Easily one of the most recognizable names in fighting game history, Justin “JWong” Wong has been winning major tournaments every year since claiming the MvC2 championship at B5 in 2001. He has been successful in nearly every game from SF3:3S, to CvS2, to SSF2T, to Tekken 6, to SF4 and SSF4 – even appearing in season two of Ultimate Gamer on TV!
Maj: Your MvC2 dominance was the initial reason you showed up on everyone’s radar. Later on you picked up 3S and SF4, and quickly started winning tournaments in those games too. How did your ground game become so strong without going through the traditional route of SF2 and SFA series?
The competition in New York back in the day was very fierce and I learned from watching them. I was always a combo Chinese kid but then I realized there was more than just having good execution.
I learned from Eddie Lee, Henry Cen, John Gordon, Norman Burges and many more about Street Fighter fundamentals. And my ground game naturally got stronger from traveling to tournaments and actually playing all different types of players and learning different type of styles.
Maj: How much of that is practice and how much of it is natural talent?
JWong: I practice a lot in any game when it first comes out. When I was younger, before MVC2 was announced and Eddie Lee was king of MVC1, I said, “If MVC2 ever comes out, I will be the best.” And they all laughed because I was some random Asian kid, right? But yea, it turned out that I did become the best in MVC2 haha.
But when the game came out, I went to the arcade from 10am playing against the computer ’til 8pm because I did have a curfew – I was only 14 at the time. But I had to train myself not to be a masher. I was definitely a flowchart player just mashing on Shoryukens and random supers, so it took me about 3 months to condition myself from mashing to actually normal button pressing. I would say that most of it is hard work but now it is easy for me to distinguish a fighting game.
Maj: Do you have any advice for players who want to develop a ground game as strong as yours?
JWong: Learning how to develop a strong ground game from me is really hard because my ground game isn’t purely 100% ground game. I have a mixture of reacting to whiff moves really well in there which makes it look like I have really strong ground game, but I probably have a great ground game not a superb one.
Usually my advice to studying the ground game would be to pick characters with really crap normals and try to win a poke/footsies war with that character. Then pick a character with tremendous normals and try to win a poke/footsies war. Then you start analyzing the range of “good” normals for specific characters and you examine their walk speed. From there I hope it clicks for you, but it’s not that easy because it does require a lot of thinking.
Like the way I play Rufus isn’t just dive kick maul go nuts. I try to use his “good” normals to the best of my ability. Like my main poke with Rufus is his sweep and it’s definitely not the fastest move in the game. But I am able to use that button like it was Balrog Sweep. So it really comes down to patience/dedication and thinking outside the box, because who would ever expect Rufus to have footsies?
Maj: Chun Li is your main character in 3S. C-Groove Vega/Sagat/Cammy/Blanka are your mains in CvS2. Rufus has been your main in SF4 and SSF4.
For the most part, these are very unpopular choices – either because they’re overly defensive characters who win by walking backward or because they’re Rufus. Why haven’t you picked up a popular rushdown character in all this time?
JWong: Before SF4, fighting games werent really mainstream right? And coming from an EC background, they were known as being lame and a bunch of turtles. That is the main reason for my character choices in 3S, CVS2, or any SF game.
I felt like Rufus was definitely a character that did not fit my style because I did come from a non-rush down area. But I thought to myself that SF4 will be popular so I kinda wanted to be exciting and showcase the game more than some Hadoukens and Shoryukens. Because fans of the game won’t understand the metagame between real smart play, but they do understand when a person is getting bodied.
That’s why I picked Rufus. He was a new character, with a new look and attitude and very offensive. Everyone tries to play Rufus but its really hard to win with him. Easy to do combos but hard to actually win with due to the character mechanics in general. SF4 can be pretty defensive and Rufus doesn’t really have good normals, or good meter management. All he really has is a good in-your-face pressure system, but getting that is the problem …
Maj: What about Fei Long? I thought you were on the right track with him in Street Fighter IV, but that phase didn’t last very long.
JWong: There is a back story to me playing Fei Long. I only played Fei Long because certain individuals in the EC (no mentioning names) said I can only win with Rufus, so I decided to prove them wrong with a character that people say has no possible fan base and no one really wanted to give him a shot. And that is why I picked Fei Long and I won my first tourney with straight Fei Long against all the top NYC players.
I only really picked him to prove a point that I wasn’t just a Rufus scrub. But I would never main Fei long just because I like Rufus’s playstyle alot. I dropped Fei long in Super because everyone started to play him and I dont really enjoy highly picked characters.
That is also why I dropped Abel and why I liked Mak in Super – because I want to encourage people not to complain about their characters. There will always be tiers in any competitive game, so all you can do is just work hard.
Maj: Don’t get me wrong, i’ve got nothing against your choice of Rufus, even though a lot of people hated him in SF4 so he’s clearly not as popular as Guy or Adon.
