I had the chance to sit down with ElvenShadow, a premier Faust player, tournament organizer, and father. In this interview we discuss: His history with fighting games, balancing being a father, worker, husband, TO, and competitor, his time in Japan, the history of Frosty Faustings, and more!
Q: Hey man, I appreciate you taking the time to sit down and talk to me. You’ve been requested a few times so I’m glad we get the chance to sit down and discuss all things Elven/Guilty Gear? How are you today?
ES: Doing pretty well, thanks! Just a relaxing Saturday at home with my son while my wife is at work.
Q: How is it trying to balance all that you do with work, a child, and also still trying to compete?
ES: It can be challenging at times but sometimes I just have to accept the fact that there’s only so much time in each day and some days I have to focus on one thing more than others. During the months leading up to Frosty Faustings I basically just don’t have time to play games at all. During other times of the year I usually can at least find a few times each week to play on netplay or maybe go to a local so I can at least prevent myself from getting too rusty.
Q: I can relate to that. I’m trying to balance working full time, grad school, and trying to improve and those things are often at odds with each other. So before we head into a bit about Frosty Faustings let’s talk a bit about you. Can you explain to people your history with fighting games from when you first started to where you are now and what you do?
ES: Sure! I basically first started fighting games casually when I got Street Fighter II: World Warrior for SNES as a birthday gift when I was a kid for I think my 8th or 9th birthday. I ended up getting a bunch of other fighters I played casually over the years when I was young, but I didn’t start playing competitively until around late high school or early college. I used to go to local tournaments at arcades that don’t exist anymore like Diversions, and try to play CvS2 and MvC2 but I never really got good at those games. It wasn’t until I discovered Guilty Gear XX for the PS2 during college that I really started to put work into getting good and grinding hard at a game. I had already owned GGX for Dreamcast but had no one to really play it with. In 2002 there was a group of guys that used to play MvC1 at the UIC bowling ally arcade but one day when they were renovating it, someone suggested we try out GGXX and he had his PS2. I lived in the dorms so I let about 15 guys into the lounge area where they had a TV and we just started playing it like every day in between classes. There were usually enough guys playing to where we could just always have someone up there to let people in and keep the setup going while others were in class. Our scene started growing when other guys who were often seen at arcade tournaments playing Capcom games and other stuff started getting into it too. I started running my own tournaments in the dorm lounge and we got really good turnouts and even some other out of state midwest players starting to come to those. I pretty much haven’t stopped playing Guilty Gear since to this day where I still compete in REV 2. Those original UIC dorm lounge tournaments are sort of how I began my career as a tournament organizer, which would eventually lead me to starting Frosty Faustings. I guess that’s the abridged version but I’m happy to go into more details!
Q: So you mentioned that someone suggested you try out GGXX. But what kept you playing the game even now? Do you feel like you’ve committed so much time to it that there is no point in playing something else or do you just have such a deep love for Guilty Gear that you don’t want to play anything else? What is it that keeps you playing?
ES: Basically I just love Guilty Gear! Everything about the game appeals to me. I’m huge into metal and rock so the soundtrack and whole rock theme of the game is just so cool to me. I also really like the character designs, from both a visual and game play design standpoint. The way the game play is designed and how complex yet free the systems are is just so much fun for me. I also just really love playing as Faust. He has everything I want in a character. Part of it is also that I’ve invested so many years of work into the series it seems silly to just drop it when the current version is still a great game and there’s a strong competitive scene for it. I do play other games as well but I don’t have the time to invest in them to get to the same level I’m at as I am in GG. I’ll sometimes enter locals or play casuals for other fighting games but I usually prefer to focus on GG at majors so I usually just enter Xrd and +R if they are running it, even though I don’t actively practice that game anymore. Of course, I sometimes play non-fighting games as well but don’t have a lot of time for those either. Lately I’ve been playing a lot of New Super Mario Bros. Wii U with my 2 year old son. He’s actually better at it than my wife! LOL.
Q: Kids these days, am I right? Speaking of your family, how did you meet your wife?
ES: When I moved to Japan I lived in a small town called Minakami out in Gunma Prefecture. It was a mountain ski town out in the country side. Not much there to do. I was at the local grocery store called Beisia which is sorta like a Meijer. When I was in the checkout line with my groceries there was a nearby cake shop kiosk called Fujiya where I saw a cute girl working. I had just moved out there and just went through a rough break up so I figured, what the hell, I’m gonna go buy a piece of cake and hit on this girl. I could speak Japanese since I studied it at UIC so I basically just told her how I just moved out there and didn’t know anyone and asked if she wanted to grab dinner sometime and slipped her my number. I guess at first she was really unsure what to do but her younger sister convinced her to give it a shot, so eventually she called me and we went on a few dates and we’ve been together since. Back in the day there was no netplay for GG and there were no good arcades anywhere near where I lived so I spent most of my weeknights after work hanging out with Ryoko. She’s not into fighting games at all but she understands how important they are to me so she was always OK with me going to Tokyo every weekend back in the day. Now she does her best to let me go travel to a few majors every year.
