Last weekend, we were treated to a very fun offline Tekken event – Red Bull Golden Letters. One of the headliners of this tournament was none other than Hoa “Anakin” Luu himself, and he was kind enough to speak with us before the event started. I'm Elizbar "Lightfellow" Ramazashvili, Editorial Lead for DashFight, and I present a full interview with Anakin for your viewing pleasure. You can watch the video below, or read the full transcript in this article.
ANAKIN on being a COMMUNITY LEADER, INSPIRATION for YOUNGSTERS and his EVERBURNING COMPETITIVE DRIVE
Hello. We are here from DashFight, and this is an interview with Anakin, one of the greatest of all time in North America.
Hey, how's it going, DashFight? Good to be here, good to be on the for the interview. I'm actually here in London for the first time. So I've just been walking around being a tourist. And finally doing a Tekken interview starts to feel normal again. I'm here at the Red Bull Gaming Sphere, and it's starting to feel like we got offline tournaments back again.
Red Bull Golden Letters is a new kind of event in the FGC, and it instantly garnered considerable hype. Do you think there is room for even more “gimmicky” and fun events on the competitive calendar?
Yeah, absolutely. I compete year-round, usually, with all the tournaments that we have, I've seen all the major tournaments. And I would say, it's certainly one of the things that we've been lacking or one of the things I've enjoyed the most whenever we've gotten a chance to have those funky format tournaments. Namely, I'll think of Combo Breaker, where they have the auction tournament, you get to bid on the right to use your character. Little fun things like that. You know, Red Bull is always cooking up new ideas, so we're always trying to think outside the box, and find new ways to innovate. But when it comes to this format, it's certainly going to be interesting. We never had anything like it before. And you know, perfects and greats create some of the most hype moments in Tekken. When you think of a Red Bull gaming event for the FGC, you think of like Kumite and Red Bull Conquest, they've done a really good job of highlighting a lot of different fighting games, but this Golden Letters event is just all Tekken. This could be a huge opportunity to show every other tournament organizer out there, "Hey, this could work, this creates hype, this, in a way, makes the event better." Fingers crossed that everything goes well this weekend, we get some extra moments generated through the format. Being that a player doesn't just have to win the traditional way, they can actually win sets from accumulating perfects and greats. And greats usually happen when a player wins with a small amount of life left, so those types of moments in a tournament matchup Tekken are already super exciting. You add a little bit more stakes to it, you add a little bit more highlights to emphasize the greats a little bit. I'm excited to see how it turns out. I have really good expectations. But I do think that yeah, in the future, we should definitely have some more.
Knee vs. Anakin | Crazy Grand Finals | TEKKEN 7 @ Combo Breaker 2019
There are some mighty competitors registered for this tournament like Super Akouma, Fergus, Sephiblack, Tetsu, Joey Fury, and others. Who do you want to face the most?
I'm looking forward to facing a lot of the European players that I haven't fought before ever, This is only my third time in Europe. Over the last year or so I've been commentating a lot of online European tournaments. I've gotten to know a lot of the players. So I'm really just looking forward to seeing them face to face in person, first time meeting, and then potentially getting a chance to play them, perhaps they'll qualify out of the open tournament, and we'll get to go head to head in the main tournament. That would be really exciting. One of the great things now is that I'm able to travel and go around the world and play Tekken and that you get to finally see these people face to face, who have maybe cheered for you in the tournament on Twitch, or been in your personal Twitch chat. So a lot of those guys, I've gotten to become very friendly with and, I'm already kind of reaping the benefits of that: a couple of friends have taken me around London so far. Yeah, just all the guys that I haven't played against. I would say, namely, there's a local kid here who's coming up named Sync. Sephiblack has been a legend out of Europe for a while now. He's done really well on the competitive circuit, but I don't think we've ever really faced off. So there are tons of names that you could think of. But yeah, anybody that encounters me in a tournament they definitely better watch out when we meet, I can definitely put the game face on and get to work
You’ve been a Red Bull athlete for almost five years now. Does this place any additional burden of expectation on you?
