Losing Kazunoko: TSM’s Big Mistake


TSM management has a knack for sniffing out great talent in competitive video gaming. Andy “Reginald” Dinh has a history of great signings from rising Danish rookie Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and Korean veteran, Jang Sik “Lustboy” Ham, making him a great example of a good general manager along with Team Liquid’s Steve Arhancet. However, TSM has failed to do expand on this trend to a scene that is exponentially outperforming itself in terms of viewership each year; Street Fighter. With the recent signing of Ryota “Kazunoko” Inoue, one of the Japanese fighting game Gods by Zeveron, TSM missed their opportunity to sign one of the few great free agent left in the scene which could make their expansion in the FGC difficult.


With the continual rise of the fighting game community in the competitive video gaming scene, E-sports clubs are starting to sponsor and sign players to represent their company. The oldest example of this is Evil Genius’s signing of Justin Wong back in 2010, the best western fighting game player in history. Company’s such as Empire Arcadia and Complexity had their fair share of sponsorships in the past and can be seen as the pioneers who believed in the fighting game scene as a potential market.


From its humble beginnings in people’s garages, the fighting game community is certainly making a name for itself in the world as one of the fastest growing scene in the competitive video gaming scene.


As the scene grows, new promising talent arise from the fray. For the longest time these players were not sponsored by anyone and had to use their own personal funds to travel to different tournaments across the United States where majority of the tournaments were held. E-sports clubs started to recruit more FGC players when Super Smash Bros. was making a return in the competitive circuit. Alliance, Cloud9, Team Curse/Liquid, Evil Geniuses, Cognitive gaming and TSM sponsored a player in the Melee circuit with the signing of Leffen by TSM being the most recent signing.


TSM recruiting Leffen was a great signing by Reginald. Leffen was considered a “God Killer” amongst the Melee crowd and can stand toe to toe against the likes of C9 Mango and EG PPMD. If TSM was able to recognize proven talent like Leffen, why were they reluctant to pick up any of the top tier players in other games, specifically Capcom games?


The Street Fighter scene is dominated by Mad Catz, Razer and Evil Geniuses in terms of sponsors. Fighting game legends such as Daigo Umehara and Justin Wong were sponsored in 2010 respectively with new rising talents such as Xian from Singapore and Fuudo from Japan picked up by Razer. Players who frequently made top 32 and top 16 were sponsored by companies. An example of this is Team Liquid’s signing of young talent Chris “Nuckledu” Nguyen.


Liquid Nuckledu


This signing in particular was a great move by Steve Arhancet, general manager of Team Liquid/Team Curse because Nuckledu is young compared to other players who are reaching their early or mid-30’s and has room to grow with a high skill ceiling. For Arhancet to notice his talent and sign him immediately goes to show his ability to read the market in a competitive gaming scene. Only a handful of players are without sponsors in the Street Fighter scene and it is puzzling as to why these high-level players do not have sponsors. If Reginald wanted to expand the brand to other competitive video gaming market, he should’ve signed a Capcom fighter player along with Leffen to cover the two biggest games in the FGC.


Kazunoko could’ve been TSM’s answer.



Ryota “Kazunoko” Inoue signs with Zeveron

Ryota “Kazunoko” Inoue is one of the Japanese gaming Gods in the FGC. While many Japanese players are considered as “Gods” for their mechanics and execution, only a handful are considered true Gods. He frequently makes top 16 in Street Fighter tournaments and recently took home first place at the Community Effort Orlando 2015. He is part of the group of Japanese players that makes it out to the stateside to compete in the tournaments and place very high in the standings. Whenever these Japanese players attend the stateside tournaments, they are usually the favorites to win the tournament.


What makes him different from other players is that he is using the winnings from previous tournaments to fund his travel needs whereas other top players has sponsors. Kazunoko isn’t restricted to Street Fighter. He is a highly skilled Guilty Gear: Xrd and Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 player as well. He isn’t a single-game player like Leffen. While Leffen is good at what he does, the melee scene won’t be there forever. In the long run, Kazunoko is a sound investment because he will definitely play the newest Street Fighter that comes out as he has been for the last several generations of Street Fighter and with EVO adding more games to its main game roster, he can play other games to try to win more titles.


He is proven talent with pedigree who is able to play multiple games at a tournament level and is passionate about the scene. What more do you want from a player to represent your E-sports club in the FGC?


Zeveron struck big from signing Kazunoko. He will definitely be the exposure tool they need in the fighting game community as Kazunoko attend more tournaments; it is a win-win situation for both sides. It is possible TSM took notes from Dignitas when they signed Ryan Hart, a French Street Fighter player, which wasn’t as successful as Dignitas hoped it would be. Here is hoping that Reginald at least tried to recruit someone in the Fighting game community to represent them at EVO outside of. There is going to be nine main stage tournaments at EVO 2015. Only having one player represent your team is kind of small whereas other E-sports clubs have several players representing them in various games.


Darryl “Snake Eyez” Lewis: One of the last remaining great free agents in SF

Here is a suggestion for TSM. If you are looking for potential talent, look up Darryl “Snake Eyez” S. Lewis. He is by far the best Zangief player in the world who is recognized by the pro level Japanese players. For those unacquainted with the fighting game scene, Japan is basically what Korea is to League of Legends. For Japanese players to praise Snake Eyez is an achievement in itself. Snake Eyez is a player capable of making it to top 32 and top 16 using a character nobody else really uses. He is one of the best American players in the scene who placed very highly in last year’s EVO, beating the EVO 2013 champion and undoubtedly the best Singpore player, Kung Xian Ho. He is a legend as he single-handedly swept the entire North Carolina team in the SoCal vs NorCal exhibition, where the top five players from the two Carolina’s battle for the title of being the best Carolina.



Snake Eyez recently became a free agent as of last year after his dissatisfaction with Revolution gaming, making him the ideal free agent in the FGC market. There are other players that are not sponsored for one reason or another like Sun Woo “Infiltration” Lee, Chung Gon “Poongko” Lee and Masato “Bonchan” Takahashi, but if TSM is looking for great talent within United States that speaks fluent English, there is no one better than Snake Eyez in the free agent market.


The rise of popularity of the fighting game scene means it is a race to sign the last remaining talents in the fighting game scene who are not sponsored. TSM could sign a player in the future, but if they want to invest in a veteran player, their options are very limited. Maybe they want to solely invest in Leffen to start and slowly branch out to other games. This would be a strategic move since no one will know how the player base will shift once Street Fighter 5 takes the main stage in the competitive fighting game circuit. But losing someone with high spec like Kazunoko is a disappointing miss by TSM.


TSM’s failure to sign Kazunoko, one of the last remaining Japanese Gods without a sponsor, is a big missed opportunity for the organization to firmly mark their presence in the Street Fighter scene. While TSM has shown their interest in the FGC with the signing of Leffen, they could’ve expanded much further. Only a few great free agents remain in the FGC for Street Fighter and time is slowly running out for TSM. It is exciting to see what will happen in the market in the coming months to come.

Andy "LastBlues" Shin

Design student that wants to contribute to the LoL E-Sports scene by providing healthy discussion topics within the scene.

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