We're just a few days away from Tekken 8, and to say I'm excited is a bit of an understatement. I've been having an absolute blast playing the game—which you can read all about in my Tekken 8 review—and I'm anticipating the next Tekken World Tour in April, which'll give us a great look at the future of the game's competitive scene.
I've been actively watching Tekken tournaments for over six years now, being around for almost all of Tekken 7's lifespan. As we wave goodbye to that game and introduce its faster, more aggressive successor, I sat down with the king of Tekken commentators, Tasty Steve, during the Red Bull Pindrop event to talk about his favourite competitive moments over the years and what he thinks the next few years of Tekken esports will look like.
Some things covered in this interview include:
Tasty Steve's favourite Tekken 7 moment
Up-and-coming regions we should pay attention to in Tekken 8
Players who will thrive with the game's push to aggression
Why more people should be following fighting games and the FGC
PC Gamer: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, your first Tekken and how long you've been in the scene commentating?
Tasty Steve: Okay, so obviously my name is Tasty Steve. I have been playing fighting games competitively since I was 15 years old. So I've been travelling all around the States for it and obviously around the world for it now. But my first Tekken is Tekken 2. I literally got Tekken 2: Greatest Hits. I still have the original disc in my house, by the way, for my first Tekken 2 game. The cover's all scratched up, but it's there. Yeah, I've really just been a fan ever since Tekken 2 and I saw King on the screen. I'm like, "This is kind of amazing," and ever since then I've been attached to the game at the hip.
I love it. And obviously you've been commentating for a pretty long time now as well, you've been in the game for how many years?
So like I said, I've been playing competitively for a very long time but commentary wise, I've been commentating for about 10 or 11 years now actively. It's been crazy because at first it started in a sense where it wasn't really like, "Hey, we're gonna fly you out," or anything like that, because there really wasn't a space for it, but it was literally at random arcades or just on my own time. And it really kind of spun into this big thing now where people want to hear me talk about it even moreso, so I try to learn as much as I can about it.
I really don't keep track of the time but one of my friends, when I moved to the West Coast, he always tells me like "Man, you've been here this long," and by proxy that means I've been commentating for 10 years, like 10 or 11 years. It really does put things in the scope because I swear it's like everything is fast-forward.
Time is a construct! Things just move.
That's why I just keep the beads on, okay [laughs].
The ultimate Tekken 7 moment
You've commentated a lot of Tekken 7 matches, across every event that you have commentated, what was your favourite for Tekken 7?
Oh wow, that's a great question. So there's quite a few—you can't ask me questions like that 'cause I have so many! But one of my favourite moments, I was gonna say commentary, but I think it was just hosting Gamers8 [in July 2023]. It wasn't really the commentary aspect of it, it was more about the sense of seeing the interaction between the players on a personal level. Because a lot of people don't know I was up there watching these guys and I was talking to the crowd. I was like "Guys, you are about to witness history."
And one of the instances was, it was Pakistan versus Korea. And I look over and, like—this story is crazy, and it's important because in Tekken we've never had the opportunity to crown a dominant region in this game as long as it's been around, right? Everybody would say, if you were around early, they would say "It's Japan," "It's Korea," and everybody sprinkles out from there, but we added Pakistan to the mix and now we kind of changed the entire scope of things.
What makes it really interesting, the best part about it and why it stands out the most, is because I literally was talking to the crowd and I was like "Hey guys, you're about to witness history." It's Team Korea which is Ulsan, Chanel and Knee versus Team Pakistan in the grand finals, which is Khan, Atif and Arslan Ash … I looked over to my left and I looked at Knee's face. He was leaning forward looking directly at Arslan and team … I looked over to the right and the entire Team Pakistan was looking right back.
I felt like I was in an anime, I felt like I was between the eyes, like it was harder to breathe, higher atmosphere. Like, yo, this is the craziest instance that I have ever been a part of. And obviously it's still part of the commentary side of it, but the fact that it was so much on the line, it was a country thing. It was about regions. We had never done this before and it being a team tournament meant so much more. So just being in that atmosphere is definitely one of the highlights.
