June 23, 2018

Interview with Itabashi Zangief: You can't win just by "being good".

This interview is from entrenet.jp. Published on 2018-06-22. I could not find an attribution to the interviewer, but if you know who it is, please let me know and I'll update this post.

I'm an unabashed Itabashi Zangief fan, so I really enjoyed reading and translating this. I'm not a professional translator, and I take some liberties here, but I think the feel of the article comes across. The original article is formatted a bit better, but this gets the information across just fine.

1 You can't win just by "being good". The dedication of Itabashi Zangief, a pro gamer that plays 10 hours a day.

Itabashi Zangief

Lately, "eSports" has developed as a kind of competitive game.

eSports is now a pro sport that is well recognized where game players from all over the world compete based on their skill.

The Olympics are a kind of sports festival that happens once every four years. eSports is becoming so big that they have become an medal event in the Asian version, the "Asian Olympics".

This time, we'll talk to Pro Gamer Itabashi Zangief.

Itabashi Zangief is a Pro Gamer that belongs to the "DetonatioN Gaming" team, and has won multiple gaming tournaming in the popular "Street Fighter V" game.

With his experience gaines from countless battles, he says that "You can't win just by being good."

This time, we'll ask Itabashi Zangief about his path to becoming a pro gamer, the difficulties and joys of eSports, and finally what kind of persistence you need to do something you love as a job.

Itabashi Zangief
Born 1981, nickname ItaZan.
Concentrating on 2D and 3D fighting games, he has won multiple domestic and international tournaments.
Joined "DetonatioN Gaming" as a pro in June 2016.

2 The story up until Pro Gamer Itabashi Zangief enters the world of eSports

More Itabashi Zangief

ーItabashi-san, can you tell me your story of what you were doing before you became a pro gamer?

ItaZan I have always loved playing games since I was a kid, so in my teens I vaguely decided I wanted to become a programmer. So after I graduated college, I became a Systems Engineer, and continued to play games as a hobby.

ーWhat kind of games did you play?

ItaZan I played fighting games.

Since I'm 36 now, back then console games had become pretty common.

I grew up as kid rooted in arcade game culture though, and I used to go a lot to play "Virtual Fighter" against other people (laughs).

By the way, back then in Virtua Fighter it was common for people to be called by the area they played in and the character they played, so the combination of where I grew up, "Itabashi-ku" and the character I played, "Zangief", became the name I'm known by now, "Itabashi Zangief".

ーSo you're really got the weight of all of Itabashi-ku on your shoulders (laughs). After that, how did you become a pro gamer?

ItaZan As I continued both to work professionally and to play competitive fighting games, eventually I started to become well-known in the fighting game world. Then, in 2012, the game peripheral maker "Razer" contacted me saying "We'd like to have a sponsor relationship."

ーAnd then you started your career as a professional gamer?

ItaZan That's right. "Razer" sponsored me and I was able to take party in many tournaments. However, at that time, it wasn't possible to support yourself on the money that you made from being a pro gamer. So I took on freelance work as a Systems Engineer, and wore two hats as I continued my pro gamer career and was able to make a living that way1.

ーSo you continued both your work as a Systems Engineer and were a pro gamer at the same time?

ItaZan That's right. Then, in 2015 I saw that interest in Fighting Game eSports started to take off. That is when the "Capcom Cup" World Wide Fighting Game tour got started, with a prize pool of about $500,000 USD2. From that, the winner would get about $280,000 USD, which is really a lot of prize money.

ーThat is a lot of prize money.

ItaZan Capcom Cup kicked things off, but after that other tournaments also started to compete on size of their prize pool, and because of that the number of players also started to increase. When things are get to be like that, then domestically a lot of pro teams were formed.

I really felt that "Now, eSports really have become a type of professional sport." That was just at the time when a friend of mine introduced me to Muzak Bouzouki, the CEO of "DetonatioN Gaming", which people say is the strongest eSports team in Japan.

That was right at the time that I was thinking of making a go of it just by being a pro gamer, and their team was in the market right then for a "Street Fighter V" player, so I transferred my sponsorship over to them then.

3 Being good alone isn't enough to win. Learn from an eSports pro how to win in the competitive world.

Even more Itazan

ーHow did you feel after joining "The strongest team in Japan?"

ItaZan When I first joined I thought "This team operates well as an organization together". Umezaki, the CEO at the top of the organization was also at the same time on the board of trustees of the "Japan Pro eSports Federation", and also set up the first Pro Gamer Team in Japan that paid its members a salary, he is a real pioneer in the field.

Because you have someone that it is no exaggeration to say is a pivotal person in the eSports world working to represent the team, he arranged things so that it was very easy for us players to be active as well.

ーCan you be more specific on what kind of environment that was?

ItaZan He was the point of contact with all the companies that sponsored the team, he set up everything we need to practice games, and followed up with all the different tournaments that were being held. Because of that, we didn't have to worry about anything, and could just concentrate on what we needed to do. I'm really thankful for that.

ーThat sounds like an ideal environment for someone like you, where you could just devote yourself to the games that you love. Could you tell me more specifically about the activities that you perform?

ItaZan Sure. First, the most important thing is going to eSports tournaments. There is just an incredible number of eSports tournaments now.

For me, that means this year I'll take part in 15 tournaments overseas, and I'll join a number of domestic tournaments as well, for a total of about 20 a year.

ーSo that is about one or two tournaments a month …?

ItaZan That's right. There is a reason that there are so many tournaments. If you want to take part in the Capcom Cup tournament that I talked about earlier, you need to go to each of the tournaments and place well to gain points for it. Only the top players in the point ranking over the entire year will be able to join the tournament that decides the overall championship.

