Daigo Umehara lifted the VSFighting tournament trophy Sunday as the camera lens focused on his face.
In place of his usual sleepy expression was a beaming smile, a far cry from the player of old that chose to be a rock on the podium. The crowd embraced the return of "Daigod," the legendary player whose name is etched in the history not just of Street Fighter but the fighting game community.
Umehara, perhaps more than any other fighting game player, was known for his stoic appearance during tense moments in-game. His emotionless appearance helped spur on the idea that he was impossible to rattle in any situation. He was the perfect embodiment of his iconic and long-time main character, Ryu.
But this smiling Umehara is a new development. The dominant Guile play that won Umehara his first premier event of the year is another wrinkle in the man's evolution. Welcome to the reintroduction of Daigo "The Beast" Umehara.
His name has been synonymous with the fighting game community for decades -- whether it's through his accomplishments on the screen or his antics and generosity off of it, he is the person most young players name as a role model or a major influence. But even with all the exploits and the fame, Umehara's dominant reemergence as a tournament contender in 2018 could only be summed up with one word: quiet. After his VSFighting win, he sits in a comfortable fifth place on the Capcom Pro Tour standings with 1,202 points and will easily qualify into the finale of the Street Fighter V circuit. The resume for his tour is impressive: six premier event appearances and three top-five finishes (VSFighting, Stunfest 2018 and Northern California Regionals). Still, his name was rarely a conversation-starter for the fighting game community when it came to the August's Evolution Championship Series title contenders or the Capcom Cup in December.
The success began with his character shift to Guile last March before the ELEAGUE invitationals. Umehara's public struggle with giving up on Ryu was well-noted, but with his inconsistencies within the game, it was not a surprise when Umehara finally replaced fireballs with sonic booms. Almost immediately, Umehara found innovative ways to play Guile. It was not enough to just play a pristine projectile game with the military air-bender; Umehara introduced the world to multiple tools on the defense and offense. He was the first to use Guile's high kick (upside-down kick) in the neutral game and the best at utilizing the Rolling Sobat for both movement and poking.
It was Umehara that introduced the annoying crouching light punch as the go-to anti-air in the clutch as well as zoning with V-Trigger 2 when it first came out. All of this came in addition to his "Umeshoryu" instincts that opponents need to be wary of and his knack for inputting a reversal at the most surprising time.
The revival of a legendary career was underway.
Umehara's resurgence came from more than just a character change. though. His gameplay is top-notch, too. He is the only player with the kind of confidence to overhead in defense or walk back from a throw and finish a round with a crouching jab into sonic boom confirm. He's winning not simply because of his name or reputation but because he's truly back to elite form. This is tournament-winning Umehara, the player that boasted back-to-back Evo wins in Street Fighter IV -- the best player in the world.
And he's still the top player that no one is talking about.
Quiet is a perfect word for Umehara. While his gameplay roars on screen with a confidence rarely duplicated, he is a man that shies away from interviews and spotlights. The Japanese player uses his stream and name value to promote his fellow countrymen and keeps most of his own personal life and details away from the public. He donates prize money from major tournaments to education and sales of his book, "The Will to Keep Winning," to help promote the community that idolizes his name. But now, there's something else to be celebrated: the return of an idol to the spotlight.
The Beast is back.