Interview: Shinobism, Making a Place that Connects Games and People (1/2)

Interview: Shinobism, Making a Place that Connects Games and People (1/2)

Momochi and Choco are a married couple affiliated with Evil Geniuses, a pro gaming team based in the U.S. After establishing Shinobsim Co., Ltd. and Momochi’s battle for the Capcom Cup, the two announced their marriage. We asked them why they would start a company that is specialized for the pro gaming industry in Japan, where the industry only has a brief history. In the background of such a decision were troubles only challengers face when treading untraversed roads.

[Momochi’s Profile]
A pro gamer and member of the pro gaming team Evil Geniuses (EG). The official world champion of Ultra Street Fighter IV in 2014, and world champion of Ultra Street Fighter IV at Evo 2015 (among many other championships). Representative director of Shinobism Co., Ltd.

[Choco’s Profile]
A pro gamer and member of the pro gaming team EG. Basking in the limelight as the first female pro gamer, she has the nickname “Choco Blanka” because she frequently uses Blanka in Street Fighter IV. Company director of Shinobism Co., Ltd.

Failure at Capcom Cup Resulting from Self-Conceit

ーーLet’s start from last year. Momochi, you participated in the Capcom Cup held last December, and unfortunately ended up in 17th place. You were certainly aiming higher, but I’d like to ask if there is any particular reason you can think of?

Momochi (M): Since I was able to win Capcom Cup in 2014, keeping the title in 2015 was my topmost goal. It was so frustrating. I didn’t think it would be an easy win but it made me realize again how intense competitions are.

ーーDo you feel your opponent did thorough research on you?

M: It does feel that way. Since I hadn’t won any large tournaments before, I was an unmarked existence. But after becoming the official world champion for Ultra Street Fighter IV in 2014 and my Evo 2015 victory I felt I was being targeted. But more importantly, I put too much pressure on myself and got crushed by it. I think my challenger spirit became dim and I allowed carelessness to slip into my heart.

ーーChoco, what did you think of Momochi’s fight?

Choco (C): His movements were rigid and he made a lot more mistakes than usual, especially during combos. He was visibly nervous. I was worried that he might be pushing himself too hard.

M: Looking back now, I was too eager to win. Even when the situation was under my control and I had the advantage, I wanted to settle the match quickly and rushed forward. I feel that if I just took the time and looked at my opponent’s actions with a cool head, the outcome might have been different.

ーーAfter the Capcom Cup, you informed your fans about your marriage through social media. Is there any particular reason for your timing?

M: Actually, it’s not like we particularly made the decision to get married after the Capcom Cup was over, we just had some non-serious talk about how cool it would be to get married after winning the biggest Street Fighter IV tournament.

ーーBut instead, you realized the colossal magnitude of it again after suffering a crushing defeat.

M: I felt miserable, but at the same time, this thought that I wanted to start again from zero with the two of us and build all kinds of things took root in my head. I thought that it was the right time, and I proposed.

ーーI see. Choco, what are your impressions looking back on 2015?

C: With our wedding and starting up the company at the end of the year, it was such a busy period it felt as if what we did in the first half of the year just disappeared. Of course, that doesn’t mean we could nicely separate all the various stuff or that everything went smooth, but at least we were able to settle down a bit by the end of the year.

The Significance of Establishing Shinobism

Shinobism was named after Momochi’s shinobi heritage. With the slogan “Connecting Games and People,” it aims to further the growth of e-sports through managing event and competition projects and nurturing pro gamers.

ーーWas it before or after Capcom Cup that you started Shinobism?

M: In terms of timing, it was roughly a month before the Capcom Cup.

ーーPlease tell us, what did you have in mind when creating this company?

M: Our strongest motivation was to mold our second careers. Today, we are active pro gamers and the industry’s current shape provides a great environment, but since you have no way of knowing what will happen next year, 5, or even 10 years later, it makes you feel insecure. We were thinking, isn’t there something we could do ourselves when we can’t win as pro gamers anymore or the tournament prizes are reduced? That was our starting point.

C: Even though it might be a second career, I really wanted to do events such as the Shinobi no Kai or the Tokyo Office Party we are doing now and also nurture the youth. When we were making detailed plans on how to move forward with this, I felt we had to create a company and do it through there.

ーーSince you were talking about events, the presentation for the finalized Street Fighter V will be held on Feb. 11 in Japan. Have you played it?

