Darryl "Snake Eyez" Lewis is the highest ranked North American player on the Capcom Pro Tour leaderboards. He's heading into the Capcom Cup Finals next weekend as the highest seed among players who aren't automatically qualified.
Snake Eyez recently returned from training in Japan, something he says he needed to do to take on the Street Fighter legends he'll face at the Capcom Cup. He sat down with theScore eSports to talk about the differences between NA and Japanese players, why he doesn't fear Elena and Momochi's poker face.
What spurred you to want to train in Japan?
The reason I went to train in Japan was because I felt like I was hitting a skill cap in America where I couldn't really get that much better because the competition wasn't good enough. I couldn't take advantage and take my gameplay to the next level. You know how you're only as good as your competition? Well, I figured that if I go to Japan I'd have a chance to take my game to the next level. There's tons of guys in Japan that are so good. Everyone's great in Japan. The average player out here is like a five, but in Japan the average player is like a seven or an eight. Just by going out there I'd have a chance of not only improving, but also if I wanted to play with another character, I'd be able to level him up too.
What did you find then was the difference between American and Japanese players?
In America, when someone has an advantage, more or less there's no sharing of that knowledge. But Japan, they think differently, they want to share that information with everyone so they can get better. They share tech, they're not afraid of everyone getting better as a whole. That's what makes Japan so much better.
What was the coolest part of getting to play Street Fighter in Japan?
Not everyone gets to go to Japan to train in Street Fighter. Just that feeling of playing in arcades and playing people I've never played before, that experience alone was amazing. The amount of time I was able to stay out there was great too. it's really hard for someone to get better at the game in like a week, or a week and a half. I stayed out there for about three-and-a-half weeks. That was more than enough time to adapt to the culture and figure out what exactly is the difference between our skillset and the Japanese players' skillset. That was more than enough time for me to figure out what was going on and what I was lacking, or for me to just figure out how I could adapt to some of the great things that they do, and some of the smart things that they apply in their gameplay to mine.
What do you think you got out of the experience?
Well I was always known to be a patient player, but I've gotta say, by me travelling out there, I've learned how to be even more patient in a different way. At first, I basically kind of waited for the opponent to come to me, but now I have ways to provoke them to come to me, instead of waiting for them to get fatigued on being patient and they decide to stop being patient and they basically lose for it. I have a lot of ways of provoking them to come to me,. But I also trained a lot with my alternate character, Evil Ryu. I had absolutely no patience at all with that character, but now it's definitely getting there. I'm like, out-waiting the opponent, I know when I learned a few matchups out there. That really helps out. Out here there's not a lot of players representing certain characters, but out in Japan you have at least three professional players playing each character in the roster. So you have more than enough players to get better at certain matchups in.
Well, they’ve got a pro Dee Jay player.
Yeah. Once you see someone playing that character, that's how you know there's a player representing every character.
About a week into Japan, I went to this place called... I can't remember, but I played the winner of Tokyo Game Show, Dashio. He plays Seth. There's some guys who invited me out to the studio and they basically had me play him online. Now the online connection out there is extremely good, like you can actually play nearly perfect tournament play. So they had me play Dashio and that was a character that I....I've played against Seth, but the the way he played Seth made me realize that this character is extremely good and I don't know this character. When I went to Japan, I wanted to be beaten by someone who can play a character like that really well and also I played people who played the same character as me, and you know, mirror matches are pretty weird in Street Fighter sometimes. Just being in the same advantageous position can be harmful for you because both character have the same moves so it gets a little weird sometimes. That's really what I wanted to play against. Instead of winning all the time in a certain area, you want to test the waters in another place, where people are better. That was perfect for me.
Speaking of ‘Gief, did you get a chance to play against Itabashi Zangief or Hagejin? It’s like, you three who are usually considered the best Zangief players in the world.
Actually I played both of those guys. I played Itabashi and I played him a bunch of matches, but I specifically got to play him in a first-to-seven, and then I got a chance to play Hagejin online in a first-to-five. He actually beat me in the first-to-five! I put him in a couple of positions where it was advantageous for me, but he ended up just SPDing me (laughs)! That's the thing about a Zangief mirror match is that if he's in range for my SPD, I'm in range for his too. It just doesn't feel like you can properly play that matchup. It gets too wonky. It's like a brawl fest. It's like a wrestling match.
