Richard Lewis previews ELEAGUE’s Street Fighter V Invitational

Richard Lewis (right), host of Turner and IMG’s ELEAGUE Street Fighter V Invitational, talks with analyst Stephen “Sajam” Lyon (left) inside the G Fuel ELEAGUE Arena at Turner Studios in Atlanta. (Turner Sports/ELEAGUE)
Richard Lewis (right), host of Turner and IMG’s ELEAGUE Street Fighter V Invitational, talks with analyst Stephen “Sajam” Lyon (left) inside the G Fuel ELEAGUE Arena at Turner Studios in Atlanta. (Turner Sports/ELEAGUE) /

As the ELEAGUE Street Fighter V Invitational starts its regular season Friday, host Richard Lewis helped FanSided preview the new game and new season.

Turner and IMG’s ELEAGUE kicks off the Street Fighter V Invitational regular season tonight at 10 p.m. ET on TBS. It’s a new chapter for the gaming powerhouse, which added Street Fighter after two successful Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournaments.

What hasn’t changed is the presence of host Richard Lewis. One of the top eSports journalists in the business, Richard is back to provide his usual wit and wisdom for the Street Fighter action. He spoke with FanSided on Wednesday about covering a new game, what fans should watch for, and the role ELEAGUE is playing in modern eSports.

FanSided: Fans were surprised to see ELEAGUE shift to Street Fighter after such success in the Counter-Strike space. What was your perspective on the change?

Richard Lewis: I’ll be honest, I was probably one of those people that was dragging the wagon on it. Not because I want to move away from Counter-Strike — and we’ll definitely be revisiting Counter-Strike some time in the future — but just because I think it’s important that we branch out and cover other games.

We don’t want to make eSports look like this tiny little niche. It’s very big, it’s very diverse, there’s all kinds of games, unity and all sorts of great things happening. And we feel we can bring something to any game that we move into while also having the same level of respect, that we’re going to cover it and represent it the way we believe the community will want it to be represented.

This really was full circle for me. I started way back when — when I was at university, before I even knew there was something that would go on to become eSports — in the fighting game community. I used to cover it and write about it, and went on to cover the fighting games and helped organize tournaments. So it was kind of where I got started before I blew up in Counter-Strike and Counter-Strike became a big thing. To come back to it right at this stage in my career is really cool and awesome.

Honestly I think it was the right move for us. Everyone at ELEAGUE has been blown away by how the talent has been, how great the players have been and how awesome it is to watch internally. I think we’ve all been a little surprised. We’ve been confident it’s the right choice but I don’t think we believed it would be as great as it is from a creative perspective. We’re really blown away.

FS: You’re always well-prepared for every broadcast. How has the move to Street Fighter changed your preparation and your role as a host?

RL: Counter-Strike comes easy, because I’ve played it for years and watched it for years and followed it for years, so there’s always a degree of understanding. With Street Fighter it was completely new. Because I’m a host rather than an analyst, when I was doing my preparation, I said the best thing to focus on isn’t the mechanics so I completely eschewed that. I’ve played the game a few times, but ultimately I wanted the analyst on the desk to explain the mechanics. We’ve got a segment that’s just dedicated to that and they explain the minutiae of how it works.

What I wanted to focus on was the history and the background of all of the players. What they’re known for, what they’re good at, what they do. I wasn’t a complete idiot; I would say, my understanding is this player’s been playing this character but he’s going to change his character for this tournament, can you guys explain why? And it shows that I’ve done some homework. But I’m never going to be an expert at Street Fighter.  That’s what we’ve got the experts for.

I’ve always subscribed to the philosophy that there’s no such thing as stupid questions. And there’s going to be people out there that don’t know anything about Street Fighter either. I’m asking the questions they want to know because I’m in the same position they are, that we’re both learning and I think that adds something to the broadcast. They don’t have to feel stupid because I’m going to be the guy that puts his hand up and asks the question on their behalf.

FS: Perhaps the biggest component to ELEAGUE’s success has been the chemistry between you and your partners on the desk. What was it like to work with new analysts for this tournament?

RL: Ultimately the key thing that we want to get right is chemistry. We’d never worked with these guys before and I didn’t know much about them outside of watching a few videos. So the moment the guys got there, I wanted to hang out, get to know them, get to know their personality types so I could put them in the best position to shine. I would know we have to give Zhi [Liang Chew] some time because he’s going to do some kind of wordplay and smart analysis. We all got to hang out and have that chemistry so all the stuff you saw at the desk was natural; it wasn’t forced.

