Interview with Kenny Omega on wrestling, esports and Street Fighter V

Kenny Omega, one of the world's biggest wrestling stars, talks about esports, wrestling and Street Fighter V

Last week I had the honor and the pleasure to speak with the newly crowned IWGP Heavyweight Champion and fighting game aficionado, Kenny Omega. I had the chance to ask him about his recent stint as the Mayor of Metro City in the latest Street Fighter V trailer, the partnership between New Japan Pro Wrestling and CEO in Daytona Beach next week, as well as other several other fun topics. Listen to our full Kenny Omega interview below, and for those who prefer their interviews the old fashioned way, we have a transcription of the full interview as well.

 

KC: Hey everyone this is Kevin from Daily Esports and joining me today is the one, the only, Kenny Omega! How are you doing today Kenny?

KO: I am doing fantastic, how are you?

KC: I am doing pretty good man. Thanks so much for taking time out of your crazy schedule for a little bit!

KO: No problem.

KC: You were saying before, but I have no idea how you sleep. You have had a crazy past couple of weeks. You were at Dominion, you were at E3, and then you’ll be in my neck of the woods for CEO. How do you have time for anything?

KO: Well that’s the thing, usually there wouldn’t be time because these dates would overlap with each other. It was just the perfect storm and everything was able to fall into place, and even though it makes my schedule busier I am glad I am able to tackle all these different kinds of projects that are very different and original from each other, but all very important to me for various reasons.

KC: Well I am glad you are able to do all these things because the people love you and they love to see you.

KO: Yeah! It’s great to actually do a wrestling match, which is my main job, but then to go out the next week and perform in an entirely different arena, with an entirely different group of people, and have that same kind of support. It is really wonderful. I am blessed for sure.

KC: So we just have a few questions for you today so you can get back to sleeping, or whatever you were planning on doing next.

KO: Sure.


 

On presenting the release of Street Fighter V’s Cody

 

KC: First off, the Cody trailer is, as far as I am concerned, one of the best trailers Capcom has done in a long time. It was a great mix of actual game announcements and stuff for the fans, and of course, it had you in it! How did your involvement with that come about? Did you get in touch with Capcom, or did Capcom get in touch with you? How did that happen?

KO: Actually it’s a weird story. We had actually spoken originally, specifically, about the E3 showdown, and once we started to spitball ideas on how to go about making it happen, it was either Kim or Brett that kind of stepped in and said, “we have this crazy idea.” I guess they originally weren’t even going to say it because it was so unique. They had never done a mix of live action and gameplay before, but because of the wacky amount of ideas I had been throwing out there and spitballing in their direction while discussing with Austin Creed, I think they probably felt a little more comfortable in attempting this live-action Cody trailer. So they dropped the idea by me and asked if I was comfortable and had the schedule and if I would be willing to essentially cosplay the new version of Cody and hype this thing up. Of course, as an avid Cody player and fan, it was kind of a dream job, and it was a lot of fun and I am glad I was able to do it.

KC: Yeah, because people have associated you with that character for forever, so it was great to finally have this concrete thing now where you are Cody, for all intents and purposes.

KO: Yeah, it was really cool. Certainly an experience I will never forget. I think it was my first actual commercial that I had done and it was done very professionally, and we worked with some very talented people so it was a cool taste as to what that world was like. It is very different from wrestling of course, but to be able to do it and make that debut, and do it as one of my favorite fighting game characters, that was really cool.

KC: Did you get to keep the pipe?

KO: No.

KC: Aww….

KO: The pipe I was not able to keep. I was lucky enough just to have that on set! The people who recreated that set did it from the ground up, and they had ordered a bunch of various “Mayor of Metro City” looking style props and the pipe just happened to be one of them. They weren’t sure if it was going to be used, they thought it might be too violent. Another idea was tossed around that at the end, for the big finale, I was going to punch through a brick wall. Would’ve been cool.

KC: That would have been cool.

KO: Yeah, it would have been cool but there was also this idea that there was no way to really make it look real or in that world. The trailer had a real, hard-boiled, sort of based-in-reality feel to it, so to then suddenly punch through a styrofoam brick wall it may have hit people upside the head and taken them out of the moment, so to speak.

