Behind The Stick: An Interview with Zidane

I had the chance to sit down with Zidane, a high level Leo player from North America. Some of the topics we discussed include: His history with fighting games, some of his early struggles in the scene, why he plays Leo, tips for new players, and what he plans to do in the future.

Q: I appreciate you taking the time to sit down and talk to me. I’m sure you’re a busy guy. How are you?

Zidane:I’m OK. A little tired, my sleep schedule is all over the place.

Q: I feel you on that one my man. Work has me beat. So for those that might not know who you are can you give us a brief history of your time with fighting games from when you first started to where you are now?

Zidane: So my handle is Zidane, people that know me call me Josh. So I’ve generally been playing Fighting games vs CPU since I was a kid. I’ve played stuff like SF2, Third Strike, CvS2, MvC2, etc. casually. It changed when an old friend told me to get Guilty Gear X2 #Reload for the original Xbox. I listened to him and bought it the first day it came out (09/14/2004). This was the first time I wanted to try and get good at a fighting game and try to play other people. I remember going on the SRK forums and finding a dude named Phrekwenci who hosted gatherings in Queens. That was the first time I traveled to play games with others and that’s where I met some of my closest friends to this day. I was pretty bad starting out but NY/NJ had a pretty strong scene so I at least had the resources to level up. I believe my first major was an NEC (I could be mistaken), I know my first tournament was some local in New Jersey at The Break (where I lost when someone said I couldn’t use pad micros) Pretty much throughout most of my FG career, I traveled to a friend’s house over the weekend (usually 2-3 hours away) and we played games all weekend. Netplay wasn’t as efficient as it is nowadays so offline gatherings really helped a lot. Traveled to a bunch of majors, met other good players, talked to people on how to improve. The last few years I’ve been less competitive but I still want to play and do my best.

Q: So you’ve been competing for quite awhile. Do you remember how you felt during your first few tournaments? Were you nervous and intimidated? Did you feel okay and prepared? How does that compare to how you feel when you’ve competed most recently? Are you much more laid back or do you still take the competition very seriously?

Zidane: I remember being frustrated that I couldn’t use my pad macros the first local I went to and that caused me to lose, lol. I had to change my control scheme up (which I use to this day) so I don’t rely on macros anymore. I don’t think I was nervous and I generally don’t feel nervous at tournaments. The feeling that I’ve always had since I’ve started all the way up to now is that I know I’m not playing my best and so I think I’m probably gonna do bad / the opponent is gonna do well. Like I never go into a major thinking “Yeah, I’m gonna do well!” I think “I’ll try my best with what I have but I don’t expect to beat a lot of people who actively practice and play more than I do” People tell me I underplay myself a lot thinking that way but I prefer it to thinking “yeah I’m nice, I got this” and then losing. For example, I didn’t expect to do well at Evo 2015, I didn’t even go to the tournament for singles. I planned on DQing myself before the tournament started because I got food poisoning the day before and it was awful but people told me not to. So yeah, I generally take my competition seriously (maybe more seriously than I should?) and always try my best with what’s available to me.

Q: That’s a very interesting mindset. At the very least a humble one. But I think it is very admirable. So hoping a bit into Guilty Gear you’re a well known Leo player. What was it that attracted you to him? Is there any other characters that you were toying with the idea of playing?

Zidane: So this is a good one and a lot of people have asked me this before and I love the answer. So when Xrd first came out the character I played in the XX series, Anji, wasn’t in. I knew that for a while since the console release came out about a year later I think. I messed with Sol a bit but I thought he was very boring compared to AC+R Sol. I told myself I’d try the DLC chars. Elphelt wasn’t for me, I tried Sin but I was playing him wrong (but didn’t know at the time) and I didn’t enjoy his play style. So Leo comes out after those two. I remember I called out of work that night to try him. I was doing his trials and after completing them, I realized how simple and how lackluster his game plan felt. He was actually the easiest / “worst” characters I had ever tried and I told someone at the time “his whackness intrigues me”. And that’s why I stuck with him. I don’t really /like/ Leo but he’s simple and I told myself I’d play him so here I am.

Q: You might be the first player to ever tell me that the character the main they think is whack and they don’t really like him. The advice that people always give new players is play what you like and think is cool haha. Sticking on the giving advice to newer players what sort of advice would you give to people trying out Guilty Gear for the first time or any fighter in general? 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.

Zidane: I think one of the most important things to learn when you’re first starting a fighting game, any fighting game but especially Guilty Gear because it can be brutal sometimes is that it’s okay to lose. People get discouraged easily when they lose, they blame the game, they blame the character they lose to, their own character, etc. I think it’s super important to try to talk to other players (hopefully better than yourself) about your matches and your mindset because it’s always good to get an outside voice on it, someone not as close to it as you are. I think the number one problem with players not getting better or staying where they are isn’t because of the character they chose, the game, they’re not weak mechanically, it’s just how they think about the game and any ego they might have. Learning or relearning the proper mindset is crucial to getting good at fighting games. Other advice specific to Xrd, For a newer player to FGs / GG, choosing the right character is very important. There are some characters that do not play like normal FG characters and I think learning the game through them could be detrimental to you improving as a player. Like I would never tell a new player to pick up Leo or Ramlethal or Jack-O or Potemkin. The first three promote, let’s say, “abstract” playstyles that could instill bad habits in you. Pot is just really awful and I wish people didn’t play him. I’ve always used pad for FGs but I think you should play what you’re comfortable on. There are people that play on racing wheels and DDR pads, lol. Stick, hitbox, pad, if you could execute and confirm comfortably on whatever you’re using, keep it up. And to end this, I’ll just reiterate that it’s okay to lose. It’s okay to be wrong in fighting games so long as you understand that /YOU/ are wrong and that there is a right answer out there. Blaming the game and bullshit characters or mechanics will not help you. Understanding how you play / think about the game and how it might be wrong or your game plan has holes and how to fix them is 1000000% more constructive than “lol fuck this broken char, fuck this system mechanic”.

