On the stage, Darryl ”Snake Eyez” Lewis is all business. The dedicated Zangief main has been a top competitor in Street Fighter for seven years across multiple iterations of the game. And since ELEAGUE earlier this year, Snake Eyez has reminded people that he is a force to be reckoned with. Having added Akuma to his arsenal, Lewis was able to make 1st at CEO leading up to Evo.
While he had an unexpected exit before Top 32, Snake Eyez was still all smiles during our interview as we discussed topics from his Evo departure to him wanting Capcom to make a kid Zangief character.
So, you had a very interesting Evo this year.
I did, I did!
When you got knocked out of the tournament, considering you won CEO and you had a pretty good showing at ELEAGUE, what was going through your mind at that moment?
Basically, I was trying to make sure I knew who was in my bracket and I was trying to save energy throughout the entire tournament, because Evo is obviously the biggest tournament of the year, so I didn’t want to fatigue myself and show everything during pool matches or outside of top 64 matches so I was just trying to like, conserve… and it didn’t work.
*laughs* I kinda underestimated this one Birdie player who’s from New York, and I’ve played against a ton of Birdie players and I thought I had a good grasp of the matchup, and apparently I didn’t, but you know 10 AM matches for that day was really hard for me because I’m not too much of a morning person, so.. *laughs* I couldn’t really, like, put myself in the zone fast enough in order to get myself going.
So, you’ve been doing this for awhile, and at times have been definitely in the upper echelon of players depending on the game. What do you think has allowed you to stay that competitive and that good for as long as you have?
I feel like I’m sort of an innovator for Zangief, so like, whenever the game is fresh, I’m the one who everyone’s sort of watching. I’m the guy that everyone is trying to base their playstyles off of, but – I’m just really strong fundamentally, and the fundamentals travel over to every single fighting game. That’s probably like the strongest attribute that a player can have, instead of hitting swag combos and things like that because those things are nice, but when it comes down to it, whenever you check out grand finals, people are just playing extremely lame and patient, and you would only see like one hit into something, or like an uppercut or grab. I feel like since I play that way, it’s easier for me to stay on top.
What do you think is the mistake everyone makes when they make that decision to become a competitive player?
They’re always trying to hop in and just play top tier and trey to skip their way to the top, and it never works out for them because they don’t learn the fundamentals. They know the frame data and always think that’s everything, they think that’s more than actually knowing fundamentals and knowing how to perform moves quickly and, you know, play the game – they think it’s all numbers and stuff, but it’s definitely not.
They should probably play the characters that they like because a lot of the tier lists aren’t really set in stone, it’s moreso another top player’s opinion on that tier list, that’s why so many of them are so different – unless a lot of them are agreeing on the same top 5 or something like that, so. I feel like they all just make the mistake of being too fast and wanting to go straight to the top, but my advice is that I feel like they should play someone who fits them and fits their style, cuz when you play that character you could probably pick up a top tier and you would be learning fundamentals through that fun character, and if the character they have fun with is weaker, it would make them better with their stronger character.
A lot of people going into ELEAGUE kinda had you a little written-off. What allowed you to go on that really strong run that you did?
You know what? I actually know that a lot of other players have stage-fright – not an extreme stage-fright, but they’re just not comfortable being on stage and on TV in front of a big crowd. And I knew that was gonna get to them… so I kind of used that to my advantage.
I mean, there’s a time in Street Fighter 2 Hyper Fighting when I used to play that game, I figured since the character was so bad that I would try to use intimidating factors to try to mess with their head, like you know, just sorta observing their attitude while they’re playing and if they seem antsy I would be more aggressive or if they’re hesitant on something I would capitalise on it, so I feel like, why not do that when we’re playing on national television right?
*laughs* So, I decided to try to do that against a lot of players who I thought would give me trouble and it turns out they were really really nervous even though they got a decent amount of practice in, so I feel like that was an attribute to me playing well at that tournament. But I’d also had a lot of practice that weekend and I tried to make sure I stayed consistent with my combos and got no drops and no matter how bad I played, as long as I didn’t drop combos and tried to stay consistent that I would at least do decent.
I know how much we all like hearing questions about characters, but you’ve been loyal to Zangief, now you have Akuma as your secondary – when you were practicing and preparing, what drew you into the Akuma life?
