Pro Gamer Tokido: How a Prestigious Education Goes Hand-in-Hand with Gaming

Five hundred and sixty thousand dollars in prize earnings. Known in North America as one of the "five fighting game gods of Japan." But his journey has been marked by slumps and struggle.

In the world of eSports, where background does not matter and winning is the be-all and end-all, Tokido (Taniguchi Hajime) is known as a rather unusual gamer.

He had attended the renowned Azabu Junior High and High School (Tokyo), and went from there to the University of Tokyo—considered the top university in Japan—before becoming a professional gamer. Throughout his career, he has had to face people lamenting the "waste" of his education and the career path he chose despite his degree from the country's top university.

Tokido was born in 1985, the year that Super Mario Bros. was released. At nine years old, he played the game with his cousin, and became immediately hooked. Once he entered junior high, he began going regularly to arcades, eventually challenging adults to play against him.

His trajectory, up to this point, may not be so unusual for a pro gamer.

But what sets Tokido apart is his resolve. After making his professional debut in 2010, he developed a battle strategy (called "Tokido-style") that would eliminate risk and ensure victories. And in 2013, he threw it all out the window.

"I'd underestimated fighting games,"

Tokido says, looking back at the time of his life. As he became increasingly unable to win, he rejected everything about his playstyle and his fixation on winning.

What if he instead learned from his losses? As he put this into practice, he began to realize that the other gamers, who he had previously thought of as rivals, were in fact invaluable comrades.

He also learned that these comrades were each pursuing their own battle strategies, their own quirks and "themes," and that because of this, they would sometimes choose to play characters with lower potential on purpose. Once he understood that being a professional gamer meant playing with heart, with humanity, he was able to compete again, head-on.

One of the "Five Gaming Gods of Japan"

"I've been enjoying myself, seeing if I can get ten wins online with Dhalsim (a character in the Street Fighter fighting game series), for example." 

The Tokido of the past would have never said such a thing. This new Tokido, however, went on to clinch victories in a number of international tournaments—including EVO, the world's largest-scale fighting game tournament, in 2017, as well as the Canada Cup, a part of the Capcom Pro Tour, two years in a row in 2018 and 2019. 

His newfound love for the characters and his acceptance of his rivals as "comrades" all devoted to the same cause was what paved the way for his comeback and victories.

Tokido is now known in North America as one of the "five fighting game gods of Japan," and has earned $560,000 in prize money across his career, making him the second highest-earning pro gamer in Japan. Last year, he was even selected to be a member of a committee comprised of players from international eSports organizations, becoming the only Japanese member of the committee. This fact has served to demonstrate the level of recognition that he has achieved abroad.

Tokido is also known as "Murder-Face" abroad, because of how "scary" his face can look while gaming. But in his everyday life, his facial expressions are gentle.

While he regularly streams himself playing games, he makes time every other day for weightlifting, and even takes karate lessons. The balance he maintains between his mental health, his training, and his physical health have earned him many young admirers.

As a writer, I personally have heard from many a teenager that they would like to be a gamer in the future. One of them was a high schooler who had stopped going to school.

I said to him, casually, something Tokido had mentioned to me during the interview.

"Tokido said you should study English, because you're going to have rivals all over the world, and matches abroad too." Upon hearing this, the high schooler began to study again, determined to "fight" at the world level.

The way Tokido has lived his life has the potential to inspire people and guide them in a more positive direction in their own lives. He is a very real, very unique example of someone who represents not a "waste" of talent, but a creative and clever use of talent.

Tokido's journey has even been featured in American eSports media as "The Story of Tokido." the Score esports-YouTube

Interview and writing by Park Sooni
Translation by Amitt

*This article was provided by Newsweek Japan (published August 10, 2021).