Image via Twitch
Eliver "KillerKai" Ling keeps taking off his shirt during fighting game tournaments.
Last night, KillerKai dramatically removed his shirt at the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 NorCal Regionals, right before his final match in a best of three against ApologyMan. The shirt removal has become a notorious intimidation technique for him. It doesn't always psych out his opponents, but the crowd eats it up every time.
The score was tied up, with KillerKai having won his first match and lost his second. In the pause between matches, members of the crowd rose to their feet, crowing with anticipation, their camera phones at the ready. Everyone knew what was coming. It was time for KillerKai to take off his shirt.
So he did. And then ... he lost the match. Real bad.
ApologyMan had seen KillerKai's shirtless technique in the past. He saw it exactly one year ago, at the 2016 NorCal regionals. Back then, ApologyMan couldn't hack it. He lost to KillerKai's shirtless grace:
Now, ApologyMan has learned his lesson. But he should have learned it long ago. KillerKai has been using this technique for six years running. He first showed off his torso in 2011 at a fight night broadcasted by Offcast. After losing one of his MvC3 matches, KillerKai got up from his seat, paced the room, and removed his shirt in a fit of pique:
At the time, announcers laughed off KillerKai's stunt, with one describing his body as "blinding." Still, the move worked. As you can see in the video, KillerKai's opponent laughed too hard to block his opponent's initial combos. The shirtless technique served its purpose as a psychological distraction.
But the distraction doesn't always work, especially when an opponent can equal KillerKai's bravado. In this 2013 match at Curleh Mustache West Vol. 2, after KillerKai removes his shirt and flexes for the crowd, his opponent seems intimidated. Then, he removes his shirt also, and wins his final match against KillerKai.
The following year, KillerKai took a break from pro gaming to focus on his acting career (that seems like a better application for his, er, performative streak). The month before he went on a pro gaming hiatus, he played at the SoCal Regionals, won some matches, and took his shirt off in a celebratory gesture. This is a way safer tactic, since it removes the double humiliation of losing both your shirt and a match.
A few other fighting game players have tried the shirtless technique, such as Poongko, who started taking off his shirt during Street Fighter matches back in 2014.
Back at Evo 2011, when Poongko beat Street Fighter veteran Daigo Umehara, he took off his belt in a show of defiance, which some consider to have popularised the clothing-removal trend. Technically, KillerKai did it first, for those keeping score.
As we've seen, KillerKai is still using the technique to this day, in spite of the fact that it doesn't seem to reliably work. Unless the point is to show off his abs. In that case, it definitely works.