I mean, I'd be lying if I said that being here at the Red Bull Gaming Sphere for the first time and having the Red Bull tournament doesn't add a little bit extra pressure. Because I know how the Red Bull family gets when we got one of our own in any kind of competition. Not just esports, but traditional sports. I've grown to cheer for anybody that I know of that's a Red Bull athlete. Sometimes I'll get to meet them and then learn about their sport. I just know I got to represent as much as I can, especially with me being the only rebel player out here, Arslan Ash wasn't able to make it here. I don't really let the pressure affect me much at all. I've been really good in the past about just being really relaxed in tournaments. Of course, Red Bull has helped me out a lot with the mental game and, of course, the physical game. So I feel like I'm coming to this tournament prepared, so I'm not really worried about the pressure. But of course, if ever there was a tournament or an event that you'd played your best, you showed up, and you performed for the crowd, I would love for it to be this one, Red Bull Golden Letters. To kick off what is seeming to be a return to offline tournaments for our fighting game community.
Apart from being a top competitor, you're a leading community figure. You were there when Cuddle_Core became a Red Bull athlete. What does it mean to you to be an inspiration for the younger generation of players?
Oh man, it makes me feel really special. Growing up, I didn't think I'd be doing this at all. I was imagining just a traditional trajectory for myself: go to school, get a job, blah, blah, blah, work, and all that boring stuff. But somehow I've been able to get lucky and put myself in a position where the spotlight can be on me. Usually, people try to use that kind of stuff for good. And that's all I've been looking to do - do a good job, whatever that means. Growing up, there wasn't really a blueprint on how to be a pro gamer or a leading community figure. So when it comes to just doing it in Tekken and esports, everybody's just running around trying to figure out what the best thing to do is. I guess the cards have lined up, the stars have aligned for me to just be here. And it feels really great to hear people walk up to me or chat to me, saying that I've been any kind of inspiration to them. Because I didn't really expect that to happen. But it definitely is another way to motivate yourself. When you're up there playing on stage, or when you're doing interviews, or when you're competing against players from other countries, other cities, you're not really just playing for yourself, you're representing a lot of people. I grew up playing Tekken with a lot of people who I looked up to. So I just tried to take it on, put it into one package, and hopefully get more results from it so that way we can inspire more people to play Tekken.
We barely had any pleasure to watch cross-regional competitive Tekken in the last few years. It’s been getting better lately, but we’re still far from being back to what we had. What is it that you miss the most about offline events?
Tekken has been a game that's been around for 20 plus years now. I remember going to my first Tekken tournament when I was 10 years old. The cool thing about it are the storylines it provides over the years, over the decades. I feel like with Tekken 7 and all the extra attention and the growth that we've received, we've had a lot of really cool storylines that have been able to take place because of these offline events. Having these players from all over the world all competing, we've got the favorites, we've got the underdogs, a lot of stories coming up from Tekken 7. I don't know if you remember Qudans who came out in 2017, he won the world championship. It was just some old guy from the old Tekken showing these new kids what's up. And then moving on to the next year, we had Rangchu winning the world tournament with the worst character in the game.
Yeah! And then you move along to Arslan Ash, who basically put like a whole country on the map, a whole scene on the map. All that is only possible when those players gather under one roof and compete in Tekken. That's what I like the most, just being one piece on the chessboard moving around, having battles with everybody. I miss just being in the mix, on the battlefield, competing for a chance to be considered one of the best players. I want to be the world champion one day myself, you know? And just represent for the USA, for Atlanta where I'm from, represent all the Jack players, represent Red Bull. I just missed that offline tournament vibe where there's the crowd, there are the players, and most importantly, there are no excuses. I'm just looking forward to maybe having a little bit more of that this year.
EVO 2019 | Insane Grand Finals | Arslan Ash vs. Knee | TEKKEN 7
NA has always had some standout talent like Speedkicks, Jimmy Tran, Lil Majin, yourself. And the current players are no exception: Joey Fury, Cuddle_Core, Shadow and Joonya, Binchang; they all look very hungry. What is your assessment of the region’s current strength?
Well, North America definitely has its fair share of veterans, guys who have been playing for a long time. Those Joey Furies, those Binchangs. Binchang actually was one of the top players in Korea before he eventually moved to America and found a career. But I think one of the more underrated parts about the US scene, and a lot of different scenes all over the world in general, is the new generation of players. And we've got a lot of young kids and America, maybe 22-25 and even younger all the way down to 18-19. A lot of these guys are very, very motivated and they see a lot of potential in themselves. It has created this really, really hungry scene of young players that not only are very good, but they're working together, most importantly. Think about how competitive people can be, and that prevents some of the best players from working together because they're actually competing against each other. What's cool about these kids is they look like they're just so focused on getting to the top and dethrone these old geezers that are the top players right now. So they're really, really hungry. A lot of young players have made a name for themselves in these online tournaments since the pandemic started. And like I said, those storylines, that's one of the storylines that I'm looking forward to the most. Now that we've got offline tournaments returning, I'm looking to see these young talents stack up against some of the more familiar names in the tournaments. Even at Red Bull Golden Letters, there's an interesting mix of old-school European top talent fighting against some of these new guys who over the last year or so have been crushing it online. This is their first big opportunity to show what they're made of on the big stage, and that all the online play can definitely translate into some results here at the Red Bull Gaming Sphere.
