Kah Talks With Ultradavid About the Past, Present and Future

Read Kahlief's interview with David “UltraDavid” Graham in this Spawn On Me EVO 2022 Special podcast transcript!

On this special EVO 2022 installment of Spawn On Me, host Kahlief Adams had the pleasure of chatting with David “UltraDavid” Graham to talk about how this year’s tournament compared to previous years, how has the fighting game community grown, and if just being a player a viable financial option in a content creation-heavy world.

(Also available on Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts!)

Spawn On Me 08/12/22 WE HANG OUT WITH FGC LEGEND ULTRADAVID TO TALK ABOUT THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE OF THE FIGHTING GAME SCENE – EVO 2022 SPECIAL Podcast Transcript

Transcribed by E. Powers

Kahlief: In this interview, we’ll be talking to one of my favorite folks in the fighting game community, someone who, if you have been a fan of anything in the FGC, you know this man’s face, you know this man’s iconic voice. Ultradavid was kind enough to spend some time with me at EVO, and I had a blast talking to this veteran of the space and someone who I hold in really high regard.

It was great to be able to talk to him about the kind of current state of the fighting game community, thinking and moving forward into the future of what the FGC can be, and just how he’s looking at the space as well from his perspective, having been in it for so long. It was really eye opening and really fantastic to get his take and his voice, to be able to talk about all the things that he’s seeing in the space and things that we got into. So, super excited to get a chance to bring this to you. Here’s Ultradavid.

Kahlief: What’s good, everybody? We are here at EVO 2022. I think I got the date right, but I don’t know. I’m delirious. It’s hot out here, and I’m sweating. I can’t see words. I can see colors and things at this point. I’m really excited to bring to you one of my favorite people in the FGC, Ultradavid, rocking with me here on Spawn On Me at EVO. David, it’s so exciting to get a chance to talk to you. How are you doing? How’s your EVO? How’s things going?

Ultradavid: I appreciate that. It’s very nice of you. I’m happy to do it. I’m having a great time, actually. I’m really happy with this year’s EVO so far. It’s a lot larger than it has been in the past, in terms of just physical space.

Kahlief: Oh.

Ultradavid: But the layout is great, and I haven’t heard a peep from anybody that’s negative so far, which is a really good sign. I’ve talked with the people who are running the event.

Kahlief: Yeah?

Ultradavid: And you know, there’s always like fires to put out like at any big event, but…

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: So far, in my opinion, this has been the best EVO of like modern EVOs.

Kahlief: Wow.

Ultradavid: You know, in terms of like the scene being large.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: Back in the day when like I knew every single person who was there, it’s kind of a different story, you know?

Kahlief: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ultradavid: But no, I’ve really, really enjoyed EVO so far. I think it’s been going great.

Kahlief: That’s rad, ’cause you know, for me, this is my first EVO.

Ultradavid: Mm.

Kahlief: So I am soaking all of it in. You know, years and years and years of seeing, you know, everything being streamed, and you know, when it was like super underground and starting out, getting to see you [Ultradavid laughs] and your crew, you know, be at the forefront of kind of the comm scene and doing a lot of that work. It’s good to hear you and other folks who have been such, you know, pillars of the community for so long talk about this really nice energy that’s around the space now, right? It’s a lot of young faces.

Ultradavid: Yeah.

Kahlief: God. MK is my game, and seeing a 17-year-old take it is wild.

Ultradavid: Yeah. [laughs]

Kahlief: You know, what are your thoughts about the current state of the FGC right now? How are you feeling about the way things have been playing out and how all of it’s kind of coming together?

Ultradavid: Yeah, I think it’s in an interesting spot and in a good spot in some ways. I mean, like everything else in the whole world, it’s been in some ways on pause for the last couple of years.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: But that said, with the pandemic, we’ve had to change, I think, some ways that we’ve handled some situations.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: And I feel like there has been positivity that’s come out of it. Not exclusively, for sure.

Kahlief: Sure.

Ultradavid: But I think a lot of it’s been positive. We’ve seen…even though, you know, people have been forced to stay at home for so long, we’ve still seen more players playing games.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: The online scenes are doing better.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: In part probably because of the pandemic, companies are taking online play more seriously.

Kahlief: Mm-hmm.

