Justin Wong: “I believe anybody can have a career in gaming as long as they understand that it’s not going to be easy”

A lack of in-person tournaments has led to a change in approach for competitors like Wong.

Photo via GameStop

In a year where fighting game competitions have had to transition completely online alongside most other esport scenes due to COVID-19, competitors like Justin Wong have had to take a step back and reevaluate their focus. 

Wong is one of the most decorated and well-known figures in the Fighting Game Community (FGC), competing in multiple games over his extensive career lasting more than two decades.

This year, Wong planned to compete in the newly released Granblue Fantasy Versus along with his usual franchises like Street Fighter and Samurai Shodown across events like CEO and Evo. But because of the numerous cancelations, he is instead focusing on playing what he wants for his stream and promoting new ways for the FGC to grow. 

Prior to hopping back into streaming classic fighting games and preparing for his role as a PAX Online ambassador for PAX Online 2020, Wong spoke with Dot Esports about competing online, streaming with bad netcode, and promoting events. 

Which game do you find yourself preparing the most for prior to competing in a tournament? Or are there different things you prioritize when choosing to compete in a game?  

Justin Wong: I guess it really depends, because last year, I was really into Samurai Shodown. I didn’t play much Street Fighter V compared to Shodown, so when I entered both but made top eight in Samurai Shodown I just forfeited my spot in Street Fighter because round two was going on at the same time as top eight. 

Because I was in top eight and there was like a $30,000 prize pool that SNK put up, I decided to mainly focus on Samurai Shodown at Evo and practice only that game. At the time, it was a really tough decision to just drop out of SFV, but I just wanted to try and win.  

And for someone like you who likes to compete and competes in multiple games at the highest level, do you find yourself having to make those decisions more often? 

I wouldn’t say that specifically, but it’s kind of weird because I think only Evo makes me feel that way. So when I’m at like CEO, Combo Breaker, or any other big FGC tournament, I would really just stick it out and play all the games. But I think because Evo is kind of recognized as the world’s tournament, where if you win, you are labeled as the best in the world. 

I think winning Evo titles is one of the highest things you can achieve as a fighting game player, and I have won nine Evos. I really was like okay, I’m 34 years old and eventually I’m going to stop going crazy with traveling around the world and probably taking fighting games less seriously as I get older and my family gets older. And because of that, I was like “nine Evo titles is kind of nice,” but going out with 10? I think that’s just an amazing number right?

That’s why I forfeited that year, because my focus was really only on Samurai Shodown because I was in that top position. I would say that if the schedule was different I don’t think I would have dropped out of Street Fighter V

We won’t stick on Evo for much longer, but what are your hopes for the eventual Evo relaunch after everything that happened with the event being canceled surrounding the Mr. Wizard situation

It was tough because Evo Online was supposed to happen and be this big thing. They probably had this whole thing planned out with a ton of extra stuff behind the scenes too before the allegations came out and they canceled it. 

And because of the way it was canceled that makes it really difficult, like, will they want to rebrand? Will the developers want to come back next year if we are even able to have events next year? I do believe that attendance will be lowered next for Evo just because everything that has happened with COVID and internally, but I also think that Evo will probably come back next year and try their best to make things better. 

For me, it sucks because I was going hard in Granblue and I [was] grinding that game to try to win Evo again in a new game, but obviously since it got canceled that never happened and I have stopped playing the game. Because of everything that happened, I’ve been playing very more freestyle competitive compared to like, sticking with the meta in certain games, but that has also been a blast. I’ve been having a lot of fun playing just fighting games, like for fun now compared to a tournament setting.

Is there a specific routine you need to go through for any particular title? Any dietary or sleep changes, or even just how you play the game and prepare?

For me, I focus more on pools when they come out. I would always look at polls and study who the other players are, try to find them on like YouTube or Capcom Fighters Network, looking for their match videos so I can watch them. Because ultimately, people know who I am and are going to have an easy time accessing my matches, but if I don’t know who Swordsman626 is in the bracket, I’m probably going to try and look them up before anything else so I can be ready. 

There are so many good players that are unknown out there, and I just don’t want to be in a  position where I underestimate a player or don’t know what their favorite options are. I want to study up on every opponent as much as I can, even if that means watching all of the matches at an event so I can try to download as much information as I can before I have to possibly face them.

As for that other stuff, I actually don’t eat until the end of the day. So, say my pools are at 10am, I wake up at nine, shower, and just go straight to the event, that means I won’t eat until like 11pm or midnight when the event is done. Because for me, I personally feel that when I do eat I go into a food coma and just get knocked out. That will make it so even if I do sleep, I’ll just feel lazy and my reactions won’t be on point or I won’t try as hard as if I was actually hungry. 

Do you prepare differently for online/non-Major events then you would for say something like a Capcom Pro Tour tournament? 

So I don’t actually know because I haven’t entered an online tournament yet. I would say for this year, I just don’t agree with Capcom’s rules for example, I don’t think they are the best. Street Fighter V is a fun game to play offline, but online is a different story. I’ve dealt with it, everyone else that plays online has to deal with it, but the most common rule for a lot of pro players is that we only play on Training Stage. But Capcom said, for their tournaments once you reach Top 16, you can’t pick that stage. 