Q: What a cute story. So you brought up the competitive scene for Guilty Gear. You said there is a strong competitive scene still but do you feel like it has room to grow more? Do you feel like it’s stagnant somewhat? Do you think the series is due for a new game in the near future?
ES: It’s still very much alive and strong. Not every single event gets good numbers for it, but the majors events that focus on anime fighting games or just treat the game really well get great turnouts. Frosty Faustings, CEOtaku, Combo Breaker and a ton of other events draw 200-300 player brackets each year and many local scenes are still going strong. We are also in the middle of the official Arc Revo World Tour so that is also big for the scene. It’s really the biggest it has ever been, especially when you compare to how things were back in the XX series days when EVO would pull about 300 players and now has gotten close to 1,000 one of the years Xrd was there. I don’t have any details on it but we all know ASW said that there is some sort of new Guilty Gear related project in the works so I’m sure once a new version of the Xrd series or the next full title in the series (don’t know which) get’s released, a lot more people will start playing again who are now focusing on other games and new players will probably try it out too. I guess how much more the scene grows depends on how good the new version is, but only time will tell with that one since no one knows any actual details, but I’m hoping it ends up being great.
Q: Absolutely! So we’ve spent a lot of time talking about different tournaments but as you mentioned earlier you’re a big part of Frosty Faustings. For those who are unfamiliar can you kind of explain your involvement with it and how it came to be what it is today?
ES: Sure! So I mentioned before how I started running tournaments in college at UIC. After I graduated I moved to Japan and worked at public schools through the JET Programme as an English teacher. The first holiday season I visited home for Xmas/New Years, there were no tournaments going on and it was hard for me to see all the local players again and get games with everyone. So the next year when I visited, I decided I would just make my own tournament again. The original Frosty Faustings was held in a small conference room at a hotel near where I used to live. We ran Guilty Gear as the main title but also ran a few other games as well. Overall probably less than 100 people showed up but it was a lot of fun. Every year I came back and I ran Frosty Faustings again and every year it got larger and we out grew a few venues over the years as well. It was always hard planning things from half way across the world but I was in constant contact with other key figures in the local scene like Humbag, who were big parts of making the event run well. When I finally moved back to Chicago after 7 years in Japan, late 2014, Frosty Faustings was on it’s 7th year and being back in the U.S. really allowed me to focus on growing the event even more. This was also the first year Xrd was out so that really helped to make the event blow up! At that point, I brought my old high school friend Michael Hionis on board and he became the Co-Director along with me for planning and running the event. He has a background in doing big shows and stage lighting and touring with bands. His wife Victoria is also great with photography and graphic design so working together with them and a ton of other veteran staff who have done a fantastic job and always stepping it up over the years, the event eventually evolved from a small 1 day regional to what is now the 4th largest fighting game tournament in terms of attendees in the U.S. It’s crazy to me since I never imagined anything like this would happen when I started out. I just wanted to create situations where I could play fighting games with people and grow the Guilty Gear scene. People just kept showing up more every year.
Q: That’s an awesome story man! Crazy how something you started as a passion project grew into something so big! It gives me hope for my works/interviews haha. So you mentioned a lot of people in that previous answer so I want to ask you were there any players that you think really helped shape you into the player that you are today?
ES: Yeah, I’m really glad it got so big. Of course, I still have a full time job outside from it since being a tournament organizer doesn’t make much money. So, a lot of players helped shape me. I would say in terms of being a Faust player, I learned most things from players like RF, Osaka B, Nage, Kishya, Nemo. Of course, the original UIC guys who I started out with from day one of GGXX like Ukyo Tachibana, Chrono Sabre and others. Overall and even to this day BlackSnake and Juicy G have been people I train with the most, discuss strategy with and push me to my limits. And of course, all of regulars at Mikado Game Center in Japan were my regular competition nearly every weekend for 7 years. Just regularly getting my ass kicked by those guys really helped me to improve my game!
Q: You’re the first person I’ve ever talked to that went to Mikado. What was that like? Is it as fierce as everyone says it is?
