Richard Mallory: Today I have the pleasure of speaking with an established member of the gaming community; particularly within the fighting scene. Among his credentials, he’s a tournament organizer for EVO, a commentator of Street Fighter X Tekken at Capcom Cup 2013 and Final Round 17, has been playing fighting games semi-professionally for over ten years, and is no stranger to being asked for interviews.
So with all of that being said, it is with the utmost excitement that I introduce to you Aaron Pinsky!
Good morning, Aaron, how are you?
Aaron Pinsky: I’m feeling great! EVO is just around the corner and I have a lot of really cool stuff planned. It’s going to be my first trip to Las Vegas, but hopefully not my last. The price of the plane ticket alone was daunting though!
Richard: Wow, Las Vegas? Okay…we haven’t really even started yet and already I’m envious! I bet you’re excited, aren’t you?
Aaron: Like you can’t believe. The journey I’ve made to get to that point has been incredible. Obviously I’ve always wanted to go to EVO to try my hand against the best players in the world, but now that I’m actually going, I’m not there to compete…at least not officially.
Instead, I’m going to be running the Street Fighter X Tekken side tournament. SFXT holds important significance to my life, and thanks to that significance, I’ve found myself in a position where I’m the curator for the game’s lifespan.
Richard: Awesome! We’re getting ahead of ourselves here though. So let’s begin!
What would you say was the thing that most inspired you to pursue such a passion with games…or better yet, fighting games in general?
Aaron: It was a combination of things. First up was a kindergarten field trip to Pro Park; an indoor mini-golf course in Midlothian., Virginia. The featured game in the room was a large arcade cabinet of Street Fighter II. It was one of those premiere cabinets that had a lot of space between the sticks and the big screen. It was easily the best looking game in the arcade with lines of people looking to play it.
Not long after that, my father took me to Lowes and there was a Super Nintendo setup, again with Street Fighter II. Remember when Lowes had game kiosks? Ha! My dad left me there knowing full well I wasn’t going to go anywhere and I played that as well.
And finally, when I got my first system–a Game Gear–my parents also got me an Electronic Gaming Monthly and the feature article was Street Fighter II Turbo. It had full color artwork of the characters and I thought they were the coolest guys ever.
Richard: While on the topic of games, what would you say your favorite fighting game of all time is? And as a bonus question, what about your favorite fighting series?
Aaron: Street Fighter X Tekken for my favorite fighting game of all time. Before then, it was Capcom vs. SNK 2. Yet the journey I’ve had with SFXT is something that I will never be able to replicate with a video game ever again.
Last year, I was in an absolutely horrible working and living situation. The only thing that allowed me to push forward and endure the hardships was Street Fighter X Tekken thanks to the Online Tournament Series run by the $SFXT IRC channel. I think my focus on that game also gave me the strength to remain definat in the face of adversity.
Richard: Who says video games have a negative influence on society, right?
Aaron: If anything, SFXT kept me from exerting my negative influence on my tormentors. Thanks, Capcom, for creating a game that prevented me from winding up in prison. Who knows what I would have been capable of if I didn’t have SFXT to vent my frustrations upon!
Richard: Speaking of Capcom, I’m sure you’ve heard they’re up for a buyout. What are your thoughts on that?
Aaron: I’ve been talking about it the past couple of days, and no, Nintendo is not going to buy them out. I think a lot of people don’t realize how these buyouts work. Just because you hold a controlling interest does not mean you are a God in the company. It’s not the WWE, for heaven’s sake!
The board of directors and other shareholders have to approve the stock market action and there is very little upside to Nintendo, Microsoft, or Sony buying them out. The great thing about Capcom brand is that they have titles for all three major platforms that only work on those platforms. Can you imagine Street Fighter on a Wii U controller? Can you imagine Phoenix Wright on an Xbox One?
Richard: Personally, I feel Capcom has done a pleasant job as a third party developer at producing quality games over the past few decades. I mean, in contrast, one developer that comes to mind which went haywire is Rare. Killer Instinct aside, I think it’s safe to say they’ve taken a significant drop in quality now as opposed to their earlier years.
Aaron: Rare is a prime example why Capcom won’t be exclusive to one brand. Capcom has so many different genres and aesthetics to their franchises that not all of them fit into the mold of just one brand. Games like Monster Hunter and Phoenix Wright are handheld franchises through and through, just like Pokémon titles will always be portables. Likewise, Street Fighter will always be known as a console franchise.
Richard: You say that now, but nothing can compare to the sheer greatness that is Street Fighter II on a Tiger Electronic Handheld. Remember those?
Aaron: I’m surprised that hasn’t been made a Mystery Game Tournament round!
Richard: Ha! So who would you say is your favorite fighting character of all time?
Aaron: I would have to say Heihachi Mishima. There are so many different ways you could view his role in the story. You can either view him as the primary antagonist, or you could view him as the main character and who the story of Tekken revolves around. He’s multifaceted as a character in that even though he’s ruthless, he’s got a good sense of humor and from time to time shows a softer side.