In my opinion, they are only doing that to sell these DLC stages, which is fair, they are a company after all, but it just puts the players in this angry state. If we lose, and it’s because you’re better than us, that’s good shit and it just means we have things to work on to get better. But we can’t tell if we got outplayed playing online because of outside factors like the stages and the netcode, which has become a major meme at this point. 

If you look at the Capcom Pro Tour events for NA East, in top eight losers, iDom lost one game against MetroM and forfeited, saying “I can’t play this guy because this netcode is complete…” you know, it’s not playable and not fair. And that’s kind of what I don’t want to go through because I know when I play a fighting game online that doesn’t have the best netcode, I feel like I get mentally angry. So I try to avoid that as much as I can and usually stream fighting games that feel good to play so I don’t have to deal with that stuff and can be as positive as possible. 

Yeah, because I just don’t agree to the rules and I think once the rules get better or once they have a netcode fix for for for their games, then it becomes a different ballgame at that point.

Focusing on netcode, games like Killer Instinct have been put on this pedestal of having good netcode while others like Street FIghter V and Dragon Ball FighterZ are constantly trashed. Which games do you think have the best and worst netcode in your experience playing them? 

I can’t really speak to Dragon Ball because I haven’t really played it, but I have heard a lot of bad stuff about it. Sadly, I think Granblue Fantasy might be one of the worst codes at the moment, mainly because I really like the game a lot. It’s very fun offline, but man, when I see my delay number go up, it just hurts me you know? Like, how am I supposed to play at delay seven? At least let me stay at two or three frames, but if I get to seven, I might as well just close my eyes and pray. 

As for the best netcode, I would say it goes to a game like Skull Girls, Mortal Kombat, or Killer Instinct. Killer Instinct is amazing actually, and I went hard on that game during season one, even got third at Evo one year (2014.) I stopped playing it because I started focusing on other games, but because of corona, I bought it on Steam and played it, sometimes in 10-hour marathon streams. And I wouldn’t even know 10 hours had passed because I didn’t realize how fun it was and when it is fun and too didn’t have any netcode issues. 

The community has also been doing a great job on the retro side, improving Fightcade, so I’ve been playing like Marvel vs. Capcom II and that feels great. I’ve been loving all the retro games and playing with nog lag, even with people on the East Coast. 

What kind of tips would you give any esports athletes that are trying to get their start in a new fighting game, especially in this era of online play? 

I think it’s unfortunate that any new players this year couldn’t go to their Combo Breakers, the CEOs, or Evo, but the good thing is that a lot more pros are streaming now. Because of that, everyone can actually watch those pros and learn. If I was trying to pick a game up, I would have the game on and watch a pro’s stream, practice my combos, play some matches and then tune in to see how they are handling their matches. 

And, because of everything going on, it feels like everyone has some extra time on their hand to actually perfect their craft. I think more people are trying to practice more character variety, playing longer hours, so I feel like everyone will be better once things get back to normal. When you’re trying to qualify for Capcom Cup you are flying every week to another CPT tournament. There are like 70 CPT tournaments in a normal year, so if you’re chasing points you will have to travel a lot. 

Think about it. When you are gone, traveling Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, you’re probably going to get home, be jet lagged, and want to do anything but turn on your console or PC to play because you know you will only have a few days to practice before you gotta fly again. But now, people might be better because we don’t have to do that, so you have more practice time. 

Overall, if you’re a new player or an up and comer, this is the perfect time to just get good at any game that you want to play. 

With a year like this where there are no offline events, you’re seeing big online tournaments, streaming events like PAX Online and others that are still trying to help spread the word and support the FGC. For you, how are you trying to help push esports or trying to help improve the FGC?  Or are you just focused on being yourself and showcasing your brand? 

I’m always preaching to the world right? When it comes down to it, I’m always gonna preach and tell people about what I love. And I also want to make sure that opportunities are given to us, so the fact that events like PAX is doing so much with this online stuff now because they can’t have the normal offline event, I want to make sure people know it is happening. That they can participate and check this out. If an event like PAX reaches out and wants me to do some type of online panel and talk about the FGC and stuff, I’m gonna do it because I just want people to just know that these things are here. And this is how you can learn

When it comes down to it, I want everybody to just get paid. I want everybody to get rich, I want everybody to have a happy life, especially if you’re a gamer because like, you know, I grew up where people tell me, “You’re not gonna do a damn thing with this gaming thing, this is such a waste of time, stop doing it.” You know, old values type of stuff.  And, you know, there was a time where I believed it, because I’m like, “Yeah, you’re right. It’s kind of crazy.” But here we are in 2020. And you see so many people just making a killing when it comes to gaming, they’re having a job having a career.

I believe anybody can have a career in gaming as long as they understand that it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a grind. I think it is harder than a regular job because it requires so much extra time, but it’s such a passion driven thing too. There weren’t many opportunities back in the day, but now there are. I used to win tournaments for like $300 and now there are tournaments paying out over $500,000 and it only gets bigger.