Umebura F.A.T. is the largest Super Smash Bros. for Wii U tournament in Japan, and it’s attracting record attention.
Dubbed Smash 4 by fans, this year three top players from North America flew over to compete against Japan’s best. These include Vincent “Vinnie” Cannino, Boreal esports’ Elliot Bastien “Ally” Carrazo-Oyarce, and Team Liquid’s Nairoby “Nairo” Quezada. The Daily Dot caught up with all three top players, as well as Yuta “Abadango” Kawamura, to discuss Smash 4 in Japan.
Kawamura is one of Japan’s top players. He sits at third based on Umebura’s Smash 4 power rankings. He’s known to have quite possibly the best Pac-Man in the world, and isn’t too shabby with Wario and Meta Knight. Speaking through an interpreter we talked about his attitude going into Umebura, as well as insights into the Japanese Smash scene.
What is your mindset coming into this tournament?
Kawamura: For a big tournament like this, there’s a lot of people coming from overseas, like Nairo and Vinnie, I want to try to prepare strategies to go against them and [that] sets up a certain goal for each one.
What are some of the top players you’re worried about and what strategies are you coming up to deal with them?
The players I’m focusing on most is Nairo and Ally. At first I was thinking of different ways to combat each of them. With Ally I was thinking of a few things in the friendlies earlier. Using my Meta Knight, I was able to come up with some strategies I think will probably work and probably shouldn’t be too bad. With Nairo, it’s kind of very detailed. If I can dodge the grabs somehow and dodge the dash attacks and return it in the best way possible—I can try and kind of reciprocate and get the big damage right off the top.
What is the Smash scene in Japan like now?
At least compared to the time with Brawl, it’s just growing at an extremely rapid pace. And part of that is the whole esports [scene is] growing in the past year. I can really feel that esports is trying to support Smash 4 and that alone is attracting more players. Compared to Melee, Smash 4 is easier to get into, especially in Japan. The Internet is great for most people and then thanks to that you have a lot of people within Japan who see how popular it’s getting overseas and want to go overseas.
Can Japanese players keep up with the competition in the West?
One of the major differences right now in Japan—you aren’t allowed, by law, to give prizes, including money, to winners at tournaments. That kind of turns off people. No matter how hard you work, no matter how hard you try, you know you can’t get prize money from it. Whereas in America, even if it’s a small local scene, you can get a few-hundred bucks. You could do something there and that encourages people. Then you have players in Japan like Edge, he’s like still a student, he doesn’t have to work, but because he doesn’t have money, he can’t go to tournaments, he can’t participate. He’s a very talented and strong player, but there’s just not a means for supporting that.
So for people who aren’t students as well, like Rain and Yuta “Nietono” Uejima. They are working at companies. Working at Japanese companies is a very busy lifestyle, even compared to America it’s probably even busier. The whole culture of fundraising is foreign to Japan. It’s not a thing that people tend to do. It’s not just giving, it’s giving and receiving. People just don’t go out of their way to give money. And if it is given to you, you feel kind of bad taking it.
Why does this law exist?
For fundraising, it’s not so much that it’s against the law. Japanese people don’t have the concept of wanting to pay for the entertainment of watching people play. Whereas in America, you wanna see people get really good, and you would be happy to pitch in to help people do that… you really don’t have that culture here. And as far as prizes go, it mixes up with the gambling laws. and technically you aren’t allowed to receive prize money from participants. If you have it from a separate third party, it’s OK to have that. But money from participants has to be for operation.
In Japan, here it’s very different from Nintendo of America. Here you have Sakurai, and he doesn’t want Smash to be thought of as a competitive game. He wants it to be a party game. We’ve had trouble in the past trying to get prizes from Nintendo, whether they would or would not support the tournaments. It’s kind of a gray area right now.
What are some Japanese players we should be keeping an eye on?
The three to four people are Ranai, Choco, and Rain, and of course myself.
Cannino was the next one-on-one. He’s taking a break from school to concentrate on Smash full time.
Since you’re only playing friendlies the first day, what was the competition like here in Japan?
Cannino : Honestly me and Nairo were losing a lot more than we thought we would be losing. We have some mental preparing to do. Edge is probably the hardest player I played skillwise. The hardest for me personally would probably be Choco.
Who does Choco main?
Zero Suit Samus.
Why is that matchup difficult?
I never have friendlied Nairo in my whole life, it’s only tournament. I haven’t been home in New York/New Jersey in three months. The U.S.A. only has one really good Zero Suit, Nairo. Everyone else is far, far below his skill level. I can only really learn the matchup from one person, and I haven’t been home since June.
What are some differences between Western and Eastern play?
They are less willing to approach. They’re a significantly campier play style. They take advantage of their opportunities. Their play styles are very different. They are very good at conditioning and punishing your ledge options.
Are you seeing more creativity in Japan?
Definitely. Two different types of creativity I would say. Creativity in game. You can tell they have a lot of hours logged. I won’t say they never do the same option twice, but they have a lot of mix-ups in there. The fact that they don’t play for money. Like in America, for every non-Sheik you see, you see one Sheik. Half the players play top-tiers in America. but here it’s very well-distributed among the cast.
We also were able to sit down with Carrazo-Oyarce out of Canada from Boreal esports to get his thoughts on Smash in Japan.
How long have you been in Japan?
Carrazo-Oyarce: Two days counting today.
How has the competition been playing friendlies?
They’re really good. Like their average… the average player in the U.S., here it’s like two-to-three times better. They know their stuff. All the players I played, they were all hard. None of them were easy at all. I lost to Abadango, obviously he’s one of the best.
Do you think it’s the jetlag?
No, no, they’re just all good. They’re just all really good. I don’t think I’m in jetlag, yesterday I fell asleep at a good time. I don’t think it’s jetlag.
What differentiates Japanese players from Western counterparts?
They’re really respectful. That’s just not the same in the U.S. and Canada. But their skill? For some reason I feel like they all play together a lot. They all help eachother. They’re all pretty good, they all know their game—versus like Canada and U.S.A. In Canada they don’t know what they’re doing ‘cause they don’t have someone telling them how to play the game. I feel that everyone is together in this scene.
Are you seeing a lot of creativity?
Yeah, they actually have like really good mix-ups. Even like the Greninja dude, he had like stuff that I haven’t seen before… he has all these different setups that may actually trick you when he does it. You don’t know what to expect from it.
What are you going to do to get ready for singles tomorrow?
I’m definitely gonna try and get some good sleep… I’m definitely gonna try to warmup with Nairo and Vinnie… I don’t want to play them too much because they’ll learn me. In tournament, my chances of winning are less.
Are you worried more about Japanese players than, say, Nairo?
Oh yeah, of course. Nairo, I’ve played him before, so I kind of know how he plays. The Japanese, I haven’t played them at all… I’ve played like two Japanese in my life in Smash 4. If I don’t play someone too many times, then I don’t know how to beat them. It takes me a little bit of time to, like, see. And that’s the problem in Japan, I don’t know them, I don’t know how they play.
Finally, we sat down with Quezada from Team Liquid. He’s easily one of the best Smash 4 players in the world, with a Zero Suit Samus that is very aggressive and incredibly dangerous.
How were the friendlies against Japanese players?
Quezada: Very hard. I’m not 100 percent, they are all very good. That’s not something I would change if I was 100 percent. Anything could happen tomorrow. I could lose to somebody not many people really recognize. That’s just how it is in Japan basically. There’s always someone new coming up and they basically stay up.
What difficulties are you having with Japanese players?
I don’t know. Maybe they’re just defensive. Or maybe they fight Sheik and Zero Suit like in every other tournament. They’re just really experienced in the matchups. I mean I’m also experienced in fighting their characters too. They play a much more defensive style, so it’s kind of like me rushing in, but like I shouldn’t rush in too hard because then it would be super predictable.
What makes the Japanese metagame different than in the West?
More defensive, a lot more characters that you don’t see in the U.S. Or that often. There are multiple Sonics and Villagers, Pit, Fox…
Why do you think we’re seeing such variety in characters?
I have no idea. Most of them said they just wanted to try a new character like if their old one came back from brawl, they just didn’t use them at all. They wanted to use someone new, so they came up with whatever with a new character and there’s a lot of potential with any character. So they did that and put in the work.
What’s your mindset coming into singles tomorrow?
I have no idea to be honest. I just gotta beat whoever I fight. I can’t really read the bracket. Whenever they call my name, I’m gonna fight somebody—whoever approaches me, I don’t know who. Unless they come up to me beforehand. I won’t know their character and I won’t know their style and I’ll just have to figure it out there.
Screengrab via GamesHQMedia/YouTube
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