Richard: If it came down to it, who do you think would win in a fight to determine the definitive mascot of the Mortal Kombat franchise? Scorpion or Sub-Zero?
Aaron: Sub-Zero because Scorpion wasn’t the guy who created the ESRB with his fatality back in the first Mortal Kombat. Sub-Zero pulling out a victim’s head from its socket was what caused the formation of the ESRB.
Richard: In mentioning the ESRB, how do you feel about kids playing fighting games at a young age?
Aaron: Obviously you need to be careful with rearing them on Mortal Kombat, but other than that, I strongly encourage it as long as it involves parental supervision. The beauty of fighting games is that it encourages live interaction with other people, rather than hiding behind a headset.
There’s a lot of life lessons to be learned playing fighting games, including sportsmanship, sutdying, patience, and discipline. Damdai of Super Street Fighter II Turbo fame has said repeatedly that ST is his “zen,” and I think with proper nourishing, it can become something that has a positive impact on that child’s life.
Richard: That’s very well said, Aaron. On a lighter note, is there any fighting game you’d like to see get made?
Aaron: I would love a Street Fighter X Tekken 2 or just another update in general. When Combofiend spoke to me at Final Round this year, he told me that Capcom had the power to do that since the contract with Namco was different from the one with Marvel.
For a new IP, I would really like to see a worthwhile Kamen Rider/Super Sentai fighting game…maybe with some guest appearances from other Toei Tokusatsu heroes like Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, Kikaider, or some Metal Hero representatives.
Richard: Ah, speaking of crossover games, how do you feel about them? They seem to be all the rage these days, especially with Capcom.
Aaron: I think they’re great. When I was in high school, MUGEN was very popular with me and now the major companies are creating those dream crossovers everyone wanted. Dead or Alive now has Virtua Fighter characters, Marvel vs. Capcom is popular again, obviously there’s Street Fighter X Tekken and Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. Now there’s Shonene Jump crossover games where you can pit most of the Toonami regulars against each other!
That being said, I don’t want to see Street Fighter vs. Mortal Kombat. We missed the boat on that when the Street Fighter: The Movie video game was made and they’re just so radically different gameplay-wise. The block button tells the tape!
I would however like to see a game that has caricatures of Street Fighter players fighting caricatures of Mortal Kombat players. Growing up, there was always that mindset of “Us vs. Them,” with Street Fighter being “Us” and Mortal Kombat being “Them.”
Richard: Tell me, how did you get involved in the fighting tournament scene?
Aaron: I didn’t have a chance to get involved until I was in college at Marshall University. I started taking the bust to the Barboursville Mall near Marshall where they had an arcade cabinet of Tekken 5 which I had really enjoyed on consoles. By the end of my freshman year, they also had Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection!
Dark Resurrection, at the time, had yet to come out on home systems so naturally I was hyped to heaven! I started going a lot more frequently, and I made a name for myself bodying everyone who stood next to me with Heihachi, Lee, and Armor King.
Not long after that, Dark Resurrection came to the Playstation Portable, so I bought a PSP and found many other challenges there thanks to the game sharing feature. From there, I started going to local convention tournaments, and after my second tournament win, one of my opponents suggested that I look north to Ohio and try my hands at one of the majors.
In 2011, I placed 3rd at the famed Mystery Game Tournament at Cincinnati’s Arcade Legacy. After that, I’ve been going to my locals ever since.
Richard: Well, on the topic of hosted tournaments, tell me a little bit about your experience as a tournament organizer.
Aaron: My first organized tournament was at Animazement 2013, a free to enter event where the winner received a custom-made SFXT t-shirt. It was fairly successful, but I have since expanded my scope.
For the tournament I ran at Civil War VI last April in Richmond, I bought an Avermedia Live Gamer Portable with PC-free recording features. I also went to Radio Shack and purchased a stereo mixer and two microphones so that I would be able to record live commentary PC-free as well. I’ll be using this setup for EVO and thankfully I have volunteers to lend us 360 setups so that makes my packing a lot easier for the airport.
Richard: When you were participating in tournaments, did you endure any sort of training process in preparation?
Aaron: I made sure to spend at least an hour a day working on combos so that I did not drop any crucial hits that would decide life or death. In Street Fighter X Tekken, as Final Round 17 can attest to, one drop is all it takes to turn your victory into a crushing loss.
Every Sunday, I play with the #IRC regulars on PC, though with GWFL shutting down, I’m not sure what will become of that. I still hold out hope that it gets ported to Steamworks.
The IRC players are the best players in the country, regularly placing Top 8 in whatever tournament they go to. Thanks to that, I have exclusive access to the cream of the crop, and once you move on from there, the rest of the competition is far more manageable.
Richard: Interesting. So to keep that competative edge, is it important to you to use psychology in order to get inside your opponent’s head in any way possible, or do you just go out there and simply try to win?
Aaron: My mindset for the past few tournaments is that there is no reason that I cannot get Top 8. My passion for SFXT is matched by a very rare few and at this point, I am capable of doing great things as long as I remain patient and not become overzealous.
