In the weeks leading up to EVO, we’ll be running a series of interviews with the players to watch in the Street Fighter 4 tournament. In our first interview, frequent Shoryuken.com blogger Adam “Keits” Heart catches up with Street Fighter legend Alex Valle.
(transcript of audio interview follows…)
Adam: Alright, everybody. Thanks for joining us today. I have here Alex Valle, Street Fighter Legend out of southern California, to talk with us about the Evolution tournament and how he feels he’s going to do this year. So, say hi to everyone Alex.
Alex: Hey, what’s going on everyone?
Adam: OK, coming through loud and clear. So, tell us a little about yourself. Who are you? How old are you? When were you born? Where were you born?
Alex: My name is Alex Valle. I was born in Lima, Peru. I came down the States when I was about 4 years old. I’ve been playing Street Fighter since 1991. I’ve been around, man, since arcade live in the 90’s really boomed, around Champion Edition. From then on man, the rest is history: playing games, winning tournaments, winning left and right up till now.
Adam: For anyone who’s been around for a while, you’re pretty much a household name in the community. Everyone know’s who you are by reputation and by name, but I think a lot of these younger guys might not know you. You’re not as what I call “YouTube Popular” as Daigo or Justin Wong. So tell us a bit about what you’ve accomplished in the Street Fighter community over the years
Alex: Well, one of the very first internet gathering based tournaments was called B3: Battle By the Bay, which was organized by the EVO founders Tom and Tony Cannon. They posted on the alt.games.sf2 newsgroups back in the day; I think that’s right. I wasn’t very internet savvy at that time, though. All that stuff to me was like word of mouth. So you had a tournament that was advertised on the internet, which was unheard of. Usually tournaments were advertised by word of mouth or little flyers or what not.
This was about the time I met Mike Watson: maybe a year and a half before that tournament. He basically bred me, and took me in the right direction in top-level play. Right when I played Watson the very first time, he just destroyed everything that I had. Everything that I thought that I accomplished was like nothing; I just lost.
See the rest of the interview after the jump…
Adam: I think most of us have experienced something like that where we think we’re hot shit and we meet somebody and it’s over.
Alex: Yeah, pretty much. Going back to that one year and half, I just took everything from him and Jeff Schafer, Martian Vega, Thao Duong: from the real OG’s from down here. I never got a chance to play Tomo, though. I just missed his generation. My first real tournament was in Las Vegas with John Choi where I got 4th on Street Fighter Alpha, but then when Alpha 2 came out I just started dominating: I was basically undefeated in that game. After that, everyone though I was the guy to beat from 1996 all the way to 2001. In every iteration of the games from X-men vs. Street Fighter all the way to Alpha 3, any tournament that meant anything I got first place in. In Street Fighter Alpha 3, I’m not sure if you’ve heard the story of this, when I first fought Daigo he beat me. That was my first lost. Even though I’d lost here and there in a couple of tournaments, that one was a little bit more decisive in skill, because no one has ever played like Daigo.
Another memorable moment for me was when I was a member of the first Team USA to go play in an exhibition against the Japanese for the “Bang the Machine” documentary about US fighting game culture. Bang the Machine was shot at the tournament after B3: The Battle by Bay, called B4. In that tournament, the overall winners where chosen by on a point system awarded to the winners of the games that were there. So like first place got so and so points, I don’t remember. This was a long time ago. Anyway, I placed 1st in like every single tournament there except like two of them. John Choi also qualified. Mike Watson qualified but he couldn’t go (ed note: Mike Watson actually did go and compete for Team USA). Eddie Lee was actually like the first New York player that was basically my rival for the newer games. He was representing the generation after me as an up and coming New York player. He didn’t qualify, but somehow circumstance, well I don’t want to ruin too much of the film, but he ends up being in Japan. Hopefully if EVO ever shows Bang the Machine again you’ll catch what went down. Anyway, I met Daigo again over there with a massive amount of Japanese players. It was our best players vs. their best players, and I scored the highest out of my team. Again, Bang the Machine shows how well I did and how well a couple of the other Team members did.
