Behind The Stick: An Interview With PepperySplash

I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking to PepperySplash, a premier Guilty Gear player, who is known for his Slayer, Johnny, and Venom. In this interview we discuss: His history with fighting games, why he’s changed characters over the years, tips for new players, how he got his name, and his plans for the future.

Q: Really excited to get the chance to talk to you today Peppery. You’ve been one of my favorite players to watch in the NA scene for awhile now so getting a chance to pick your brain about things is going to be great. How are you doing?

Peppery: Thank you, I’m happy that you find me interesting to watch! I’m doing well, albeit a bit tired from my school workload. I appreciate you taking the time to interview me.

Q: So as I said I know quite a bit about you already but for those reading that don’t know could you give us a brief summary of your history in the fighting game scene from when you first started to where you are now?

Peppery: My very first fighting game was Super Street Fighter 4 for the 3DS, which I believe released all the way back in 2011. I was around 13 and had a lot of free time, so over the next couple years I ended up playing that game for over 3000 hours (which is more than anybody should ever have to spend fighting against a Guile who can do walking sonic booms and flashkicks). There was a chatroom community for the game from GameFAQS that I eventually became a part of, and one of the first people I met in there would be the one to convince me to try playing Xrd Sign when it released for the PS4. I grew up in a very small Canadian town and because I was still in high school at the time I was only able to netplay for the majority of Sign’s lifespan. Eventually I moved to a larger city for university and started being able to compete at smaller events up until my first American major, which was Frosty’s 2017. Ever since I started Xrd I’ve been having a lot of fun playing, watching and learning the game. Overall it just really inspired me to try and improve my skill level as much as I have, which by extension has also led to some strong tournament results.

Q: Wow, I’ve met quite a few people that played Street Fighter 4 but you might be one of the first to play it on 3DS for any extended period time. And it was a long period of time at that haha. So you said that this person convinced you to play SIGN when it released on PS4 but what was it about Guilty Gear that kept you playing instead of moving on to another game?

Peppery: I was really just fascinated by how cool and varied the game was, both mechanically and between characters. There are so many different aspects and freedoms that define your style, moreso than anything I had played before. The more I learned the more impressed I was by watching the top Japanese players like Nage who just have such amazing control and knowledge of their character and the game. I wanted to reach even a fraction of that skill level so that I would be able to further appreciate just how deep and open the game is. It was mainly that appreciation that kept me invested in playing.

Q: Nage is actually one of my favorite players to watch as well. If I was even remotely competent in Japanese he would have been one of the first people I asked for an interview haha. But that’s very interesting. Guilty Gear is for sure a complicated game with a lot of nuance. So thinking back to the first time you competed to your most recent tournament how would you say you’ve changed? How did you feel in your first tournament vs. how do you feel now?

Peppery: My overall mentality has actually remained pretty similar to when I first started, but I’ve become more mature with how I apply it. I’ve always had a lot of confidence in the way that I play, even when I wasn’t what I would consider “strong.” What stemmed from that was a desire to maintain a “high” standard of play, and I would always be disappointed if I felt that I wasn’t successful with it. Part of competing is learning about yourself and where your strengths and weaknesses lie when put under pressure. When I realized that, I stopped having such a rigid view on what it meant to be “playing well” and became more willing to make compromises or changes on various aspects of my play. While what that means has changed over time as well as based on what character I play, the ability itself to recognize those things has been incredibly helpful. Now as a result I am much more comfortable playing in a tournament setting, while still being very confident in my own ability.

Q: It’s interesting to hear that while you have changed it hasn’t been as significant as say some of the other players I’ve spoken to. Now, one thing I was curious about was the characters you’ve played. I’m fairly certain you played a bit of Slayer, as well as Johnny and now Venom. What made you choose those characters and what caused you to change from one to the next?