You’ve been very close to winning both Evo and TWT, placing in the top-4 of both. Going forward, are these still a goal for you? Does the fire still burn within you? Or are you content with what you achieved?
I don't think I'd call myself a competitor if I just sat there and said, "I'm good with fourth place, I'm good with the third place." I mean, I know it's the best I've ever done. But the feeling that I got coming out of those events was that I was just so close to being at the top that I know for sure that I had it in me. Was looking to really build off that strong 2019, as you mentioned, fourth to close out in Thailand. And then at Evo - top 3. I will say I never know what to expect going into those major tournaments. I just try to prepare myself as best as possible and then let the results come. Yeah, I surprised myself when I got that high. But like I said, that feeling that I got going out of those tournaments after losing was, "Man, I could have given it a little bit more, I could have won it." When you're that close to victory, you get even hungrier. There is no feeling of complacency. I definitely want more. We closed out last year pretty well at CEO: I almost took down Arslan Ash. A lot of people think he's the best in the world. A lot of signs point to me still having what it takes. I'm turning 31 this year, all those kids coming after me, it's getting more competitive these days. But I'm super confident I still got what it takes and I'm looking to prove that.
I was sad when I lost at our internal DashFight tournament, can't imagine how you felt at Evo.
Yeah, it's not cool to take losses. But again, some people can grow from losses. And I've always tried to be that type of person who gets stronger and becomes more motivated. It doesn't help to just sit there and be down all the time because you lost. There's a time and place for everything. I've been motivated and hungry this whole time.
EVO 2019 | Anakin vs. Knee | TEKKEN 7 Top 8
Lately, the events have started to become more “professional.” More polished, more no-nonsense. Some people say it sterilizes the FGC that’s known for its personalities, wacky characters, trash talk, and so on. The others see it as more of natural evolution on a path of growth. What’s your opinion on the matter?
I think the FGC is so diverse, you can't really just use a few words or a few traits to define it. It could be big and glorious and have a lot of sponsorships and big esports tournaments, or it could be underground with a lot of trash talk. Everything can be done. If done right, it can be mixed and blended together. And so that's what we've got in some of these really, really cool tournaments. Not just for the Red Bull events like Golden Letters and Kumite. Combo Breaker does a really good job of getting those big numbers and at the same time still letting everyone have a good time. I think that the FGC is ever adapting and growing but like with everything, there's gonna be growing pains. In the long run, though, it creates more opportunities for players. Back in the days when there was all that trash-talking, there weren't that many pro-gamers. It's just something that we got to do to move forward.
Tekken 7 is already old, and we could be inching closer to the new release, be it Tekken 8 or Tag 3. What’s on your wishlist for the next title? Rollback? Something else?
I just hope for Namco to be able to keep the momentum going. Tekken 7 was unprecedented in terms of how far it's taken the game. Tekken has usually been one of the less popular fighting games. But now we moved to the very top, thanks to all the changes made in Tekken 7. I've never really been wanting to play like creator and hope for this at that, because I always just enjoy the game when it comes out, to be honest. I'm just a huge fan of Tekken in general. I can't really see in what kind of direction they'll take the game, but I just know that they're going to create it in a way that makes it even more hype. I feel that once you get the recipe and the formula right, you're not gonna change too much. You're just gonna improve upon what you've done instead. With all that said, I just hope that the game comes out very soon so I can play it. A lot of people are super hungry for Tekken 8 right now, or whatever Tekken they decide to do. There were times when you weren't sure if there was going to be a new Tekken coming out at all because it wasn't that popular. Now, as a Tekken player, I feel we're in the driver's seat when it comes to fighting game tournaments. And I'm just enjoying what that feels like because it's still new to me.
People in FGC have always been branching out into secondary games: to compete or just to try them out. Have you ever considered playing any other fighting game at the professional level?
