Behind The Stick: An Interview with Blaze

I had the pleasure of talking to Blaze, a premier Raven player as well as a tournament organizer for TSB. Some of the topics we discussed include: His history with fighting games, why he plays Raven, his advice for new players, what he likes to do outside of the game, and his plans for the future.

Q: First of all, I just want to say thank you for taking the time to talk to me. How are you doing?

Blaze: I’m pretty good, just woke up not to long ago after running TSB Apprentice (A beginner Guilty Gear tournament) last night.

Q: We’ll get into that a bit later as well as some of your other ventures. But before we hop into that for those who might not know you could you give a brief history of your time with the fighting game scene as well as what you are up to today?

Blaze: I’ve been playing fighting games since Street Fighter 2 on the SNES way back in the 90s. I’ve always loved being competitive. I wasn’t introduced to Guilty Gear until GGXX on PS2 when I slept over my cousin’s house and we decided to rent it from Blockbuster. I got into the scene around 2004-2005. I was introduce to http://dustloop.com  and found a local tournament here in NYC to test my skills. ( I wasnt very good lol). This is where i met Mynus, Marlinpie, A3religion, and a few other top Northeast players. We all became pretty good friends and started having sessions at one of our friends basement. The rest is history. Today, I’m considered one of the most well known Raven players in the world for GGRev2 and have been placing top 8 (won 3) at every major/regional I’ve gone to since last years Winter Brawl. I also run and stream TSB (most known anime local in North America) in New York alongside with Sway and Mynus.

Q: A very storied history. But it’s interesting to find out you knew other top players from so long ago. So obviously, you’ve competed in countless tournaments over the years across many games but I wanted to ask do you remember some of your first tournaments? Were you really nervous or did it make you excited and drive you to compete more and more? How does that compare to when you enter tournaments now? Are you more relaxed? Just as excited? Or is it just another day of business for you at this point?

Blaze: I was definitely one of the nervous ones. First tournament I remember for Guilty Gear I went 0-2 at a old venue in Manhattan named web2zone. i didn’t realize how much I sucked until I played players that actually knew how to play the game. It was a huge eye opener. Back then there wasn’t many tournaments and I was too poor to go to majors (outside of Chinatown fair tournaments) so I didn’t really started traveling until Street Fighter 4 and Blazblue CT era. Compared to now I’m always excited and confident to go to a major I don’t really get nervous anymore. I personally think the nerves goes away once you enter a good amount of tournaments and get a lot of experience. These days I’m usually more relaxed when playing on stream. I have to admit though that sometimes I get too excited (depending who I play or if there’s a big crowd) and I lose myself in a match and get too aggressive. Sometimes it works out because the opponent gets overwhelmed with my offense but other times they know how to handle it and I end up losing to myself.

Q: Never too old to learn as they say. You can always improve and get better after every game. Let’s keep it on you a bit longer. You’re a great Raven player in Guilty Gear. What was it that attracted you to the character? Was it his play style? His looks? Or was it something else entirely? Were there any other characters you were considering before Raven?

Blaze: Before Raven I used to play Sol in Sign. When Revelator got announced they showed Raven as a playable character. Raven has always been in the Guilty Gear universe but only in pictures and story mode, never playable. His design was also completely different. When they revealed his new design I was pretty impressed and thought to myself, “This character looks pretty cool and edgy, maybe I’ll give him a shot.” Once I got my hands on him I was having fun with him but I wasn’t fully convinced to switch since learning a new Guilty Gear character can be challenging and take a long time. When the game got released I announced a character invitational tournament. We had a local Sol player but we did not have a raven player and I wanted to show the new characters in play so the community could have more content of them. I gave my Sol spot to that player and decided to play Raven in the tournament. I didn’t do too well in the tournament since I was still learning Raven but something during that tournament just clicked. It’s hard to explain but after that tournament I never picked Sol again. It’s like I found my fighting game character soulmate lol. Everything just felt right with my play style and this character. He can rush you down or he can zone you out and be very very very annoying which I enjoy lol. His defense isn’t too good which funny enough mine isn’t either. So it forces me to learn more defense because he can easily get stunned or die with a blink of an eye. Till this day I still suck at blocking lol. I learned that sometimes instead of working on your weaknesses it’s better to just focus your strengths and overshadow your weaknesses. That has been working very well for me so far. The only one character that I would be interested in taking a look at is Order Sol if he gets announced. I used to play him back in Pre-Xrd days and he was easily one of the most fun rush down characters I played. Only time will tell, for now I’m fully committed to raven no matter how many times he gets buffed or nerfed. 

Q: I admire your dedication. It’s something I need to work on as someone who struggles to stay with one character for extended periods of time. You brought up an interesting point though and that is your mentality while playing. What sort of advice would you give to new players trying to get into the game or any fighting game? Things like picking characters, stick vs. pad, how to approach matches, and the type of mindset they should have while playing? Or anything else you can think of for that matter.

Blaze: For new players pick who ever you feel fits your play style. When it comes to stick or pad pick what you feel most comfortable with. Also, when just starting out play players at your skill level. When it comes to fighting games you have to learn how to crawl before you run. Encouragement goes a long way and winning matches even if its not vs. a good player helps with that a lot. One mistake a lot of new players do is try to play top players right away and expect them to learn the game fast because they are fighting someone so advanced. But in reality that player is mopping the floor with them and they don’t even have a chance to learn the mechanics of the game. Not saying you shouldn’t fight them at all, but at the start you should work your way up. Also don’t be afraid to ask questions, The Guilty Gear community loves helping out new players. There is a very low chance that when you ask a good player for advice on Twitter that they will tell you no. We also have character discords with lots of knowledgeable players to talk to.