M: I did participate in the beta tests a few times. I’m also planning to take part in the demonstration match during the presentation. Events like this are important for appealing to younger kids.

ーーI’m so excited for the release! So, returning to our previous topic, what position would you like Shinobism to occupy on the game market?

C: We want to take a standpoint close to players. Something close to players, but not a maker nor a corporation. We want to become a presence that can nicely connect many different relations.

ーーJust before, the nurturing of the youth came up. Right now, which do you feel more strongly about, sending champions to already existing pro teams or embracing the champions with Shinobism?

M: First, we want to train champions at our company. We want to teach young people ourselves and create members affiliated with Shinobism. Later on, other pro teams might seek us out to talk about transfers. However, Shinobism’s vision is to create a starting point for young people first. At present, if a kid thought that he wanted to become a pro gamer he wouldn’t be able to see the particulars of that path. The only way is to go overseas on your own, get some results at a tournament, and receive attention. We would be there to support them as something similar to a player, and we want them to rely on us in a “Momochi, an active gamer is teaching me, so I will surely become strong” fashion. Shinobism wants to be a good environment for pro gamers to take the first step.

ーーWhat’s the way in which Japanese people become pro gamers. For example, Momochi, how did you become a pro gamer?

M: Well, I played a lot at the arcades, participated in national tournaments, and I started to participate in more and more gaming events. Later, I was invited to an overseas tournament where I produced results so I got attention, which led to me being invited to a pro team.

C: Although I’m not among the world’s topmost level that always contends for victory, I won against a famous player at a tournament that was broadcast live in the U.S., which got me the spotlight. As a result, I was invited to a tournament and signed a contract with a pro team.

M: At the time, not only were there few female players in the game world, I think we received more attention because we were a pro gamer couple, which is rare.

ーーSo one of the goals of Shinobism is to show an easier way to becoming a pro, as opposed to the steep road you two had to climb.

C: Exactly like that, rather than managing a pro team.

ーーThis isn’t limited to pro gaming, but there is only a handful of star players who fight for world championships, and training them is extremely difficult. Since one of Shinobism’s goals is to produce such players, do you have any thoughts about scouting and training at this point?

M: First, we want to gather candidates. We will interview the applicants and teach those who clear the practical exam.

ーーWhat kind of people are you hoping for?

M: I think inviting players who can suddenly become an immediate asset is close to aiming for the top of the world. On the other hand, I personally also want to teach raw people. I want to train players who are interested in fighting games but don’t know how to get better from square one.

ーーBy “raw,” do you mean their personality?

M: It doesn’t matter how well you play, the most important thing is motivation. Regardless of how skillful they are, even geniuses can’t become strong if they don’t have that hunger in their heart. Geniuses with good senses can win in the beginning, but many are easily discouraged when they hit a wall. Of course, if it was a motivated genius who is more resistant to adversities, that would be perfect. But for the time being, I intend to put more emphasis on their hunger instead of their senses, since I myself am one who came this far after having wagered my life on gaming. In that sense, I want the young people I teach to have such feelings. I want them to try the path of the pro gamer once.

ーーFrom Shinobism’s point of view: you want them to knock, the door is open.

M: Young people have a future and a wide range of choices. I don’t mind if they challenge it once to see if this suits them. I have no intention whatsoever of firing off with “Can you dedicate your life to gaming?!” However, I would still expect them to show adequate motivation once they decided they would do it.

ーーCan foreigners apply, too?

C: We included a condition in the application rules that they must be able to come to Tokyo once a week.

ーーWhich naturally boils down to Japanese people.

M: Yes. Even if we were to teach, there’s the language barrier. We’re sorry but for now...

Interview: Shinobism, Making the Future of Gaming (2/2)

[Requirements for Shinobism Training Member Recruitment]
・Healthy boy/girl age 20 or younger who can commute to the Tokyo Metropolitan area at least once a week
・Someone of strong will aiming to battle and win on a global stage through fighting games
・Someone who can use SNS and correctly share information
・Someone who can appear in internet broadcasts and videos

Shinobism Official Site

This is a Tokyo Otaku Mode original article written by Kohji Sakurai and translated by Barbara Tar with photos by Soh Takemori.

You belong in the TOM Fan Club. Don't keep TOM Senpai waiting: