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Mark Julio “MarkMan” Interview: FGC Legend Talks EVO

A veritable expert when it comes to fighting games, Mark Julio (MarkMan) has made – and continues to make – a huge impact on the fighting game community (FGC). Gamers Heroes was honored to speak with this legend at the recent FanimeCon 2024 event in San Jose, picking his brain on everything from EVO Moment 37 to the best way to join the fighting game community.

Mark Julio “MarkMan” Interview: FGC Legend Talks EVO

Gamers Heroes: I know you do a lot of TEKKEN analysis, but I also saw that you did Among Us and other types of commentary – I can appreciate that!

I’m kind of jumping ahead, but what’s it like commenting on different content? You’ve got your fighting game spirit – your bread and butter, so to speak – but what’s it like commentating on a deduction game or Golf With Your Friends? 

MarkMan: I see you’ve done your research!

Gamers Heroes: I tried to!

MarkMan: So you know, for me, I love video games in general. 

So fighting games are what I’m most known for. But I can talk about video game endlessly; I could just talk about anything. 

Because I come from a competitive background and a competitive mindset, being able to frame things in a competitive way – whether it’s Among Us, whether it’s Golf With your Friends, or even Phasmophobia, that’s fun for me to be able to talk about it and explain it to other people. 

For me, just as a gamer, I love being able to kind of frame things and kind of introduce it to new people. Now, that makes sense to me. And I’m sure the community has been super receptive. 

Gamers Heroes: One of the things I wanted to ask is, since you just got back from Japan: How is the scene is different compared to the states? How would you say the reaction is?

With EVO this year, you’ve got Third Strike – one of my favorite games. What’s it like handling the scene over there as opposed to here? Are there certain games that they tend to flock to, certain meta, things like that? 

MarkMan: Absolutely. So you know, we work with our partners, Sony Music in Japan to really put on the event. However, the core of EVO is always about the community and what the community wants to play.

It wouldn’t make sense for us, for example, to run Mortal Kombat in Japan. So we kind of cater towards what we think would be successful. 

One of the things that we’ve seen throughout many of the years is Japan’s camaraderie when it comes to having tournaments, Japan has never had big money tournaments. They’re not allowed to be able to do that because of the certain laws and restrictions from the government.

This year was actually a very new type of year for Japan; it was the very first event in the eSports bubble that was able to charge entry fees for the tournament, making a complete difference from the past. 

This was the very first year that we were able to charge for ticketing and entrance. 

It was really weird – usually when something goes from free to something you charge for, there’s some sort of backlash. However, but the Japanese community was like, “Oh, wow, it’s going to be better because we get to pay for it now!”  It was just really weird to hear that.

It was also one of those things where we had to make sure that we knocked it out of the park; we make sure we delivered an event that people will be proud of not only attending, but also competing in. 

I think we did that, from the feedback we’ve had initially from the event. We’re not even a month after, and it’s been very, very positive.

The only feedback that I would say from the Japanese community is something that surprised me, it actually made me really happy! Because it was so packed at the event, we sold out of tickets in advance. 

A lot of people were claiming that they didn’t have enough areas to play casual games with other people. Most of the setups at the event were dedicated towards the tournament, and we had to prioritize that because of the space. 

Knowing that people want to just go there and be able to play and engage from the community level gives us a lot of hope for the future for expansion. 

Gamers Heroes: I know that you are bringing back Third Strike back this year – I love that! How do you feel the fighting game community is this year? Don’t know if everybody is saying, “I’m just going to play TEKKEN 8 or Street Fighter VI.” 

What about the games that people that want to like to have, like Windjammers or something like that? 

MarkMan: So I’ve said this about EVO events in general, not just EVO Japan; anytime there’s an EVO event, it’s a home for fighting games.

It’s not just the titles that may be considered main titles or titles that are featured that year. If you really want to play and find competition, EVO is the place to go. Whether it’s things like Windjammers like you mentioned, Third Strike, which is our featured retro title for the year.

I don’t know if you know, the main reason why we’re doing it. It’s its anniversary year of Moment 37.

Gamers Heroes: I love the Chipotle commercial – that’s just genius!

MarkMan: We have the anniversary of Moment 37 happening in August later this year, it’s the anniversary of Third Strike’s release – it came out in 1999. 

We’re very thankful with the reception! We haven’t released the official numbers because we still have a month left for registration, but Third Strike is a widely entered game.

I think a lot of people will be surprised when it shows up in our schedule, because we dictate our schedule based on the amount of entrants for the games. So I think a lot of people will look forward to what is probably one of the biggest Third Strike events around the world. I couldn’t believe it, either.

Gamers Heroes: One thing I noticed too, is like watching these clips used to be like Yun Chun-Li, and Ken over and over again. Are you seeing some stuff out of left field, at least with the community, with some cool clips featuring Sean or something like that?

MarkMan: So you were seeing a lot of these, the best players and the best representative of these characters come out to the event. So we saw a lot of that EVO Japan with a ton of interests for that. Of course, at the very end, we had Yun, Ken, and Chun-Li.

But I don’t think there’s any getting away from it. This game has matured so much in the 25 years that it’s been out. Sure, everyone expects the strong characters, but there are strong players that will do well with any character. That’s what I love to see! 

Hopefully there are those moments where we get to see one of those characters shine, and fingers crossed for Vegas that it’ll happen. 

Gamers Heroes: I know Sakurai said that about Smash Bros. Ultimate in one of his videos recently

MarkMan: Yeah, like every character can feel at a high level. And I believe that, on paper, it’s true. Given a tournament setting, it is much smaller in terms of a data pool. If you look at how people do tier lists, they usually do how a character does overall.

So again, I think how people voice their opinion on how the games are balanced, and how to approach a game, whether it’s from a casual standpoint, which has a huge data pool, because you know, you can measure now from just online data, what characters people are using and which ones they are winning with. 

If you look at that alone, let’s say for Street Fighter 6, Ryu should be top tier, as he’s one of the most used characters and has one of the one of the highest winning rates. Same thing with Ken.

But in tournaments, we don’t really see where you use at the high level. So again, it really depends on what level you’re looking at. If you’re focusing on the highest tournament here, or if you’re just focusing on the casuals.

That’s the beauty of fighting games, there’s a level for everyone to be able to come in and enjoy the game. 

Gamers Heroes: A lot of people are switching over to Hit Boxes. Old habits die hard, whether they say “give me a pad,” “give me a fight stick,” or something like that.

How have things evolved since then? Would you say there’s an even split, or maybe people using stuff out of left field like a fishing controller?

MarkMan: You never know. When you see those people that show up to events that want to get the moment people that use like a DDR pad or people that will use a fishing controller or even a Resident Evil chainsaw controller, exactly. 

You know, those guys obviously don’t win – but they have fun, which is the important thing.

However, if you look at the tournament players, it’s impossible to ignore that players like Tokido and Daigo – many of those players have switched over to leverless and have found great success in utilizing that. 

On paper, I think everyone knows it’s there’s less stop when it comes to hitting direct input is a button versus a lever.

However, how good is a player able to adapt their muscle memory to be able to use it at that level, and I feel like everyone focuses on the strengths of Hit Boxes. But not a lot of people focus on the people that try to use Hit Boxes, but can’t adjust to it and give up and go back to a controller or an arcade stick. 

I’ve always been a proponent of people finding what works best for them, and what’s their comfort, when it comes to enjoying an experience finding games. If you play on a leverless controller, and that is the best way for you to have fun and be able to perform the best, that’s what you should pursue.

If it’s a controller, more power to you! I’m not a believer of one controller that can rule them all.

Look at the World Tournaments – these long events, or long series of events, lead to qualifiers, that lead to eventual World Finals. 

Most would think arcade sticks are so strong. They’ll win all SNK World Championships, Arc System Works Championships, Capcom Cup, and TEKKEN World Tour by arcade stick, so old habits maybe die hard. 

But again, you go to another tournament, let’s say outside the World Finals; you go to EVO, you go to a regional event like Combo Breaker this weekend, I wouldn’t be surprised if a controller won.

It really comes down to preference who’s the player and who’s the best player on that day. 

But a lot of people are always asking, especially people that are getting into fighting games. And I think this is a constant question that comes up. And people will always ask, “Hey Markman, what controllers should I use when I get into it?” 

That’s such a loaded question. Because you know, influence goes a long way with a lot of the people that are influences people like Maximilian, people like Justin Wong, people will listen to what they have to say when it comes to using something.

But I just want to tell people that if there is a recommendation to you, it’s probably a very high quality controller. But if you can’t utilize it and use it the way that you want, you shouldn’t be discouraged. There is trial and error. There’sa phase that people go through when they find out what works best for them. It’s like finding the right weapon for you. 

Gamers Heroes: I’ve noticed the same thing with audiophiles; you shouldn’t listen to the equipment, you should listen to the music.

MarkMan: That’s right!

Gamers Heroes: I’ve got friends that are kinda sorta into fighting games; they’ll play the occasional game of Street Fighter, but most of the time they’ll stick to Smash Bros. or something like that. 

Back to your point about finding what’s right for you. How would you suggest people get into the fighting community? I’ve tried introducing them to new titles, going easy on them, things like that. 

MarkMan: There are so many ways right now – I think the easiest way is to find out what is the best way of your time to be able to consume things. 

For a lot of people, that’s watching things on YouTube, that’s watching live streams on Twitch, or even just watching tournaments.

Sometimes people want to be able to find how they relate to fighting games through common interests, whether through a person or through a tournament itself and listening to commentary. Or maybe it’s going to practice mode and learning the game through there.

I think, for a player, some people want to just be able to have fun with their friends. That’s a great goal: to get out and find things. 

Some people want to be able to be a better tournament player and to like rise through the ranks be a strong regional player, be a strong national player. That has a different path than just playing with your friends.

Then there’s some people that just want to be a lab monster, show “I’m cool” clips on social media or show off combos and stuff like that; that is a different path as well. 

So again, you have to find out what makes you happy. And then how to best express yourself in fighting games. And that’s the best thing about fighting games!

Expression is an exceptionally perfect example, when you have two people that play the same character. 

They play completely differently. They have different attitude, different mannerisms and stuff like that. That kind of stuff is beautiful to me, because you get to really see how deep – and maybe how not deep – findings are because people are playing and experiencing the same thing, but it’s a completely different language. 

Gamers Heroes: How do you feel about the revival of series like, I mean The King of Fighters XV is fantastic, and then you got City of the Wolves coming up – how do you feel about these older properties coming back?

MarkMan: I’m a huge fan of it, and I’m actually always happy whenever there’s a new title coming out. So the one example that you brought up now, see there Garou, I was a big fan of Fatal Fury in general.

I thought Mark of the Wolves was one of the most beautiful games that came out at that time. The animation was amazing, and it really evolved the storyline of Garou and sets of Fatal Fury. Seeing Terry Bogard in more of a senior role, kind of the mentor to Rock, was really cool. 

But aside from that, just the gameplay and how it evolved, it really took the basics that we saw from the Fatal Fury games, and even some of the early KOF games. It was a completely different system in Mark of the Wolves, and we’re seeing that come back in City of the Wolves.

II feel like they finally found the formula that works for them with the 2.5D graphics; I think it’s the best presentation that we’ve seen in a long time. 

The game’s not out yet, of course, but it’s the best we’ve seen in a long time from SNK; it’s like night and day when you look at it stylistically. From comparing KOF and Samurai Showdown even compared to City of the Wolves, I’m excited for the game to come out!

There was another title that’s going to be coming out that was announced. I believe was it announced last year during Jump Festa – HUNTER×HUNTER NEN×IMPACT.

I think it’s perfect to talk about that here, especially that we’re at Fanime. But the more interesting thing to me is it’s being developed by the team that worked on Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and DNF Duel. 

