Speedkicks talks EVO, competing in a game he doesn’t have, how to become a pro and more
Stephen “Speedkicks” Stafford is an anomaly. He’s a genuis in his own right too. At the age of 12 he was enrolled in Morehouse College with a double major. Somewhere along the way he fell in love with video games, with one such game being Tekken. Aside from Jimmy J Tran (known as Mr. Naps by many), Speed is probably one of the most methodical, analytical, and calculated pro Tekken players you’ll ever find. That, coupled with holding himself to very high standards, are what have helped him to become one of the Top 5 players in America.
I caught up with Speedkicks of team Circa eSports to gain some insight on his performance at this years EVO, which culminated two weeks ago in Las Vegas. Because of Speed’s attention to detail, and many times his brute honesty, I knew I was in for a treat. Enjoy ths interview, and ask any follow-up questions in the comments.
Hey Speed, thanks so much for consenting to our interview. We wanted to catch up with you about your EVO experience and performance. I believe this was your very first EVO. But first off, congrats on your recent signing with Circa eSports. How are you enjoying it?
It’s pretty cool. My reference is limited, but I love the Circa team and I’m really happy with the organization. EVO was a pretty nice tournament. There was a good amount of players and a lot of international competition. I can’t ask for much more. I never really feel pressure from outside factors. I wanted to do well for my team, but I felt no pressure to do so.
Is there more weight on your shoulders now, knowing you are fighting for more than yourself?
Not at all. In a tournament, my only focus is on playing my best Tekken possible because it’s what I like to do. It’s never been about winning, that’s just the reward of good play. Representing my team well is also a reward, but competitors can’t think about rewards when it’s time to compete.
There were 549 players registered for Tekken 7: Fated Retribution this year. Outside of the top 8, what did you think of the level of competition?
Outside of the top 32, most of the players in the tournament were pretty inexperienced with Tekken. Tekken 7 is bringing a lot of new players which we saw at EVO, but I think I’ll enjoy that 549 number more as the players stick with the game and learn more. I really want to play in a large tournament where I feel like I might lose each round.
How well did you expect to do, and did you expect to win it all?
Of course, I wouldn’t be a competitor if I didn’t expect to win.
Right. What did you think of your performance in relation to your expectations?
Well, I wanted to win and I didn’t win. Pretty weak.
How much do you think Tekken 7: Fated Retribution dictated the outcome of this tournament?
As with any tournament, the outcome is dictated by the people who play the game the best. I would never expect a Tekken 7:FR tournament to have the same results as any other Tekken game because they aren’t the same.
Your match against Narakohf… He used Claudio and pretty much dominated the set. What was going through your mind at that time? Did it frustrate you any?
A competitor’s mind is on the game and not the situation. Frustration isn’t really a concept that can exist while in-game. All I was thinking about was finding my pace in a match against a character I didn’t really know before I lost 2 games.
Was it just unfamiliarity with the character, or the player using the character at a high level?
I’m sure the match would have been much different if I had learned about the character more than an hour before top 8. I can’t say I would have won for sure, but I don’t expect to lose against players of that level and especially not that badly.
We know that you like to analyze and reflect on your gameplay. Looking back at your overall EVO performance, is there anything you would have changed or done differently?
Definitely not. This is something I’ve thought about a lot and it’s primarily what makes the EVO performance so bittersweet. With all of the information I had at the time, I’m happy with the decisions I made. If it was a normal Tekken competition I would go back and look for all of the decisions that lead to me losing, try to understand why I made them, and then change that mentality. It’s not a normal competition though, it’s not just about playing Tekken and winning, but dynamically using untested strategies, theories and playstyles to try to succeed.
I’m happy with the decisions I made with the information I had, even though I lost, but that’s where the real frustration comes in. I don’t play Tekken just to compete and win, I play to learn and test my mind versus other players. But I have nothing to learn from EVO except that I don’t have the game and I couldn’t partake in the war of minds because I was playing chess without knowing how the pieces moved. It really is annoying competing in a game I don’t have against people who do.
I understand the frustration. The last two EVO’s for American’s and some others has been a shot in the dark really.
Was there anything you discovered that you weren’t prepared for? Any surprises?
JDCR can get very excited.
Yeah! (laughs) Speaking of JDCR, he didn’t make the top 8, and your Circa eSports teammate, Anakin, came in 33rd place. How surprised are you by that, and why do you think that is?
Anakin going down early was a little disappointing but not at all a surprise. Losing to a player that lives in a region that has the game, and then losing to a player who spent their time with the game learning Katarina isn’t really a big deal. As for JDCR, he lost to Knee and Nobi. There’s no reason to expect him to beat either of those players in 1v1 Tekken. His playstyle isn’t made for it.
