Olivier “Luffy” Hay has been playing Street Fighter at the highest level for ten years. He witnessed the growth of esport, took part in dozens of tournaments, won the most prestigious competition in 2014 and is still part of the best of the bests. GamersOrigin had the opportunity to converse with him about his career, his life as a pro gamer and his predictions for the versus fighting future.
Luffy: “I started Street Fighter IV in 2009 without the ambition of becoming a pro, it was just for fun. I was finishing my studies and I worked from 2010 to 2016 as I performed my hobby. I won the EVO in 2014, which is the most famous versus fighting tournament, on the core game, Street Fighter. Then, I received proposals from several organisations, but they wouldn’t have allowed me to become a full-time pro gamer. Red Bull France contacted me on January 1st 2016 to become one of the brand athletes. I accepted their offer and I am now a pro gamer. I am aware that I am lucky to be one of the few French players that don’t need to stream and can focus only on the game.
I have seen the professionalisation of the scene since 2009. The Capcom Pro Tour gave a huge boost in 2016-2017. Prior to its creation, it was mostly third-parties events without a significant cash prize. Now there are always events with a prize pool and points for the playoffs.
What led you to Street Fighter? Did you just see the game in a shop?
Yes, exactly! I was playing Street Fighter II when I was six but I didn’t follow the series, I played mostly RPG and MMO. When I bought the PS3, Street Fighter IV was the only game I knew in the shop, so I took it. I loved it instantly because it is a pure 1v1 game, and you really want to know your opponent and to beat him. Then, I joined a community, I hosted training sessions at home, I took part in tournaments, I made new friends and became a professional.
How do you see the short and midterm versus fighting future?
There are a lot of fighting games released, sometimes developed by indie studios. I think we haven’t reached the ripeness of it yet. Dragon Ball Fighter Z attracted 1 500 new challengers at the EVO while the SFV competition welcomed as many candidates as last year.
Do you have a special relation with Capcom concerning the game balance?
Unfortunately, no. They don’t ask for pros’ advice. That is why the game is unbalanced when it is first launched. A beta was held but it was more a marketing one than a genuine beta test. There are buffs and nerfs at each season but nothing like what the pros might recommend.
Do you often compete in the EVO on several games?
Never. I want to be competitive so hard that if I try another fighting game I shall have less time to train on SFV.
Are you watching competitions besides versus fighting?
Yes, I am a huge esport fan in general. I always watch Dota 2 tournaments because I have been playing the game for 10 years. I also watch the League of Legends World Championship, the Overwatch League, especially games with French players like Poko and Akm. I will look closely at Paris Eternal’s matches. I like Clash Royal too.
You never thought about switching to Dota 2 as a pro?
No, it is too complicated, the scene is not evolving that much and the players who have been here since the beginning are still a part of it. It is incredibly harder to become a pro on Dota than on LoL according to me. The whole gameplay is permanently changing: the map, the items, most of the champions…
How do you train?
I train with the French community, we play 6 or 7 hours straight and we make a debrief. I am the best Parisian player, so the youngest ones are relying on me. Without proper offline training, it is almost impossible to improve. There is nothing such as rivalries in the versus fighting. We can progress only thanks to other people’s effort, whom we train with, we share advice etc.
Do you play other characters sometimes?
When I am training yes, to see how they work, how I can punish them or what advantages I might have. But never during a competition.
Do you use a lot of videos to analyse your playstyle and your opponent’s one?
A lot. I can access all the replays from a particular player directly in the game client, or I can just watch uploaded matches on YouTube. I spend much more time on video analysis than on the game itself. I don’t’ play a lot, 2 hours a day is my maximum while I can review games for 3 hours. I can see my mistakes, my opponents’, their weaknesses, their strengths… All the versus fighting players are doing this huge back office work.
Are you following a nutritional program, are you help by a mental coach or do you go to the gym?
It is one of the hot topics of the moment. Of course, it may influence your performances but it will not transform you into the world’s best. If you spend enough time on it, you will be in better shape and it is clearly interesting but it’s not game-breaker. Doing exercise or meditating between two games can help you to deal with your stress during a LAN for instance.
Photo: Red Bull
What drives you on a daily basis, to keep training and participating in tournaments?
I want to be the best. Versus fighting is a 1v1 game, only IRL. It is only you on your chair with your stick or controller against your opponent. I am abroad for a competition every week against pros or semi-pros, who have a very good understanding of the game. There are not that many invitationals and all Capcom Pro Tour stages are almost as much important. I am always facing those players knowing I will have an opportunity to play against them again in a few days.
