Daigo: 'Changing characters almost seemed to me like I was giving up on myself'

Daigo "The Beast" Umehara, 35, is one of the oldest professional esports players. Provided by Stephanie Lindgren/Dreamhack.

"Evo Moment #37" will forever live on as Street Fighter legend. It was Evo 2004, and Justin Wong was one hit away from beating Daigo "The Beast" Umehara. To guarantee the win, Wong let out his critical art, a special move that would finish off Daigo with a rapid flurry of 15 kicks. There was only one option: for The Beast to parry every single one, then take out the remaining third of Wong's health bar. He did just that with one of his trusted Shoto characters, Ken.

Although Moment 37 was one of the most memorable rounds of his career, Daigo has made a name for himself with a few Shoto selections, from Ken and Ryu to Evil Ryu and Akuma. From multiple Evolution Championship wins to majors like Canada Cup and DreamHack, Ryu has always been by The Beast's side. But with the balance changes brought to Street Fighter V, The Beast will be sheathing his Ryu and taking out Guile.

ESPN talked to him about the change.

ESPN: Why are you switching to Guile and why did you make the switch from Ryu?

Daigo: Street Fighter V is a completely new game in terms of its game mechanics. The update cycle is also fast, and I have come to accept that there is little merit in sticking to one single character. Just as the world we live in now moves fast and the workforce is required to adapt to changes, I too need to be able to adapt to the changes of the game.

If I were to play for fun, Ryu would have been perfectly fine, but to play at the competitive level I had to change my approach to the game. So for now Guile suits me, but that could always change in the future.

ESPN: You've been playing with Ryu for years now. Do you have a lot of emotion attached to Ryu, and if so, what does it feel like dropping the character?

Daigo: I do feel attached to Ryu. Truth be told, I still prefer him. Over the years, even when he was not favored to win, he still reflected the effort I put in. But for this installment, I realized that my attachment was working against me for the reasons I mentioned earlier.

Realizing and accepting the need to drop Ryu was a different kind of challenge for me -- one of the biggest challenges I've ever faced. It troubled me for months. You see, dropping Ryu was not really just about Ryu himself, but about changing my fundamental approach to the game. I always chose to challenge myself and work with a character to win my own way. It was a creative process that I enjoyed. It was a way to express myself. Just doing what I've been told or choosing the quickest way to win was never my style. Even when I was given those tools, I'd still choose to start from scratch and discover the truth on my own.

So changing characters almost seemed to me like I was giving up on myself. I felt a strong obligation not to do that for the sake of my fans who have supported me. But I realized I wasn't giving up on myself; I was adapting to a new environment in order to stay at the top. And I've completely come to peace with my decision. After hours of agonizing, I'm finally happy with the decision I've made.

ESPN: What was the hardest thing when learning Guile? What were the challenges?


Daigo: Well, I've played Guile throughout the entire series even though I never picked him as my main character. In contrast to Ryu, Guile is a character who hasn't changed all that much over the course of the series.

ESPN: What can Capcom do in Season 2 to make you consider picking up Ryu again?

Daigo: I think Ryu might have a chance after the next update, which is due in April. Currently, Ryu looks like Ryu, but he feels completely different. It seems like that'll change again after April. Guile, on the other hand, hasn't really gone through much change to date.

I personally would like to see change that allows the player's individuality and effort to shine through better in the character.

ESPN: Is Ryu now your sub character? Are there certain players/matchups that you would use Ryu for?

Daigo: Ryu is still the character I'm most familiar with, so when I think Ryu can do the job, Ryu will be my guy.