Behind The Stick: An Interview With Mr.K

I had the chance to talk to Mr. K, a premier Leo player from the United States, and pick his brain about topics such as: His history in the scene, tips for new players, his thoughts on the future of Guilty Gear, his plans for the future, and more.

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

Mr.K: Feeling great today. Yourself? I think the Guilty Gear community would benefit a lot from more exposure, so thanks for talking with me.

Q: I’m doing great man. Absolutely! I think it’s a fantastic game that I think falls a bit to the wayside. Part of the reason I wanted to do this series was to give people a more intimate look at players and give them exposure to the game so next time a tournament is on they are more invested in both the players and the game and they are more likely to check it out and start playing. So I am very grateful to not only you, but the other people who have volunteered to do these with me. It’s a great and welcoming community!

So hoping right into it let’s start with the question on everyone’s mind. What does the K in Mr. K actually stand for?

Mr.K: There’s definitely a story behind that. Fifteen years ago, I was going by Kikuichimonji on online forums. It was a katana in Final Fantasy Tactics and I just liked the way it looked and that was the name I started with going to local St. Louis events. And naturally nobody knew how to pronounce that. One of the locals, Rex, decided “I’m not saying that long-ass name, you’re Mr. K now.” And that stuck. It’s an open secret because I definitely wouldn’t pick a tag like that nowadays, but it has history to me now and that’s why I’ve stuck with it. I always think the best tags are the ones that are made up by the community and given to a player instead of the ones that players pick for themselves.

Q: So, for those that know you they know that you’ve been competing for a long time. But for those that don’t could you give a brief history of your time with fighting games from when you started to where you are today?

Mr.K: I started off playing 3rd Strike in my friend Ben’s basement on the PS2 about 12 years ago. The style of 3S really attracted me, and I was competitive enough that I couldn’t handle being anything but the best in our group. When SF4 came out, I decided that I wanted to really commit to getting good at the game and I met others through Shoryuken forums. I never really experienced authentic arcade culture, but most of the people that taught me grew up in it, so I was definitely affected by it. Eventually when STL BarWarz weeklies, I began going regularly to those and playing SF4. You can pull up some of my Seth matches from that era. I put a lot of love into SF4, and that game will always be special to me because of it. I managed to make top 8 at Frosty Faustings once, only to get trounced on stream. Eventually though I got exposed to Guilty Gear Accent Core and fell in love with the music, style, and game flow. Everything felt crisp and intentional. It was a game made to be mastered. I also really liked the local Guilty Gear players, and I had a great teacher. AKA was one of the best US players at the time and he heavily influenced the way I view the game and the community. There’s no way I would be here without him. As I got more independence and grew older, I was free to travel to majors and got the experience and friendships I needed to improve as a player. When GG Xrd came out, I was committed to becoming one of the best players in the US. I’ve been a frequent invader at various Midwest monthlies, and also I’ve worked hard to build up the local St. Louis scene. I’m fortunate enough to have the chance to travel now and show off what I’ve learned over the years.

Q: I appreciate the thorough explanation! Always interesting to see where top players come from and how they got to where they are. If you don’t mind me asking, who were the players that you think really drove you to the next level? Perhaps a friend or someone you viewed as a rival that made you want to get better?

Mr.K: People that pushed me to get better? For Xrd, those people would be AKA, Sym, Kenji, and 722. Until you’ve played competitors with tournament track record in a long set, you can’t really comprehend how high the skill ceiling goes. There were so many times that I would go to Chicago, lose soundly, and think “I don’t know how to improve.” Sometimes it takes a hard loss to realize that you’re missing important skills. You know how some martial artists condition their legs by kicking a tree over and over? These players were the trees I could throw myself against to become stronger.

Q: A very apt analogy. So you’ve been a Leo player for a long time now. What was it about Leo that made you want to play him? Was it his play style? His looks? Or something else entirely? Were there any other characters you were considering and why?

Mr.K: I almost didn’t even play Leo! I was split down the middle between Sol and Leo, and I picked Leo because he was a bit more fun. I think that a lot of players expect a character to pop out at them and run with it for the entire time, but honestly it’s only when I put a lot of time in a character that I can tell if I’m going to jive with them. Originally it was Leo’s playstyle and just his raw damage. When I learned that backturned Leo had throw invincible moves, a high-low game, and could just dash through people, I was sure that he was the aggressive jerk I needed to force my opponent to respect my options. I also like his attitude. I love that he’s refined enough to drink tea, but barbaric enough to just drink it straight from the teapot. Just the idea of fighting someone while looking the other direction is a really bold aesthetic. I originally played Sol in Sign. I’ve also dabbled with Ky and Chipp. Chipp was the first character I tried to play in Accent Core, but he was too technically demanding for me at that point.

Q: That’s interesting. A lot of other people I’ve talked to maybe played one other character but you’ve bounced between Chipp, Ky, and Sol. So, obviously, you’ve competed numerous times between your first tournament and your most recent one. Do you still remember your first tournament? Do you remember how you felt? Was it something you really enjoyed and looked forward to doing again or were you just doing it as something to do? How does that compare to now when you look back at your most recent tournament? Do you still feel the same as you did back then or do you view the game and competing differently?

