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Damdai: A Short Interview

 

As EVO is coming up rapidly, I decided to field a few questions to our most well-known top ST players: Damdai and AfroLegends. Hope you guys enjoy!
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Damien Dailidenas A.K.A. Damdai
MuffinMan: First off, thanks for coming down to SoCal and giving us a hell of a show at SCR! You really showed that you and AfroLegends are on a level that we can all respect and aspire to.

Damdai: Thanks. I had a great time. Haven’t been that close to the edge in a while! We can only go so far, so unless you guys are standing still, the gap will inevitably close.

MuffinMan: With EVO right around the corner, many players have formed strong teams for X-Mania USA, and some of the OG players have even mentioned coming out of retirement to compete in ST’s flagship EVO tournament.

Are there any players you would like to see make a return to the ST scene? Why?

Damdai: A bunch. The Wolfe brothers, GigaMSX, John Choi, Valle. Pretty much anyone who thought they were hot shit back in the day! We play this game to challenge ourselves, and to lose great competitors like those is a damn shame.

MuffinMan: A lot of the current famous players either learned from players of the early days or are players who never retired from the days.

Do you think you’d have a similar level of success if you were playing at your current level in the early 90s (WW/CE/HF) days? Would you be able to compete with the top OGs back then?

Damdai: I don’t see why not, especially considering I main S Ryu.

MuffinMan: You’ve come a long way since your 3rd place finish at EVO in HD Remix. How do you think your playstyle has evolved since your early appearances in competitive Super Turbo?

Damdai: I was pretty reckless back then, but that comes with the territory of using Ken. I think I have evolved a lot since, transitioning through several main characters and play styles, from zoning, to rush down, finally settling on a combination of the two. Several trips to Japan helped pull back the veil, and consistent sessions with the EC crew (Mars, Riz, Tecmo, Techmonkey, Mikeidge, JoshC, Zoolander, Howard, and once upon a time John Rambo, DSP, and Nohoho) helped me hone my skills and build confidence.

MuffinMan: At what point do you feel that you earned the title “Top Player” in ST?

Damdai: Thanks to a strong rookie year and being credited with the HDR Akuma ban, my name spread quickly. But it’s difficult to pinpoint a precise moment where I felt I was deserving of the title. “Top” is relative in this case. Whenever I defeat an established Japanese player in tournament, I feel a little closer. When I can win a stacked tournament in Japan, I’ll be satisfied.

MuffinMan: You’ve played against top players from all over the world. What do you think differs between the American style of play and the Japanese style of play?

Damdai: In one word, precision. In many words, they just seem to be better at learning and improving. Our ranks are pretty static, barely shifting. A top player here means never losing. There, it means something else. We have players that love the game, but they don’t make a serious effort to improve, missing key components of matchups for years. All the answers are out there, in YouTube videos of the top Japanese players (NOT in American forums and wikis). If more people took the time to incorporate them into their game, our tournaments would be a lot more exciting.

MuffinMan: The significance of matchups is a heavily debated topic in ST. What is your opinion on whether or not matchups can be the determining factor between two near-skilled players?

Damdai: It definitely plays a role. There’s no doubt a Honda player will have to try harder than a Ryu player when they fight each other.

MuffinMan: You’ve been known to play a multitude of characters in tournaments. Do you feel that your dominance in ST is attributed to the characters you’ve used in certain matchups, or do you feel that you’ve been outplaying your opponents in every aspect?

Damdai: Unless you’re winning every tournament with Cammy, I think you have to give some credit to your character choices. I’ve been guilty of counter-picking (choosing a non-main character known to have an advantage in a particular matchup), but I think I’ve only ever done that against Marsgattai when I felt my back was up against a wall (his Guile is serious business), and only because Guile vs. Dhalsim is such a lopsided matchup that it would be stupid not to if it meant the difference between winning and losing the tournament. But I have also played him so many times without counter-picking that I’ve proven I don’t need that to win. Against everyone else, I always stick to my mains, neither of which are top tier, overcoming many disadvantageous matchups along the way. Sometimes my characters will have the advantage, sometimes they won’t. Ryu is also a very interesting character in that his greatest strength is also his greatest weakness. There is a real art to throwing fireballs, as every single one puts him at risk of taking huge damage from a jump in. It’s certainly not as easy as “spamming” as YouTube commenters would have you believe. Because of that, I always have great respect for Ryus’ who can win at a high level, as I feel the majority of that character’s strength comes from the player himself.

