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NetLab Interview with Bonchan

Original: NetLab, publicized on Aug 13, 2017

"What will professional gamers do after retirement?"
Active professional gamer answers questions about the future of eSports.
– We asked a variety of questions such as "are pro-gamers popular with the girls?"

The first-ever professional fighting gamer in Japan was born in 2010. The charismatic player Daigo Umehara got sponsored by Mad Catz. Although many pro gamers have appeared in Japan after that, they don't draw much attention as few tournaments with big prizes are hold. While eSports is getting more attention year by year and the Japanese winner of SFV at Evo 2017 became a popular topic in Japan, "professional gamers" are still opaque existence to most of people except for some game enthusiasts.

How the future of pro gamers and eSports in Japan will come - Still, "video games" are often considered as "just for fun" and only a few people consider it as "competition." Under such a circumstance, how do pro gamers, trying an unprecedented task to make a living by "playing games," think about their future and the immature domestic eSports industry?

About retirement which all competior must eventually come to, the future of eSports, difference in circumstances between Japan and foreign countries, and "whether pro gamers are popular with the girls" and so on, we bluntly asked those questions to Bonchan, who is a pro gamer sponsored by Red Bull and fighting in the world of "Street Fighter V."

(Excerpt from Netlab)

It feels like "what the hell do they teach at pro gaming schools?"

NetLab: Could you please tell me your age and game history?

Bonchan: I'm 30 year old. I started playing games when I was in an upper grade of the elementary school. I played at the game arcade in a department until I bought games for home video game consoles. Red Bull offered sponsorship about two years ago.

NetLab: How many full-time pro gamers are there in Japan?

Bonchan: I think around ten in Japan... Although I don't know well about other games, most of SFV pro gamers sponsored by a company should be able to make a living.

NetLab: In what way do you get your income?

Bonchan: A remmitance is made every half a year and my manager divides and passes it to me every month. It's similar to an annual salary system. Aside from it, I can get a prize if winning a tournament. I don't write any book or deliver any speech.

NetLab: So, you'll be willing to deliver a speech if you are offered?

Bonchan: Well... it depends on what the offer is. For instance, now we have pro gaming schools, but I wouldn't accept any offer from them.

NetLab: What do you think about "pro gaming schools?"

Bonchan: It feels like "what the hell do they teach at pro gaming schools?" lol. Because there's no pro gamer who left such a school. Of course I don't play games other than fighting games nor know about it well, but in my arrogant opinion on our perspective, I feel like "who teaches?" because we have no precedent. I'm not going to do anything there. No contacts with them, no intention to be involved with them. Or rather, like, "don't approach me!" haha.

Post-retirement vision

NetLab: What about the results at the tournaments this year?

Bonchan: Well, I've not played as such a weak character up until now in my gaming life, so I'm feeling like it's surprising that I'm winning that much. In the past few years, I became one whom people expect to get good results, and I used to use an advantaged character for SFIV, so I'm facing a huge hurdle right now. But fortunately, the results at the tourneys are decent, and I think I have luck.

(Excerpt from Netlab)

NetLab: I'd like to ask about the future of pro gamers. Are you confident about continuing getting good results?

Bonchan: Yes. I believe I can.

NetLab: Are you realizing age-related decrease in refexes speed, or effects of decrease in physical strength?

Bonchan: Not at all. I have good reflexes by nature. But, since there's difference between the game system of SFV and SFIV, I stopped practicing "reacting after seeing." As a result of that, now there're more cases I'm unable to react. It's not because of aging, and the speed of thought doesn't decrease or I don't realize deterioration in playing. When considering my age, it's like, "I'm still fine, aren't I?" lol.

NetLab: Do you have any post-retirement vision?

Bonchan: Now, there's no "coach" in FGC, you know… But I'd say "no" if I'm asked. I'm not bad at teaching, but I'm not sure if people want to be taught by an "ex-strong player" and I'm not confident. Possibly, I will belong to a company...

NetLab: There are cases a top player went into a game developer and made adjustments to the balance. What about such a way?

Bonchan: I'm really willing. I don't do it right now because of the situation where I wouldn't be allowed to play games I was involved in the development of, though.

NetLab: Do you want to creat games?

Bonchan: Yes, I really want. I think I understand games similar to Street Fighter franchise because I've been involved in it for very long. I might be able to put forward good ideas for fighting games not similar to it although I don't play those kind of games for a long time. After all, the important in a game is whether it's fun, or not, I think. If I could show "what is fun, and what is boring," I probably would produce a good one.