KC: Yeah it almost felt like it wouldn’t have been out of place in, say, a Law and Order episode.

KO: Right, that was kind of the style of filming we chose to go with it, and I think it was really cool once I started to see the playback footage as we were shooting it. I really liked the look and feel of it, it was really neat. Then we had the traditional, sort of the old school money shots that were throwbacks to the SNES intro, like the classic side view of Haggar at his desk and you can see the monitor in the background. When we recreated that shot, to do it in that style just made it really cool. I definitely don’t regret the decision to go about it that way. I thought it was neat.

KC: Yeah definitely. It came out great.

KC: You had just mentioned your grudge match at E3. I was there at E3 and in between appointments I was able to see the tail end of the match, and that was something to behold. You guys had a great back and forth going. How much did you train for that? Were you labbing it up? Did you have a training partner or anyone? Were you secretly meeting up with, like, Chris G or somebody?

KO: No, the thing with Cody is that he is yet to be released (per the time of this interview) and it’s very difficult to get your hands on a dev kit to play as Cody. You’d think they would just give me a code so I could practice in my spare time and show off some cool stuff, but Capcom, of course, is very strict with this thing getting out to the public, pretty much an advanced version of the game, essentially. The amount of time that I was able to get my hands on this new character was very limited. It sort of helped with the story because, even though I am somebody who plays Street Fighter often, to have a very fresh Cody, I’m not even familiar with all his buttons. As strong as the character may or may not be, I am definitely beatable in that scenario.

KC: So you kind of had a Day 1 Cody then basically?

KO: Right yeah, I don’t even know if I would call it a Day 1 Cody. The other thing is, and players of Street Fighter will understand this, the build that I had didn’t allow for training mode, it only had a versus mode. So you can’t really gain too much ground with the character because you can only try something once, twice, or three times before the round ends. You’re not getting an idea as to how things are hitting, how many frames are being involved with what you do, you just have to guess. It was tough and unconventional, but I’m glad it worked out.

KC: And really it just makes your victory all the more impressive.

KO: Right?

KC: You had weighted clothes on the whole time.

KO: Yup.


 

On the crossover between the Wrestling and Fighting Game Communities

 

KC: Now something I have noticed over the years, and I am certainly not the first person to make this observation, but there is a lot of crossover between wrestling and fighting game fans. Even other combat sports like boxing, MMA, UFC, they don’t seem to have as much crossover as wrestling does. What do you think it is about wrestling specifically that lets it have that commonality between fandoms?

KO: I think maybe because fighting games have now become such a spectator sport. When I first got into fighting games, and I have always played fighting games, I love them, when I was watching and first got a vested interest in what they were about and the players that were playing them, it was Third Strike. It was a game I wasn’t very talented at it, but I loved to watch it, I loved to be knowledgeable about it, and I loved to know the players and their backgrounds, and that’s a lot like professional wrestling. A lot of people that do watch, maybe they can’t do what their favorite wrestler does, but they want to watch that person’s matches and their backgrounds, rivalries, etc, etc. There are a lot of similarities between the two and I think that’s why it’s easy to enjoy one and the other at the same time.

KC: So you feel, just like wrestling, it’s a great spectator sport.

KO: Definitely, yeah.

KC: I also think probably a big part of it is that fighting games are very bombastic and over the top and crazy, and I think that’s an easy crossover with people who like wrestling.

KO: Oh yeah, very recognizable and stereotypical characters. And I think the wrestling I grew up with was like that in the 80’s and 90’s, even sort of the Attitude Era up to the early 2000’s. Very larger than life athletes, and they were playing very defined roles. Everyone knows who Zangief is and what he does. Everyone knows what a T. Hawk does or what a Fei Long does, and there’s no question. In MMA it may be a little more blurred. A very slender, fully tattooed man may fight completely different from another similarly slender, fully tattooed man. *laughs* That isn’t to say there are more fans from one world or another, but I do feel like it makes pro wrestling more similar to fighting games, especially.

