On Leaving Echo Fox And Finding A New Path – An Interview With Justin Wong

Justin Wong winning Evo 2014

If you’ve followed the FGC for any length of time, few names stand out over the course of its storied history immediately: Daigo “The Beast” Umehara, Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi, John Choi, Alex Valle. Yet few names carry the history and weight of Justin Wong – one of the greats in the history of the FGC. Since coming onto the scene in the early 2000s, Justin has racked up more Grand Finals wins in Evolution Championship Series (EVO) history than anyone else before or since.

Recently, however, Justin has been racking up tournament wins as well as branching out to help other players find their footing in a fast moving scene. Having been with Echo Fox since 2017, the fighting game titan announced in January he was no longer with Rick Fox’s eSports team. Since then, Justin has entered a partnership with Victrix, a San Diego-based company who makes incredibly high quality headsets and is coming out with a premium fightstick on March 15th, to use their Pro FS stick in upcoming events in the 2019 season.

On top of all that, Justin just celebrated the birth of his first child, a busy time for any person, let alone someone with so many irons in the fire in the FGC scene. However, as he mentioned via his announcement tweet, the split with Echo Fox was more to do with branching out and seeing what he could accomplish as Justin Wong, rather than an Echo Fox team member.

“I could have rejoined Echo Fox,” Justin told GameSpace via a Skype interview last week. “But it’s just one of those things where I thought to myself, ‘I have a baby coming along the way and I kind of wanted to do more.’ I [want to] work with brands and I want to work with companies that I have a relationship with. When you’re on the team, the team has “X” amount of sponsors. You, as the player, are pretty much not going to have any type of relationship with the company, the team does.”

On leaving Echo Fox and going solo, Justin is able to build his own brand and work directly with the companies he believes in and what he can do for them, simply based on his resume in the FGC. Enter Victrix, who is already the official headphone sponsor of the Capcom Pro Tour with their Victrix Pro AF headset, and made a splash at EVO 2018 by debuting their Pro FS premium fightstick.

Recently it was announced three mainstays of the FGC community, Sherry Nhan, Alex Myers, and Justin Wong, would be sponsored by Victrix and use the company’s fight stick at upcoming tournaments exclusively. Just last week, Yuko “Chocoblanka” Momochi and Yusuke Momochi were announced to be officially sponsored by Victrix as well – with Momochi going on to win Evo Japan 2019’s Street Fighter V Grand Finals.

However, last time anyone really saw Justin compete at a high level, he was using a Qnaba stick. This was simply more of the politics of being on a team versus on your own, as Qanba had a sponsorship with Echo Fox. However, switching a fightstick isn’t exactly as easy as it sounds, as some players have crazy custom mods to make each stick feel the exact way they wanted to. However, before swapping to Victrix, Justin told me that he was able to test the Pro FS at every phase of development, making the transition an incredibly smooth one.

“So I always had a Victix fight stick. They always sent me a beta one, [and] the Alpha one to use. Just to try it out and give some feedback, right? And at the time when I was sponsored by Echo Fox, they were sponsored by Qnaba, so I had to use Qanba joysticks at public events. But when I’m home I always had these Victrix sticks lying around because I’m just trying it out, I want to see what the stick can be better [at], how it can be better and what kind of feedback can I  give back to Victrix to make the stick better.”

Justin Wong Victrix Pro FS

Justin Wong and Victrix recently announced a sponsorship which will see the FGC competitor use the Fightstick at upcoming 2019 events. [Image via Victrix on Twitter]

Justin also praised some of the comfort and travel capabilities of the Victrix, such as the handles on either side to make carrying it easier, as well as the Link 2 style joystick which can pop off and store in the cabinet for safe traveling. However, none of those features would matter if the Victrix didn’t perform.

“[The Victrix] is currently the fastest stick on the market,” Justin said. “And when it comes to playing fighting games, reactions [are] key. So you need your eyes and your hands to be in sync. And then, when your eyes and hands are in sync pressing the button, if you have the fastest speed on your joystick, the chances of you succeeding in terms of the in-game situation is much higher with [this] fightstick.”

Looking ahead to 2019 and looking back from where the FGC has come, Justin has seen it all. From tournaments held in arcades, candy shops and even laundromats, we now see the glitz and glamour of Vegas being leveraged to give the highest profile FGC tournaments the same production value as major sporting events. However, the major transformation Justin is thankful for is the fact that the growth of the scene allows players such as himself, live out their dreams as professional gamers.

