At last night's Kemonomichi 2, two of Street Fighter's best-known players played an exhibition set. It was a clash of the giants that ended in emotion, laughter, and tears. It was one of the best fighting game sets I've seen in some time.
Daigo Umehara and Hajime "Tokido" Taniguchi are eminent within the fighting game sphere. Both hold Evo titles and have history in multiple games. Each has their own legends built up around them; Daigo as "the beast," and Tokido as "murderface."
Building up to last night's exhibition match, a video interview on Daigo's YouTube set the stage. "The thing that made me really commit myself to fighting was a match with 'him,'" said Tokido. For years, Tokido has been considered a top player, one of the greats. And Daigo has been his greatest inspiration and challenge.
"He sets a sort of gold standard, so he serves as an objective for other players," said Daigo of Tokido. "He's a strong player who stands out a lot, and I think that's a good thing for this industry to have. He's an indispensable part of this industry today."
Tokido the modern day legend, and Daigo the looming giant. For these two, it was a barometer, a sparring match that would let each see where the other stood. To Tokido, Daigo is the embodiment of all fighting game history, and he wants to know if he can surpass that.
"I'm still nowhere near that level," said Tokido. "I can't even see his back from where I'm standing. He's a distant presence. But I want to confirm for myself just how big that gap is."
When the set commenced, it was even between the two, but gradually Daigo started to pull away. Tokido's Akuma started to struggle navigating the wave of incoming Sonic Booms from Daigo's Guile.
Perhaps the most crushing blow came in game 10. At 6-3 overall, Daigo catches Tokido completely on the defensive, and simply walks up and grabs him, slamming Tokido's avatar to the ground for a KO. In the cut to Tokido's camera, you can see the frustration on his face building. This set is not going the way he wanted it to.
The set ended at 10-5 with Daigo Umehara the victor. In a post-game interview, Tokido was visibly upset. He was on the verge of tears, but resolved to come back. In response, Daigo made a joke. Without an understanding of what they have said it seems strange, but community member HiFight posted a translation on Twitter.
"I wanted to beat you, at least in the game," said Tokido. "I'll come back again."
"You've already beaten me at everything outside of the game though," replied Daigo.
As the camera zoomed in on Tokido's face, where tears visibly fell as Daigo continued talking, it was tough to watch. Any moment like this is. To see a player so high up still receive a humbling from another legend, to be reminded of how far he still has to climb, it's tough.
But it's the moments like these that matter. It was a low, almost a crushing one, but Tokido has already resolved to make it a step on his journey rather than an end. This is where that narrative starts again, and the game elevates beyond a simple test of hand-eye coordination and problem-solving. It's passion, it's drive, it's inspirational. Tokido has been bested by the mountain today, but he's coming back.