KC: It is easier for people to latch onto a character like they would a particular wrestler.

KO: Definitely.

KC: Now, as I said before, you and NJPW will be coming to Daytona Beach, Florida for the CEO X NJPW event.

KO: That’s right, yes.

KC: I’m very excited about that, but what are you most excited about? This being really the first crossover of its kind between fighting games and wrestling. I mean it seems like such a no-brainer, that somebody would have done it before already.

KO: Yeah I know, it really does feel like, “hey is it actually possible that we’re the first ones to try something like this?” And I still don’t really believe that is the case but apparently it is. I am really glad to be the one to tread into this uncharted territory, and for the people that are coming, whether they are competing or just wanting to watch various games, or just to play casuals, whatever the case may be, I think it’s a cool little cherry on the sundae for everyone that’s coming down to hang out for the weekend. It gives everyone a different kind of entertainment, but something that doesn’t feel completely foreign from the fighting game environment.

KC: It’s also great because, say you’re just a wrestling fan and you aren’t into the fighting games, you still have this great event you can go to even if you’re into one and not the other.

KO: Yeah and that’s certainly the point as well. I really do feel like both worlds lend to each other perfectly and I do feel like if you enjoy one, it’s very possible to enjoy the other as well. There are so many similarities between the two I almost can’t see how it’s not possible. For people that do enjoy their favorite fighting game, or fighting games at their finest, I would like to think and hope that there is a very large possibility that you’ll enjoy wrestling at its finest. I feel that we’re going to have the opportunity to give a taste of that at Daytona Beach, and I’m hoping to not only appease our current fans but to make some new ones. And oppositely, for our fans that come down to the show just to watch wrestling, I’m hoping they stick around and see what CEO is all about, and we can gain more fans for the fighting game community via that as well. I want it to be a two-way street.

KC: Yeah, the more controllers we can get in people’s hands, you never know it might inspire a new love for somebody, and that’s a great thing to think about.

KO: Exactly.


 

On fighting games and esports

 

KC: So besides the obvious, Street Fighter V, have there been any other fighters that you’ve playing lately? Anything that might surprise people?

KO: Nothing surprising. A lot of the fighters I have been playing are pretty well-known. I mean, of course, Dragon Ball FighterZ, I have been putting some time into that. Tekken 7 of course, but I’ve always been a Tekken fan. My company being a part of the collaborative efforts with Tekken 7 was a really good motivator for me. I can play a character in Tekken with a Bullet Club shirt and it just makes it more fun.

I’m also looking forward to having a playable version of the new Smash game, which was a huge announcement from CEO a couple of days ago. I’m really open to trying anything. I haven’t played a Soulcalibur game since the GameCube version where Link was a playable character, so I’m really looking forward to playing the new Soulcalibur demo there too, if it’s there. Nothing too surprising, but you know what, if there is a side tournament for TMNT Tournament Fighters, I’m interested. But that’s probably the most surprising one out of the bunch.

KC: You know what, if there isn’t, I bet there is going to be one now.

KO: I can’t remember where I saw it but, I think even Jebailey (Alex Jebailey, head of CEO) used the opening to TMNT 3 for the NES. There’s an opening scene where the turtles are hanging out at the beach, and it ended up being a segue for him to talk about Daytona Beach, but I thought it was going to have something to do with a TMNT Tournament Fighter side tournament or main tournament, but I think it ended up being about Injustice because the turtles are in that. But I was really excited for a moment. Nothing against Injustice though, I like that a lot.

KC: Who do you like in Dragon Ball FighterZ? I am really interested to hear that.

KO: So the thing is the players that I want to play aren’t necessarily the ones that jive with me, I really want to have an awesome Frieza, but I don’t yet, and now that I’ve put this time into Street Fighter V, that has been put on pause for now. But they have this new Panthera Razer stick for Dragon Ball FighterZ that came out and I was able to get my hands on it, and it was that extra little motivation to get me playing the game again and I really want to get a good Frieza into my mix of characters. Right now though I am using and working on my Vegeta Blue and I don’t know what I am going to do for a third character, I am thinking maybe Broly.