But if we say commentary, I would just say a lot of times like [American major tournament] Combo Breakers and stuff like that. Like me versus [player and commentator] Rick Steeezy at Combo Breaker. Shoutout to my bro [fellow commentator] Rip, me and Rip was on the mic for that. And when I tell you I didn't know that it could go that high for commentary. Didn't know that I was gonna get that hyped. That's the craziest part. I was just like man, there's actually more to this and that really kind of opened my eyes to even more. I've always been a believer but this made me go "Wow, this has unprecedented heights that we have not seen yet," and it made me more excited about the future.
I really like what you said about Pakistan versus Korea as well because since Pakistan came onto the scene in 2019, you cannot pinpoint a dominant region. There are super strong players everywhere, not just in Pakistan, Korea and Japan. But now we're looking towards Tekken 8, I was wondering if there are any regions or players that we should be keeping an eye on? Maybe ones we haven't considered before.
That's a very good question. I will say one of the things that happened in the landscape of Tekken 7 is the fact that a lot of people Stateside, just talking but the US, we got hands-on and that really changed how effective a lot of players were, how strong the regions were. So it really did change things.
But I will say maybe South America and [West] Africa, these guys have been showing up to quite a few events consecutively throughout the year. So we talk about ISF, right? ISF literally takes the players from a region to represent, and you get to see some of the players come [up] with your own eyes like Shaolin, and it really puts things into perspective because these guys don't get to travel.
They really don't get the opportunity to show how good they are and I feel like Tekken 8 is really gonna do that because now a lot more people are paying attention to the game, they're starting to see where it can go. Same thing goes for South America. I remember, oh my gosh, I remember they were telling me how certain players didn't even have Tekken 7. They didn't even own Tekken 7 and were still the best players in their region. I'm like "How are you guys good?" They're like, "We're still playing Tekken Tag [Tournament] on the arcade machines," and I'm like "Wait, wait, so you don't even own the game?"
They're like "No, we just play based off the fact that we watch, we adapt," but they still actively play this game and the same thing goes for [West] Africa. They have so many players that really don't get the opportunity to shine.
So that's one of the things that was awesome about Gamers8 as well as just Tekken 7 as a whole. ISF actually kind of bunches in there because I got to see so many of these regions. And I feel like South America, and I really do feel like [West] Africa are two regions that really will get to shine because we've seen these other regions come to the forefront. But when it comes to representation I feel like there's a lot of spaces: [West] Africa, South America could really get a lot more shine. And I think that's what Tekken 8 is about to do. I think that's really what's gonna propel them.
How countries play Tekken differently
Yeah, I hope that more regions get to come and show what they're all about. One of the coolest things is seeing people from all over the world, seeing how they play the same game so differently from each other. Korean Tekken and Pakistani Tekken feel like two different games.
It's funny because I literally had an interview talking about Arslan Ash and I told them what makes him so strong—you have to remember Korea is considered a pretty defensive style and Japan plays really safe. And if you think about it, Pakistan has this way of adapting to that and playing around that.
When it comes to the hierarchy—actually, it's more of a scale—you can put Korea on the end, and then Japan [gesturing over slightly] here and then you can probably put the United States [gesturing over again] here. Then it's really kind of a sliding bar where you can kind of adjust and see "They play this way" and "Their style really kind of counters this style."
I feel like that's really one of the things about Tekken and regions that you bring up, which is actually important because I feel like Japan and Korea have a similar style but they still counter each other. And there's never really been a style to counter that until the Pakistan Tekken playstyle.
But also there's these other regions, like I said before, like the Philippines region plays completely different. There's so many different avenues to see these different styles and I think that's one of the major points for what's gonna happen in Tekken 8—you're gonna see these styles be explored a lot more. The game is different. so now you're gonna see how these players adapt to it.
