We continue our series of interviews with the best sportsmen of our time. We've talked to several Tekken players earlier. Now we want to tell you about one of the best professional MK gamer.
Without a doubt, AJ Pieri, otherwise known as ‘2ez’, is one of the hardest working men in the FGC. Yes, bold opening statement, but it is quite true. The Pinnacle 2019 winner took a bit of a break from gaming, but thank to the WePlay Dragon Temple tournament; we get to see him in full force. 2020 was a difficult year for everyone, but it has had its bright spots, one of which has been the growth of the FGC and the tournaments attached to it. This year, we saw the CPT online and how it introduced us to various regions and cultures. Also, we had several female-centric tournaments, including the Queens of Quarantine, which showed the more supportive and accepting side of the FGC. Personally, for 2ez, it saw him leave his former team GG Simplicity and team up with Knights GG. This was significant as he became their first Mortal Kombat player, and this was in addition to all his other endeavors in the year.
With all of that said, what kind of a person is 2ez? Well, if you’re thinking he’s an uppity player who acts like a diva, you couldn’t be more wrong. On speaking to him, I found him to be one of the most pleasant pro players I have ever come across. We were continents apart, but the camaraderie I felt when speaking to 2ez was a breath of fresh air as we discussed his career, plans for the future, and, of course, Mortal Kombat.
If you have been following WePlay’s Dragon Temple, I think you’ll agree that 2ez’s announcement and his profile videos were as hype as they come. He sat in his room with an air of supreme confidence and claimed that he was ready to take on all comers regardless of their pedigree and experience. With such a hype video, it was only natural that the first question I asked was based on this topic. With such confidence, I couldn’t help but wonder if there were anyone, in particular, he would be looking forward to playing against. For 2ez, there were two people, “Tekken Master and Hayatei,” he said.
2ez vs Tekken Master | VODs-eu | WePlay! Dragon Temple
Considering how the tournament went, you can understand 2ez’s choice, and their skill was there for all to see at the Dragon Temple event. But why them in particular? According to 2ez, “Tekken Master, because he’s obviously a pretty good player, but also, I haven’t seen footage of Tekken Master in forever!
“He does this on purpose; he’s always been this way. He stays in a cave and hides from everyone. So, people find it difficult to prepare for him; I can’t prepare for him. There hasn’t been footage of Tekken Master since March. I know him, I’m good friends with Tekken Master, so I know he always looks to pick characters or styles that people aren’t expecting.”
As for Hayatei, 2ez commented, “Well, Hayatei streams every other day, so I get to see him, and he’s looking really good right now.”
2ez talks Mortal Kombat
As mentioned earlier, I claimed that 2ez is one of the hardest working individuals in the FGC, a statement I still stand by, however, I was curious as to how he kept himself going as a competitor, “I took a three to four-month break” he said with a laugh. “Before I got called to participate in Dragon Temple, there was nothing really going on for MK, so I stopped playing.”
Naturally, you cannot begrudge the man a rest considering how many gamers and streamers have talked about burnout in the past year. But, 2ez was not resting at all, “Even though I wasn’t practicing hard on MK, I played other games and checked out other opportunities. But the moment I got the invite for Dragon Temple, it was straight back to the lab. The timing was also perfect because it was around the time that Mortal Kombat Ultimate was announced, so it all just worked out.”
The case of Mortal Kombat 11 is like the saying, ‘when it rains, it pours’ because not only is there Dragon Temple, there is also the Mortal Kombat pro tour and the new DLC content released for the game. “So now, I’m fully focused on MK, I train about 6-7 hours a day now. I’m not playing any other games.”
Speaking on the topic of other games, 2ez has done some dabbling and it doesn’t take much sleuthing to discover that he is a pretty decent Fall Guys and Fifa 2021 player. Interestingly, to 2ez, these very different games aren’t too dissimilar from fighting and he believes that there are transferable skills between genres. “Think about this way, Fifa is also one-on-one, so a lot of the mind games you play in fighting games are also present in Fifa. You have to learn how to adapt to your opponent and figure out if he would do this, or this, and counter it.”
In a recent interview with Ketchup and Mustard on the Playstation Youtube channel, 2ez talked about characters that are just great for online play as they can scale the hurdles that come with playing online rather easily. But are there characters that are better for offline play? “You know what, I don’t think so. Because while the online arena is a little gimmicky, the same isn’t true with the offline game. Therefore, there are setups and traps that are inevitable online and can’t be dealt with, but offline, as long as you do your homework, you can deal with anything.”
The WePlay Dragon Temple event is an invitational with players divided into two groups to play against each other in a round-robin format. With 14 participants, it does feel like each player is in the top 16 without doing anything. This is significantly different from an open bracket format where you have to struggle through pools before making it to the top 16. I asked 2ez about this and whether being in an invitational brings less pressure and allows players to express themselves without the worry of wearing themselves out in pools.
“I’m going to be honest with you” 2ez started, “I really don’t care. I've been to both invitationals and open bracket events and yes, invitationals are a bit less stressful, but no matter the format, you’ve still got to play against people. So, for me, it’s the same, I just need to beat people.”
So what makes a good fighting game for 2ez? “Well, first of all, I want a good movement. Like even if the game is slow, I want my characters to move well. The second is I want to be rewarded for playing well, so if I have a good neutral game, I want that to be recognized by the game.”
However, by far the most important ingredient for a fighting game for him is the scene. “For me, a fighting game has to have a good esports scene to get me interested. I play professionally, and I enjoy it much more when there’s something on the line.”