I met with the developers and the publisher, Bushy Road. We actually did a video series; it’s not out yet, but it will be on the EVO channel where we have Justin Wong with them playing the game. 

You know, Justin is Mr. Marvel, right? Him getting hands-on with the game, being able to play the game and really experience it, and talk to the devs is something beautiful to see.

He is the most storied Marvel vs. Capcom player, and he’s playing a new versus-style fighting game that is from the developers that did Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. 

I hope people look forward to that video when it comes out pretty soon. 

Gamers Heroes: Spilling the beans, but I know that there’s a secret tournament with the sneakers and stuff like that. I’m wearing Onitsuka Tigers and listening to Shoe Dog right now!

What have you seen so far at EVO? What inspired, and what are some of the best kicks you’ve seen so far?

MarkMan: I guess this goes back to where a lot of people came from, the arcade culture, the urban youth. I feel like there’s so many different walks of life that comes to EVO, and so many people that appreciate it and enjoy it. 

One of the metrics we studied at EVO is that four out of every five EVO attendees is a consumer of anime. That’s a lot of people, right? From my experience, not only do they consume anime, they’re into things like fashion, they’re into sneakers, they’re into all kinds of cool stuff. 

They love Japan and the culture of everything that makes a fighting game better.  I love that because it leads to more people we can relate to and talk about everything we like

With EVO, there’s always a group, especially of the older guys and older gals at EVO that appreciate fashion and streetwear style and sneakers. 

We started this secret tournament maybe 10 years ago, where we would just have the people that that like to wear sneakers meet up and take a group photo. That’s really what the secret tournament is all about: Seeing what everyone’s wearing that weekend, taking a group photo, and enjoying it.

There are companies actually took notice. We’ve had the sneaker footwear partner Kizik make an official EVO shoe last year. 

In the past, I’ve worked with Nike to make the EVO Air Force 1; that’s a homage to Moment 37, which was really cool and came out in very limited numbers. 

But just being able to know that companies like Kizik and Nike have recognized EVO the community especially, and kind of honored them with being part of an actual physical product is really cool to me. 

I feel like that it’s one of those like we made it moments for the community. 

Gamers Heroes: I know exactly what you mean. I’ve got friends that play that don’t really play fighters that know about Moment 37. 

MarkMan: I’m going to be very frank here. Moment 37 is one of the greatest gaming moments that transcends fighting games.

Gamers Heroes: Kind of changing gears a little bit – talking about with my friends who are also into fighters, we’ve noticed is that there’s a bit of a divide with trying to stay profitable versus the passion we were talking about.

I don’t mind that much, but I know some people are like, “Well, I’ve already paid for a game; do I have to pay for Rashid or Akuma?” What have you noticed about the current landscape? 

MarkMan: Yeah, there’s a huge shift. You have to respect everyone’s opinions, because they all come from different sides of the coin when it comes to how they consume fighting games. In the past, fighting games were traditionally released in arcades first and would constantly have updates, sometimes yearly.

The consumer is probably used to just pumping in quarters, but they’re not used to being the operator where they have to pay for a completely new board or an upgrade – or a new arcade cabinet – so people can play them. 

When it comes to the industry, DLC roadmaps are a real thing, not just within the launch window of the game, but even two, three, or four years.

Take TEKKEN 7 for example. That was an eight-year-long game that lived for a very long time – much longer than anyone expected. Going across four seasons of updates, and new characters and new features for the game.

I feel like people have to come to expect that nowadays, whether they want to pay for it. That’s a completely separate thing. 

For me, I’m always happy to pay for more fighting and content just because I’m a fighting game fan. If the developers are making something new, and it’s something that I’m interested in, I will pay for it. 

It’s always been one of those “vote with your wallets” kind of thing. I don’t ever want to judge people on how they spend their money. That’s their prerogative; if they want to be able to support something or if they want to be able to experience something on their own, that’s totally on them.

Sure, I’d love for everything to be free, but that’s not realistic. But again, for a lot of the developers, I feel like they have probably one of the toughest jobs out there. They have to completely sell hardcore fans; they have to make sure they sell their game. 