Ultradavid: So rollbacks come in all sorts of stuff now, has been over the last year or so, and that’s fantastic. So from a game side, I’m very happy about that. I’m really happy about the current generation of games.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: And my personal favorite fighting games are this last generation.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: Street Fighter V, MK11 are like some of my absolute favorites of all time. So I’m really happy about that. But seeing the new stuff that’s headed to come out, I think that that’s gonna continue, so I feel like this is kind of a golden age from the game point of view. Not only are games good, but we can actually play online against people.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: And as far as the, you know, this kind of like offline aspect to it…

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: I think that kind of remains to be seen.

Kahlief: Mm.

Ultradavid: The things like EVO are doing well. EVO, you know, was bought out, right? Different ownership, much more money involved.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: Part of why there is this really big space…

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: I would imagine. I don’t have personal detail, but I would imagine.

Kahlief: Sure, sure, sure, sure.

Ultradavid: Is that there is all this extra money involved.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: And so that’s a positive, right? But you know, it maybe also comes with like requirements about what you have to do.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: And there’s like certainly gonna be goals that people have to meet. So money is great in some ways, like as long as we still feel like we have the FGC people in charge, [Kahlief: “Yeah”] I’m totally cool with that, and that is how it is.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: So I’m really happy about that. But when it comes to the other majors that aren’t EVO, which is its own case, some of them I think are doing okay. CEO I think had fewer people than they expected.

Kahlief: Sure.

Ultradavid: And I know some majors are not coming back.

Kahlief: Oh, wow. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ultradavid: You know, I’ve talked with some folks who used to run events who aren’t gonna do it anymore.

Kahlief: And that’s a lot of different parts of that conversation too. That’s like the way that the structures have gone in terms of prize money, how you can kind of put things together in that space too. It is a really interesting pivot point now, where we’re also seeing that conversation about money be really different.

Ultradavid: Yeah.

Kahlief: Especially when you have games like Multiversus coming [Ultradavid: “Mm”] and have WB throwing a big chunk into a pot in that space. And let’s be honest, one of the hardest things has been for the FGC and compared to a lot of other eSports has been: how do you pay players for the work that they do and the time and the money they put in and effort they put in, without a really big amount of, you know, return for a lot of folks who are at the top of the game in comparison to a lot of their other folks? So.

Ultradavid: That’s a good point, and I think the current perspective is that you can’t be just a top player and expect to make it into a living.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: That can be certainly a part of like your content creation.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: You know, you’re a top player, so watch me stream.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: So watch my YouTube content.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: That I think is viable. There’s plenty of people doing that, but just to be a top player and to win tournaments and make that your career, I’m not sure that that’s doable for almost anybody. Maybe a small handful, a tiny handful.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: I don’t really expect that to change. It would be nice, you know, if more companies had more money, like in Multiversus, a hundred thousand dollar prize pot is incredible.

Kahlief: Wow. Yeah.

Ultradavid: But that’s not really something to be expected, in my opinion. I don’t think that that’s something that we can rely on. Even in other eSports, I’m not sure that the current plans are like long term sustainable.

Kahlief: Yeah, for sure.

Ultradavid: Or even like short term sustainable, some of them. [laughs]

Kahlief: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ultradavid: So I’m not super high on the idea of players being able to just be players and make careers out of it. You know, it’d be great if they could.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: I mean, like, I would love that, but in terms of is that practical, it doesn’t really seem to me like that’s the case. I think it’s more like that’s part of how you can make a living.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: And the other part has to be like making content or maybe you have some other job that is related to it. You’re a tester or something like that.

Kahlief: Yeah. Yeah.

Ultradavid: Something else.

Kahlief: So that part of the conversation about, you know, again, this may not necessarily be the full time job that a lot of the content creators will be able to kind of really engage with. Are you seeing– and again, like, I know we are probably around the same age. I’m an old fart, but I know you’re younger, and you look better, you have hair. You’re doing it better than I am. I don’t know what happened. This is all stress and nonsense. [Ultradavid laughs] But, you know, coming from the era that we grew up in, right?

Ultradavid: Yeah.

Kahlief: We didn’t have a lot of these options. These weren’t things that were [Ultradavid: “Yeah”] kind of ready for us. We missed that boat by almost probably a decade in a real way.

Ultradavid: Yeah.

Kahlief: But it feels like the space is even kind of more broad and more encompassing and more welcoming in the ways that we’ve seen it kind of grow. And FGC itself is very, very fantastic in that way of like ushering and pulling in so many different folks from all over the world. Do you feel like even the games now that we’re seeing with that online component is making that even easier for so many other folks to kind of come into the space and really be welcomed in?