Q: A lot of great advice there. I think a lot of people have that mindset that if I’m not winning something else is the reason instead of wondering what they could have done better. Staying with the topic of system mechanics though I wanted to get your take on them. If there was to be a big patch or even a new game announced sometime this year what are some of the things you’d like to see stay and what are some of the things you would like to see go?

Zidane: 1) Danger Time needs to get removed / reworked. GG is a very high damage game and it’s enjoyable to see people explode sometimes (for me anyway) but I don’t think any player enjoys having to scramble to kill when Danger Time procs. 2) Tech buttons. So this wasn’t in the XX series but in Xrd, the invulnerability you get from air teching lasts for 7 frames after you’re able to act. That means you could tech in the air and your buttons have some invul to them. It promotes trying to force your turn and I don’t think it’s healthy for the game, I’d like to see that go as well. 3) YRC/PRC Invul. I think YRC and PRC are incredibly strong mechanics. Being able to cancel your move with meter to not get punished / put yourself in a more advantageous position is strong enough (too strong in my opinion) as it is and I don’t think it needs the invul frames it has during the flash. Other than that, I think you could simplify the game a bit while still keeping it Guilty Gear by removing things like different face up and face down values, jump install, small things like that. I personally miss FRCs from the old games but I don’t think Xrd needs it, it’s just something I miss.

Q: YRC/PRC is something that I’ve heard from a few other players I’ve interviewed and it seems to be a pretty hot button issue. But I agree that some of the other things you mentioned can be a bit problematic. I want to hop back to you for a moment. Was there or is there anyone that you think helped push you to the next level as a player? Someone you might consider a close friend or a rival?

Zidane: Back in the day when I was learning and playing the XX series, 10+ years ago, Andrew (Trazek) really helped me out a lot as a player. He pretty much mentored me and helped me actually use my brain, lol. Another big person would be XAQShinor. He’s one of my closest friends and an amazing player and he’s always pushed me to be better. But everyone I played back then and to this day a lot, I appreciate. That includes people I started playing since XX days like Mynus, A3Religion, Dandystepper, MarlinPie, Rudy, Phrekwenci in my scene. Out of state people like Cue, JuicyG, ElvenShadow. Shit, I play some of those people to this day. Some of the players I play with in Xrd that help me out a lot would be KizzieKay, KidViper, Hamad, DEB, Daymendou, TheArm, Bears, LostSoul, Shine. These guys are all really good and being able to play a lot of these dudes through netplay is amazing. I could barely netplay people in my state 10 years ago and now I could play people on the west coast with an extra frame or two of delay compared to offline. I forgot to include Liston for Xrd. Liston is also a good player in the NYC scene I play sometimes.

Q: You’re friends with a lot of amazing players! I did an interview with DEB last week he was actually the first person to give me a shot on these interviews so I am very glad that he did. Hopefully I can interview them all some day! So, one of the big reasons I started this series was to get a more intimate look at players in the FGC both in and out of game. We’ve gone over a decent amount of your history with the game. But tell me about the Zidane outside the game. What are some of your hobbies? What are some things you like to do to relax? or just what are some things that you do outside the game in general?

Zidane: Yeah, I’m lucky to know strong Guilty Gear players. I don’t mean that as a shot towards others but it’s fun to play the people I listed. I’m pretty boring honestly. I like to read but I’ve been slacking the last year or two. Generally I prefer fantasy, stuff like The Wheel Of Time, Kingkiller Chronicles, The First Law. I absolutely adore Monster Hunter, I’ve been playing it since like 2010? It’s my favorite game series. If I had to choose between GG and MH, I’d choose MH. No hesitation. I get a kick sometimes to watch highly rated TV shows, I remember I went through 4-5 HBO shows that were critically acclaimed (PS, I implore everyone reading this interview to watch The Wire if you haven’t) in a month or two. Other than that, It’s mostly just work. Work, hanging out with people, reading if I can, GG if I can. Pretty boring.

Q: Do you see yourself still playing Guilty Gear into the future or do you think you’ll move onto other things in the future whether that be in your career, personal interests, or other reasons?

Zidane: I think I’ll always have room for GG. I dunno if I’ll always fly to majors but at least I can still play with my friends.

Q: I for one hope to see you keep competing into the future. Well man, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Before I let you go is there anyone you want to give a shout out to and where can people find you on social media?

Zidane: Thank you for the opportunity. I’d just like to say thanks to my friends and anyone I play in GG. I appreciate them, still love the game and having fun with it and people is still one of my favorite pastimes. My twitter is @zidanel33t, so is my twitch but I only stream when one or two friends asks me to generally.

You can follow Zidane on Twitter @zidanel33t

And as always you can follow me on Twitter @itsfrail

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