KC: I was actually going to suggest Broly.

KO: Yeah I’m totally about it. But it is a very easy game to pick up if you’re playing casually, and it is easy to get a decent grasp of a character quite quickly, which is real cool. Oh yeah, that is another game I haven’t had a chance to play yet, Blazblue Cross Tag Battle. I am really disappointed in that. I need to find time to be able to play that game, it looks real fun.

KC: Something I have always wondered, how much do the other NJPW stars game? Are there any in-house rivalries you can tell us about?

KO: No, I mean, back in the day, and this is already going back years because A.J. Styles is a very active member of the WWE, but we would go to the back of the bus and we’d play some Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo. But as far other rivalries, I had one a little bit with one of the Roppongi 3K members, he is really good at DDR.

KC: Really?

KO: Yeah, and it is very hard to be able to dance on heavy mode so it was a lot of fun when we would play when we went to game centers and the fact that he played and enjoyed video games. He saw me walking around with my Razer backpack and he knew what Razer was so it was like, ok you’re knowledgeable and understand not only your one game, but you are very knowledgeable of the current esports industry. Which a lot of people in Japan aren’t, surprisingly still.

KC: Yeah I have interviewed some Japanese players before, and you’re right it is surprising how a lot of information and things don’t carry over there like you think it would.

KO: Right yeah.

KC: Do you happen to remember who A.J. used to use when you used to play him?

KO: Yeah he was mainly a Ken guy, but we would kind of go all over the place and we would end up using the entire roster on each other, and that was a good way for us to see who was better for that particular day, but we would use our mains at first, and then it would degenerate into “Oh you’re gonna use this guy? Then I am gonna use this guy”, and by the end of the day we would use the entire roster, and it was a good way to see who has a better, complete grasp of the game and not just one character. It was a lot of fun.

KC: Yeah, if you leave two people on a character select screen long enough they will just go all over the place.

KO: Right, exactly, and the game is simple enough that most times you can do just that.

KC: So speaking of esports, it is taking off in ways nobody thought possible, even just a few short years ago. What are your personal hopes for esports in the future? Things are already getting crazy popular and becoming this big industry, but what would you like to see? Especially from the competitive standpoint you have.

KO: Ideally, and this is already almost becoming a reality, you want to see every talented player be able to be supported by some sort of esports team, to have them be represented by somebody. All of the most talented players put a lot of time into their respective games and I would love to see that on a full-time basis where they don’t have to worry about working here and working there to be able to subsidize their favorite game, and they don’t have to worry about the pressures of having to place 1st in a tournament with 3,000 players or more.

I think if you are sponsored by a team, and if a team has your back, players will be able to develop and level up in ways that weren’t possible because of that support, and it takes some of the pressures off of “Oh I have to pay for my flight”, and this and that, or “What if I lose, or don’t make Top 8?”. If you have a team behind you that supports you, you are able to advance your game to the next level and I’d like to see, not just the handful of players that are sponsored, but it would be great if almost everyone was.

Sort of like how professional sports is. In professional sports, every player is representing a team right? That is why it is called professional sports. I love seeing the casual players, but I’m talking about a real fantasy scenario where every player is supported in some way to help them perform. That would be real cool, but of course unrealistic. More realistically, I would like to see more players represented and to be able to see everyone’s true final form

KC: *laughs* That is a good way of putting it. So basically everyone who has the talent, ideally, would have the opportunity to showcase it.

KO: Right, exactly.

KC: Having been involved with Tekken and Street Fighter in an official capacity, what other franchises would you like to be involved in if it was up to you? Like, Kenny Omega in Smash Bros. perhaps?

KO: Yeah that is another one. I’d love to be a part of that and that would be really exciting, to play it in a celebrity gamer capacity, or whatever you want to call it. I am a huge My Hero Academia fan so that being a fighting game (My Hero One’s Justice) it’d be cool something ends up happening with that game, that would be great.

KC: All Might in a Bullet Club shirt would be great.

KO: Yeah, and the fact that Bandai Namco is doing the game, and we are doing a lot of collaborations with them lately, it might not be impossible. So that could be something really cool if doable.