Moving on, after that…
Adam: Well, let me interrupt for a second. Let me ask you a question. Now that the community has YouTube and these amazing resources to see other players before you ever play them, can you tell everyone what it was like to play back in the day when you could only see what your locality had? When someone from even another city came over to play you, you’d see something new every time, and you weren’t ready for it. So what was it like to play against players like that at that time, or maybe even the first time you played Japanese players, what were the feelings that you experienced when you saw something just jaw-droppingly brand new in tournaments.
Alex: Well, honestly, in my youth, pre-Watson era before I got to meet the guy, I’d run into new stuff all the time, and that whole falling in love learning Street Fighter phase: that was just so competitive for me. I got used to it. If I see something new, I think back like, “ok, wow this is why I keep playing Street Fighter”. There’s something to adapt to.
So, going to your question about how YouTube is and looking at all these strats: it’s one thing to X-Copy strats as your own, but it’s going to be a lot harder for a new guy to get used to adapting in person. When you’re playing in a competitive atmosphere, you’re going to be under pressure. Ok? If you haven’t experienced a lot of new stuff all the time, you’re not going to beat new strategies anytime soon, you understand what I mean?
Adam: Yeah, I do. Do you think online play is helping a lot of players who don’t live in as populated an area to overcome their inability to adapt to new players and new situations?
Alex: OK, online is great for that, but if they only play online… I’m telling you, you need to play somebody… Because if you don’t have that, you can’t feel the other player. I’m not saying like feel their breathing. I mean, they can be across the room from you, but if you’re doing something right, and you can see the expression on their face… you don’t even need to see it, when you feel that you’re doing something right: everything you do works for some reason. It just does. You can feel your opponent slowly losing it, and losing it, and eating that up. And then they’re watching you, like, “damn, my game breaking strat that I figured out is falling apart in round 3.” You know why? Because the guy out there looking at you like, “ok, I see you like to jump back 3 times in a row, so I’m going to make you throw 1 fireball and I’m going to do a nasty crossup on you.” Game. Done. You know, stuff like that. It’s something you have to get used to. It’s not just beating someone online and saying, “yeah, I beat him.” No, no, no. You have to beat him in person, because when it counts you’re going to second guess yourself the entire 3 rounds, if it gets that far.
If you’ve seen an online match, they’re so sloppy because nobody cares. You want to land all this crazy stuff, but it’s so sloppy trying to do it. If you were to take that same sloppiness to a real tournament match, like 50% of your life would be gone attempting to do something technical. Attempting. So once you figure that that out in round 1, in round 2 you’re not going to have anything left. You’re not even going to attempt your old strats that you practiced online, because when it counts and you’re sitting right next to the person and they know that you can’t beat them, they don’t work.
So online is a great tool, for starters. You get exposure to a lot of new strategies, but no one cares yet. You get this satisfaction, “oh I beat that strategy, check one off for the books”, but it didn’t really count. Try it in a tournament consistently, and see what happens.
Adam: Good advice from a sage like Alex Valle. Moving onto a different topic, you are 31 years old, that’s correct?
Alex: That is correct.
Adam: If you don’t mind me asking, what’s your home situation like? Do you have family? A job? What have you got going on?
Alex: I work for a Korean MMO company. I take care of the Spanish translations for our web portal and I QA the web functionality.
Adam: That sounds demanding.
Alex: Yeah, it’s a lot of stuff to do.
Adam: So how many hours a week are you putting in there?
Alex: Honestly, it varies. It’s a video game job, but I’m salaried so I’m there until the job is done. That and I have a girlfriend who will soon be moving to Arizona for a year. It’s very difficult trying to juggle practice session time in, plus of course playing the last few days before she leaves with her.
Adam: Well, there’s been some trash talk thrown around between some of the young upstarts and some of the middle-aged and older players about what it means to get older. Obviously you carry around more experience than someone who’s 18 years old, but you also have these real life burdens. How do you think all these things, all this time that you can’t dedicate toward practicing is going to affect you when you go to EVO or you go to Super Battle Opera?
Alex: The only thing that’s going to affect me is my execution. For many of the standard photographic situations that are coming at me, it’s the conditioning and the execution part that I’ll probably be struggling in. As far as strategies and overcoming all the obstacles, that will never leave me. Age really doesn’t matter. You still have Street Fighter II Super Turbo players who are pushing 40 and still dominating, and that game requires a lot of fast-paced execution. There are no short cuts in Super Turbo: if you missed an uppercut, it’s because you really missed an uppercut.
