"We need to learn how to bring people to play the game. We need to promote the game and the tournaments"
WePlay Ultimate Fighting League Season 1 ended with fanfare, and the winner was crowned – the one and only Arslan Ash. But as he himself would attest, it was far from easy. This event gathered several Evo, Tekken World Cup, and other major tournament winners. On of them was a proud son of Thailand – Nopparut "Book" Hempamorn. He stunned the community in 2020 with his impressive win at Evo Japan early last year. As such, he visited WUFL holding a title of the most recent offline event winner. We asked him about the game state, the fame he got after the big win, his friends and family, and the Thai FGC community.
Hi! You have had very consistent results during your career, placing within the top-8 almost every time, winning the Thaiger Uppercut 2018 along the way. What should we attribute your consistency to?
Hello! I'll say that my playstyle is changing a lot. My performance depends on the opponent. You can lose if the opponent is strong, but you can also lose if he's weak. But if I constantly play against strong opponents, I have more chances to get into the top-8. So it's mostly because I played top opponents.
What would you say your strong side is? Solid fundamentals, ability to prevent blunders, or something else?
It's mostly confidence. If I'm confident, my playstyle will be really clean, and you will not see a lot of blunders.
Your breakthrough came last year when you emerged as a victor of the prestigious Evo Japan 2020. Did you expect to do as well as you did going in?
When I first went to Evo Japan, I felt like I could lose in top-64, because I had to play against LowHigh. Every time I have to play versus him, my heart sinks, and I think, "Okay, see you on the lower side of the bracket." I almost never win against him. But when I did win, it was a surprise. I could not believe that I managed to do it. My heart is always on the losers' side because I think I can lose any time. I just feel like that, but I don't let that affect my mentality and performance, I'm just ready to lose. I also know that no one's going to be cheering for me, I'm the only one from Thailand there. Sometimes I do hope that someone's supporting me, but I try not to think about it. You need to be in touch with reality after all. So I just prepare everything I got and just play.
Does this way of thinking help you alleviate some pressure from yourself?
Yeah, because actually, when I play, I think a lot. Not about my gameplay, I'm thinking about the audience, the casters, whether the environment is too cold or too hot, about my head being sweaty. I'm thinking about a lot of stuff. Sometimes the game is the last thing I think about. I'm oftentimes not confident, not focused. It's like when I try playing some other games where you need to select your character. You have a swordsman, a spearman, a magician. And I can't pick, I'm not decisive at all. And it's terrible for a game like Tekken.
Speaking of characters, you were a Jin main previously but switched to Leroy for Evo Japan. Did you feel more comfortable playing him instead of Jin? Do you think he suits you better?
Before Evo Japan, I won the tournament called SEA Games, which is very big for my region. During that event, I felt like Jin is tougher to play as against anyone. When I tried Geese or Akuma, I felt they were at least 50% easier. And I thought, "Why should I keep playing Jin? If I pick any other character and I feel comfortable, I should just play as them." After that tournament finished, I think I went with Akuma, but I knew my performance with him was not that strong. Then Leroy came out, and my friends that I play with all the time told me he's overpowered. I tried him, and he had good combos, good damage, I trained him exclusively for two weeks before Evo Japan. When I went there, my friend asked me about which character I'm going to play. And I answered that maybe Leroy. I just wanted to prove to myself and everyone that I'm not just a Jin player. Sometimes when you go up against an enemy who's good against Jin, you feel like you're so easy to beat. I wanted to prove that just like Knee and LowHigh, I can change my character depending on the situation. That's why I picked up Leroy.
EVO Japan 2020 Grand Finals | Book vs. Mikio | TEKKEN 7
There has been a massive outcry about Leroy’s power when he was released, so he was consistently taken down with nerfs. How do you like his current state? Do you think he still is a top-tier character?
I think the first nerf didn't affect me at all. It was about the damage and hit confirming the safe moves, and I'm not doing anything like that. My playstyle is very different from all the mains. Leroy players mainly use the most damaging moves and strings, but my playstyle is constantly poking with one hit, without hit confirms or followups. That's why I think the nerf didn't affect me at all because it's not about me. It's about the players who use the chip moves with this character and then follow up on it. I also use the chips, but I'm not putting everything in it. I still think that Leroy is in an okay spot.
Did the fame of being an Evo winner change anything in your day-to-day life?