ーI see. So it is like tennis, where points gained at each tournament determine the world ranking, a system similar to that?

ItaZan It is exactly like that. The tournaments are quite frequent, so if you have any free time at all, just like people doing desk work on computer, you've got to always be playing games. I usually play for about ten hours a day, and before a tournament increase the amount of time I play. Just like an athlete who is super serious, I'll frequently get lost in it, and before I know it I've been practicing into the middle of the night.

Even if I can't directly play the game, I'll do research by watching other players' games, think about strategy for the upcoming tournament, and I'm always consciously thinking about how I can become stronger in the game. Actually, if I don't go to these lengths, I wouldn't be prepared for the next tournament.

ItaZan playing a game

ーYou really are an athlete. I'm sure there are people out there who think that games are just things that are fun, and have doubts about "Why do you need to be so serious and hard-working for that?". What is it about these games that makes it possible to devote so much time and effort to them?

ItaZan Just like you say, games really are something for you to enjoy, and one simple reason is that "No matter how much you play it is fun" (laughs). However, I entered the world of eSports, games were no longer for play instead became "competition", and I started to appreciate different parts of the game that I hadn't before.

ーHow is that?

ItaZan Once you take the game to its highest level, your power of observation of the players themselves and your tactics control the outcome of who wins and loses. For example, at the phase when you first start playing a game, the more you play the better you get at it. That is just the start though.

You can say this about any business, but when a new graduate enters a company and goes through the company training, all of them have about the same level of business skills, right? But in order to advance beyond that, you need to train your mental capacity and power of concentration, and concentrate on improving your knowledge, experience with people, and your techniques.

Games are the same, in order to cross the line into a higher level, you need experience with other people, and to train your mental capability.

ーSo for the games that you specialize in, have you made it a priority to train your mental understanding of those games?

ItaZan Yes. If you take it to an extreme, when you are at the highest levels, it isn't about the game but it is about the competition between "a person vs a person". You need to be able to see into that person's play-style and habits, and whether you can draw them into your pace and game plan. From your experience, tactics, and techniques a gap grows between the players, which decides the match.

"You can't win just be being strong."

I think that is the most interesting feature of eSports, and eSports games.

4 If you want to succeed at something you like, you need the determination to persevere

More ItaZan

ーPlease tell me about your prospects for the future.

ItaZan The things that you need to do as a pro gamer are quite simple, you need to continue to improve your skills and improve yourself. I don't want to sound arrogant, but I think that I've progressed to the top level as a gamer right now, and I'm going to keep working my hardest to stay that way. On top of that, I would like to help develop the eSports world further.

I'm very happy that now I've been able to be involved in some game production activities, and I have more opportunities to make media appearances.

The realm of possible activities has been expanding from not only being a player, but also a creator, and even talent on tv shows3. I would like to develop and bring excitement to the eSports world in many different ways.

Through that excitement and development, I hope that I am able to increase the number of competitors and players in our games.

ーThank you very much. Finally, do you have a message for people who would like to make a living doing something that they love, like you do?

ItaZan I really believe that in order do to make a living doing something that you love, it is important to determine just how much you can consistently, greedily put in effort and work within that domain.

Athletes, musicians, business people, all of them can say the same thing, but in order to be a successful person, they had to have had some sort of weapon to make them stand out, some way that they were able to perform in that business.

Those people were able to be stoic, to be consistent and persistent in that thing that they love. I think that is exactly why they were able to shine within that business.

So I think the first step is that you must yourself decide what you love, or search out what your talents are.

ーAnd what is the next step?

ItaZan Then you need to get a lot of experience and practice in that domain, and once you think you are making progress, throw yourself all at once into it with all your power. I think that's a good way to go about it.

If you have 100 chips in hand, I don't think you will stand out at all if you place 10 chips each on 10 different things that you like.

I think as a first step it might be ok to spread things out if you like, but once you get some experience you need to bet everything you have in one place.4

And all the more because it is something that you love so much, it is important that you have a similar level of strength and determination to pierce through and persevere.



Translator note: I said "wore two hats" but ItaZan uses a Japanese phrase "2足のわらじを履く" (nisoku no Waraji wo Haku): to wear two sandals. Cute. I learned a new thing.


50,000,000 yen, or about 454,500.00 USD at the current exchange rate.


"Talent" in Japan are personalities that show up on tv shows and the like, often belying the name "talent" by just being a pretty face (although there are often comedians, actors, and other skilled people too).


Did you know that ItaZan is a grappler? Is it obvious with this line of thinking? He's a grappler.


Provide your email address when commenting and Gravatar will provide general portable avatars, and if you haven't signed up with them, a cute procedural avatar with their implementation of Shamus Young's Wavatars.

Re: Interview with Itabashi Zangief: You can't win just by
This is a great interview, and a great translation, thank you for posting this. A minor suggestion, for your 4th footnote, I think you meant to say 'gambler' and not 'grappler'.
Posted 4 years, 10 months ago by JL • • • Reply
Grappler vs Gambler
Thank you for the comment and kind words. I did actually mean "grappler" because (and as a grappler main I can say this) I feel like grapplers need to take on a gambler's mentality. ;-)
Posted 4 years, 9 months ago by FuguTabetai • • wwwReply

Add Comment

( to reply to a comment, click the reply link next to the comment )

Comment Title
Your Name:
Email Address:
Make Public?
Make Public?
verification image
Image verification:

Allowed XHTML tags : a, b, i, strong, code, acrynom, blockquote, abbr. Linebreaks will be converted automatically.