But my match with Dashio, I'd like to play more matches like that. When you're out of your comfort zone? You excel a lot. You get a lot better in a small amount of time. That's what I was looking for. Certain players, like Seth players, and most of Zangief's bad matchups, and just grinding them up. Grinding them all up.
Going back to your Evil Ryu for a sec, you’ve picked him a few times this year, particularly when you surprised everyone with him at Final Round. I know Japan considers him and Elena to be top tier. What was it like with that character in Japan?
While I was in Japan, the majority of people played Sagat. Then there's, for some reason, Cody, then there's Elena and Evil Ryu. I guess certain people find Sagat and Cody fun, but as far as playing top-tier, Evil Ryu and Elena were the highest picked characters out there. But since I was able to play against it a lot, I picked up on a lot of things with Evil Ryu. A lot of people get agitated, and Evil Ryu just kind of plays the keep away game the whole time instead of going in. Although, if you go in you get a good amount of damage. It always gives the opponent the opportunity to do damage back to you. But if you stay out of range, you minimize a lot of things that can happen, and Evil Ryu, he excels at this range...pretty much the next move he has going, which is his Low Forward into depending on how much meter he has? He can get some pretty nasty combos. That's basically what I was trying to focus on, just you know, saving up meter and converting into damage. Prioritizing putting someone in the corner, rather than trying to hit them with vortex set ups. Stuff like that is just really solid play and it minimizes the amount of things that could happen to you.
So, going into the Capcom Cup, you’ve put in the work, qualified through points and trained in Japan. How do you feel heading into the big show?
Well Capcom Cup is such a crazy tournament. This could be the worst for me, or it could be the best. I feel like I might see nothing but Elenas at Capcom Cup because the game is leaning towards her. Personally I don't have much of a problem with Elena, I could have it much worse. She definitely has a lot of holes when it comes to Zangief but my first match is against Keoma and I've never really had problems with Abel. I don't think he's much of a threat in that department, and I sort of love when people try to rush me down because that's sort of what Zangief wants.
What do you think of Keoma?
I think he's a really good player. His hit confirms are really good. It seems like he maximizes all of his damage. But as a character, Abel just kind of lacks deep defense. His offense is really good. He puts people in a situation where they have to guess a lot, but yeah, sometimes he has to guess to, and his escape option is just so bad. It's just really bad for him.
Is there anyone you want to play in-bracket?
There's a ton of people that I'm fine with going up against. (laughs) I feel like I could definitely beat anyone I have beforehand, or I know I have some sort of clue of how they play. I'm fine with playing against Haitani, I'm fine with playing against any Guile player.
I think if you win your first match, the winner of GamerBee vs Gackt.
I'm fine with playing against either one of those guys, especially Gackt. I remember playing him in 2013 at Shadowloo Showdown, and that was kind of boring. And that was before I kind of peaked and you know, became the player I am today. Also, Zangief is a lot better than he was when I played him before hand. I would be fine with him. But I'm pretty sure that, 100% that GamerBee is going to beat Gackt. Elena vs. Fei Long is probably the worst matchup in the game right now, and GamerBee is the best Elena, so there's no chance that Gackt is going to win unless he took note from Fuudo and picked up Seth for Elena. But I feel like it's still doable. I can foresee if I were to win, what matchups I would have to play.
So is there anyone you really don't want to have to go up against?
Well, right now, Evil Ryu is really hard to fight against with Zangief. So I don't think I would want to play against Daigo right now. Not because he's you know, pretty much the best player right now. I don't want to play against him because he's the best with Evil Ryu. That's why I don't want to play against him, the matchup is really hard and he knows exactly what to do. I would rather actually fight against Sagat than a really high level Evil Ryu. It's Ultra Street Fighter IV version 1.6 and a lot of matchups have changed. I feel like I don't know who Zangief really beats now, because I beat a lot of players whose characters are supposed to beat mine, but then I would end up losing to characters that Zangief was supposed to beat. So it's really confusing to me now, and I can't really get a grasp on who wins what, and what matchups I have advantage and disadvantage.
