Red Bull Esports has gone around the country throughout the year celebrating the fighting game community. In an effort to determine which national region has the greatest fighting game players, the organization has held a special circuit called Red Bull Conquest, which hits its conclusion today.
Prior to the start of this weekend's tournament, Shacknews had a special opportunity to talk to Hoa "Anakin" Luu. Tekken fans will recognize him as the top Tekken 7 player in the United States, slotted at #2 on the global leaderboards heading into the Tekken World Championship in a few weeks. We spoke to Anakin about his role in Red Bull Conquest, his preparations for the Tekken World Championship, and what it means to face competitive adversity.
Shacknews: You're the #2 ranked player in the world. You're also the top player in the United States. What do you attribute your success to?
Hoa "Anakin" Luu: I've never actually thought about it, how I was just able to do so much better this year than in years past. This is pretty much the best year I've ever had. Looking back, it was probably due to the time I've spent away from the game just trying to get better, having worked alongside Red Bull's high-performance department. They have a lot of trainers, doctors, all the specialists out there to help peak athletes' performance. Usually, they're used to working with more traditional athletes, however with the gaming boom and everything, gaming athletes and the way that they perform has become a little bit more of a priority.
We've been working, training, doing breathing exercises. I've learned a lot from the people who've put the camps together. I've spent time alone wtih other athletes, seeing their work ethic, game me a lot more motivation to work hard. It changed the way I approach the game and the way I prepare. There are a lot more ways to get back at Tekken outside of just riding hours on end. That's the new approach that I've taken this year, coming into tournaments with a better mindset, better attitude, taking care of my mental and physical well-being, as well as practicing and taking care of business on the Tekken side.
Shacknews: As intense as the Tekken World Tour has been, this weekend is another major event for you. How are you and your teammates preparing for the Red Bull Conquest finals?
Anakin: Yeah, this weekend, I'm representing Orlando at the Red Bull Conquest finals against seven other regions! It's a tour designed to prove which region has the best fighting game players in America. It's something every region in the country has strived for ever since the beginning of FGC tournaments. It's always been about the bragging rights!To finally have a tournament series, it's pretty tight, man, with the format we've got.
It's hard to prepare for, other than scout your opponents out, practice really hard, and come with your A-game. It's pretty good to know that it's not all on me to win the tournament and I can also rely on my teammates to help support me and vice-versa. With the experience that I bring, I can probably offer a lot of guidance to some of the players on my team, who have not been on the big stage so many times or played for higher stakes. So where they might get nervous or have anxiety, I can probably help offer some advice in that department. Also, I'm already friends with teammates who qualified out of Orlando, so we have a good relationship heading into the tournament and I think that's going to help us become really confident and comfortable playing our matches against the other regions.
Shacknews: You were part of the Conquest Road Trip series with Snake Eyez [Darryl Lewis] and toured the different Red Bull Conquest tour stops. What did you learn about the different fighting game communities over the course of your travels?
Anakin: The first thing that I can say is that every region, no matter where we went, whether it be Minneapolis, Philly, or L.A., every game has come so far since the days of Tekken being less popular. And that speaks to the success of Tekken 7, first and foremost. With that, the whole community was built around it and everyone is really buying into the game. That's what I observed when I was traveling on the road trip.
It was really fun to meet all of the leaders and the key figures in each of the regions, helping establish the foundation for a good community and a strong scene. It was just a really cool, eye-opening experience. I've never been to some of the places on the road trip, actually, so it was cool. I definitely enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to seeing all the players that qualified in action this weekend. After having cheered them on in their respective cities, now I'm gonna have to do battle against them and that makes me very excited.
Shacknews: Speaking of communities, Red Bull Gaming recently added Arslan Ash to the roster. You were among the players there to welcome him into the Red Bull family. What does it mean to you to have him as part of the team?