Q: Speaking of newer players you mentioned that you run TSB apprentice, do you mind explaining what that is for people?

Blaze: TSB apprentice is a bi-monthly tournament That Sway, Mynus and I run that recently started back in January. Rules are you can’t enter the tournament if you won a TSB before or if you’re a very experienced/advanced Guilty Gear player. The tournament is for players that are just getting into the game or they want to become better to beat top players. We run it only once every two months. Between that time we just do our regularly TSB tournaments where anyone can join. We have gotten A lot of good feed back and even made out of state players come. Yesterday we had 41 Guilty Gear entries! We haven’t gotten that many people in over a year for our regularly run TSB tournaments lol. We usually get between 15-25 which Isn’t bad at all but I didn’t know this many would show. The tournament also has coaches. So if you can’t join you can coach a player if they request it. I believe it is very good to give players encouragement and motivation so they can get better and give the advance players a run for their money. Yesterday made me real happy because everyone including staff, coaches, and players were all having the time of their lives. Our next one is May 3rd. I’m very excited for the normal TSB tournament on March 23rd to see who has shown progress and see how well they will do vs. the advanced players.

Q: Awesome man! Always great to support new players and keep the scene going! So, most people I interview are players and all they do is compete. But you are also a Tournament Organizer. Tell me how is it to balance doing both? Which do you find yourself enjoying more these days?

Blaze: It’s pretty difficult because I also stream TSB and stream some majors. That’s where my partners Sway and Mynus come in. It would be impossible to stream, TO, and compete if it wasn’t for them. In a tournament our usual plan is I stream, they run brackets and call the shots when things go sour. If i have to play my match, either Sway or Mynus takes over the stream and I go finish my match. We all have each others back and I must say that TSB wouldn’t be where it is now if it wasn’t for those two. I couldn’t ask for better friends, partners, and training buddies.

Q: Good friend are hard to come by. So tell me about Blaze the person outside of the game. What are some of your hobbies? Things you like to do to relax? Or just what are you doing with your life in general?

Blaze: Outside of video games I love movies, anime, and work out from time to time. I also love animals, I have a rottweiler, cat, and bearded dragon. For relaxation I pretty much turned my room into a spa. I have real beautiful lights, candles, and a projector that turns my room into either the northern lights or a river flow. I put on some nice mediation music and just space out. I work as an I.T. specialist in a school district. One thing I want to accomplish is to travel and see a lot more countries. So far I’ve only been to The Dominican Republic, Beijing, and Japan. I would love to see Paris, Canada, Hong Kong, South Korea, Iceland, and Brazil. Another goal of mine is to buy a house here in New York City. That is really tough though since real estate is pretty expensive in New York lol.

Q: Wow, you’re quite the eclectic man. Is meditation something that is important to you? How long have you been doing it?

Blaze: I used to work at a spa back in 2013-2014 as a front desk employee turned into a massage therapist. I’ve learned so many things there from skin care to stress relief techniques. You can relieve stress in so many ways that people should take advantage of. People tend to let emotions, stress, and anger build up a lot and that’s not good or healthy. When you have all those things built up, there comes a time where they just blow up emotionally. Let’s say they lost a game, are under pressure, or even in a confrontation with another person then sing these techniques will help to control yourself. I’m just like anyone else with those things building up. I wouldn’t call it meditation though since meditation requires you to sit still, have no noise, and completely blank out your mind. This is more surrounding myself in a stress-free environment and I would advise everyone to try it. It will help you not only in games but also in life. 

Q: Some solid advice that everyone could use, myself included. Now you also mentioned that you’ve been to quite a few countries. What are some of your favorite parts about traveling? Is there anywhere you’ve been so far that you would consider a favorite?

Blaze: Japan by far. The food was great and cheap. The arcades were fun, the people were polite, and it was so clean compared to how NYC is lol. It was a huge culture shock. I would definitely want to live there maybe for a year or two. I’m not a fan of the Japaneses work culture there though and how the trains stop running at 1 AM though.

Q: It’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit as well. I’ve a friend whose lived there for about 8 years now and he loves it but he also complains about the work culture. One day I’ll visit. So let’s look to the future for you. What sort of things do you have planned? More TSB? More streaming? More competing?

Blaze: I love guilty gear and the anime fighting game community too much so I definitely won’t stop competing, streaming, or running TSB anytime soon. We also have that new arcys fighting game to look forward to, Granblue Fantasy Versus! We will continue our annual Super TSB as it is getting bigger every year (we might need a new venue next year lol).

Q: Ha, that sounds like a fairly good problem to have! Hopefully I can the trip out from Boston to NYC sometime to go to one! Well man, I appreciate you taking the time to sit down and talk with me about these things. I wish you the best with all your endeavors in the future. Before I let you go is there anyone you want to mention or shout out and where can people find you on social media? 

Blaze: We hope to have you soon! I guarantee you will have a good time! And would love to give a huge shout out to the whole anime fighting game community! We have come very far since the dark ages! Big shout out to all of TSB staff, competitors, and anyone that supports us! Please come to Super TSB April 19-20th. Follow tsb_blaze, okaysway, mynusjp and tsb_fgc for all TSB related news! Thank you for having me.

You can follow Blaze on Twitter @tsb_blaze
And as always you can follow me on Twitter @itsfrail


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