A week removed from the biggest match of his career, in which he captured the IWGP heavyweight championship and ended the two-year-long reign of New Japan ace Kazuchika Okada, Kenny Omega was on stage at the Capcom booth at E3 in Los Angeles Thursday afternoon, gagging on stage after eating a habanero pepper as a mob of fans watched on.
In what was the culmination of a three-year feud, Omega and his close friend/eternal rival Xavier Woods of the WWE faced off in a first-to-five match in Street Fighter V. Before the main event, Omega and Woods brought along their stablemates, the Young Bucks with Omega and the New Day of Kofi Kingston and Big E with Woods, to do battle in a team relay match in the game. Although the New Day pulled out the victory with Street Fighter expert Omega picking up the lone victory for his team, the crowd urged for "one more match" until the two gaming aficionados agreed to settle the score once and for all.
When it comes to outside conventions and celebrity, sometimes the result can be awkward. A PR team sets up a celebrity with an event, the celeb goes to it, and it's like watching them go through the motions. They're getting paid, the crowd is happy to see them, and everyone is happy. That's not how it was with Omega and Woods, the two leading pioneers in bringing together gaming and pro wrestling over the last few years. Woods created his own gaming YouTube channel, UpUpDownDown, which has amassed over 1.5 million subscribers and has become the de-facto video gaming channel for the WWE; even company CBO Stephanie McMahon has sat down to play besides Woods.
For Omega, his love for gaming has been well-known since he first started wrestling on the independent scene, with even his signature move, the V-Trigger, an ode to the fighting game he loves so much. From his mannerisms in-ring to his promos after matches, Omega's love of Japanese pop culture, anime, and video games have shaped him to who he is today, the man wearing the top prize in all of Japanese pro wrestling.
Together, through their never-ending feud across conventions, esports events, and YouTube videos, the two have seamlessly linked pro wrestling and video games. During the match, the back-and-forth trash talk in-between sets was straight out of a wrestling ring, and the Young Bucks even superkicked the event's announcer in the face. The crowd, a majority of which was comprised of wrestling fans, also had more than a few intrigued onlookers sprinkled in -- and the entirety of the group ate everything that the six performers threw at them.
The New Day chucked pancakes into the crowd, each team delivered their various catchphrases and every time the series would swing one way or the other, fans began pulling for the player that needed to make a comeback to stay in the series.
An event that could have come off as a contrived sponsorship for Capcom turned into the must-see event of the convention. While the Fortnite booth next door was trying to bring over passersby with giveaways and cosplayers on stage, the swarm of fans for the Omega and Woods duel only grew as the match went along. By the time the series reached its climax, both players at four wins apiece and on match point, the crowd was told to squeeze in closer to the stage due to the fact that the audience had become so large it was impossible for convention attendees to maneuver through the horde of bodies.
- The Esports Writer (@FionnOnFire) June 14, 2018
After starting down in the series 0-2, it was Omega who would come out on top in the end, piloting Cody over Woods' Ibuki to take home bragging rights. As the show came to a close, Woods downed habanero peppers to honor a friendly bet made before, and Omega played the classic heel by saying "anything you can do, I can do better". He grabbed one of the peppers and ate it, leading to a final meeting on stage in which each of them, while doubled over in pain on stage, thanked the crowd for coming out.
Leaving hostilities aside for a minute, each group professed their hope that this was simply the first step in their crossover hopes -- with both the New Day and The Elite hoping all of their efforts and good will invested in bringing wrestling and gaming together might one day lead to a once-seemingly impossible crossover between their two wrestling companies.
On this day, however, they were all content in having delighted a crowd for an hour and a half with their antics and showcase in gaming -- with Omega and Woods each paying the price for eating the pepper.
"I've puked three times, and I can now feel the heat moving through my intestine like a stone the size of my fist.... the battle on the other end begins," posted Woods on social media following the event. "Worth it. This is one of the happiest days of my life."
Gaming and pro wrestling, as shown at E3, is a partnership that works, and with Omega and Woods at the forefront, there is no telling how far that partnership can go in the coming years.