Sometimes you wind up weird places in life. Last night, for example, I was invited to the Folsom Street Foundry in San Francisco, a bar that is a haven to many local gaming tournaments and events.
This time, however, things were different. It was the eve of the launch of the highly anticipated Street Fighter V, and people had lined up outside starting in the early afternoon, since only a select group were getting into the venue. Tonight, there would be a truly one-of-a-kind match: Daigo Umehara, the world's most famous Street Fighter player, versus Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, aka world-famous rapper Lupe Fiasco. Even if you don't know Umehara by name (known simply as Daigo in the fighting game scene) you might have seen this amazing viral video of his EVO 2004 match.
This sort of matchup definitely doesn't happen every week.
The whole thing started with a strange series of exchanges on Twitter. An article on fighting game specialty site Shoryuken.com explains it in a bit more detail, but long story short: Lupe wound up going back on forth on Twitter with a fellow who goes under the handle of "Honzo Gonzo" (who is known for being a jokester in the fighting game scene), somehow Daigo got brought up, his managers at gaming peripheral company Mad Catz and staff at Street Fighter publisher Capcom took notice, and we had a match.
At 7:45 PM, Lupe and Daigo took to the stage, ready to take each other on in a best-of-five bout.
People weren't sure what was going to happen—was this going to be a "blowup," in Street Fighter terms, with Daigo's Ryu play mopping the floor with Lupe's Ken? Or would the two simply screw around and put on a show? The answer, as we found out, was somewhere between those two extremes.
Daigo's play, however, seemed… somewhat unpolished, to say the least. The more knowledgeable fighting game fans on Twitter quickly picked up on the fact that he seemed off his game.
In the end, Lupe won narrowly in the very last round of the set, and practically everyone—the crowd at the foundry, the people watching on Twitch, even Lupe himself—went nuts. Lupe even stormed into the commentators' booth and gave announcer Mike Ross a giant hug.
So yes, Lupe beat Daigo, one of the best Street Fighter players ever, technically. Whether or not Lupe won legitimately, however, is not what's important here. There's a lot more at play.
Of course, the event worked wonderfully as a marketing stunt. It was on the main Twitch channel and was heavily promoted through Twitter and Facebook. Street Fighter fans, Lupe Fiasco fans, and general observers tuned in to see what was up.
It also helped in breaking down barriers to mainstream acceptance of competitive video gaming. eSports might be big money now, but it's still not totally mainstream: just look at the backlash at the Halo 5 championships being part of the X Games. Having a public figure like Lupe embrace his love for competitive Street Fighter is good for the fighting game scene.
What's really key here, though, is the level of sheer admiration Lupe had for Daigo. Lupe was clearly filled with respect and emotion for Daigo, and it felt like just the act of playing someone he admired made him absolutely elated. After the match, he gave Daigo his jacket, which seemed expensive.
Sure, maybe it wasn't the sort of intense, nail-biting Street Fighter play you'll see at someplace like EVO. But in the end, it made a lot of people very happy—and that joy is exactly what this scene is all about.