No longer is it just about winning tournaments, though that is still arguably a huge part of a player’s success. Now, according to Justin, streaming and content creation can be just as pivotal to a player’s success.

“There’s so [many] more avenues of making revenue instead of just winning tournaments. So you don’t want to win a tournament now to sustain your life. You could do streaming, you could do YouTube content, or you could just be an influencer. So there’s just so many ways where when you’re a gamer, it’s pretty much you’re also a hustler as well. You’re kind of hustling to make this income because there is just so much opportunity to make that income. [This is] because so many people are taking note of eSports. It’s the new hot thin, hot topic.”

Coming from a background where his parents weren’t necessarily supportive of his choice to compete in video games – Justin tells me his parents didn’t even know he was competing until he was 24, it’s crazy to think of all he has accomplished in his 10+ year career. He has seen the highest of highs, being the most dominant player in Marvel vs Capcom and seemingly winning every EVO for years, to being on the losing end of the most iconic play arguably in eSports history: Evo Moment 37.

Hearing Justin talk about the different avenues for eSports players now just affirms he’s following what he feels is the best path for him right now. Players, especially ones with the resume and cache Justin brings to the table, can more and more establish themselves as a brand to be reckoned with. Justin rightfully knows this and is starting to leverage that for himself

“Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I can get on a lot of teams. Just based off my resume, what I have done for the past 15-plus years and also that I stay up to date when it comes to just competition. What really interested me, what really surprised me was the amount of brands and companies that I just had a lot of meetings with. So the fact that I’ve been having so many meetings, it made me really realize that I could have probably took this solo route way earlier in advance, compared to just starting now. It’s really changed my outlook in terms of what needs to be done to grow the FGC and how it can be done. And its’ one of those things where if people can accept change, then I think we would be in a much better place.”

Justin compared what the traditional FGC is doing with the Smash scene – the explosion of popularity the latter has seen is down to how players and even brands and tournament organizers interact with the players. Smash is killing it with stream numbers skyrocketing, peaking at 174K views of Super Smash Bros. Melee during the most recent Super Bowl. To Justin, the FGC just isn’t evolving fast enough.

“I think change could happen a little faster and better,” said Justin when talking about the changes in the scene. “I just personally think it’s been the same thing for at least last three, four years, where: here’s a pro tour, you players get signed on the team. So that’s it. That’s literally at the tournament. I feel like there could be more things done in terms of the players being more than just the player. For example, I’ve been pushing a lot on my YouTube and I’ll say it’s been going pretty well. [I’ve doubled] my number from when I first started. And I also got just from seeing the trend, a lot of other players getting more involved in terms of making content for themselves and for the community. So that fact that you see that change is, it’s really good.

Obviously not everyone’s doing it, but I think eventually everybody will become more into Twitch streaming and even just making content.  Because when you look at the Smash scene. The Smash scene is just so much more advanced compared to the FGC scene generally in my opinions. Just based off just their stream numbers, how the tournament organizers work with the players in making, let’s say, a video to showcase their events. The exhibitions, the crowd funding to fly out players to go to the event. That’s already such a game changer that they already succeeded in doing. But we in the FGC are not wanting to do it at the moment.”

This sense of building yourself up is very much at the core of Justin’s outlook in 2019. No longer a sponsored Street Fighter V player, Justin wants to try his hand playing other games such as Dragonball FighterZMortal Kombat 11, and maybe even Smash. Justin has also been instrumental in balancing the upcoming Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid game, so obviously playing that wouldn’t be out of the question either.

Justin’s 2019 certainly seems poised to see the rise of the JWong brand. As someone whose name is firmly carved into history of fighting game greats, it’s interesting to see that there is only one way for Justin to go from here: Up. And Justin sees this too.

“I wanna do this solo, I wanna do my own thing. I wannna be able to have, let’s say possibly a team, JWong. I want to just make a difference in the fighting game community or just gaming community as a whole.”

[Featured image via Shoryuken]

Written by
Joseph has been a freelance games journalist for the last 5 years, having written for multiple mainstream outlets. He loves all things technology and gaming and relishes the chance to write something new about them. When not writing, Joseph enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter in his home town of Las Vegas and explaining in detail why Balrogs do not have wings. You can argue with him on Twitter at @LotrLore.

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