I actually do feel I have somewhat of an advantage over these new guys because being really good at all games, I’m already prepared for it. They have to put in the work and the time to adjust to any hardships.
Adam: Well, what would you say back when someone like Justin Wong called you an old timer or someone like Arturo Sanchez calls you “1998 Power”. What are you doing to make sure you show them up? Obviously, not to answer this my self, you just qualified for SBO (Super Battle Opera). Congratulations, sir.
Alex: Thank you.
Adam: But, I mean, what are you going to do at EVO to show these guys that your reign of terror is not over.
Alex: A friendly reminder: I’ve been to just about every EVO, and even if I haven’t won, I’ve always been a threat. Trash talking and all that stuff: it’s like gibberish to me. Honestly, they’re trying to make a name for themselves. I’m already a name (laughing). They’re the ones that want to get their names out. All power to them: they can try to talk all the way to the bank if they can get that withdrawal, but I’m always going to be there making it hard for them. For instance, Mike Watson entered SBO qualfiers last year for Super Turbo. He dominated the tournament, but he didn’t go. He had no intentions of going. He entered to make sure that the team which would be representing the United States was strong enough to even go. You know? That’s our job. Honestly, it’s so pathetic watching our top players that we call “top players” who are so god like, but when push comes to shove and they’re playing someone who’s really good, and they just get humiliated. What does that say about us? All this trash talk that they’re bringing up, I’ve seen the majority of the players on the East Coast are the most inconsistent playres, minus Justin Wong. Justin Wong is the only exception. Everybody else… that’s why I work. They have a lot of up and coming people. They’re grinding. They’re trying their best, but they need to realize that it doesn’t start and end now. You’ve got years ahead of you. You’ve got so many years to prove that you are the best. If you win this year, all power to you, but that doesn’t really mean anything. Because you only played somewhat of the world. You’ve got to play everybody. I’ve played just about everybody…
Adam: So you’ve gotta be Ryu…
Alex: Yeah, pretty much.
Adam: You’ve got to travel the world with a gi in your bag and no change of clothes and fight everyone you can.
Alex: (laughing) Yeah, pretty much. A lot of people here still don’t get credit, but they’re not out there putting themselves out there. I mean look at Combofiend: he’s the most humble mother dude. He’ll talk shit during his beatdown.That’s where he feels his propers. He doesn’t care what anybody says… When I was selecting the team for the 5-on-5 Street Fighter 4 tournament, nobody was talking about him, and I knew he was one of the best players on the team. That guy and Ed Ma, I already knew they were better than me at the time. When they were beginning to grind at the game, I knew that these guys were the guys to beat, but they’re not going trash talking. They let their game speak for itself.
Adam: Yeah, let the fists do the talking, right?
Alex: Yeah. Going back to everyone calling me “1998-Power” and “old timer” and stuff it is what it is, but were in 2009 and my name is still out there. Where are you at?
Adam: Well said, well said. So, what made you decide to come back out of what they call pseudo-retirement for Street Fighter 4? Was it the numbers? They hype? What was it?
Alex: What brings be back to Street Fighter is the competition. Of these last couple of EVO’s, 2006 was when I practiced the most out of retirement, honestly. In 2007, I just did enough… maybe play a month before the event, because there were no new games. In 2008, I was just brushing up on some of the games.
Adam: Do you think you were just bored because it was the same old faces and the same old games?
Alex: Look, I’m not the only one: but there are only a handful of people who can still do this. I’m one of them, John Choi’s one of them, Justin Wong can do it. These guys don’t really have to go to all these tournaments to prove anything. They have this set in stone in their minds: it’s like riding a bike, being good at Street Fighter. You can like practice two weeks before a tournament, a national tournament, and still place like top 10, top 8, whatever. That what happens after many years of grinding at this game. We will never suck, and I rode this for the past couple of years. After not practicing, I’m still placing top 8 at EVO, but now in Street Fighter 4, I’ve never seen as much hype and hunger for a game that it takes me back to the 90’s. It really does. I’m stepping over my life boundaries between taking my girlfriend out or holding RTSD sessions for these players. Or like going to Watson’s pad and leveling up with them, or doing what I’ve got to do to really be dominant in this game. I’m doing what everybody that really enjoys something does.