Anakin: Oh man, I've been welcomed in with such open arms during my time to date as a Red Bull athlete. I figured I'd just pay it forward and that's how Red Bull does. Once you're in, you're family. That's exactly what he just joined. It's not just fighting game community, it's not just esports, it's a whole network of people there to support you. It's not only a good story for him, but a good story for Tekken and the FGC, in general, seeing Tekken in a sport where we're seeing Red Bull athletes.
I've been playing Tekken for almost 20 years and never thought we'd see the day where we'd see full-time pros. It's been very rewarding after being in the scene all these years and finally seeing the game and the players get the recognition they deserve. And I think that Arslan Ash's story has been one of the best stories to come out of esports in a long time. I already said it once, but Red Bull does nothing better than tell these stories to the world, so I think this is the perfect relationship.
Shacknews: The Tekken World Championship is coming up in just a few weeks, so how are you preparing for the finals? Do you feel a greater sense of pressure, since you're entering in second place on the global leaderboards?
Anakin: Yeah, I definitely have been feeling pressure all year. With more success comes more pressure to keep the results consistent and stable. So far, so good on that end, just took down DreamHack [Atlanta] last week. Got the Red Bull Conquest finals this week. There are a lot of opportunities to build momentum heading into the biggest tournament of the year. Taking down the world title is probably the one last thing I have left to do on the list of goals for Tekken. If there ever was a year for me to win Worlds, it would be this year.
I've just been working at it slowly all year. Like we talked about earlier, just changing my mindset, playing on different level entirely. I've been making slow improvements, just praticing one day at a time and working on the things that I've been working on. The players are not gonna be strangers. We've been seeing the competitors all year, we've been scouting out, and the only left is to travel there, feel good, play good, and take the tournament down. All the work's been done, so all that's left is to go out there and execute.
Shacknews: How do you bounce back from competitive setbacks? Off the top of my head, I remember Knee's comeback at Combo Breaker. What do you learn from that kind of loss and what advice can you offer any player who suffers that kind of competitive setback?
Anakin: It's really frustrating to lose in the way that I lost at Combo Breaker, but if you see it for what it is, if you strip away the tournaments and the stage, at the end of the day, we're still playing a game. Tournaments are a celebration of the games. I'm not going to let losses affect me too, too much, because at the end of the day, we're just out there having fun, sharing our passion, and competing. That's why I got into Tekken in the first place. Of course I want to be the best in the world, I want to win every tournament, but at the same time, I want to give recognition and respect to the players who defeat me. You don't want to take away from the hard work that everybody else put in and now it's never been more competitive, with all the opportunities and the big tournaments in the TWT.
It was a bittersweet feeling. It was frustrating and for any players who go through competitive setbacks, I would definitely just tell them, most importantly, not to quit. Because it's all on you. If you don't believe in yourself that you can push forward and move on, it's hard to find anyone else that will. If you're not having fun, of course a break is always welcome. But after going through a loss like that, I felt more motivation than anything to get back in the lab, practice, and get better. For me, it was just another loss, another game, and another reason to work harder and take out the guys that can beat me.
Shacknews: Lastly, Tekken 7 is closing out the year with Leroy Smith. Based on what you've seen, do you have any hopes for this character?
Anakin: It's very exciting to see an original character after all these years. We've been given the luxury of having really cool guest characters, but really, it's been a while since we've seen an original Tekken character and that was the main reason why I was excited for Leroy. The way that Tekken creates characters, they never disappoint. I'm looking forward to, more speficially, the cool style and technique, because he looks like a really stylish character and that can attract new players to the game. Possessing the Wing Chun style, it was a perfect time to create that kind of style with Tekken. We had something similar with Wang Jinrei, but it's been a while since we've seen him. I think he might be a blend of an original character with a little bit of old Wang techniques.
The Red Bull Conquest finals are nearing their conclusion. Be sure to check out the final moments from the Red Bull Twitch channel. The Tekken World Tour Finals will take place in Bangkok, Thailand on December 7-8. And to learn more about Anakin and the other Red Bull athletes, be sure to visit the Red Bull website.