I’ve always liked Akuma ever since Street Fighter 2 Turbo, Alpha 3 – I used to play a lot of world tour mode in that game so I used all that cheating – like OP characters and stuff, but when Street Fighter 4 came out I used to use Akuma before Evil Ryu came out and I thought he was pretty sick but I always like Zangief more, and I didn’t really need to use Akuma in that game and I kinda liked the struggle of the bad matchups because when I won it was fun. But when Evil Ryu came out he was just too good of a secondary character to not play, so I played him a lot and I liked his style and his artwork.
But now that Street Fighter 5 is out, the closest thing to Evil Ryu is Akuma, so I basically went back to Akuma and – he covers a lot of the bad matchups that Zangief struggles with – or it’s at least a fightable matchup for him instead of it being absolutely terrible, so I feel like he’s definitely a good pick. And he’s just really fun and looks cool, and I like doing a lot of demon setups.
*laughs* Just annoying people with demon flips and stuff like that. I feel like he was a good pick for me, and since he has the lowest amount of health in Street Fighter, he was good for me to play, to learn how to play Street Fighter 5, because every time you got hit it really hurt – and every single thing you did was extremely important, so I kinda converted that over to Zangief and I feel like that made me a lot better in the game.
Yeah – there’s definitely a notable change in your playstyle after you started using Akuma – your Zangief looked a lot – not that it didn’t already look clean, but it looked even cleaner, so it’s interesting to hear that you say that because in an interview I had with Julio Fuentes, he said the same thing about Ken. He said that he didn’t think he was that great of a player, then when he started playing Ken, Ken forced him to be a better player, so it’s interesting to hear that perspective from another player.
Speaking of practice, what is your average – ‘cuz esports is your full-time thing. So is it like, wake up, eat some breakfast, play some Street Fighter, eat lunch, play some more Street Fighter, eat some dinner, watch some Netflix, watch VODs, go to sleep? Is that your life?
When I was trying to get really good at the game, I played a ton of online and I could never really tell if that actually made me better at the game because I would play online for a lot and then go to tournaments and do very mediocrely *laughs* and then go back home, play online some more and then do slightly better and then I would do worse – it’s like a huge scramble so I couldn’t really decipher if online was helping me because online is not the exact same as offline. So, recently I kinda just stopped playing online and started just watching videos and trying to theorycraft about what I should do in Street Fighter 5, and that has actually helped me out more than actually playing the game, and it’s crazy, but – as far as learning the tech and stuff like that, I just watch Itabashi’s videos, cuz I’m like “Oh you’re just gonna do all the hard work for me? *laughs* I’m down.”
And obviously his tech is really really good, I just kinda stack it on top of mine and add some slight changes to it, and it works out for me, but – yeah, I feel like just theorycrafting and things like that made me better. But my day-to-day now – I definitely don’t play Street Fighter like I’m playing other games, and there’s a lot of like, me trying to decide if I want to play a better character than Zangief, you know? My playstyle with Zangief is sorta ingrained in my mentality, so if I played like, I don’t know, Urien, I would probably play him like Zangief , and it probably just wouldn’t work out.
So, I’m always trying to decide that, and like – I still work out and stuff, sorta… Not as much as I used to, my gym membership kinda expired, but I got like little workouts I do at home, and I try to eat healthy like I said on one of my recent documentaries… I’m definitely mostly theorycrafting and trying that out, because I feel like that’s working out better for me.
There’s sort of a meme on the other side of esports that’s not the FGC that, you know, having a partner, having a social life, makes you worse of a player. And it’s interesting in the FGC we have all of these pros who are playing at such a high level AND have social lives AND have partners.
I want to say this without it sounding really weird – how much does having an active social life and having a partner, do you think that elevates your game and allows you to be a better player?
You know I’m not sure about that one – I’m feel like it could probably go either way. So, when someone’s dedicated to playing, again, professionally, they’re not going to play the entire day, that’s impossible. Some of that time has to go to your partner or someone else and like, there’s definitely enough time in the day to divide each category up – unless someone’s partner is like crazy, or there’s some kinda relationship problem.