Adam: I think a lot of people really admire you and some of the more prominent members of the community for that: you do it cause you love it, not because you’re going to go home with a big fat check. It’s because of the thrill. It’s what you’re there fore.
Adam : So we were talking a little bit earlier off interview about what it feels like to watch a live Street Fighter event as a spectator. On a tangent, fighting games are a pretty interesting spectator sport. It’s a very obvious event to someone who doesn’t know exactly what’s going on. Each character is trying to hit each other to deplete the life bar, and once the life bar is gone the character’s knocked out. Pretty standard concept, but you watch a lot of matches on YouTube and the excitement’s just not there. Last weekend watching that SBO qualifier live, I felt like I was
there: the excitement was real.
Alex: Let me give you my analogy for this. (clears throat). You’ve got tennis, where you can watch any Open live, and then you’ve got an MMA fight, right? So if someone hits a serve and someone hits it back, no one’s saying anything in tennis until someone finally scores a point and then everybody claps because they’re allowed to. In MMA, you’ve got people cheering all the way down to the ring. You’ve got the announcements, the hype, and whatever happens before to piss those to guys off to put them where they are up to the very first swing. That’s what you have with Street Fighter right now. An RTS game is like tennis: you can’t really see anything. There’s just boring, there’s no hype. It’s crap. You don’t even feel intensity. Even if those guys were shit-talking before, you don’t know that. You don’t care. You just want to see how fast they have a zerg rush. Who cares. When you’re watching these guys at SBO on the live stream, you know Slasher and Gootecks did a really good job just trying to talk about what’s going on. Some people like it, some people didn’t like it, but it was really hype. I’ve never seen anything like this before.
Adam: Being able to feel the excitement at home reminded me of what it feels like to actually be in the room, and it’s just a call out to all of the younger players who might not feel ready to compete, it’s like EVO is our super-bowl, and itcosts nothing to go and watch it. You should be there.
Alex: Yeah, absolutely. In my interview with Kotaku before they asked me, “why do you go to EVO?” You know, I went to EVO when it was called the b-series: B3, B4, B5, and then it turned into Evolution. I have a long history with these guys, and I know that they really know what they’re doing. They cater to the community 100%. They take into consideration what players think, you know? They don’t just override every rule, they take into consideration what the community thinks as much as possible, and they always deliver. And you have the best competition. You’re not just secluded to one region. All the regions come to this; all the top players who are known come to this.
Adam: That’s part of the beauty of EVO, that it’s an open tournament that anyone can enter.
Alex: That too, that too. You’ve got a great staff: they’re Street Fighter players, they’re friends in the community, not just some business CEO saying, “Get off me”, I can only talk to this time of the year. They’re hella cool.
Adam: That’s another thing too, if you’re a fan of the top players you can show up to EVO, find them on the floor, shake their hand, and say, “Hi, I’m a big fan.” You can get an autograph. You can’t do that at the superbowl. You can’t just walk up to one of the players and be like, “Hey, I’m a big fan”.
Alex: No. You’ve got to give it to these guys, because they’re the ones that started the whole internet, wide-spread advertising of tournaments. Probably to this day, people are taking notes figuring out how to run a proper tournament at EVO, because they’re the premier tournament in the world.
Adam: Definitely my recommendation to everyone out there is to get a plane ticket to Vegas. Get a hotel room. Sardine with some people, it doesn’t cost anything, and at least come to Sunday at EVO and watch the finals. It’s going to be the most insane thing the community has ever seen, I promise you that.
Alex: Absolutely, everybody is really cool in there. You’ve got the bring-your-own-console area, you have any game there from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the fighting game to any random iteration of Samarui Shodown. I mean, you’ve got fanatics up in there.
Adam: Yeah, you can find competition in anything. People are even playing puzzle games in there, Super Puzzle Fighter and Magical Drop.
Alex: Yeah, and to top all of this off, it’s in Las Vegas. It’s not in like college campuses where you can’t do anything, no restaurants in sight. You’re in the crazy ass town.