People focus a lot on the EVO and the Capcom Cup but I meet the same contenders every week, the difficulty is the same everywhere.
Is it true that you never look at the bracket?
Yes, it is very rare that I look at it. I don’t want to endure a certain pressure, especially because I can wait a long time between games. Otherwise, I will look at all of my opponent’s matches, thinking about what I should do… I rather consider I can face the best player in the world at any match and it is up to me to deal with it. Maybe it is an error but it is the way I work. At the Capcom Cup, I looked at the bracket and I trained a lot on the matchup, I bear a lot of pressure. If I hadn’t done it, it might have ended differently [Luffy lost at the first round of the winner bracket].
What are you thinking about during a match?
I am totally focused. Even if I don’t wear a headset I hear nothing. No matter who my opponent is or what the tournament is. It is the same.
Even when you are winning the EVO final?
Yes. Comebacks happen very quickly in a versus fighting match. You must stay focused at every millisecond. I play a lot to MOBA, and even if you have to concentrate, there are moments where you can rest: when you are dead or when you are buying items. You have concentration peaks. During a versus fighting match you are always in those peaks, and that is why it is exciting. During the EVO you play 12 games during a single day and you are exhausted at the end of the day.
I am not focused only when I play against a casual. As soon as it is a tournament I am at 100%, even if it is a minor event.
Do you keep this mindset when you are playing other games?
I just realized I don’t have fun anymore on Street Fighter. When I play online I am forced to try hard because I have a high elo and if I don’t try hard I don’t have fun. Because I have been a competitor for ten years I always want to win.
That mindset is necessary to perform at the highest level, right?
Of course. I never play another character than my main one for fun because I know I would lose.
How does a defeat affect your mind?
It is tough. When I move to the loser bracket I lose my concentration, I have to fix it this year. I know that I will not play as secure as before. You might think it is a good thing, that I will be unpredictable etc. But I know I am less focused. I will work on it, it is not hard, I just have to tell myself it is not over.
Are you letting euphoria occurring after a victory?
Absolutely not. When I advance to the next round I know it will be harder than the previous one.
Photo: Anouck Asathal
What sacrifices did you make to become a pro gamer?
With the development of the Capcom Pro Tour and the necessity of attending almost all the stages, I sacrifice a huge part of my familial and social life. I travel a lot outside Europe, forcing me to be absent for 5 or 6 days a week. And it is worse for people working beside the game: they sacrifice all their holidays, their weekends, their evenings… If you want to be the best, you have to renounce to all of this.
What do your relatives think about you being a pro?
In the beginning, they saw it as a hobby. As soon as I became a pro, they realized that it is my job. They know it is serious and that I earn my living thanks to the versus fighting.
What will happen if you are not a top player on the next Street Fighter?
I faced this issue when SFV was released. I was the best European on Street Fighter IV but the gameplay changed totally with SFV even if the name is the same. The game could not be called Street Fighter, even if there are the same emblematic characters like Ruy. It’s a whole new game and challenge for me, moreover in 2016, when I signed my contract with Red Bull. I took the risk to leave my job to become a full-time gamer in a totally new game.
I know I will not be the best during the game first months. But if people let me the time… I learn slowly but surely. I need to have a good understanding, to have a careful analyse of the gameplay. In 6 or 7 months I became the best French player.
In 2013 I tried King of Fighters, another versus fighting game, and I quickly became one of the best in France even if it was my first game of the licence. I think I have fair “convertible” skills among several versus fighting games. I can have a high level on Mortal Kombat or Injustice for instance. However, if I try FIFA it will not work.
If Street Fighter V stops, I can easily move to another game with some time to adapt.
Do you think about what will happen after your career?
Yes, of course. This year, I accepted to be an ambassador for Randstad, which allows me to be in relation to the real world. We discuss a lot, I give them advice… I am lucky to have a degree and to have worked in a large communication company where I was an executive. I am able to come back to a regular job if I have to.
And about rebounding in esport… I think I don’t have the nature of a caster. However, I might become a coach. It will depend on market evolution. Nowadays, coaches and analysts have unstable functions. Esport itself is unstable. If I move to these tasks it will delay the issue but not fix it. If I am outdated tomorrow, I will withdraw myself and I know I will always be able to rebound.”