You know, they’re going up against some titles that come out on an annual basis that sell millions and millions of copies. With fighting games, we’ll be lucky to break a million when it comes to selling a title. So again, I think it’s tough. 

There are only a few titles that are out there that consistently and consistently sell tens of millions: There’s the Smash Bros. games, there’s some Mortal Kombat games. 

For Street Fighter 6, they recently announced they sold three million copies. TEKKEN 8, within the second month, they announced they shipped two million copies. Those are huge milestones. 

But if you compare it to like an Elden Ring or Call of Duty, that’s just another day at the office for them. 

I really hope the best for the industry for fighting games, and I really want these developers to be able to succeed on a level where we can bring in more people.

Gamers Heroes: One thing I like about it too is that it gets momentum to seeing these reveal trailers. Obviously, Smash Bros. set the gold standard.

MarkMan: That Cloud reveal trailer was good! Yeah, I know what you mean. And like, I’m also happy to support them. And I like how it just keeps the conversation going. 

DC, NetherRealm, and Warner Brothers do a good job of showcasing their DLC with Injustice 2 and the previous Mortal Kombat games.

I felt like they’ve always had a good way of releasing DLC that doesn’t only resonate with the fighting events, but also entertainment and media. 

They touch all – there were so many of the horror villains that you saw go past! They are good about nostalgia, like the Ninja Turtles in injustice 2.

Gamers Heroes: I just have one more question. I’m sure you’ve got some dream guest characters, or is there a Capcom vs SNK 3 you have always wanted to see?

MarkMan: I think everyone wants to see it! It was so polishedl I even love the personality of SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos.

There are a bunch of guests characters and crossovers I’d love to see. 

You know, Harada-san is probably going to hate me for this. Initially, when they announced Street Fighter X TEKKEN, they also knew that there would eventually be a Bandai Namco version of it, TEKKEN X Street Fighter. 

We haven’t seen it yet, but I’m hoping to see that. I loved how they implemented Akuma into the TEKKEN 7. I’d love to see more Capcom characters in the TEKKEN style, or vice versa. 

In terms of guest characters… I don’t know! We’ve seen so many different guest characters that are out there already.

I would say like one of the earliest ones that really kind of like blew my mind was SoulCalibur II’s Link on the GameCube version. That was crazy! I would love to see more big ones like that. 

Gamers Heroes: Oh yeah, absolutely. Personally, I want to see Kazuma Kiryu in TEKKEN 8.

MarkMan: I’m a huge fan of the Like a Dragon series – I think the team at SEGA does a great job with the title. I played the past three games that they released – Yakuza: Like a Dragon and Infinite Wealth. I love them – I would love to see those characters show up in fighting games somehow.

Gamers Heroes: Is there anything else you want to add? 

MarkMan: It was just great talking to you. Thank you, Casey, for your time. 

EVO will return to Las Vegas from July 19-21, 2024. Want to see the action for yourself? Be sure to get your tickets on the official EVO website. One can also check out the EVO Events channel on YouTube, and stay up to date on the event via their @EVO Twitter/X channel.

Finally, fighting game fans can stay connected with MarkMan via Twitter/X and YouTube.

A very special thank you to MarkMan for his time and the FanimeCon staff for this interview opportunity!

Casey Scheld

Casey Scheld has more than 15 years of experience in the gaming industry as a community manager, social media director, event specialist, and (of course) gaming editor. He has previously worked with gaming start-ups like Raptr, publishers like Konami, and roller derby girls at PAX West (check out Jam City Rollergirls)! Gamers Heroes is a passion project for him, giving him a chance to tap into the underground side of gaming. He is all too eager to give these lesser-known heroes of the indie space the attention they so rightly deserve, seeking out the next gem and sharing it with the world. Previously making appearances at events like CES, GDC, and (the late) E3, he is all too happy to seek out the next big thing. For those that want to talk shop, send over a tip, or get an easy win in a fighting game of their choosing, be sure to check out his social media channels below.

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