No, to be honest, I've never really looked at myself to be playing anything, professionally, besides Tekken. When you put the time and effort and you realize what it takes to be good, and then you realize what it takes to be even better than that, and then there are more levels that you have to take before you get to a pro-level, you realize that it's really, really tough to become a pro at multiple games. I've enjoyed a lot of different fighting games on the side, just to see what they're like. It's really cool to learn mechanics and things from other games so that maybe one day they could get applied to Tekken, but never really gone too far down the rabbit hole. Tekken has always felt the most natural to me, and I've always played it since I was a kid. So Tekken has always been the one for me. But I like to get competitive, I'm a competitive person, so I definitely don't like losing in any game, even if I'm not really taking it that seriously. So yeah, I can get into the games sometimes, but I don't think I'll ever be pro at them. I do like Street Fighter though, and I do like Mortal Kombat.
One of the biggest talking points of the community has been Riot Games and their eventual entry into the FGC. What’s your outlook on this? Are you excited, are you going to try the game?
Yeah, definitely excited for the new Riot fighting game, I'm definitely gonna try it. I've played a little bit of League of Legends in the past, so I'm familiar with all those characters. I feel that all that's gonna do is just create a more competitive battle between all the fighting game developers. Currently, the way it goes now is that whatever fighting game is at the top, it motivates and puts pressure on the other fighting game developers to raise their game up. As a result, we've had nothing but a lot of great fighting games come out over the few years with Street Fighter, Tekken, Smash, all the Guilty Gears. The quality of fighting games has never been better, it has never been this high. I think that with the addition of Riot coming into the field as big players, it'll be even better. They went and hired a lot of signature FFC people and community leaders to oversee the project, which is a really encouraging thing to see. So looking forward to it coming out. I'm not really sure when actually, but I'm definitely gonna get my hands on that. As I said, I think it's only gonna help make future fighting games better. It's a good time to be a fighting game fan, for sure.
Project L - RiotX Arcane: Epilogue | The Right Foundation
Riot Games is a successful company that knows how to ‘do esports’, and the people responsible for Project L know how it’s done on our scene. Sounds like a promising combination, does it not?
A lot of players feel like it's gonna be their big opportunity. You need to take that step for a hobby of playing fighting games to become more of a profession. It's always good to see people living out their dreams. I'm just looking forward to what kind of opportunities it'll bring and what kind of ripple effects the other fighting gamers will see from it.
It’s no secret that FGC doesn’t have as much money as other premier esports scenes. Many are hopeful that Riot Games will change the situation. Do you think this can lead to people quitting their games and going all-in to try to make it big in Project L?
I think one of the coolest things about the fighting game community is that there's an entry barrier. The games are really challenging to get into. A lot of people don't ever think about money or fame when they play fighting games. They play it for the love of the game. Just that head-to-head experience of playing another player and playing that fast-paced chess battle of winning a fighting game match. A lot of people get into it for the right reasons. So I don't think necessarily that the Riot fighting game is gonna take players from other communities because these communities consist of players who are just super dedicated to their games. They play that game because they love that game, not because they're seeing any kind of potential money in it. But yeah, money always helps. So I think, at the very least, it'll bring in new players from other genres that haven't played fighting games. And that, of course, is only going to help the entire FGC as a whole. I'm looking for Riot to bring a lot of spotlight and publicity to the fighting game community and for it to affect a lot of the other fighting games in a positive way.
Do you have any upcoming plans or major projects? What should we expect from Anakin in 2022 and beyond?
I'll definitely be staying busy this year. We've got some projects that I'm working on with Red Bull. II don't even know if I have like liberty to discuss, it might be classified information, but we're doing some cool things. I can say that is Tekken-related. If you remember the Anakin invitation from the last couple of years, we're definitely looking to expand upon that, and then who knows. I'm doing a lot this year and I'm looking forward to the offline tournaments returning as well. There's gonna be a lot of events I'm looking forward to going to, namely Combo Breaker, CEO, Evo, Summer Jam, potential Texas Showdown. These tournaments that we used to go to on a regular basis, they're starting to come back, so there will be some feeling of normalcy this year.
Thank you for the interview! Any final words to your fans?
Thanks, everybody, for reading the interview! Catch me streaming Tekken on my Twitch channel, or if you guys ever see me at an event feel free to say what's up. Thanks to all the people that support me and again, thanks for reading the interview. Hopefully, see you guys at an offline FGC event soon.
Follow Anakin on his Twitter and Instagram, or watch him play Tekken on his Twitch channel.