As one of Singapore’s most prominent esports athletes, Team Razer’s Xian has undoubtedly seen a lot. The professional Street Fighter player shot to fame after taking the crown at EVO 2013, and is widely credited as a pioneer for the professional esports industry here in Singapore.
We recently sat down with the Street Fighter veteran, checking in with him on the exponential growth of local esports in the past year.
Note: Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
HWZ: First of all, Xian, thanks for taking time off your busy schedule to speak to us. There must be so much on your plate at the moment; appearances, practicing for tournaments, photoshoots and all that. So, let’s go ahead and get started with the interview proper.
Xian: You’re most welcome. Fire away!
1. You’ve been playing Street Fighter competitively for about 10-odd years now, not counting your casual experience. But throughout your many years, there has to be a particular player that really left an impact on you. Could you share more on who that might be?
Xian: Sure. To clarify, I started Street Fighter all the way back in primary school, so yes, it’s been around 20 years including casual experience! Personally, I think the player that left the greatest impression on me would be Infiltration.
He’s had a really explosive career to date, winning various tournaments for Street Fighter 4 and Street Fighter 5, among many others.
But what’s really interesting is that aside from all the championships, he primarily practices alone. So, for countries like Singapore, where the competitive scene is still a work-in-progress, it can be hard to find strong opponents to practice against as compared to places like Japan or the United States.
Simply put, it’s this sense of amazement at how someone who practices alone can get so good and that made a really deep and lasting impression on me.
2. Street Fighter’s core formula hasn’t changed much since it started all the way back in 1987, but it’s still doing quite well. What do you think sets it apart from other fighting game franchises, such as Tekken?
Xian: I think it’s due to the absolute iconicity of Street Fighter. It’s a game that almost everyone knows. For example, if you were to go out and ask, I bet more people would be able to recognise Street Fighter characters than Tekken ones. In a sense, you could say it’s about familiarity.
Speaking from experience, when I was young, I was more familiar with Ryu than I was with Jin, so I find it’s this sheer iconicity that really makes it stand out, even among people who don’t play games.
3. This next question is slightly off topic, but are you currently playing other games during your free time? We’re sure people would love to know what you like apart from Street Fighter.
Xian: Actually, I used to dabble in other titles like Marvel vs. Capcom and The King of Fighters – so, I’m sorry to disappoint, but I love fighting games way too much!
Anyway, I’ve been playing this mobile game that recently came out - I think it’s called Teppen. Err…seems like it’s still Street Fighter no matter how you slice it.
4. With all the money that’s being pumped into the esports industry, how do you think the scene has changed from when you were starting out as an esports athlete?
Xian: When I started out, esports was in a really bad shape. The prize money was low, sponsors were reluctant to dole out the money...and the whole concept of the “esports athlete” as we know it literally didn’t exist!
For example, back when I was travelling abroad for qualifiers, hotels weren’t even provided for us so apart from passion, there was zero incentive to carry on playing competitively. It was quite a sad sight.
Still, I enjoyed playing and my big break came when I won EVO 2013. I actually wanted to stop at that point because I felt that I had hit my peak, but that was when Razer stepped in and offered me this opportunity, which I was and am still very grateful for.
Anyway, after that everything just kind of exploded, locally and internationally, and the “esports athlete” eventually evolved into the career that we know about today.
5. When, and if you do decide to put away your professional joysticks, do you see yourself transitioning to other esports-related roles like commentating?
Xian: Oh, that’s an easy one, because I’m actually doing some of those already! Currently, I will stream tournaments that I don’t attend, and my bilingualism in English and Mandarin helps greatly since it helps mitigate the occasional language barrier.
I also handle weekly versus events for Singtel, usually on Wednesdays, where they provide me a venue and I’ll have to set everything up. The latter is pretty easy since I used to work at an LAN café, so I’m quite familiar with all the ins-and-outs.
For me, it’s all about growing the scene bit by bit, and if I ever have to hang up my joysticks, I guess that’s something I could see myself doing.
6. This next question is a little cliché, but you’re pretty well-known for “maining” underrated characters such as Gen. Could you share more on why you decided to adopt such an approach, as well as list your top 3 favourite fighting game characters of all time?
Xian: There are two reasons. The first is the textbook “I like the character’s gameplay” but the second is a little more subtle; it’s about being unorthodox. Usually, when you play competitive Street Fighter, or any fighting game for that matter, you’d be inclined to practice against characters that people are more likely to bring to the tournament. So, I find bringing underrated characters adds some measure of unpredictability to your picks, which makes it a little harder for your opponents to counterattack.
Also, I find that with underrated characters, there’s a lot more potential to be explored with them. Meta characters would have been played by many people, competitive or otherwise, so in a sense, there isn’t much else to dig up about their capabilities and their potential. It’s all out there in the open already.
As for my top 3, although I quite liked Magneto from Marvel vs. Capcom, I find there isn’t a character that really appeals to me apart from Gen, so I guess I’ll have to go with just one.
7. Alright, the last question is another cliché. Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans and budding esports athletes?
Xian: I really want to thank them for being with me throughout this journey, because I wouldn’t be here without everyone’s support. For budding players and future generations of esports athletes, I would also like to encourage them to give back to the community after they find their place – pass on your knowledge and your time to the next generation; don’t let esports end with you.
GAX: And that’s a wrap! Thanks so much for your time, Xian!
Xian: Happy to help!
We would like to extend our thanks once again to Xian and Razer for this interview opportunity, and wish Xian all the best in his competitive endeavours.