Yeah, I felt confident at that time. For a month. Then the pandemic came, and I started thinking about what am I going to even do, as tournaments were over everywhere. I decided to try to stream. I was hoping that me winning an Evo would bring me more viewers, more sponsors, more supporters. I don't know, maybe I'm just not an entertaining guy because my numbers didn't increase noticeably compared to the other guys who also won big events. I still stream from time to time, but I can't do it full-time as my viewer number is so low. What changed about my life, I will say, is sponsorship, actually. Talon Esports, they want to continue to support me. And of course, if you have good results, your money's getting better. That's a good change. But I have to think about my next chapter. Because, if the pandemic is still here in two or three years, what am I going to do? So I graduated in Computer Engineering and started looking to find a job. I want to be a developer: front-end, back-end, full-stack – anything. I want to have a new experience. And I think the pandemic gave me a chance to open myself to another opportunity. Talon said they're okay with this, they're really open. I'm really happy to be a part of this team. Not much changed for Thailand after my Evo win. They care more about the SEA Games, which means more for the country than Evo Japan. It's because the government has to send the player. So that means if the player can win a gold medal, they become confident to continue supporting this esport. But I still want to do good. I hope I can make an impact again for the sake of Thailand and the region. My friend once told me that not many people are able to put Thailand on the international map as I did. It fills me with pride, but if I fail, that means I failed everyone.
There are some solid Thai Tekken players like ReaperRabbit and Uncle Ben. Do you practice with them, or do you keep up your shape playing Tekken online?
I don't really play with them a lot nowadays. Because right now, ReaperRabbit is on a break for fitness reasons to get his body in shape. And Uncle Ben got a job, so he doesn't have much time to play. There are no tournaments, his motivation is down, and as a consequence, his performance has also gotten worse. So every time I want to play with them, I have to message them. We mostly talk nowadays. Reaper Rabbit is friendly and respects me a lot. And Uncle Ben, he can motivate me to get better because I lost to him in a few tournaments in Thailand. It made me realize that if I'm not improving myself, there's always someone who'll get better than me. So that's a good thing. I can even consider him a rival, but a friendly one. Sometimes we hang out together. But I think it's a good thing. Sometimes we hang out together.
Uncle Ben is a rival, but do you consider ReaperRabbit as a friend?
Yes. We played the same characters and often shared opinions about the game. But sometimes he goes crazy because I can easily do something he can't. But he doesn't realize that he also does things easily that I can't do. He keeps talking to me a lot about everything in life. And I still have a lot of friends who give me advice about life and all. One of them always tells me, "You shouldn't react badly when you lose, you should do this, and that." It feels good to have a friend that can support you in life, and not only in gaming. When I won Evo Japan, I joked, "Evo is so easy. I want to go home and sleep." And my friend replied, "Why would you say that? It's not a good thing to say. You need to respect other players and thank everyone!"
Is he only a real-life friend, or also a fellow player?
He's both, actually. His nickname is Q. He is a good friend, and he gives me advice a lot. Sometimes I do something that I should not do, like losing or wasting money. He always scolds me, "I told you already, you shouldn't have done that." He's a good friend because he's always telling the truth, however harsh it may be. I love that. When people say what they think to my face.
What are the biggest obstacles fighting games face in Thailand? What do you think hinders the growth of the region?
I think it's like this in every small region: not enough people are playing this game. We have no sponsors, no teams, no government support. If a game is popular, it has the support of the country officials, and everything becomes big in the industry. Tekken is not one of those games. So what we can do is to support the game to the best of our ability. If you love the game, just continue to play. You don't have to care about the industry. When we first started playing, we didn't even know if the big tournaments like Evo or WUFL were ever going to happen. We just played the game because it was fun. I just hope that people will continue playing and inspire the next generation. The next is how to improve yourself, but that is the next level. First, we need to learn how to bring people to play the game. We need to promote the game and the tournaments. This tournament is global, but we need regional events. A regional league system would greatly benefit everyone, for example.
Do you think results can help popularize fighting games in Thailand? Maybe players from Thailand winning big tournaments can serve as a spark?
I don't really know, it could be a start. When I won Evo Japan, I think I missed something vital. After winning in an event like that, the key is to promote the game. Anything on YouTube, or some interviews. Literally, anything to promote the game and make people see me more. After a victory, people give attention to the player. But if a player is just waiting for the next tournament, doesn't do any content, the hype dies down. I think that's my mistake. I didn't do anything of the sort.
What are some of the steps that need to be done to bring the Thai FGC community to the next level, so we have more players close to you in skill?
I would say that if we want to improve their skill, we first need to have a lot of players. The second is that the tournaments need to be consistent. Every single month, for example. There also has to be some money involved. Like in education, every single student wants to be the best to go to the college of their choice. Every single competitor wants to be the best to go to the tournaments of their choice. They also want to make an impact for a lot of players. I think many are ready to improve their skill. Consistent tournaments, big money, public interest, qualifications for the new players. This could look interesting.
Any final shoutouts to the Thai community, your sponsors, friends, or anyone in general?
First, of course, is Talon Esports. They've supported me since 2019. This is the first time I've been on a team for more than three months. Big shoutout to them! Then I want to thank my friends. They bring me both the good and the bad, and it's a good learning experience. I think a good friend is the best thing that you could get. I have a lot of people that always support me: my family, friends, my girlfriend. I'm delighted that you're there for me no matter if I win or lose.
Thank you very much!
Make sure to follow Book on his Twitter and Twitch!
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