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The Search for the First Street Fighter King

In esports, there may be no greater starter than Tomo Ohira, yet he isn’t a household name or a go-to for competitive excellence. And it’s not because “esports aren’t real sports”—it’s because he disappeared at the peak of his powers.

Ohira became a pioneer in his arena because of two words and one Roman numeral: Street. Fighter. II. The arcade classic broke the mold for the way esports were played when it dropped in malls and boardwalks in 1991 in two big ways.

First, it brought the breakthrough focus back to big-box arcade games after the success of Nintendo and the home-console gaming market. Second, it changed the focus of competitive scoring to actual matchups rather than high scores. As a 1v1 fighting game, you picked a character, mastered moves with a chess master’s strategy and a ninja’s reflexes, and took the fight directly to a human being standing right next to you. This was a major leap from waiting for the scrolling leaderboard of three-letter monikers after the GAME OVER message to see where your score ranked.

Because of the new energy and level of competition it brought to arcades across the world, Street Fighter II exploded, and soon, so did the tournament scene around it. In southern California, that tournament scene featured early masters like Jeff Schaefer and Mike Watson, legends in their own right who pioneered a higher level of play and came to dominate the arcade scene. Schaefer even became so good that he got banned from some competitions because it was a foregone conclusion that he would win.

That’s when Ohira entered the scene. An unassuming 13-year-old kid with a quiet demeanor, Ohira dominated all takers, making no mistakes and achieving a savant-like excellence that stunned even master fighters like Schaefer and Watson. In the 1994 super tournament featuring the three, Ohira didn’t lose a single match.

Then, he quit. Really. He just walked away from his sticks and into the sunset.

No one in the gaming community knew what became of Ohira ... until now. Great Big Story found Ohira living a quiet, unassuming life with his family near the arcades that used to be the coliseums where he forged his greatness.

For Ohira, that greatness was exhilarating, until it wasn’t. As he sees it, “When something is done, you should realize it, face it and let it go.” He had mastered Street Fighter II and all his competition, and he moved on.

“If I could turn the clock back and do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing,” Ohira says.

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