MK_Azerbaijan vs 2ez | VODs-eu | WePlay! Dragon Temple
Another noticeable feature of 2ez is his love for the ninjas. He uses a lot of Sub-Zero, but has gone on record about how he struggles with that matchup when facing an opponent. I asked about it, “Okay, okay” he laughed, “So, Sub-Zero, he’s the most toxic, most evil, only toxic people use this guy.” This is ironic considering he is also a Sub-Zero user. “With me it’s different” he laughed.
“Okay, so with Sub-Zero users, there are some things you can expect. He’s going to disrespect you, the people that use him will mash buttons, even when it’s not their turn. And the thing with Sub-Zero is that it works!
“Sub-Zero users are maniacs! They don’t care about your frames or anything. I hate playing Sub-Zero players, it’s so stressful. To be honest, I feel for people who play against me because I use a lot of Sub-Zero”
As for what differentiates him from other Sub-Zero players, “The thing with me is that I’m a lot more like calculated crazy. When I do stuff, it’s because I’ve figured that my opponent does not expect it. So I’m more like a calculated lunatic, not a crazy lunatic. And it’s not just me, everyone hates a Sub-Zero player.”
dubasik vs 2ez | VODs-eu | WePlay! Dragon Temple
2ez talks movies
So, with a new MK movie slated (hopefully) for next year, we talked about our hopes for the movie. After a few minutes of bashing Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (because it is only fair to bash the movie whenever you get the chance), 2ez laid out some of the stuff he would love to see in the new movie. The first thing he asked for was Ermac, “When I started out in the MK scene, people got to know me through my Ermac. Because I was so flashy and skillful with the ninja, people really started to recognize me. So, I want him in the movie!”
As a big fan of music, the other thing 2ez really wants in the new MK movie is “Sick Music”
“Because a lot of movies are dependent on their music, so if the music can be good, that’ll be great. And, finally, I want some crazy fight scenes. When I think of the Mortal Kombat movies, I think of the ninjas and the fight between Johnny Cage, Scorpion, Goro, and so on.”
The Mortal Kombat movie was supposed to be out this year, but as with most things, it was affected by the pandemic and will only be released once it’s safe to go outside. This was a bummer for most people, but especially for 2ez who is such a fan of MK. “It was a sad day when it was announced that the movie had been postponed,” he said. “It was necessary of course” he added
“I was so hyped up when the movie was announced because as a kid I had watched the Mortal Kombat movie, but now since my life revolves around the game, it’s even more exciting to think about the movie.” I have already talked about what I hope for from the movies so there is no need to talk about that anymore.
We did talk about stories in video games, especially fighting games which notoriously have weak stories. But do the stories really matter? Can a good story in a fighting game add anything? “First off, Mortal Kombat has the best storyline of any fighting game out there”
Editor’s note- This is an indisputable fact
“What’s so good about it is that because of its great story, it can pull casuals in. For professional players, the story might not be as important, but for a casual, it really brings them in.”
DizzyTT vs 2ez | VODs-eu | WePlay! Dragon Temple
2ez talks esports and the future
Hearing 2ez talk, it quickly becomes evident that he is passionate about esports as a discipline rather than just a professional. This is also made clear when he discussed a recent event in which he ran the entire backend of production.
Was that a glimpse into his future? When I asked if he would be interested in working in the esports industry after his playing days, he said, “120%! When I’m done competing I would love to work within the industry.” He doesn’t even really care about the capacity, just as long as it’s within the industry.
“Right now, I’m open to any opportunity that comes my way. My dream, my long term goal, is to own a competitive esports team. But, right now, I can still play, and when I’m done I’ll be open to management and backend stuff.”
As someone really passionate about esports, 2ez is quite aware of how small the FGC is compared to other esports, but he is also really confident about its growth. “It’ll come with time” - he said, as for the growth within the FGC “In 2016 I started out and there was really nothing for us, we just had grassroots events, but that was it. We got some support from NRS and Warner Bros, but that was about it. But since then, the growth that the FGC has experienced is crazy!
“By 2017 we started to see some real growth and now, Street Fighter has its own league. I really like what Street Fighter is doing with the team-based tournaments, and with the merch.
“Stuff like that is common for traditional esports because DOTA, League of Legends, and even Valorant are on top of all these things. But fighting games are slowly making their way to the top and are moving at a good pace. Hopefully, in a few years, the FGC won’t be too far from the traditional scene, and I hope I’m still playing by then because I’ll really love to be a part of that.”
He had more complimentary words for the Street Fighter League, disclosing that he caught the episode where Punk OCVd the entire NASR esports team and had that now-infamous emotional interview after.
Emotional Interview with Punk | Street Fighter League Season 3 by RobTV
“And the Japanese Street Fighter League, oh my goodness! Their production value, it’s crazy, oh my goodness!”
2ez’s love for Mortal Kombat is evident and it stretches back to when he was a little kid. It is safe to assume that back then, he had no idea that he would be playing games for a living. However, he was probably told by his parents to work hard and be diligent as these are the only ways success will come. They were right, because video games, like every other profession that exists on the face of the earth, requires hard work, practice, and perseverance. Thankfully, 2ez has all these qualities in spades.
You should totally give 2ez a follow, he’s on Twitter, and YouTube.
Previously we spoke with Infinitii, AVirk13, Grr, Konqueror249, Dubasik, and Asodimazze.
2ez vs Grr | VODs-eu | WePlay! Dragon Temple
Here you can check the most important info and a little bit more about Weplay Dragon Temple.
For more gaming news, interviews, and special materials you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter or join a Discord community.