Geesemaster is a name many are really just beginning to learn. He eliminated Nobi. What did you think of his performance, and why do you think he got as far as he did?
I dislike the mindset behind asking why Geesemaster got far, but asking why JDCR and Anakin did not. Tournament results are unbiased and we should be too. Geese got 4th place because he was the 4th best player that day.
What did you think of Knees performance and what do you think of him as a player?
Knee put on a great show in that top 8 run – the decision making, the execution, and the fluidity of it all. Watching Knee’s Bryan in a 1v1 tournament match makes it clear why he’s, in my opinion, the greatest of all time.
Saint won obviously. Would you say he is the strongest Jack player in the world right now, or even the strongest player in the world? And why do you think he beat Knee, because almost everyone thought Knee would win?
Even the greatest of all time isn’t great all the time. Saint’s ability to control the match with Jack while also poking him down with small lows, something Knee hates dealing with, definitely gave him the stylistic edge. Knee prefers to mostly do nothing until he has a handle on the match and Saint had him out of health before that could happen.
Is Akuma broken?
Akuma is an off-system character in a game that is heavily balanced around a system. Similar characters – Xiaoyu, Zafina, Yoshi – are generally given very clear weaknesses to make up for their unclear strengths. It helps curve the unpredictability of their balance and the creativity of the players is what builds the character’s tier placement. That’s not the case with Akuma, as he is designed intentionally to be strong. He’s pretty powerful and he is only getting better as people discover more things with him.
When Knee picked Akuma against JDCR, what went through your mind? Was it disrespectful, as one of the commentators said.
I didn’t think of that at all as disrespect. Maybe a slight annoyance to JDCR, but that’s the type of move that can throw someone off and help in a tournament match. All I could really think about was how boring the match would be to watch. Akuma is so much simpler and slower paced than Knee’s Bryan.
Does Hwoarang have enough tools? Were there times you felt like he didn’t have an answer for some things? For example, when you chose Lars to play against Poogko’s Akuma, was Hwoarang lacking something?
As a Tekken character, I think Tekken 7: FR Hwoarang is perfect, easily Namco’s best character design. They took a character with a playstyle so lopsided as Hwoarang’s, patched the holes in his gameplay and removed a lot of the obnoxiousness of both playing with him and against him while also managing to keep the spirit of the gameplay alive. That said, I don’t feel like he is lacking anything as a Tekken character, but Akuma is not Tekken.
In a game of high, mid, low, guarding, crouching, counters and punishes, Hwoarang is great. But his attack hitboxes are very bad so he’s always struggled against characters who evade that system with Xiaoyu, Lei and Capos historically being bad matchups for him. Akuma is the worst example of this because not only does he jump over everything, but he has fully invincible attacks. As a stance character, Hwoarang only has one low poke that doesn’t leave him vulnerable to being uppercutted on hit. Combine this with Hwoarang’s attacks all leaving Akuma at the perfect range for a jump in and Hwoarang has no way to start offense on Akuma nor defend against his air approaches.
How did you feel about Tekken not being at EVO Sunday Finals at Mandalay Bay?
Good decision by EVO staff. Our community doesn’t do a good enough job at building itself up and supporting our game, so a Sunday spot wasn’t deserved. As much as I would have loved to play on an arena stage, it wouldn’t have been much fun with no one watching.
Very true, because we probably would have been first up. What’s next for you? Any Wizard Worlds? Do you have your sights set on qualifying for The King of the Iron Fist Tournament later this year?
Maybe a couple Wizard World events. Qualifying is important and with the Tekken Tour being almost finished, entering too many would be a big risk.
You got your start into Tekken with Tag 2 and excelled very quickly. What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into Tekken professionally, and especially for those who don’t have access to Tekken 7?
Enjoy the game. A lot of the newer competitive players I’ve seen stress too much over improving or winning.They think it’s all that matters and end up frustrating themselves with the game. Tekken is supposed to be a fun experience! Even when I was new to the game, I only did what I enjoyed. I picked Hwoarang, not because I thought he was the best but because I had the most fun playing him. I did all of the throwbreak training, execution practice, video watching, and analysis of the game because I loved the process of doing it, not because I felt like I had to do it. In my experience, players will frustrate themselves over things they feel like they have to do because they aren’t playing to enjoy themselves and that is always the moment they begin to feel overwhelmed by the game.
So lastly… Next year, EVO 2017. Tekken 7 will be out by then. What can we expect?
A picture of my EVO trophy.