Ultradavid: I do think that’s true. I do think that the good online play allows even more people to play and be welcomed.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: I think that’s true. We were talking about Mortal Kombat a little bit ago.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: And the winners of that, the top three of that were two players from Chile, two twins from Chile, 17 years old, and while they play against each other all the time…

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: You know, they’re playing offline. They also wouldn’t have been noticed if it hadn’t been for online play.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: And it would’ve been hard to imagine them flying out here or to the previous events that they went to without like the scene having realized that these players are super good by playing them online.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: And that kind of thing has been happening for years at this point for all the games that have good net code.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: And so, yeah, I do for sure think it’s true. Like, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Skullgirls is as like diverse as it is and that it also has fantastic online play.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: You don’t need to go out and meet people in person if you’re nervous about that or if you feel like you’re like, you know, a little bit of a different type of person.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: You don’t need to. You have this on online play. But that then fosters [Kahlief: “Mm”] offline in-person events that are a lot more interesting, and a lot more different kinds of people come out to that. And like that scene, for example, Skullgirls has had offline events, even though it’s got great online play.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: Like that’s something that we continue to see 10 years into the game. So yeah, I do think that online play can have a really big impact when it comes to stuff like that.

Kahlief: God, I could steal you for like an hour just to talk about character viability and that conversation.

Ultradavid: Yeah.

Kahlief: ‘Cause that’s even changed in a lot of different ways, and I think that’s also been a really interesting bridge between cultures and regions as well, like folks kind of coming in for that kind of stuff. Street Fighter VI is on the horizon, looks fantastic. Got a chance to get hands on with it. I know you’ve had some time with it a little bit, yeah? Not yet?

Ultradavid: I have not had any time to play that game.

Kahlief: This is unreasonable! How did this happen?

Ultradavid: Here I am, right here, talking instead of playing Street Fighter VI.

Kahlief: I am sorry. I apologize. I apologize.

Ultradavid: It’s all good.

Kahlief: We gotta get this man on a Switch.

Ultradavid: It’s all good. It’s all good.

Kahlief: Haven’t had a chance to play, but I know you’ve seen a bunch of it, at least from the stuff that they show.

Ultradavid: Yeah, yeah.

Kahlief: How are your thoughts about it so far?

Ultradavid: Ah, I’m really excited about it so far.

Kahlief: Yeah?

Ultradavid: Yeah, yeah. It makes me think back to Street Fighter V and how, although I was really excited about the gameplay, [Kahlief: “Yeah”] as a package, it was like clearly not entirely there at launch.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: And Street Fighter VI, totally the opposite.

Kahlief: Mm.

Ultradavid: Everything, in my opinion, looks great, from the graphics to how the gameplay looks to the mechanics that are in the game I think are all super cool.

Kahlief: Yep.

Ultradavid: But then there’s also like clearly much more of a focus on not just the straight up 1v1 versus.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: There’s other stuff that they’re doing that ended up being in Street Fighter V over the long term, for sure, but wasn’t there initially.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: So I’m really excited about that. That makes me think that Capcom is putting in a lot more resources into it.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: And the focus on community in it as well makes me really happy. My friends are in the game, like actually commentating.

Kahlief: It was so dope to see this part of it.

Ultradavid: Oh, that made me so happy. So that, I think, really has a good sign for the future of how they’re planning to, you know, work with the scene, have tournaments in the future, events in the future. I think it’s really bright.

Kahlief: Couple last questions for you, before we let you go. I know I’m a big NRS fan. That’s my bread and butter game. I’m gonna be dumping through Multiversus and Street Fighter VI when it drops. What do you think we’re gonna get? Do you think we’re gonna get MK12? You think we’re gonna get the Injustice game? Where do you think we might be landing at?

Ultradavid: Well, did you see Ed Boon say that they’re not announcing anything for Mortal Kombat this weekend?

Kahlief: But the thing is, like, I’ve met…

Ultradavid: You don’t trust?

Kahlief: I’ve met Ed so many times at this point that Ed always has a twinkle.

Ultradavid: Yeah.

Kahlief: And the thing that I’ve always known about him is that he holds everything so close to the vest, so it is that up and down of like, I don’t know if it’ll be here. It doesn’t really make sense to be here now.

Ultradavid: Yeah.

Kahlief: ‘Cause we’ve already had MK finals.

Ultradavid: That’s true.

Kahlief: Maybe video game awards, ’cause they had the last announcement at the video game awards. But anything that Ed says, I’m like, eh, what’s happening?

Ultradavid: [laughs] Definitely.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: But yeah, I mean, are they working on a game? Like, I’m sure they’re working on a game.

Kahlief: Yeah, yeah.

Ultradavid: Yeah, I guess I would bet that it’s Mortal Kombat again?