I’ve known Jason [“Moses” O’Toole] and Duncan [“Thorin” Shields] I don’t know how many years. Duncan especially. He’s an old-timer and there’s familiarity there. But the thing with Counter-Strike is we have these short segments, and there’s so much depth and complexity that I need to get to the good stuff and Duncan and Jason need to get it out quickly in a digestable form, and then we need to get back into the action, especially if we’re playing best of three. There’s a time constraint there we have to be mindful of when we do our desk segments. Whereas in the fighting game segments we’ve been doing, you have a little bit of a luxury there. We can probably take a detour and be a bit more relaxed.

The chemistry is always going to be good with the Counter-Strike guys because they’re the people I grew up with in eSports. [With] the fighting game guys it was a good, natural click. Those guys came in and they wanted the same goal that we did, which was to show the fighting game community the right way on TV. I think the chemistry is there and it shows.

These guys are going to be people I work with in the future and definitely at the end of the season I’m not just going to forget about them. These are guys I’m going to keep in touch with now, because I honestly think they’re talented and I think they’re going to do great work moving forward. I think ELEAGUE is going to be a platform that really propels these guys to the forefront of everyone’s thinking. It’s going to be great to see them blow up because they’re really talented guys.

FS: What would you tell ELEAGUE fans who are new to Street Fighter to watch out for as the regular season starts?

RL: There’s so many mind games. That’s one of the huge things to me in fighting games is that maybe you don’t see pan out quite so much in Counter-Strike. People will call people out. People will try and do things to make their opponent unsettled, and I love that element to it. I think that’s definitely something to watch.

You’ll see a lot of old-school players that have the potential to meet each other again, so it’s a continuation of a feud that’s been running for years. You’re going to see people coming up on the radar. Everyone’s going to be gunning for NuckleDu; this guy’s unreal. This is the guy everyone wants to beat and you’re going to see people probably start to call him out, try to get inside his head. NuckleDu’s a supremely confident kid though, so it’s probably not going to work.

It’s a very viable strategy to get your opponent frazzled but when it backfires, when you call somebody out and you get made to look stupid because you get beat in a must-win game, all that drama plays out. That’s going to be great television and super-compelling to watch because there’s that human element about it. I think that’s what people need to pay attention to. You’re going to see some experienced players get scalped by young and upcoming players, and you’re going to see some young upcoming players get their hearts broken, all along this road to crown the winner.

FS: Counter-Strike tournaments have had show matches, so any chance that we get you out from behind the desk to play some Street Fighter?

RL: I’m very happy where I’m at. I get to sit in the chair and we have fun at my expense. (laughs) I’m an old guy now and the reflexes definitely aren’t what they used to be. The eyesight definitely isn’t what it used to be. So I think when you combine those things I’m much better off where I am than trying to play and embarrassing myself.

The really upsetting thing is all of the desk talent, they play actually. Rip [Reepal Parbhoo], for example, is a former World Champion, I believe, in Tekken. So I can’t hang with those guys.

FS: Is there anything you want to say to the fighting game community as ELEAGUE moves into the fighting game space?

RL: I think the fighting game community was suspicious. A company comes in to a game and promises authenticity — how many times have people done that? ELEAGUE is the real deal, honestly.  We genuinely care about doing things the right way. I wouldn’t work for them if that wasn’t true. I had all the same suspicions when we started our relationship before we did Counter-Strike and I’ve seen what they want to do internally, I’m privy to those conversations.

Hopefully the fighting community now, they see that we’re genuine and they stay with us. Because we want to put fighting games on the map in a way that perhaps hasn’t been done before and we want to shine a light on all the phenomenal talent that exists. We’ve been super-overwhelmed by all the positive feedback we’ve got, but we never rest on our laurels and we’re looking forward to improving and having the community and all the players help steer us in the right direction. At the end of the season, we’re going to be looking back and hoping that we achieved something special.

Next: Subaru is hosting a Counter-Strike tournament

The ELEAGUE regular season begins tonight at 10 p.m. on TBS and can also be live streamed on Twitch. For more information and to get tickets to watch the Street Fighter V Invitational live in Atlanta, visit the official website.