Mr.K: My first tournament was at Ogre’s, a card shop. It was something I really was excited for because I wanted to do well. I got stomped. I remember thinking that I never wanted to feel that way again. Of course, that was just the first of many. I was lucky that I went there with friends so I didn’t feel too isolated. It’s important to have a social circle you can rely on. Fighting game events can often be hard to enter as a new player because you have this expectation of being judged based on your skills. A bad first impression can definitely shy someone away from coming back. In reality, experienced players know how challenging it can be to pick up a new pastime like fighting games, so most of us try to be patient and friendly. I remember what it was like starting out. I was definitely guilty of trying to find my own self-worth through results. When I felt like I “needed” to be the best and that no other result was acceptable, I put a lot of pressure on myself. I ended up thinking so much about losing that I hurt my performance and hamstringing myself. Nowadays I’m mostly here because it’s an enjoyable hobby. I want to do well, and I have the most fun when I do my best. And I think that my shift in attitude is definitely one of the things that has helped me perform better recently. Tournaments are fun because I get a chance to perform, but also because I get to spend time with people that share similar interests as me. I value the people in the community as much as the games themselves.

Q: Speaking of new players (and you touched on it a bit in your previous answer) what sort of advice would you give to players who are just starting out in fighting games like Guilty Gear? 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.

Mr.K: For controllers, just pick whatever feels comfortable. The biggest reason I use a stick instead of a pad nowadays is that it hurts my hands less. I still remember rubbing my thumb raw on that PS2 dpad! For picking characters, just pick who you like and try to make it work. Too many people look for “beginner characters” that don’t really play the way they want. You can definitely learn a lot from picking up a character that relies heavily on spacing like Ky, but the idea that you should pick Ky so you can be a better Bedman player is like learning Italian to speak French. You’re making your life harder for no reason unless you’re actually interested in both languages. The best advice I can give overall is to find someone to teach you. Too many people try to learn fighting games on their own and reinvent the wheel, when there are so many people that are happy to help. The internet has made it so much easier to learn from somebody even if they’re 200 miles away. If I could give a new player any single piece of advice, it would be to not go it alone. As far as mindset goes, reasonable expectations are crucial. You should expect progress, but judging yourself in terms of wins and losses against any specific player is a recipe for disaster. Other players improve or get rusty. It can be hard to know whether the time you’re investing is paying off, too. For a simple example, lots of players struggle with anti airs. For a player that isn’t confident in their anti-airs, contesting a jump in feels intimidating and risky. But ultimately, a player that wants to improve will need to try to anti-air and take that risk in order to build up that skill. You’ll lose *more* trying to do this in the short term, and you need to accept that as a cost of improving. You’ll need those skills to build a successful strategy. Don’t be afraid to look at the big picture. Sometimes you’ll draw bad conclusions, and your losses and training partners will point those out. But sometimes being stubborn is the *best* approach to improving.

Q: I will take some of that advice for myself as I continue to get my ass beat in online matches haha. Keeping on the topic of new players how do you feel about the Guilty Gear scene in terms of staying power? Obviously with it not being one of the big games at EVO this year it won’t get the big exposure to the massive crowd that the event draws. Do you think the scene is in a decline, stagnant, or has a promising future? Why do you think this?

Mr.K: Guilty Gear survived 6 years between the release of Accent Core and +R. That’s when I started learning. GG’s not going anywhere. This isn’t the first year Guilty Gear hasn’t been at Evo, either. The players for Guilty Gear do it out of love for the game and the community. As long as I still have competition, I think I’ll still play Guilty Gear. I think most players are in it for the long haul. EVO is a great tournament experience because international players attend. It’s a rare chance to play some of the best players in the world. However, other tournaments like CEOtaku, Combo Breaker, and Frosty Faustings pull very strong numbers for Guilty Gear. It’s disappointing that EVO chose not to include Guilty Gear in the lineup. I know that exposure definitely helps bring in some new players, but the GG community has deep roots. I’m not worried.

Q: So a big reason I do these interviews is to give people a more intimate look at the players behind these games so they get more invested in the scene. Can you tell us about Mr. K outside the game? What are some things you like to do for fun, some hobbies of yours, or just things you do to preoccupy your time?

Mr.K: I started jogging last fall and I’m really thrilled about the improvement in the weather so I can start that up again. It was the first time I’ve been active daily and I feel better physically than I ever have. If you assumed that I watch anime and play video games because I’m a Guilty Gear player, you’d be exactly right. I like board games as a social thing because it’s an excuse to sit around a table and drink a beer and talk. A lot of my time goes to organizing my local community. I’m working with a lot of really awesome people to improve the quality of our stream. I want our locals to be a proving ground for players looking to improve, but also a fun place to go every week to hang out. Even if you don’t know if you like fighting games, I hope people in St. Louis hit up @STLFGC and ask about our weeklies on Thursday nights.

Q: It’s all about getting better both inside the game and out. Always happy to hear people actively trying to improve their local scene. I suppose that leads me into my next question which is what are your plans for the future? Obviously you plan on working on your local scene as you said but do you have any aspirations to run events in your scene? Maybe stream? Go to more tournaments this year? What are your plans?

Mr.K: I’m going to start streaming sometime soon. I’m moving into a new place that should make it a lot more feasible for me to do it regularly. I used to love watching Day9 cover StarCraft back in the day. I think there’s a lot of space for more in-depth analysis of the game and that’s what I’d like to try. As for tournaments, I’ll be at Michigan Masters and Combo Breaker for sure. There will probably be more events later in a year too. It’s hard to attend everything due to finances, but I’ll be making every event I can.

Q: I agree, I think there is a void in terms of analysis and content (such as this). I find that people tend to enjoy things more when they understand them on a deeper level and have a connection to the thing that they are watching. Well Mr. K I appreciate your time and your extremely in-depth answers. It’s been a pleasure talking to you but before I let you go is there anyone would you like to give a shout out to and where can people find you on social media?

Mr.K: Follow me on Twitter is @STLMrK for bad puns and Leo tech. Thanks to everyone in the GG community that’s supported me, including zenzen, hotashi, DEB, MightyMar, BeautifulDude, and too many others to mention. Peace.

You can follow Mr.K on twitter @STLMrK

And as always you can follow me on twitter @itsfrail




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