Even if you’re not a Street Fighter fan, Umehara “The Beast” Daigo’s career is worthy of study. It’s a fascinating example of how someone can become arguably the most iconic player of a game, and in the process direct and focus the energies of an entire genre’s community.
Not familiar with The Beast? Take a look at this video, now legendary, and read through Dave Sirlin’s summary of what it’s like to play against him. Although he has had fewer high-level tournament victories in recent years, Umehara Daigo remains synonymous with skill taken to almost preternatural levels, and is still considered a kind of living brass ring, the standard against which all others judge themselves.
Yet, what I find most noteworthy about The Beast isn’t his play. It’s the way he has shaped the play of others. He demonstrated the heights to which it was possible to climb, and in so doing he popularized the climb itself. I used to meet casual fighting game players, but for years now those I’ve encountered have been heavily invested in skill-building. I attribute that in large part to the specter of The Beast, and the all-consuming effort that has gone into defeating him.
Umehara Daigo has, perhaps unintentionally, reshaped the image of Street Fighter. It’s not about Ryu versus Ken; it’s about one player versus another. Many people have changed how their games were played; The Beast changed the nature of the game itself, and that makes him a remarkable figure in the history of competitive play generally.