KC: That’d be amazing. I had a chance to play One’s Justice while I was at E3, and if I had “Best of Show” awards to give out, I would have definitely given one to that game. I felt like it was the most pure fun I had playing something at the entire show.

KO: Wow, nice. Yeah, I only had a chance to play two games at the end of the day, but I wanted to be able to try that game out more, but there just wasn’t enough time in the day. I’m definitely keeping my eye on it, and if there is ever a chance to do some sort of event I’d be all for it.

KC: I’m glad you said that you are a fan because that is easily my favorite show out right now, it is fantastic.

KO: Oh yeah, easily one of mine as well.

KC: Now… Who would win in a fight, Cody or Alex? Pick a child.

KO: Yeah… Wow… I would probably say… Cody? But man that is a tough one.

KC: It would be a slobberknocker that is for sure.

KO: If we are talking about versions of characters in the games, in Street Fighter V, then I would say Cody all the way due to the tools that he has, but the actual character strengths in the Street Fighter lore? That is a pretty even matchup I would say.

KC: So well just call it a draw?

KO: Yeah, it is like asking who would win in a fight between Leon and Chris (of Resident Evil fame) it is tough to say really.

KC: We’ll just call it a Rocky 3 photo finish and move on.

KO: There ya go.

KC: Now here is another fun question. What Street Fighter characters would you like to see added into season 3 if it were up to you? Because personally, I’ve come to accept the fact that I will never see my man Q again.

KO: Well that was always my first pick. I have been saying that Q would be a real hype guy to get into the game, and I don’t think they (Capcom) have completely slept on the idea of him being in the game, but as time goes by it makes you wonder. There is a lot of the cast of Third Strike that I feel people would be happy to see in Street Fighter V. But I like to think who would make a fun character as well because you have to remember that it is a completely different game and different engine. Because I could say like, Makoto, but she would probably end up being very limited and feel very slow in Street Fighter V if that makes sense.

KC: No I get what you mean.

KO: But if you brought in someone like Oro and gave him his fireballs, it would probably be his V Trigger, it would be similar to Menat balls, and the jump that allows unlimited juggles, that would make him a really fun character. People generally like crossover characters as well so more Final Fight characters is always an easy go to, they are super fun. A lot of people say Eagle, he would be fun.

KC: He would be.

KO: A little similar to Falke, but the double staffs are a different weapon, and he would be fun to have in the game.

KC: What you were saying about the speed thing, I think C. Viper would be a great addition to the Street Fighter V engine.

KO: Right it also has to do with the movement, and if you feel the character isn’t being properly represented with what the engine allows, I don’t think you could really ever fully feel as much free movement with a character like Makoto in Street Fighter V because of how…

KC: She is a very methodical character.

KO: Yeah, just with how fast her dash speeds are. C. Viper, who has a very quick aerial approach, that seems more doable in Street Fighter V, that makes sense because fast aerial approaches you have seen already with Cammy and even Chun-Li with air lightning legs and things like that. It fits more with how you play the game.

KC: Kenny, thank you very much for your time. Is there anything you would like to tell the people?

KO: If everyone wants to give me a follow on Twitter I am very active on there so that is @kennyomegamanx, and I’m just really excited for the Daytona Beach CEO crossover event with New Japan, so if you guys are going to be in the area and you have plans on going to the show, or check out the games, this is a real good chance to check out both and see what you like, and if you come out of it liking both, then that makes me a happy camper.

KC: You heard it here folks, make Kenny happy and come to Daytona Beach and play video games.

KO: There ya go.


Once again, thank you very much to Kenny for taking the time to speak with us. You can find out more about the CEO x NJPW event here. As we talked about in the interview, Kenny took part in a grudge match against the New Day at E3. You can watch that event here.

Kenny Omega Interview

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Kevin has been a fan of fighting games since he first walked up to a Marvel vs. Capcom cabinet at the tender age of 8 at the local arcade. (Kids ask your parents what an “arcade” is) He may not be very good, but that doesn’t stop him from enjoying them.