I can't wait to see how these new regions and players adapt to it. What is Knee gonna do in Tekken 8, how is he gonna play the game? What's Arslan [Ash] gonna do in Tekken 8? How is Atif [Butt] gonna play? How is Jeondding gonna play? How's Ao gonna play? All these different players, they have to adjust themselves to this new system now, and that's gonna [help] shine a light on the rest of the people trying to make a name for themselves when it comes to Tekken 8.
I'm so glad you brought that up because like you say, Korea traditionally plays quite defensive and Japan traditionally plays quite safe. But Tekken 8 is opting for a more aggressive approach—less 'pokey, pokey, punish' more 'get straight in there.' Can you think of any players who will thrive off the new system?
There's quite a few actually, because I feel like now we're in that aggressive area I feel like a lot of players that were moulded in the online kind of thing … players like AyoRichie, JoeCrush, even Super Akouma will really excel in something like this. And if we talk about some of the old players like Jimmyjtran I feel plays a lot better in some of these situations—if he comes back, who knows?
But there's so many players that could potentially come back and play in this super aggressive style because even though they're leaning more towards the aggressive side of it, once you take away the Heat Engagers it really does go back down to regular Tekken and it becomes a resource management thing. I feel like people look at the fact that the characters [Tekken 7] added like Geese, like Akuma, they're about resource management as well. And I think people who played those characters—who played Eliza, who played Akuma—they will have an advantage when it comes to not only using the Heat gauge in this more aggressive system, but being able to use it when they're supposed to.
You need to have [a mindset of] "Oh, is this gonna kill? I need a way in." You really have to wrap your mind around this game plan. But those players really do kind of stand out … even a player like Kkokkoma because he plays characters that he feels are very strong in general, and once he gets a game plan he's gonna be very "Go, go, go, go, go." But you also have to keep in mind that there's gonna be other characters who excel more in the system. So it restarts the thought process of learning the game at a high level.
But I'm glad you said that because you actually have me thinking about it now. I want to make a list of all the players I feel like would really excel in this new Heat system because obviously there are gonna be small pokes and once the Heat gauge is gone that's one thing. But those initial spots, right?
I remember SpeedKicks, another strong American player, I was doing a stream for the Closed Network Test for Tekken 8. He was like "Yo Steve, you have to start using Heat right at the beginning," I'm like "Wait, what? That's crazy," and it's seeing that attachment and how people are going to adapt and shift their gameplay—that's what I'm really interested in. And you're right about that, those players are quite a few—like Gosain as well—more of them are [coming to me].
The future of the competitive scene
I think it's going to be really interesting to see who maybe struggled to adapt initially and who, right off the bat, is straight on it and thriving. I'm really excited to see that. You've done a lot for the Tekken 7 competitive scene over the years, where do you see Tekken 8's competitive scene in five years?
I've always felt this way, but I feel like there's only a matter of time before we're in these huge baseball, football, soccer [stadiums] … I think there's only a matter of time before we get to the point where we're filling up these arenas … you're gonna see people that come to the game for the first time and then you're gonna see those people returning.
I think those things combined will give us one of the largest audience pools ever, because there's so many people that will be coming back to the game casually right? There's not many people who don't know who Eddy Gordo is because Tekken 3 was there, and now the first DLC character is, boom, Eddy Gordo. So [Bandai Namco's] aware that they're talking to a lot of these players and these people who were introduced to like, Tekken 3—the entire cast from that game is already back in Tekken 8—and I think that it really does set the stage for it to be one of the biggest fighting game ever.
Tekken is the only remaining active 3D fighting game at this point. So there's literally so many people that are gonna pull into it, and I've seen how all these other players coming from the 2D [fighter] background, coming from the anime [fighter] background who've been pointing out, "Hey man, I'm gonna try Tekken 8," because they talk about how the skill of Tekken 8 transfers from game to game. And I've literally been selling people on the idea that this game itself really is the next step.