MuffinMan: We’ve seen you perform well at pretty much every ST tournament you’ve entered. However, when it comes to competing against AfroLegends, it seems like you struggle to overcome his playstyle.

What is it that makes it difficult for you to win consistently against SoCal’s strongest player, and do you feel that there’s a definite skill gap between you and AfroLegends?

Damdai: Afro presents a real challenge with his mastery of a character I have traditionally struggled against. DeeJay’s ability to neutralize my strengths is something I have been unable to find a consistent answer for, and with no way to effectively practice that matchup outside of the 1 or 2 times a year that we fight, I’m always walking into the ring knowingly unprepared, which isn’t a good mental state to be in. It’s interesting because more often than not I am able to shutdown his Boxer, which is considered a worse matchup, forcing him to switch to DeeJay. Because of that, I don’t think there is a skill gap. I’m just missing a key understanding of the DeeJay matchup. Something that I WILL find.

That was the competitor in me talking. The other truth is, before damdai even existed, Afro was part of the first video I would ever watch over and over that motivated me to start competing. Evo West 2007. Looking back, having now played many of those guys in tournament, and to now be considered Afro’s main rival, and worthy to team up with him at this year’s EVO for XMANIA USA, well, I am extremely proud and grateful. If you are a newcomer reading this and think it’s too late to start, or that you will never catch up, kill that shit right now. With enough desire and passion, it’s never too late. Maybe you’ll be our new rival next year.

MuffinMan: We’ve recently seen you make some serious progress in Street Fighter 4. Do you plan on making SF4 a serious commitment (if not already) in the same way that you’ve committed yourself to ST?

Damdai: I’m looking forward to Ultra. I still feel too much is built into the engine and characters themselves, minimizing the amount of skill required from the players, but it looks like Capcom is trying to address that, if even just a little bit. Unfortunately, without a solid offline scene in my area, I’m not sure how serious I can take it, but I’ll try my best.

MuffinMan: Have you ever considered retirement from Super Turbo? Why?

Damdai: Never. I love it too much.

MuffinMan: If you were to retire from ST, would you prefer to retire as a champion, or would you rather retire after being taken down by an up-and-coming ST powerhouse?

Damdai: It’s difficult to say because I don’t think I would ever feel like retiring from ST, but I’m pretty sure any thoughts of retiring would be extinguished once I lost, so I’d have to go with “champion.” But what defines a champion? It would have to be winning a singles tournament like the one Otochun recently won with 99% of the JP grandmasters in attendance.

MuffinMan: What is it about ST that keeps you playing, supporting, and competing in tournaments whenever you can?

Damdai: ST captured that timeless magic. The parameters tuned just right. Most importantly, when I lose, it feels like I’m losing to the player, not the character, which I think is a huge problem in many of today’s popular games. The people it attracts helps as well. I really like nearly everyone in the community, all in their own unique way.

MuffinMan: Lastly, with EVO only a few months away, how are you preparing for the high-level comp expected to attend?

Damdai: Unfortunately, I’m not doing anything. I cannot practice where I am, so I just look forward to tournaments, but I don’t think I will be attending any other tournaments before EVO. Fortunately, so much is cemented in muscle memory that I think I won’t deteriorate much, if at all. I’ll watch matches whenever good ones are uploaded, and maybe power-up the UD-CPS2 for some single-player action. Best case scenario, if I have to go to NY for whatever reason, I’ll have a session with those guys. That’s what I miss the most.

MuffinMan: That’s it! Thanks so much for taking time out for this interview! Is there anything you’d like to add?

Damdai: Thanks for everything you guys have done, are doing, and will do for the ST community! I’m forever grateful!

 

Special thanks to Darrin, Fudd, and Darkness for providing questions and inspiring ideas. 
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