I can't help but play SFV because of big prizes

NetLab: I think you're required to get good results as a pro...

Bonchan: Absolutely.

NetLab: Does the sponsor put pressure on you to get good results?

Bonchan: They don't. I'm kinda "humbled" for it. It's better to get good results than not to do, for sure. If I get good results, I can come to public attention and be interviewed as I'm being. But they don't, no such like "it will end unless you come in a particular place or higher in this tournament." Actually, I can decide which tournaments I'll attend to on my own. If any, it'd be like "I want you to attend to Evo." Of course I'm willing if they didn't tell it haha. I really feel easy for it.

NetLab: So, do you hear any stories such like a pro gamer is under the sponsor's severe pressure?

Bonchan: Of course there are, aren't there? they pay us money. Actually, I've heard a pro was told "it will end unless you get good results."

NetLab: Frankly speaking, I'd like to ask how much your annual income is...

Bonchan: Ah... well, I... don't have trouble making a living at all haha. I can't tell the detailed amount... sort of "I can afford to be married."

NetLab: You're now focusing on SFV, but the number of the attendees to this title at Evo in this year was substantially reduced relative to in last year. What would you do if it loses its popularity?

Bonchan: I don't think in such a way, or rather "I'll liven up the scene of the game I play." So if it's losing its popularity, I'd say like "hey, I'll liven it up."

NetLab: So, if all the supports ended as well as Capcom Cup?

Bonchan: If so... I'd pick up a game that I'm likely to be able to make money from. The amount of the prizes a pro got can be an index of him or her, or it represents his or her effort as a form of figure, so I think we pros have to earn some. So, it's like I can't help but play SFV because of big prizes.

(Excerpt from Netlab)

NetLab: So, if there were tournaments of other fighting games with the same amount of prizes, or higher...

Bonchan: Of course I'd play, of course. There's no reason why I have to stick to SFV.

NetLab: Professional haha. Then, is there any possibility that you'll go into games other than fighting games?

Bonchan: I don't play them at all. Games such as League of Legends have huge prizes now, but I don't play it... If I became unable to play fighting games, perhaps I would. But I don't think it'd be easy. And moreover, twentysomething is considered as time to retire in LoL. But I'm thirty.

I was "beyond annoyed" at early SFV

NetLab: You criticized the elements of SFV in a foreign interview movie. "It's like a baby creating the patch," "The netcode is so bad that I doubt if Capcom even tested the netcode before releasing" and so on. I felt it was a rarity that a pro gamer said such opinions in public...

Bonchan: I thought I regularly said more radical stuffs, and I would sugarcoat saying it. Or rather, I felt like "I'll kindly tell you!" and I didn't think I was so radical. Rather, I thought I was pretty gentle.

NetLab: You have contact with people in the game developer, don't you? Didn't you think it might make the relationship worse?

Bonchan: Sometimes I'm invited to events and see them in person, but I don't know... I've not heard complaints about it so far. Or, I think it's what they don't want us to point out, so they're uncomfortable mentioning about it, aren't they? Because, I'm sorry but, nothing would justify them.

NetLab: That being said, I think SFV is much more elaborate as a game compared to the time right after the release. What did you feel about issues on the loading times or the netcode back then, which drew a lot of complaints?

Bonchan: I saw it with a bitter laugh. I was "beyond annoyed." Like, "whoa, what a nasty game has come..." lol. But Capcom Pro Tour was publicized and I couldn't help but play whatever that was. So I went along with it.

Lower reviews on SFV at Play Station mk2
(Excerpt from Netlab)

NetLab: Right after the release, amateur gamers fiercely criticized and some said they "wanted pro gamers to criticize, too." But I felt pro gamers couldn't criticize developers in public because of their positions...

Bonchan: I see they generally don't want. Who wants to stand at the front in spite of no benefit? For me, it's easier to say anything in interviews because the sponsor allows me to do what I want to do. But it's weird it got such publicity because I mentioned about what everyone would feel unsatisfied with. They can't deny it, can't they. If they'd got angry for that, it'd been a considerable problem.

"Why don't they change the law"

NetLab: eSports have an issue that "it's hard for non-players to know tactics." How do you think FGC should be to have them understand how games are interesting?

Bonchan: You see, nice skills must be recognized. Considering it, commentaries at tournaments are what we should work hard on. Especially at big tournaments such as Evo, they have great impacts. But as of now, we really lack talents. Commentary requires enormous skills, like you should play and practice hard to have good knowledge, if not in a way a pro gamer do.