ES: I played at many arcades over the years in Japan. The biggest hot spots when I first moved there before Mikado existed were Las Vegas Shinjuku and Club Sega Akihabara. Vegas was a smaller spot with only like 3 cabs all the top players went there. Club Sega had about 11 setups when I first went out there and got regular great competition. When Mikado was eventually opened by Jonio, all of the very best in the entire Kanto region of Japan would go there on weekends to play. I personally lived in Gunma Prefecture so I would take a 3 hour train ride out there and stay the whole weekend in Tokyo playing. Lots of other players from nearby prefectures did the same. Mikado has tons of cabs for all kinds of great games but they have something like 15 – 20 GG setups now and the godlike stream setup with the projector that you all see when you tune into Jonio’s stream. Despite so many setups, there are still days where it’s so packed with GG players that you have trouble moving around and have to wait a few games to get your next turn on the cab. You are paying 100 yen a game (about $1) so you have to bring your best game forward or else you lose that money and have to get back in line. Not spending a fortune was always a great motivator for me to keep a win streak going. If anyone ever visits Tokyo and cares about fighting games at all, Mikado is a must stop for sure.
Q: So interesting to hear about it. I’ve always heard stories on streams or from people about it but it’s great to hear a firsthand account. Do you have any good memories of fighting someone in Mikado? Was there anyone who really left an impression on you when you played them?
ES: There are just way too many. Rather than try to recall some of them on the spot, I’d like to direct you to my old Japan blog. http://elvenshadowblog.blogspot.com/ For many of the years I lived in Japan, I wrote about my weekends regularly with full accounts of my experiences at arcades and tournaments. There’s also other stuff in there about drinking at rock bars and going to concerts and stuff but if you ever wanted to know more about the lore of the Japanese Guilty Gear scene, check it out. There’s a lot of text so it might take a while to get through all of them lol!
Q: I’ll def have to give it a read afterwards! So a big reason why I do these is to get a sort of more in-depth look at player themselves outside the game. So one of the first questions I wanted to ask you before we dive a bit deeper is why did you choose the name ElvenShadow?
ES: LOL! The short answer is that it was just my old AOL screen name. I’m big into fantasy stuff. I grew up reading Lord of the Rings and those books are among my favorites of all time. Before I got into Guilty Gear I used to play a lot of games like Magic the Gathering and Warhammer. My favorite Warhammer army was always Wood Elves. One of my first animes was also Record of Lodoss War. My handle is cheesy as hell and I’d probably use a different one if I could go back and change things but it’s too late now. I’m stuck with it! Most of the people in the local scene just used to call me “Bozac” back in the day anyway, which is a butchering of my actual last name. In Japan, everyone used to think my handle was acctually Eleven Shadow because they didn’t know what Elven meant, and since I used to be a teacher at the time, they used to call me ElevenShadow-sensei.
Q: Ah yes, thank you ElevenShadow-sensei. It seems like most players are very uncreative with their names haha. I just did one with PepperySplash who said his was auto generated by his XBOX. So can you tell us about the ElvenShadow outside the game? What are you doing for work now? What are some of your hobbies? What do you do with (if any) free time you have?
ES: I work as a Pricing Analyst for a well known office supplies company, doing mostly pricing for large business contracts with other companies. I have a wife, Ryoko, who I met when I was in Japan, and our son Kai. We live in a house in the suburbs of Chicago. Most of my time is either just taking care of my family, playing Guilty Gear or organizing tournaments. Aside from Frosty Faustings, I also run a seasonal monthly event called Garage Gear right outside of my own garage and back yard. I’ve been doing it for a few years now during the warmer months of the year since Chicago weather sucks. It’s gotten pretty big with our peak attendance reaching over 70 players across 4 games. I mentioned I love rock and metal. I used to play bass in a band in junior high school. We recorded a short demo with me on bass and vocals but never did anything with it. I haven’t played my bass in years since I don’t have time anymore but maybe again someday. I used to love doing drunk karaoke in Japan. I still love going to concerts but usually only have time for a couple a year. Despite the fact that people always know me for wearing the Rush hat, my favorite band is actually Symphony X. I also just love hanging out with people and drinking. I love craft beer and someday would love trying to brew my own. I’m also big into well made drama shows like The X-Files, Game of Thrones, Dr. Who, Breaking Bad, The Wire and enjoy watching some anime with my wife.
Q: Truly a family man. It sounds like a pretty good life! You’ve got quite the story and I’m glad you shared it. It was a pleasure talking to you my man. I got to learn a lot. Before I let you go do you have any final words or shouts outs and where can people find you on social media?
ES: Yeah. Sometimes I get overwhelmed trying to do my best at everything but things are overall going pretty well for me. I’m pretty blessed. Thanks for doing these interviews and putting more of a spotlight on faces in the Guilty Gear scene. Shout outs to everyone who plays Guilty Gear. Shout outs to everyone who works as a T.O. or helps run events whether they be small locals or big majors. Make sure you don’t miss Frosty Faustings XII 1/17 and 1/18 2020 at our new huge venue! More info coming soon at http://frostyfaustings.com or follow @frostyfaustings on twitter. For me personally, you can follow me on Twitter @elvenshadowmike and I have stuff streamed on http://twitch.tv/elvenshadow