Luffy’s Ultimate Street Fight
French professional gamer sets sights on winning Red Bull Kumite.
To his family, he remains simply Olivier Hay.
But to the wider eSports fraternity he is referred to as Luffy, the moniker taken from a Manga character.
In his home city of Paris this weekend, Luffy has his sights set on one of the few things missing from his career resumé as a professional gamer, the Red Bull Kumite title.
Luffy, the first European to win the prestigious Evolution Championship Series – achieved in 2014, explains: “I want to win Kumite. I’ve never done it before, I’ve got a good chance and this is one of the big three for me.” The 30-year-old’s signature game is Street Fighter 5, using the character R.Mika, less because of her fighting prowess and more simply because he liked the character’s design. But he has become one of the leading protagonists of the game, travelling the world with regularity to competitions and earning sizeable sums in prize money.
For once this week, though, he can travel from his Parisian home to the competition where he will be the home favourite. “People have their favourite characters in France but they will always cheer for the French person,” he says from his home in the French capital. “And for me, it’s great just to be home. I don’t have to travel far for it or worry about jet lag. That’s a big advantage.”
In preparation, Luffy focuses on Street Fighter 5 some 12 hours a day. Interestingly, he says just 30% of that time is spent on actually playing the game – usually between the hours of 8pm and 2am when most other gamers are online. The rest of the time is spent on watching his rivals.
“I spend maybe 70% of the time analysing opponents,” he says. “I know the people who will be at Kumite and there’s lots of competitions – one in Australia recently – so I’ll watch most of their videos to see any weaknesses.”
As for his own chances at Kumite, Luffy describes them as 50-50 but much depends on the draw and which gamers – but more pertinently their Street Fighter 5 characters – he will come up against, namely the gamers Nemo and Infiltration.
Luffy’s interest in games began with role-playing ones growing up before the fighting games genre became his focus. He started with local competitions before national and then international ones, quitting a nine to five job as a project manager at global advertising company Havas – with initial concern from his parents – to become a professional gamer.
“At first my family were definitely nervous because then it was kind of new,” he says. “So they didn’t agree at first but now they see what’s happened and they’re very supportive.”
Interest in eSports has rocketed with playing numbers, viewing figures and prize money going through the roof, and Luffy is relishing riding that crest of a wave.
“It’s exploded and it’s exciting to be a part but I’m 30 and maybe it’s more exciting for players that are 18 years old,” he says. “I like to think I can play until I’m 40. “But it’s hard. Being a professional gamer is tough, you have to be the very best in the world.”
He has done that before with his Evolution success, a result he hopes to repeat at Kumite this weekend.