In the first of three features on athletes who will feature in Hangzhou, CNA’s Matthew Mohan speaks to a man whose journey has taken him from the arcade to the Asian Games.
SINGAPORE: Brandon Chia’s journey to the Asian Games began many years ago at a Tampines Mall arcade.
While his mother shopped for groceries every Friday, Chia would get S$5 to spend. And there was one game that caught his eye – Street Fighter Alpha 2.
“I wasn’t good (at Street Fighter), so S$5 was sufficient to survive an hour,” 30-year-old Chia recalled.
“It was just something that appealed to me – that it’s a very different game compared to every other game. It stood out and it was very unique to me,” he said.
As arcades soon began to enforce stricter rules with regards to children on the premises, Chia turned to playing Street Fighter at home instead.
“As far as games go, I was never really one to play excessively. Even back when I was a kid, it was just playing (for) an hour or two,” recalled Chia, who will be Singapore’s sole e-sports representative at this month’s Asian Games.
E-sports will feature as a medal event at the Asian Games for the first time in Hangzhou. A total of seven games will be included and Chia will compete in Street Fighter V.
Despite Chia’s interest in Street Fighter, a different hobby would soon occupy his time.
In secondary school, he tried out and was selected for the snooker co-curricular activity. As the years went on, he found himself improving.
Chia recalls winning four out of the five local junior competitions when he was 18, and doing well in open category tournaments as well. He went on to represent Singapore in Under-21 events at the Asian and world level.
But in his words, this was when Chia “peaked”.
“Unfortunately for me, I feel that I peaked too close to (enlistment in) army and because of army constraints, I couldn’t perform to the level that I wanted,” he explained.
“I was deteriorating a lot faster than I wanted to. It wasn’t good for me mentally. I’m not having fun, I’m not enjoying (it). At the end of the day, to me, it’s not all about winning, but it’s more about self-satisfaction.”
And so he called time on snooker.
‘YOU JUST HAVE TO PERSEVERE’
Meanwhile, Chia continued to play Street Fighter, this time against other players online.
“It was kind of always like a childhood hobby. Even when I was competing in snooker, I was … still playing a little bit, just not at a competitive level,” he said.
Chia was eventually introduced to members of the Street Fighter community, such as professional gamer Ho Kun Xian, in 2016.
“Back then, there was the Alienware Gaming cafe in Chinatown which is now closed,” he recalled. “They used to hang there almost every Friday, and then I would just join them … when I was free.”
This environment also brought out his competitive side, recalled Chia, who competed in his first major tournament in 2017 and finished in the top 20.
“I actually got to play one of my fighting game heroes – “Tokido” (professional player Hajime Taniguchi) – in my very first tournament, which was a very enlightening experience … So I found it fun and never looked back.”
Along the way, there were highs and lows, said Chia, who was crowned Intel World Open SEA Champion in 2021. The same year, he finished third in the Capcom Pro Tour Southeast Asia and in the Evolution Championship Series 2021 Online Asia South.
Chia went on to win the Capcom Pro Tour Southeast Asia last year.
“There were a lot of losses when I went for tournaments, there were some wins … And I think like any other sport, it is quite mentally discouraging,” he explained.
“But you just have to persevere and with time, improvement will come and results will come – it’s just how much effort you’re willing to put in and how determined you are.”
There are two things about Street Fighter which appeals to Chia, the first being that it is an individual game.
“I always preferred individual sports or games. Even when I watch TV, I prefer sports like golf, tennis, badminton, table tennis, snooker. I like to watch bowling sometimes,” he explained.
“Second, I like the reward that comes with it. If I do well in a tournament, I won’t have to say somebody ‘carried’ me.”
Throughout his Street Fighter endeavours, Chia has had the backing of a supportive family.
“My family has always been very supportive about it. Thankfully my parents are not old fashioned. They’re quite open minded about a lot of things, they’ve been very supportive my whole life. So I’m very thankful,” he said.
The support from his wife in particular has always been “immense” added Chia.
“She’s definitely seen the decline of my snooker, she has seen that phase. So when I started to find love in competing in another sport/game, she was like: ‘Just go and do it’.”
A ‘HARSH REALITY’
Chia, who works in the oil and gas industry, typically practices four times a week for about four hours. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays are for time with his family, and it is important to strike a balance to prevent burn out, he said.
“There are still times where I overdo it, there are times where I am … ill-disciplined and I practice on a Sunday. I usually don’t do that, but there are days that when I start, I don’t stop,” he said.
“For example, I can play in the afternoon at 2 to … 7pm. And then if that happens, it will catch up with me slowly later in the week … When that happens, (and) I feel too tired, I usually take a half a week break just to completely re-energize myself.”
But improvement comes with practice, Chia stressed.
“Maybe I do pick up things faster than other people, but I don’t consider myself talented. If you’re a beginner and you pick up the game, if you have fun and you practice enough, it’s only a matter of time before you reach a certain level,” he said.
As part of his preparations for the Asian Games, Chia regularly practices with players from countries such as Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan. These include top players familiar to the gaming community like Taniguchi, “Oil King” (Leevy Lin) and “Bonchan” (Masato Takahashi).
“These guys really push my mental focus and I’ve just stuck to it ever since,” he said.
“Usually when I practice with people … I don’t really focus on winning; I think improvement is key. When I find problems … after the matches are done, I will just spend 15 minutes to half an hour in training mode … and identify what happened.
((If) I made a mistake, like point one, two, three, I’m going replay those three points and see what I can do about it.”
There is both a physical and mental aspect to fighting games like Street Fighter, added Chia.
“You can play six hours a day, seven days a week, for one year or two years and you will just develop that side … like reactions for example, and then there’s some muscle memory stuff that you don’t think about and it just happens,” he explained.
“There’s like the mental aspect – in a tournament, your focus level has to be really high, because matches are usually fast … So being able to have a high focus level, being able to adapt quickly, having your strategies prepared, I think these things are equally important in your growth as a player.”
In competitions, the “harsh reality” of the formats means that players can be eliminated within minutes, said Chia.
Keeping one’s focus is vital, stressed Chia. He tries to find a quiet corner before matches to do “mental simulations” of possible game scenarios.
“It works for me because I have a very high focus when I get it. But if I lose it, I don’t get it back. So that’s my problem. So if I don’t switch myself on before a match, I would just not be switched on at all,” he explained.
“I just imagine my character going up against my opponent’s character, without reading my notes (or) how I want to play the match up. Mentally have everything ready, whatever is there, whatever is prepared – have it ready to go on the fly.”
Chia likens the approach to going for an exam.
“You study, you remember it, and you go and do your best. It is the same approach, just trying to ingrain it into my head and then be focused enough to be able to adapt on the fly,” he added.
Having represented Singapore at sporting meets, Chia is no stranger to what it feels like to fly the flag.
“From from a competitive point of view, I’m are not going to be overwhelmed by the occasion,” he said.
While it would be “special” to clinch a medal, it is tough to set “realistic expectations” because he does not know what to expect, added Chia.
He said: “It is the Asian Games, it is still a big tournament. So I’m just going give my best effort.”
Source: Channel News Asia