NetLab: How different is an environment for pro gamers in Japan from ones abroad?

Bonchan: I think Japanese environment is better. There are so many players that we can easily find a player to fight, yeah, I think we're blessed with a good environment. Some foreign counties have just one top player, such as Singapore having only Xian. Compared to such countries, the environment in Japan is so nice that I feel kind of humbled.

NetLab: We have a problem inherent in Japan that it's difficult to hold a tournament with a big prize because of the law. What do you think about it?

Bonchan: I feel "why don't they change the law" haha. Of course, of course. Even a big tournament in Japan can't offer a big prize. The regulations are the same as ones abroad, but it's still impossible because of "in Japan"... It's warped, isn't it.

NetLab: Are you pro gamers thinking of encouraging to revise the law?

Bonchan: I don't think we can resolve it alone and it's not a point where we fight for with the title of "pro gamer." Nevertheless, it's only dissatisfying. If it were easy to offer a prize in Japan, we'd have much more tournaments and it would make the scene much livelier. In spite of many Japanese pro gamers being successful worldwide, there're not many tournaments. That's because of small prizes.

Seeing Ume-san and Tokido, I realized "I can play games seriously"

NetLab: What made you want to be a pro gamer?

Bonchan: I used to be a casual player. The biggest reason why I wanted to be a pro was that it seemed like an interesting industry. Back then, there were only about five pro gamers in Japan, and Tokido played several titles and he practiced for a really long time. Actually, he practiced for about twelve hours without hesitation. I had thought "games are just for fun," but when seeing him, I change my thought to "this is work." On top of that, Ume-san and Tokido got good results. After seeing these two, I realized "I can play games seriously" and wanted to be a pro gamer.

NetLab: I heard you used to work at the Mah-jongg parlor where Daigo worked. He's a pioneer. How do you feel about him?

Bonchan: As a pro gamer, he's really great. I can't say no to him and it's like "I appreciate you, Mr. Umehara." But, outside of FGC, we have such a relationship that I can say to him "you bastard!" lol. We don't talk with polite expressions in our personal lives. He's so natural. But he also has human and sloppy aspects, and I think he's nice. You see, a boss doesn't have to be perfect, but should be a little careless.

MASATO TAKAHASHIさん(@masato_bonchan_takahashi)がシェアした投稿 -

NetLab: I think a lot of people are curious about this, are pro-gamers popular with the girls?

Bonchan: Well... I think they're.

NetLab: Is it your cases?

Bonchan: Yeah... commonly yes haha. But it's not like they're popular especially with the female gamers and less male pro gamers are seeing female gamers. Or rather, I only know one pro gamer who isn't popular with the girls. That's Mago-san lol.

NetLab: (Putting Mago-san aside,) I'm relieved hearing such a hopeful answer haha.

Bonchan: It's nice for gamers for sure haha.

FGC would end if everyone uses the strongest character to get prizes

NetLab: What do you think pro gamers will be becoming in future?

Bonchan: I think more pro gamers will be able to make a living unless it chooses a wrong way.

NetLab: What is a "wrong way?"

Bonchan: After all, the important is how much appealing you can make your play and how many people you can get behind you. I think play only for good results is completely differenct from appealing play. Getting good results is... "no shit." If I "only" pursued good results, I'd use the strongest character from day one. But it wouldn't reward me. Many people have been cheering for me since before I became a pro gamer, and I think the reason was that my play was appealing, not only I was strong. All the players who have been successful on center stage play distinctively, but I think FGC would end if everyone uses the strongest character to get prizes.

NetLab: So pro gamers have an ethic that they "must not only pursue good results."

Bonchan: I talk about that kind of things with a part of the pro gamers. I don't talk about it with all the pro gamers, but I believe everyone thinks "we must not".

It would be wonderful if little kids "have dreams of becoming a pro gamer"

NetLab: Do you have any specific hope for the whole eSports industry?

Bonchan: I hope games would achieve recognition... so, It would be wonderful if little kids "have dreams of becoming a pro gamer." There's no definition of "pro gamer's success" and pro gamers run the gamut, but I hope such a kid would say with confidence "I can make a living without worry" when he or she becomes a pro gamer.

NetLab: Do you have any goal for the future as a pro gamer?

Bonchan: SFV doesn't get an arcade release, so I'm holding offline events touring over the country for gamers to interact with. And I got more good responses than I expected. I saw gamers want to gather and fight, so I want to continue it. And... of course I want to continue playing games in the front line.

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