This year, EVO — the world’s largest fighting game tournament — did not end with Street Fighter as it traditionally does. Instead, seemingly due to the incredibly high number of contestants participating, the Sunday night finals finished with Guilty Gear Strive, the latest and greatest from developer Arc System Works. The finals stretched past midnight into Monday morning, tasking already-exhausted players with performing for an equally tired crowd. Despite this, the audience still erupted when UMISHO won the Grand Finals using the gun-wielding Happy Chaos, bringing home EVO gold for the United States.
Watching Guilty Gear Strive as a spectator, especially a casual one, can be an overwhelming experience. At one point, there were so many manifestations of possessed warrior Zato-1 — a seeming reference to the blind samurai Zatoichi — that my eyes simply lost track of what was happening and I had to look away to refocus. UMISHO’s Happy Chaos exasperates that problem tenfold by being what one can only describe as manic. By the way she moves with the character, you would instantly assume she’s an old-hand at the Guilty Gear series, which itself extends decades back to 1998. That assumption would be wrong.
“I only started competing in fighting games 11 or 12 months ago,” UMISHO says in a joint Q&A session after the match while chuckling. “I actually competed in Overwatch before this for like four years, so I know what it takes to improve as a competitor. I think improving fast is one of my best traits.”
UMISHO didn’t just play competitive Overwatch, she was accomplished at it. At one point, she says, she won Contenders, which is essentially a structured scouting competition for players to move up to the Overwatch League. Having won Contenders, she absolutely would have been a shoo-in for the Overwatch League, so why did she decide to switch from shooting guns in Overwatch to shooting guns in Guilty Gear Strive?
“[Overwatch] is trash!” UMISHO emphasizes. “That game is terrible!” she says to laughter. “It’s actually not that terrible, but it’s really not for me. It gave me whiplash when I first entered the FGC, honestly.”
In a tweet from June, UMISHO called competitive Overwatch a “fire pit.” She added, “Let me say right now that no amount of money can make up for horribly run events and a shitty scene.”
She reiterated parallel thoughts about EVO after her victory, saying “The [fighting game community] has been so good and the events are so well done. I absolutely love it here.”
After a friend introduced her to Strive a year ago, she was immediately impressed by how cool the game looked, and became enamored with it. While she played Guilty Gear Xrd casually, she didn’t start playing competitively until Strive blew her away. It helped that she eventually found Happy Chaos, a DLC character, to be very fun and also very, very broken — a sentiment that much of the Strive community is echoing in the wake of UMISHO’s EVO win. She’s the first to admit the character is unbalanced, but that made him the best option.
“When I first bought the game, I played May,” she explains, “but the character hurt my hands too much.” She held up a hand while her other hand held gripped the box containing her championship golden arcade stick. “I don’t understand how people can play a charge character on a pad, I just can’t.”
When I ask UMISHO how she feels about being EVO champion, she simply remarks “Pretty nice.” When I follow it up by asking how it feels to have the entire Guilty Gear international community paint a target on her back now that she’s proven herself to be the best in the world, she barely hesitates and smiles, “Pretty nice.”