Richard: So you’ve learned not to look at losing as a setback?
Aaron: The agony I felt when I went 0-2 at Final Round 16 is something that left me scarred for quite some time. I am fiercely competitive and expect nothing less than the best from myself. It was an entirely different story at Final Round 17, where I went 2-2, kept my cool against tough opponents, and had great sets with people who would move on to Top 8. If I do poorly, I give myself “redemption goals” that build me back up.
Richard: What do you feel is the most difficult or challenging aspect of taking part in a tournament?
Aaron: Location can either be a boon or a major detriment depending on where you live. Last year, I lived in the middle of nowhere and this made going to locals extremely difficult. Now I live in Richmond, Virginia which hosts River City Runbacks and Civil War and has a major airport to travel to the really big ones as well.
Richard: Actually, that brings up one of my later questions, but I’ll ask now since it relates. When it comes to traveling for tournaments, while I’m sure it’s a fun experience, do you ever find yourself feeling frustrated that there aren’t more epic or grand events near or around your area?
Aaron: Not nearly as frustrated as I once was where there were no interesting events to speak of whatsoever where I lived. Yet no, I think Richmond is fine with where it’s at currently with its tournament scene. The local players are privileged to be allowed access into Virginia Commonwealth University’s Academic Learning Commons, which is air-conditioned, has high-speed WiFi free for guests, and several big screen televisions to play on.
At the past Civil War tournament, we had a practical movie theater to watch the Grand Finals in, with the seats to boot. I can say without hesitation that it’s the absolute best place to watch Grand Finals in.
Furthermore, I remind myself that as passionate as I am about fihgting games, it is still a hobby that keeps me occupied while I make strides towards my professional goal. Currently I am a special education teacher and I am almost finished with my Behavioral Analyst coursework and will be starting my certification hours soon. Having fighting games is just something to give me a chance to unwind before getting back to my day job.
Richard: So then tell me, how did you become a commentator and how has that experience been for you so far?
Aaron: Being a sportscaster was a childhood dream, and once I became more involved in the tournament scene, I set a gaol for myself to become a commentator. I finally got the honest chance when Capcom announced the SFXT Online Qualifiers, and Karastorm was looking for people to commentate over Skype.
40%FlashKick, who I met at Final Round 16, suggested that I do it because he knew how badly I wanted the chance and how much I love SFXT, and as such, I was given the mic–along with WurldWarrior–and thankfully we had great chemistry as we were asked to keep coming back the following weeks.
It’s an incredible experience! After I commentated Final Round 17, the second largest tournament in the world, I treated myself to a pizza and gave a toast to a longtime dream coming into fruition. I can’t wait to take the mic again at EVO!
Richard: Have you ever had to restrain yourself from making a comment that you really wanted to during a match?
Aaron: I’ve been told many times that I will sometimes sound…annoying. Yet I think I need to call it as I see it! I’m sorry if it offends certain parties, but if I see something that seems off, I absolutely have to point it out for the sake of everyone watching at home who are just entering SFXT and want to see what the game is all about.
My job is to use what I know about the game and overall fighting game fundamentals in general,and to explain what might be going through someone’s head. If I don’t know that, I will ask my commentary partner for his opinion.
There are a few questionable decisions I’ve seen players make that I absolutely have to point out, and sometimes I can get so tied up on the subject that I can go off on a tirade about it. Yet if I didn’t feel so strongly about the game I’m commentating, I wouldn’t say anything at all, and that’s far worse than saying too much.
Richard: Alright, well one final question before we wrap things up here. Explain why your absolute favorite thing in the entire world is people who spam the same moves over and over again? In particular, moves that can generate from the opposite end of the screen i.e. Noob Saibot’s tackle.
Aaron: Because people like them are the ones who are the most likely to elicit the most interesting reactions when you beat them. Last December, just before winter break, a student brought Injustice: Gods Among Us to school and was bragging about winning when he only did three moves. This was before the patch was released, so the tactics he used were still viable.
I stepped up to the plate and picked Superman and Batman; two characters who I knew had a projectile and an anti-air maneuver. I completely shut him down because it turned out he didn’t even know how to block! He rages so hard that he almost destroyed the system, and from that point on, video games were banned from that school once more!
Richard: Ha! Actually I was only kidding and trying to put words in your mouth with that question, but that was a good answer. Still, while nobody really likes a spammer, we’re all guilty of it at some point.
Aaron: If it works, use it. If you aren’t threatened with physical violence at the end, you’re not doing your job right. As long as everything is within the rule book, play to win.
Richard: Alright, well there you have it. Aaron, it’s been a pleasure. Before I let you go, is there anything else that you’d like to add to this that may not have been asked or mentioned?
Aaron: I would like to thank everyone who has supported me and encouraged me to keep pushing my limits, whether it be in fighting games or any of my other professional or personal pursuits.
I would not be so driven if I didn’t have those who pushed me to do better and get out of my comfort zone. A very special shout-out goes to the SFXT community worldwide for continuing to come out in spite of all of the naysayers trying to hold us down, and doing what we do best: steal the show!