Adam: Definitely. Let me drag us back on topic before we finish up. One of the EVO special events this year was originally announced as a 5-on-5 for Super Street Fighter II HD Remix, but it seems like Street Fighter 4 killed everything, so they changed it over to a 5-on-5 for Street Fighter. Talk to me about your region, and how you feel like you’re going to handle the other regions. Are you scared of anybody? Did you learn anything from anybody?
Alex: Well, I’m the captain of the Southern California region’s team, and I was the only one with the balls and with the sense to pick out my team without running a qualifying tournament, because I know what I’m doing. There was some controversy over that even in my home town, because I wasn’t playing and nobody knew what was going on. Up to today, if you look at the results of all these players, they have been winning top 3 in tournaments every time they enter. I feel with this team that we are unstoppable.
Adam : It sounds to me like you are banking on consistency, which goes back to what you said about East Coast players. They’re good, but they’re not as consistent
Alex: Yeah. They’re not as consistent. I mean, Arturo and Joe came down here and they beat me in the team tournament. I respect them more now than before the trash talking, because I got to see it live. You know, I don’t respect anyone who can just talk, talk, talk and then not show what’s up, but they did. They came down here and they showed what’s up. They beat me, but they couldn’t beat Combofiend (Peter Rosas). We have some time before EVO, and those guys didn’t play the other 3 members of the team. Ed Ma is on the team and they got 2nd at SBO quals. Basically everyone on the team has a job and has a duty, and I’ve put them on blast at the beginning to let them know they’re on the team and they have an obligation to not let people down. So they’re practicing their ass of. I don’t want to run a tournament because I don’t want a random player to come in there with no chemistry with the team and not be able to perform on a consistent level. They could just be hot for that month. I know to a certain degree how the levels of skill go, and with the team that I’ve selected, I don’t think anyone can overpass them until after EVO. After EVO, if I were to select a team again I wouldn’t be able to. I’d have to run a tournament, if that makes sense.
Adam: I think I follow.
Alex: Yeah exactly, because I already know how, in my region, the players I’ve seen play, and I know where they will end up in the rankings. They won’t be able to catch up to any of the players on my team until, probably, after EVO. I don’t see any team beating us. The East Coast team might be the only team. That doesn’t mean we’re sleeping on any team. We’re grinding just like they are. We’re getting better as I speak. We’re getting way better as a team. We hope to see great match ups with all the other regions.
Adam: It’s going to be a great exhibition, I’m sure.
Alex: Yeah, the respect will be given when we play. Win or loss, the respect will be there.
Adam: Getting away from the exhibition to the actual Street Fighter 4 tournament. I’m sure you haven’t seen many over the years, but to you expect any surprises this year? Once in a while someone no one’s ever heard of cracks top 16 or top 8. Do you expect anything like that with such a huge pool of players?
Alex: Honestly, I expect that. There are too many people right now playing. It can be anyone’s game up to top 32, top 16. Top 8, we kind of have a better feel of who’s going to place in maybe 4 of those spots, but not the rest. The game is still new. Anything can happen. There’s been so many upsets in so many tournaments. People who shouldn’t be placing, but they are. The Arcade Infinity Ranbats (ed note: short for Ranking Battles) are inconsistent, because people are still leveling up. You’ve got the top 3 kind of circling around, but 4th, 5th, and 6th are not too far behind.
People are leveling up and I expect to see great things from new people, and I want them to continue. Continue the consistency, adapt to all the craziness, and you know what? They’re going to be a household name, too.
Adam: Definitely, definitely. I mean, you can’t get better advice than from this man, Alex Valle. He’ll tell it like it is, but he’ll also help you get to where you want to be. Definitely one of the greats.
Alex: Thank you.
Adam: Thank you. It was very nice talking to you, anything you’d like to add before we finish up?
Alex: Actually, I do. Keep playing. Everybody out there, if you can’t make it to EVO, you might make it next year. It’s not like mandatory you have to go to these things. Just keep in mind that the community is strong, and we’re always going to help you, but also keep in mind that it’s a very competitive scene. Don’t take it the wrong way if someone wants to win really bad. That’s just them. Either you can suck it up or challenge it, or just get better man. Get better at home. Do what you’ve got to do to get better at Street Fighter, and the scene will take over.
Adam: Awesome. Thanks again for getting together with me to do this, and I will see you at EVO.
Alex: Alright man. Thanks Keits.
Adam: Take it easy Alex.
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