So, you’re probably the western player best known for ‘Gief. what draws you to that character in Street Fighter IV?
In Street Fighter IV, aside from all the other Street Fighter games, I really like the way Zangief looks in the game. He has a very meticulous, spot you down type style, and he makes a lot of sense. He gets in, and he's rewarded when gets in, or he has a hard time getting in, but when he does, he has a chance to completely win the whole entire round or match. I'm really familiar with his archetype, I'm so used to playing grapple characters from SFII, and his archetype carries over to other SF games. Even though it's slightly different, it's sort of the same all the time. He retains the same moves, and his gameplan remains the same. Also, people are really scared of Zangief (laughs). I find that absolutely hilarious, sometimes I laugh a little inside, because people end up killing themselves over trying to escape something that wouldn't have even killed them at all. It would have been a small amount of damage but they end up trying to get away and they die for it. I feel like that's pretty fun.
What do you think of SFV Zangief then? I know people are saying he’s more of a brawler.
Oh yeah, Street Fighter V Zangief is definitely a brawler. In IV, Zangief actually has footsies, he has really far-reaching normals that connect into his Green Hand, and his walk speed is sort of decent. He can jump at you, he can SPD from pretty far away or sweep, and his hurtbox is kind of designed to avoid certain moves when he moves a certain way. But in SFV, a lot of his normals are really short, besides his armor Stand Fierce punch. His attacks have really short, T-Rex-like reach. I feel like he's designed to jump at you or dash up and do his command throw, or do his V-Skill and air SPD piledriver you. I feel like that's what they want him to do, they want him to be in your grill, mashing buttons, doing armored moves. Or running at you with his Siberian Express, they made it so you can cancel a normal into it and sort of surprise someone and get your mixups going once you knock them down. So he's way less of a footsie character now. But I don't want to say that because things could change. They're still making changes to the game. They're really changing certain archetypes.
What’s next for you as a player?
I'm taking a small break, but I would still definitely love to play. Sadly, there's a cracked version of the beta out, so some people are going to have an advantage when the game comes out. That was kind of one of the things about Street Fighter. Certain players are better than other players, but it kind of takes away from that when people are playing right now. But I think I'll be at a disadvantage, because I don't have the cracked beta. So I'll be on the grind when it comes out.
I actually wasn't really interested in SFV Zangief, until I saw another guy, and he looked amazing. I was really inspired. Yeah, top players get inspired too. (laughs) This guy, the way he was playing, really opened up a lot of ways. When you don't know how a certain character is supposed to be played, it can take you a really long time. Just by watching the way he did, it put me a little ahead of the curve because I feel like I can take what he knows and add it to what I do. And he's still, although he played Zangief in a way I liked, he still didn't play Zangief in a way that I would. And that's what I'm gonna focus on when SFV comes out.
His name is Godere, and he's...I think he comes from KoF, but he's definitely good in Rising Thunder. He likes grapple archetype characters too, and I really like the way he plays that character.
Is there anyone left that you really want to play against, now that Street Fighter IV is winding down?
I feel like Momochi is the guy that I want to get a crack at for the last time. When I first played Momochi, I beat him pretty badly. This was when he was using Cody though. I beat him pretty badly and he you know, the look on his face was pretty sad. For him, I guess. He never really looks sad. But he never really looks happy either. But yeah I would like to get a last crack at him because he's been beating me. He's beaten me twice with Ken I think, and once with Cody, and I don't want him to think it's over. The game is still out, and I want my runback.
Daigo is always fun to play, but man, he's a good player but his character right now is too much. When the game is coming to a close and they have some sort of broken things, there's no hope for it being fixed, so you've got to deal with it. And he took advantage of that so hard. I kind of feel like Ryu was good before Ultra came out, but then Daigo basically just switched his main over to a side grade that's a thousand times better than his original character. And you know, that must be amazing to have! Having a character that's similar to the one you already play come out, but he's godlike and you just sort of have to adapt a few things in your gameplan and boom, you're playing top-tier. It's amazing.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
You can watch Red Bull's journey in Japan in the Cultivation video series.
Daniel Rosen is a news editor for theScore eSports. He plays Sakura and is straight-up terrified of being sent to SPD City. You can follow him on Twitter.