I’m not going to mince words: Daigo Umehara is the greatest fighting game player of all time. His legacy added a new footnote over the weekend when he dominated a stacked Street Fighter V tournament. And it’s strange that folks still managed to be shocked by the results.
Umehara faced down several incredible Street Fighter V players, including fellow Street Fighter god Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi and Korean powerhouse Hyung-suk “Verloren” Gong in his march to the Capcom Cup qualifying match. He didn’t suffer a single loss during the online event except for when his last opponent, Keita “Fuudo” Ai, managed to force a second set in grand finals. The title bout was a perfect example of Umehara’s patience, even in the face of impending defeat.
Social media practically exploded with very weird takes after the event, many focused on Umehara being 39 years old. Esports people were absolutely gobsmacked that an old man like Daigo Umehara could win a Street Fighter tournament in 2020. The level of shock and awe, in turn, shocked me. Were they not aware of Umehara’s legacy? How he’s been successful for over 20 years? I assume many were playing up their reactions to garner Twitter likes from uninformed followers, but it felt almost disrespectful.
Sure, reaction times might decrease with age, but there’s more to competition than just pure reactions. There are a multitude of intangible fighting game skills that can’t be taught, only honed over years and years of play, and Umehara has just about everyone else beat in that regard.
Umehara’s earliest known tournament win came at a 1997 Vampire Savior event hosted by Japanese video game magazine Gamest. From there, Umehara’s trophy case would grow with wins in Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, Street Fighter Alpha 3, Capcom vs. SNK 2, Guilty Gear XX, Street Fighter IV, and now Street Fighter V. He is second only to Justin Wong in Evolution Championship Series titles and even managed to secure two victories at the now-defunct Super Battle Opera, which in its time was the most prestigious fighting game competition in the world. And while Umehara might not be winning a tournament every weekend—especially while the world is still in the throes of a pandemic—his Street Fighter V career has been consistent enough to earn him entry into every Capcom Cup since the game’s release in 2016.
The esports industry’s fixation on youth—and, typically, how best to exploit it—makes for rough intersections with the fighting game community. The scene has a foundational passion that can’t be found in other competitive games. This keeps players sticking around much longer, even without big bundles of cash as motivation. Umehara is just the most visible example of this phenomenon. I can’t help but shake my head at anyone expressing shock that he continues to be a mainstay in high-level competition
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This is all to say that, yeah, Umehara’s win over the weekend was great but wasn’t in any way out of the ordinary for a player of his caliber. In other words: Put some respect on Daigo’s name.