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: I don’t really have a good reason for saying that, to be honest.

Kahlief: Sure.

Ultradavid: But it’s just that the normal cycle has been—over the last several releases, right?—MK, Injustice, MK, Injustice, MK.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: And then that same cycle of every two years, they have missed it big time, for Injustice.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: We’re now like a year plus past that.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: And so that just makes me think that they’re just not doing Injustice.

Kahlief: Yep.

Ultradavid: And again, I don’t have…is that a good reason? Maybe not, but like, that’s my take.

Kahlief: Yeah. We’re all reading the tea leaves [Ultradavid: “Yeah, exactly, yeah”] and looking at the stars to figure out if it’s actually gonna happen in that way.

Ultradavid: Yeah.

Kahlief: Last question before we let you go. I have been trying to get into more hosting spaces. I’ve been doing more of that work.

Ultradavid: Yeah.

Kahlief: You’ve been a master at that craft for a long period of time now, you know, rocking many, many of a commentary desk and doing such fantastic work. For the folks at home, a lot of stuff we do at Spawn On Me is try to tell people how they can get into the industry, how they can kind of move that space, especially folks from underrepresented communities. For folks who are hoping one day to get into a space where they can be in a spot where you’re doing the kind of work that you’ve been doing, what would you tell folks who are like trying to get into the commentary desk and trying to get to that space too?

Ultradavid: It’s definitely competitive.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: There’s a lot of people. A lot of people applied to do EVO commentary and did not get it.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: And the people who did are all great, but many of the people who didn’t get it are also great.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: I really think that it’s a tough competitive space, as much as being like a top player, to be honest.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: And for some of us, there is a legacy aspect to that.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: I don’t think that I would be able to apply now if I was new and get in.

Kahlief: Mm.

Ultradavid: But I happen to be in this lucky situation of right at the ground floor of it, when the expectations were really low, and that let me like work on it well enough to like, you know, improve.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: Just a different story for people today. So I think that the best thing to do is the same kind of thing to do when you’re joining anything, you know?

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: Research it, make sure that you understand not just the game but also the fact that commentary’s certainly partly about like how well you know the game but also how well you’re coming across.

Kahlief:Mm.

Ultradavid: And that’s its own skill, as you know, right?

Kahlief: Mm-hmm.

Ultradavid: I mean, that’s something that you can work on, and there’s a lot of resources to work on for that. There’s a lot of resources about how to improve your voice, voice acting. There’s a lot of books and videos out there about that kind of stuff. There’s a lot of books and videos out there about how to present yourself, how to do things like public speaking, how to bring your points across in like a clear and concise but funny way. So I think there’s a lot of research that can be done, but I think at the end of the day, what people want is unique voices.

Kahlief: Mm.

Ultradavid: And they don’t want people who sound like or act like other people.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: Right? So each of us is unique, and we all bring a different, you know, idea about how to commentate, and that’s what I want to see more of from other people. I think all the good commentators I can think of are people who have very much their own things. Not necessarily like their catchphrases.

Kahlief: Yeah, yeah.

Ultradavid: Although certainly some do, but their…what do they like to focus on? Some people like the analysis or the emotion of it or the hype and the humor of it, and there’s all these different ways that you can take, and each of us has a different combination of that. So I would say that, you know, do your research and stuff, but also make sure that you’re staying true to yourself. What do you like about the game?

Kahlief: Mm.

Ultradavid: What do you like about commentary? What kind of jokes do you like?

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: They may not be what everybody likes, because that’s just true for everybody.

Kahlief: Sure.

Ultradavid: All of us commentators get flack. Every host gets flack.

Kahlief: Yep. [laughs]

Ultradavid: And that doesn’t mean that you’re doing a bad job. It means that you are catering to some people but not to other people.

Kahlief: Yep.

Ultradavid: And the people you’re catering to are really happy about that. And you know, who cares about the rest, right?

Kahlief: Yeah, for sure.

Ultradavid: So I think that, again, staying true to yourself while also doing this other research is a huge way to move forward.

Kahlief: Yeah. Amazing stuff, Ultradavid, as usual. Again, thank you very much for hanging out with me.

Kahlief: Yeah.

Ultradavid: Your voice and so many of my memories tied to this industry and to this space have come through your voice and through your commentary, so thank you very much for hanging with me for your time at EVO.

Ultradavid: Thank you.

Kahlief: Thank you, man. EVO 2022. We only bring you the dope stuff here at Spawn On Me. We’ll see you very, very soon. Much love and peace.