If it’s like that then obviously their performance may suffer but – in a game like Street Fighter 5, which is more of a like chess-based strategy type fighting game, you don’t really have to spend the entire day practicing motor skills for the game because it doesn’t require that kind of playstyle to play the game. But if you were playing a game like Tekken or Smash you would probably need to dedicate more time in trying to perform techniques. So I feel like Street Fighter is more mental, and if you can get that down, you can save yourself a lot of time within the day to perform in the game.
Ok! Did you ever think – when you realised that you could do this full time, how crazy was that for you?
Oh man, it was absolutely crazy. Like, the first time I won in 2010 – I won Evo 2010 Street Fighter 2 HD Remix – and I was like “man, 300 people entered this game,” I didn’t even think it was that popular, it just came out. And, I was like “you know what, I’ve been grinding this game pretty hard online, Zangief was like the weakest character,” – which he wasn’t, he was probably the weakest character in Street Fighter 2 Turbo but not HD remix – but yeah, I brought home around 2500 bucks, and in 2010 that was not bad.
That was a pretty big prize pool back then!
Yeah exactly, so I felt pretty good about that. But the only problem was, Street Fighter 2 HD Remix died within like, 2-3 years, so I knew that I couldn’t continue to play that game because it wasn’t a mainstream game. So I knew that I would have to play the mainstream Capcom game, which was Street Fighter 4, and I started playing that game and that’s when it all started. Like, “Yeah I could definitely – if I get good at this game I could definitely see this taking me places.”
How crazy did everyone around you think you were when you were like “aight guys, imma be a professional Street Fighter player”?
Well I never told anyone that, I just let them see – so, I remember my brother actually coming up to me and he was like “Man, you’re not that good in these games,” and I’m like “are you serious?!”
So I showed him a YouTube video of me versus this guy named DGV in 2010 for HD Remix, and he was like “Yo I watched that video man, and I showed one of my coworkers and work, and he was like ‘yo, your brother’s sick’! He’s probably gonna be one of those esports celebrities one day,” and that’s hilarious every time I think about it today because that’s exactly what’s happening.
It always happens like that! A lot of older people on airplanes when I tell them that I’m a pro gamer, they don’t really think too much about it, and when then I point at my hat and say “I’m sponsored by Red Bull,” that’s when their eyes open wide and they say “this is serious,” because if Red Bull picked them up then it must be something serious. And I’m like, esports is already established, we don’t really have anything to prove to anyone, it’s already a thing, and it’s just funny because a lot of people don’t know, but we know, and that’s kinda what matters to me. I don’t think it’s crazy, I tell people all the time – they could be just as good, but there’s a lot of frustration that you’re going to have to go through. Video games are fun, but it’s not something you can just do and automatically just get good at.
That’s the thing that you always hear right, “Aw man they’re just playing video games… like ANYONE can play a video game!”
I hear that so much, and I’m just like, whatever. That’s almost like the same thing as someone that’s outside of the fighting game community, and they ask “Oh, what character do you play?” and I tell them Zangief, and then they ask “Who’s the best character?” and I’m like, “I dunno, in season 1 Chun Li was the best,” and they’re like “Why don’t you just play her?” And I’m like, “It doesn’t work that way,” you build attachments to certain characters and certain characters fit your playstyle and that’s the reason why you play them – you don’t just pick up the best character, because otherwise you wouldn’t have fun and then if you’re not having fun then why play a video game? That’s what it’s for.
What is something you would want to see in Season 3 that would make you even more hyped about Street Fighter?
That’s a REALLY good question, let me think about that one, cuz I was actually thinking about that earlier, and.. You know I used to say “I wish Crush Counter was gone,” but I don’t really mind it now and it’s kind of part of the game and it’s hype when someone lands one, although it’s sort of annoying when you get hit by one *laughs*. But something I would like to see in the game, maybe? Um, maybe some kind of defensive mechanic. I mean I know we already have V-reversal, but other than that, there’s really nothing else. But I want to see like – Zangief is the oldest character in Street Fighter currently, but I wanna see his son as a new character or something like that, like Young Gief.
I want him to be a shoto so that you won’t play him –
*laughs* I want him to be fast, or something, and I just think that would be sick, you know? Cuz you know Zangief has to have kids or something one day, so I think that would be interesting – it’d be pretty funny too.
I’m now just picturing this hairy ass kid, (and he’s got the same chest) but he’s like, 14!
Well we all know Zangief had that when he was that age!