T titles at Evo2k8. He organizes the annual NCR major and helps run various local tournaments. You can follow him on twitter or follow his exploits via his roommate’s blog.