Peppery: Slayer was my first real main character and I played him up until near the end of Rev1’s lifespan, with my last tournament with him being Frosty 2017. I initially picked him because his move-set and aesthetic reminded me a lot of Dudley, who was one of the characters I played in SF4. After I stopped playing him, my next main character for the next while was actually Zato. As a character he was always interesting to me but negative edge was such a foreign concept to me that I thought he would be too hard to learn. But it was because I thought it would be challenging for me that I decided to try my best to play him. A bit after I started to learn Zato, a player from my local scene wanted to try to get into Xrd and he was really stubborn about playing Johnny. So, I started to play Johnny as a “sub” character so that I could help him learn the game. Though the more I played him the more I began to enjoy his playstyle and emphasis on combo knowledge. Combo Breaker 2017 was my next major tournament and I had to choose between whether I wanted to play Johnny or Zato for it. I picked Johnny. After that tournament I decided to try to focus on improving my Johnny more, though I still played Zato casually. I wanted to learn Venom for much the same reason I wanted to learn Zato. I thought as a character he was really interesting but with all the different ball formations/ways to hit them/set ups that he had it would be really difficult to learn him. I began playing him near the end of 2017 while I was still maining Johnny, though I only put about 2 months into him before taking a long break from practicing him so that I could continue focusing on Johnny. I started actively using him again in September 2018, and CEOtaku was the tournament I decided to start maining him. I’m very happy playing Venom right now, so I don’t see myself changing anytime soon. The specific reason I swapped from each character to the next was always the same, and pretty straightforward: I just felt like it. I don’t really care about tiers, who is a better character, or things like that. It’s always been about interest to me. One thing I’ve learned about myself is that If I’m not having fun then my quality of play goes down severely. I’ve always cycled between using different characters when I play casually because it’s hard for me to play a lot of games with a single character and still be invested, even if it’s my main. Though because of that I think that over time I’ve developed a style of play that is very “fundamental” in a sense, and allows me to look at a lot of different situations through unique lenses on how best to approach them.

Q: Wow, a lot of great stuff there to unpack. A consistent theme I’ve seen from a lot of top players is to play whoever you like and think is cool (except Zidane who thinks Leo is whack haha). Now you mentioned a friend who wanted to pick up XRD. Was there anyone who you think really pushed you to the next level as a player? Whether it be a friend of yours or maybe someone you compete against regularly?

Peppery: Since I’ve started in Xrd I’ve never had someone that I would consider a rival. Rather, I think it’s the culmination of having been exposed to many different strong players as I’ve gradually improved. I’ve never been the type of person to ask for advice and my mentality is very stubborn in that way. I want to be better at the game, but it’s something that I want to do completely on my own terms. Whether or not that’s necessarily a good way to do it is a different discussion, but it’s something that’s always been very personal to me. With that said, I’m very thankful to be able to play people like LostSoul, Bears, DEB, and many others, as they are constantly helpful in making me reconsider different aspects of my style whenever I play them.

Q: A lot great players there. Some of the best in the game really. It is interesting though because a lot of other players I’ve talked to say that they were very grateful that they had other great players they could talk to and advice for advice but you were the opposite. So you’ve talked a bit about you swapping characters and developing your own play style but for those are new and maybe struggling to find a character, struggling to find how to approach the games, and just having an overall hard time getting into Guilty Gear or maybe even any fighting game what sort of advice or tips would you give?

Peppery: I think the most important thing in any game is to remember to enjoy the journey, and why it is that you want to play. Fighting games are hard and require a great amount of investment into them. It’s OK to put time into a character you aren’t sure if you will like. It’s OK to feel lost or at a plateau where everyone else is so far above you. All of those kinds of things are temporary provided you have the motivation to try and the willingness to accept how much it is that you don’t know. I think this is particularly pronounced in legacy games like Tekken or Guilty Gear where it’s hard for newer generations of players to get into them, and even harder to succeed. But in any game if it’s truly important to you to become better, more often than not you’ll be able to do it with enough perseverance. This will sound a bit hypocritical coming off of my previous answer, but I think it’s very important to just be open about asking others to help you. The internet makes communication with all kinds of people so easy to do, and most are extremely willing to assist you. Find people that you enjoy playing with, or people who are happy to explain different things to you. You want to surround yourself in an environment that keeps you motivated to keep playing and coming back. Have reasonable expectations, find something that works for you to help reach them, and stick with it.

Q: Speaking of new players, with all the new games that have come out recently like BBTAG, UNIST, and Dragonball Fighterz, how optimistic are you about the Guilty Gear scene? Do you think it’s due for a new game to bring new eyes on the series? Do you see yourself investing time in other fighting games in the future?

Peppery: Guilty Gear has a very consistent fanbase and player pool so I’m not concerned about the current competitive state of the game. With that said, I know a lot of people are waiting to see what the next entry into the series will be since we’ve been playing the Xrd series for more than 3 years at this point. It would also inherently cause an influx of new players provided they hype it up correctly. Personally I still have a lot of motivation to continue improving in the current game, but I understand those who do not. As for playing other fighting games it’s difficult for me to pick new games up simply because I don’t have the time to do so. My university program is quite intensive, and as I near the end of my undergraduate it’s important for me to continue to do well. The only other fighting game I currently play now besides Xrd is DBFZ and I’ve had moderate success in that game. Though because there are so many aspects of DBFZ I dislike that come from how it’s fundamentally designed, I plan to stop entering tournaments for it soon. That’s not to say that the game is easy to play at a high level, because it isn’t. Rather, the type of skill-set that’s emphasized is one I don’t really care to become better at since I don’t find it interesting or engaging I am interested in trying Granblue when it comes out, and with the recent character reveals I have hope that the gameplay might be able to keep me invested in it. As for anything past that, I wouldn’t be able to say.

