MomoCon 2015: Justin Wong on eSports

Justin Wong, a professional eSports competitor who focuses on Marvel vs. Capcom and Street Fighter, shared his insights and experiences to fans during MomoCon. Wong expected the hour session to be a panel, but found himself alone. The shy and humble competitor was able to hide any signs of nervousness and field questions from the audience for over an hour in an impromptu Q&A with fans.

Wong shares that he played in arcades because his family couldn’t afford a Gamecube or other consoles growing up. A quarter for a round was doable but the investment in something larger wasn’t something the family considered. One friend of Wong’s, Eddie Lee, was a local rival and took $50 in quarters Wong as the young competitor kept trying to defeat him. It took Wong two years of training to get to a place where he could beat Lee on a regular basis.

Wong says that he entered eSports by accident. While playing in a local arcade as a kid, a friend encouraged him to attend a tournament for Street Fighter. Wong placed fifth, talked to the other competitors, made friends and had a great time. It wasn’t until later when he realized that if you place first you could actually walk away with a nice prize purse – this realization would change his life.

Once the 2009 GameStop tournament for Street Fighter 4 was announced, Wong knew that he wanted to compete. He ended up placing first in the U.S. and caught the eye of pro-eSports team Evil Geniuses – they saw a need for fighting game players and signed Wong. Since then, he has been able to travel around the world, go to conventions and hone his craft.

Training is intense to be a professional player. Wong spends four hours in training mode, counting pixels and working to discover new combinations and tactics and another four hours playing against other players online when preparing for a large tournament like Evolution. Wong admits that he is currently streaming more than training. He is playing a wider range of games and modifying his character selection to ensure diversity and keep the stream more interesting as opposed to the repetition to master a specific character.

For those looking into the professional eSports market Wong believes it is really hard to start as a streamer and grow. It’s a way to get noticed and break into the industry but it won’t work for everyone due to market saturation. And as Wong mentions in regards to the difference between streaming and training – streamers are entertainers first. The largest streamers aren’t necessarily the most competitive players.

If you will break into the industry it takes more than just being good, you need to be likable to be sponsored and you need to give back to the community as much as possible. Encourage people to stay in the scene, you never know who will be the next Evolution Champion.

Wong plans on always staying within the eSports community, even when he retires. He hopes to leverage connections that he built throughout the years and help the community grow – but that should still be five plus years in the future. Wong states when you become a marketable player that you have your foot in the door and its important to keep that door open.

When a fan asks if Wong hates when someone comes from behind and wins when has dominated the match, a maneuver which Wong is famous for, he smiles and just says, “You can’t hate on a comeback.”

Speaking of haters, Wong notices that the fighting game audience doesn’t seem to prefer players so much as team makeups. If you use a series of popular, tier-1 characters than you are more likely to be considered the heel in the match. However, if you use a unique combination then the crowd is more likely to root for you.

The crowd can effect the player and get into their head. Wong loves it when the crowd is cheering against him to lose, that way when he pulls out the victory the room is completely silent. He also enjoys the cheers, and finds himself trying harder to make sure that he doesn’t let those players down. The crowd can get into a player’s head, positively or negatively, to the point where some tournament formats are asking players to bring headphones so they just stay focused on the game.

Wong says that the pressure of a large prize pool can make him nervous and lose focus during a match. If its a smaller tournament or the qualifiers than the matches are all about fun – just like playing home in your boxers. But when there is a significant payday on the line that it becomes about more than the game.

A fan asked Wong his thoughts on the tier-list and if they matter to competitive players. Wong responded that the more evenly balanced the game is the less it matters. In the competitive scene there is at least one professional player who can make that character shine and seem broken. He calls out Chris G who uses Morrigan and makes her look game-breaking, but there is no one else who is able to pull of those same moves. Wong doesn’t mention any games specifically, but does call out that when a game is unbalanced then the tier-list matters and you’ll see the same characters used continuously.

For more about eSports, the evolution of professional video gamers and video game celebrities check out MomCon coverage this year and attend next year.

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