They made training mode better, they're giving us new characters and also they've rethought the process of giving people the opportunity to play the game. They've thought about the visual aspect. Slow-mo [action shots] are still there. We've been the game to push forward … now other games are doing the slow-mo, they want to do it because they know how hype it's been. I really do see us going to the highest point.
I've hosted events in front of thousands of people at this point and even now I'm still like "Man, I can't believe we're gonna go higher from this." I've been to Vegas where it's been [someone teling me] "Yeah man, it's like 8,000 people." I'm like "There's 8,000 people here, right now?!" … In the next five years we're gonna be in these huge stadiums. We're gonna be in these concert arenas because that's how big I feel Tekken is gonna be. It could just be me and, you know, that could be my optimism kicking in!
Like, I'm a huge believer in our community and fighting games in general and I just can't wait for it to get there. So I might be a little bit ahead of the curve, but it's coming! I promise you, it's coming.
Why the FGC matters
I feel it in the water. I'm glad you said this because fighting games, they're still kind of niche when it comes to competitive gaming as a whole. They're not as universally recognised as Fortnite, League etc. I could see a future where we're spectating and playing in huge venues so I want you to tell people why the FGC (fighting game community) matters so we can reach that point. Why should they pay more attention to Tekken and to fighting games?
So the thing about fighting games—and I love having this conversation about why people should pay more attention to the community and to fighting games. The thing is, there's no sport that will allow you to play with and against the best players in the world instantly. You [usually] just have to be that good.
There's no barrier of entry to a tournament, you can be like "Hey, there's a tournament in this place. I'm gonna go, I'm gonna pay my money. I'm gonna enter and I believe I'm that good that I'm going to beat everyone here." And what if you are? What if you show up to a tournament and you play Knee and you win, do you know what that does? That's gonna send a ripple across the community. You come to a tournament, you play Arslan Ash and you win? That's going to send a ripple across the entire world.
It's a true testament to the skill and the ingenuity of a lot of these players to come into a brand-new game and say "Well, look I have enough confidence to where I think I can beat this person, I can beat that person."
[The FGC is] one of these spots where it's for everybody. Like anybody can come, anybody can sit up on that stage. I've seen grandmothers, I've seen kids, I've seen granddads. I've seen literally everyone play in a competitive tournament. It doesn't matter your walk of life, it doesn't matter where you come from. On top of that, if you think about the fact that they're adding visual aids for people who are impaired, those things are so important. I feel like they're taking the steps to [gain] more exposure and get more people in the space.
That's why you need to pay attention to it because it's such a [community where] you can get a guy off the street like, "You know what? I played this back in the day, I could round up some money and enter a tournament or my local, or just play on my own. Let's see how this goes." … You can win and no matter what, it's still that space for you.
So whether you choose to stay, whether you choose to go back and practice a little bit and then come back and play in a tournament…it's so many different avenues. I also think it's a gateway to seeing all these different regions of the world and how they experience the game, and just meet cool people. I love meeting new, cool people.
I feel like fighting games and the community in general is one of those things that caters to that idea of the competitive aspect, the camaraderie aspect as well as the exposure aspect and then making a space for everybody to come and enjoy these things at the same time. So it literally covers so many bases when it comes to games and competitiveness and camaraderie.
That's one of my favourite things too. Even someone like me who only had around 50 hours in Tekken 7 seriously, I ended up on stage twice and played [Tekken World Tour finalist] Tibetano.
Yeah you played Tibetano, right? That dude won and came to the Tekken World Tour finals. You're proving my point!
Yeah, it's one of my favourite things and I totally agree. That's why people should pay attention. Thank you so much Steve!
Correction: A previous version of this article mentioned South Africa as a region you should be paying attention to when it comes to competitive Tekken. Tasty Steve meant to say West Africa, which has now been corrected.