I just can’t help but think back to Evo2k2 when Tokido busted out those Urien unblockables on your Chun Li, or Evo2k4 when Daigo parried your super. Do you think all those people would’ve cheered against you if you were playing Alex or Makoto instead of the most hated character in 3rd Strike?
JWong: Well I really think it was a WC > EC thing because even back then EC cheered for me, even when I was playing those lame tier whore characters. lol. I just think that the WC at the time didn’t want a EC player taking all the credit against international just because before I came on the scene, WC were the ones that dominated every fighting game.
Plus, I hear stories of how prejudiced the WC players were from old school EC players, so I don’t think character choice at the time was anything special.
Maj: Right, i suppose “popularity” is always a complex puzzle, and everyone has a different perspective on it. In any case, what you accomplished with Marvel was remarkable and almost inexplicable. What allowed you to be so successful, so consistently?
JWong: Well I dedicated so much time in MVC2. I played from 10am – 8pm at the arcades in New York. I didn’t mind playing the computer because sometimes the computer can teach you some unique things about the character. I did get bored, but practicing my combos on moving targets helped alot to ensure my execution so I don’t choke as much in tournaments.
And back in the day, there was no training mode, so you HAD to expose yourself at the arcades and that is where you can learn the best. I learned practically every character in MVC2 and know each character’s limits and possiblities when it comes to tournament play.
Maj: Was there a specific moment when you realized that you might actually be the best?
JWong: I thought I was the best around B4 time. I was supposed to go to B4 at the time but I was still too young to do anything and I had that leash from my parents. But I helped Eddie Lee prepare for the tourney.
I actually invented Strider/Cable/Doom at the time which is what Eddie Lee repped at MWC that year and B4. So he made my team famous but now everyone thinks of Clockwork – even though Clockwork is godlike. And I heard rumors that the EC players who went to B4 were saying some fat husky Asian fob was the best in MVC2 in NYC which was ME. LOL
Maj: Really, B4?! Props for confidence, but come on now – you hadn’t even played the reigning West Coast MvC2 champ Duc Do until B5, the following year.
JWong: Well I didn’t know about standings or what not. I wasn’t sure if I would win yet, but the gap between me and Eddie Lee who was 2nd best in NYC was really high.
I could see myself losing early in tourney just because I could’ve gotten nervous or been uncomfortable. But I was pretty confident against Spiral because When Eddie Lee bought back Spiral to the EC, I beat it pretty bad. Granted, Duc’s Spiral was 100x better than Eddie at the time but I think anything could’ve happened at B4 because it was the first year of MVC2 and people were still playing unique teams with Iceman and Venom.
Maj: Are you planning on playing Marvel vs Capcom 3 with the same dedication?
The game resembles Tatsunoko vs Capcom more than MVC2 but since MVC3 will be out for Xbox/PS3, it will help the numbers alot. And also there are really cool characters, and I feel like that this game, anything can happen.
Yes there are tiers but I think it might not matter since almost every character has fewer limits, meaning you can basically do anything you want. If you think it, most of the time, it could happen.
Maj: What do you think will happen to the MvC2 scene once MvC3 is out?
JWong: I hope the MVC2 scene will carry over to MVC3. But be warned that even if you’re a top MVC2 player, you’re not guaranteed to be godlike at the game. The game clearly does not play as close to MVC2 as everyone thinks it does.
And I hope that the MVC2 scene doesn’t complain about MVC3 gameplay because they have a strong input to the community, and most of the time MVC2 players complain too much about “Oh this has to be on Dreamcast, why is the tourney on PS3, and yada yada yada.”
Sometimes you have to get with the times, simple as that.
Maj: Who do you expect to be your toughest opponents?
JWong: I expect players who know how to play fighting games will be my toughest opponents. Just a one-game player will be less of a threat. MVC3 is made for people who can adapt in a fighting game, so I hope to see 100x more players than SSF4 has.
Maj: “How do you feel being bodied by James Chen in Super Turbo at B5, making James Chen 1-0 against you in ST tournaments?” – James Chen
JWong: James Chen did body me at B5 but I was like 15 at the time playing an old man’s game (lol no pun intended). But I did get alot better in ST since then.
James is one of the only old school players I have yet to beat in ST, but I beat some killers though (cough David Sirlin cough).
Maj: Haha seriously though, what’s your opinion of ST and what are your all-time favorite games?
JWong: I love ST alot. Even though I play a very cheap character aka Ol’ Sagat. The game is cheap. And I believe that cheap games are really fun because as the individual, you want to overcome the cheapness. I would love to play ST at every tournament which I already do, but I wouldn’t play HDR unless I wanted to beat certain individuals because they think they are nice. LOL
And my all time favorite game for fighters has to be Marvel 2 just because that’s what made me, and I put all my time and dedication to it. My favorite puzzle game would be Magical Drop 3. I’ll play anyone for money because I am the best. (Open challenge!)
Justin Wong currently works as a community rep for a studio developing online games. He continues to compete in both local and major national fighting game tournaments, under sponsorship from EG. You can follow him on twitter or visit his personal website.