Q: I agree, a new game would be a breath of fresh air at this point. If they did put out a new game what are some features you would like to see either brought over or left out of a new GG game?

Peppery: I think a lot of the flavour of GG comes from its pace and the freedom it allows you with your movement, combos, defense and just general decision making, and the skill ceiling is incredibly high as a result. It also allows for a ton of player diversity at a high level even within a single character. Those general aspects are the most important for me that I hope that they retain. It’s just such a fun and freeform style of game. At the same time I think GG has some legacy system choices that are just needlessly arbitrary. For example, having different wakeup timings for different characters is already convoluted enough, but each character having *two* wakeup timings depending on whether it’s a face-up knockdown or a face-down one is overkill. I also think mash to tech could be replaced with hold to tech, as I don’t see what the former really adds from a gameplay perspective and even results in misinputs sometimes. As for the more core system mechanics in Xrd I’m personally fine with blitz because I think it helps balance the strength of offense in this game but I would like to see the charge-blitz war mechanic reworked, especially the reward from a fully charged blitz in those situations. YRC and PRC are also somewhat divisive topics. From a gameplay perspective I don’t mind either but I think YRC helps some characters a lot more than others and that PRC as a concept is pretty pointless to have in the game. Even though it’s expensive I don’t think you should be able to decide/react so late into a move’s animation to save yourself. That situation isn’t even particularly common which is further reason to me that it just shouldn’t exist in the first place. I’d also like to see tech buttons removed or at least the reward of them toned down. I think it incentivizes a “just do it mentality” a lot of times where even though you can get blown up for it you can just as equally completely reverse the momentum of a round.

Q: A lot of those are issues I’ve heard brought up by other players so hopefully they’ll be taken into consideration when developing a new game. So I wanted to move on to sort of the last part of the interview which is a more in-depth look into you outside the game. The first question I wanted to ask is why the name PepperySplash?

Peppery: I wish there was a better story for this but when I first registered for Xbox Live the random name generator gave me PepperySplash4. I’m comically bad at coming up with online names for myself, so I just kept using because I had no other option. It gradually grew on me the longer I had it and, even though it’s pretty silly, I wouldn’t have it any other way now.

Q: And here I was hoping you were secretly an amazing chef. So tell me about PepperySplash outside the game? What sort of things are you into? What are you going to school for? What sort of hobbies do you have? What do you like to do in your free time?

Peppery: Right now for school I’m doing a double major in mathematics and linguistics. I have about two years left of my undergraduate, and after that I want to pursue either speech language pathology or audiology. My interests besides fighting games are largely related to those areas, but moreso towards linguistics. I like to read books related to things like translation, semantics, etc., as well as studying different languages on my own. I also used to practice something called cardistry, which is basically being able to do cool-looking things with a deck of cards. I still occasionally do it, but it’s not something I practice actively anymore. Though if someone sees me at a major and for whatever reason has a deck of cards, feel free to ask me to show off some stuff! Other than those things, I live a pretty quiet life. School takes a lot of my time and energy so I try to spend the rest of it focusing on just a couple things and doing them consistently, rather than spreading myself too thin.

Q: The math and language thing I could totally see but I never would have pictured you doing card tricks. If I ever see you at an event I’m most certainly going to ask you to do it. So, aside from becoming a magician what are your plans for the future? Just focusing on school? Do you want to compete more? Stream maybe? What are your plans?

Peppery: Right now it’s just focusing on school, as it’s been for the past few years. Fighting games are a passion for me and something I truly enjoy, but it’s not something I’m looking to make a career out of. Hopefully when I finally finish school I’ll be able to afford to travel to the U.S more consistently, since I really do enjoy the atmosphere and seeing all the friends that I’ve met through fighting games. I’ve been meaning to try to stream recently, but since I play Xrd on a MacBook I don’t have the necessary power to play and stream at the same time haha. I’m leaning towards just doing more of a match analysis/training mode kind of stream, so I’ll be sure to let people know when I find the time to try it out!

Q: That sounds like a donation goal to me haha. I’ll be sure to tune in whenever those happen. Well that’s all I got for you my man. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. Before I let you do you have any final words or people you want to shout out and where can people find you on social media?

Peppery: Not much to say except for thank you to everyone who’s been and continues to be supportive of me in one way or another, it all means a lot. My Twitter is @PepperySplash and my Twitch is the same thing for when I eventually stream. And thank you for the interview experience, it’s been a lot of fun!

You can follow Pepperysplash on Twitter @PepperySplash

And as always you can follow me on twitter @itsfrail

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