“Ever since I was 14, I wanted to be the best Ken in the world!”
As Chris Tatarian speaks these words, it would be insulting not to notice the passion behind them. The 25-year-old professional Street Fighter player, better known as Chris T, pauses after this statement. He takes a breath, and repeats it.
“Ever since I was 14, I wanted to be the best Ken in the world.”
Ken Masters is a character in the popular fighting game Street Fighter, and Chris T is a popular character in the Street Fighter scene. With his command of Ken’s character and in-game knowledge, he has made a name for himself in Street Fighter’s competitive world, qualifying for the Capcom cup twice and being one of the few go-to men for Ken gameplay. His history and the history of the game would be forever linked.
To think, this all started when he was three.
“I have a memory of Street Fighter, it’s probably my earliest memory, when my older brother came home with Street Fighter 2 on the Sega [Genesis],” Chris T recalled. “I was hovering over the character Ryu, but I couldn’t pick Ryu because my older brother wanted to play him. So, I went down one and picked Ken. It was like an Avatar moment when everything felt aligned. I was 3 or 4 years old at the time.”
Yet it would be over ten years later until Chris T would truly find his passion for the game.
For his fourteenth birthday, Chris T wanted what every 14-year-old wants: a video game. Unlike most 14-year-olds, Chris T speaks of a Divine Intervention which helped him choose one. When he walked into the store, his brother wanted him to buy a different game, but as Chris T walked by, a game called out to him. The game was none other than Street Fighter IV.
“People think I’m crazy when I say it but I truly felt it was Divine Intervention,” he said. “As I walked by Street Fighter IV, I heard a voice telling me to get it. I was already at the counter with my Dad when I ran back and got it off the shelf.”
It was after this memory that Chris T’s tone changed. He had been incredibly lively, but after recalling this moment, you could feel his smile through the phone. He elaborates that he fell in love with the game “immediately,” and he just knew. Turning on the game, he selected Ken, and after getting reacquainted with the controls, Chris T started to play online. Through this online play, the community started to recognize him as the Ken player he would eventually become, giving him confidence and clarity not only that the game was special, but that he was good at it.
Then, one day while browsing the internet, he stumbled across an ad for the Evo Grand Finals.
“I thought, ‘Damn, people are playing this for money? Why can’t I do that? Why can’t I be one of the best?’”
After doing more research, Chris T discovered that to qualify, players have to attend in-person offline tournaments, and lucky for him, Wednesday Night Fights was an hour away. So, he got in the car with some friends and started regularly going to these events, grinding his skills and eventually heading to professional tournaments.
It would be easy to say, “The rest is history,” but in truth, this is only the beginning.
Throughout the scene, Chris T would meet Street Fighter legends like Tokido, his eventual teammate Fudo, and his hero and fellow Ken player, Yusuke Momochi.
While he was consistently in the scene, it would be three more years before he was signed by Mad Catz at age 17. This is when Chris T said he first felt like a professional player. While Mad Catz eventually disbanded, it was at this time when he started to learn what it takes to be a professional player. As he continued to play through the years, he kept learning, and says he is still learning to this day.
“There’s the ten thousand hours master cliché, you know, if you spend ten thousand hours doing something you’ll be a master at it. And that’s true. If you truly care about it, you’ll be a master at it, but what people don’t understand is what goes into it.”
“Being a professional means you dissect every single microsecond, movement, micro-everything once round one starts.”
Chris T goes on to mention that, even if you do all that, sometimes the match doesn’t go in your favor.
“There’s a lot of luck involved sometimes. In basketball, there’s a form to every shot, but sometimes a Street Fighter match can come down to basically a flip of a coin. You have to accept that some losses are going to happen. Your job is to go back and look at why you were put in that situation in the first place.”
Looking at why is a big task unto itself involving constant replay viewings, an establishment of where things went wrong, and an attempt to find patterns in your opponent’s move-set and gameplay. Other than watching your own matches for mistakes, this is also accomplished by doing massive amounts of research beforehand. With the rise of technology, every match, highlight, loss, etc. is recorded and put on display for the world to see. This allows players to watch their opponents in numerous environments and collect massive amounts of data on who they’ll be playing against.
It’s a double-edged sword, because while you can learn everything there is to know about an opponent, they can learn everything there is to know about you.
“You put more time into thinking than you do the mechanics,” Chris T said. “I remember back in 2017, I was walking with Tokido down a street in Tokyo, and I asked him about training methods. He goes to his backpack and pulls out eight notebooks, completely full of notes about players he played against. He said there’s like 50 more back home. Tokido spends 10 hours a day practicing, four playing and six thinking.”
It’s this thinking which makes professional Street Fighter players so successful at what they do, yet also adds a tremendous amount of pressure on them. When Chris T qualified for his first Capcom Cup in 2016, where, “Just qualifying makes you one of the greats,” he said there was a weight off his shoulders for “A split second.”
“That moment of qualifying is such a heartwarming and emotional moment, and then you realize, oh damn, I gotta start studying.”
It’s a year-long process to qualify for the Capcom Cup, the most prestigious Street Fighter tournament with a grand prize of $250k. If you obtain enough points through tournament wins or placements to pass a certain threshold, you qualify for the competition. Chris T had spent years with the game, through its many updates and additions, facing some of the best players in the world. He had watched match after match, played hour after hour, and when all was said and done, he went 0-2.
“It was the worst feeling,” he said. “But sometimes, it happens. Some of the best players who were favored to win went 0-2. I was still upset, but then Justin Wong, who’s one of the greatest American Street Fighter players, told me something. ‘This is the greatest 0-2 of your life.’”
Chris T goes on to explain that while he may have lost two matches, he lost two matches at the Capcom Cup. That’s like failing to place at the Olympics. Yes, you didn’t win, but you still got to compete in the Olympics.
So, in 2018, the next time Chris T qualified for the tournament, he didn’t resolve to take home the grand prize, his goal was pure and simple: win one match.
And he did.
“My first match was against my former teammate and the odds were 88 percent against me,” he recalled. “I was fighting for something more than just the tournament. Then I won 3-0. It was a statement. Now I can happily say, ‘I won a match at Capcom Cup!’”
This was not the only major milestone Chris T accomplished that year. That honor is shared with something else that will also be etched into his mind forever: beating his childhood hero, Momochi.
Chris T and Momochi have a long history together. At age 15, Chris T got Momochi’s autograph on his hat. When Chris T visited Japan, he stayed with Momochi, met his family, and played the game with him constantly. Momochi has been an inspiration for Chris T, not only as a fellow Ken player, but as a mentor.
So it was a great loss when Momochi stopped playing Ken in the later Street Fighter games due to a nerfed moveset, signalling to the community that maybe it was time for people to look at other characters. Chris T wasn’t having it, as Ken was “the only thing keeping me in the game.”
In September of 2018, he got his chance to prove Ken’s worth. In that year’s SoCal regionals, Chris T faced Momochi in a mirror match. They both sat down, with Chris T picking Ken like usual, ready for whatever Mimochi had to throw at him. Mimochi also picked Ken. The crowd erupted as the stadium braced for what would be the match of the century.
When the dust settled, one man stood victorious: Chris T.
To an outside audience, this seems to be the moment where Chris T achieved his dream to become the best Ken in the world. To Chris T, it was different.
“We’re both the best Kens,” he explains. “I have the utmost respect for Momochi; he sees the character in a different way. If we played again, he might win next time.”
Does this mean Chris T didn’t achieve his dream? No, it means his dream evolved.
“What I like is that people identify me as a Ken master, rather than the best Ken in the world,” he said.
Having accomplished these milestones, and with the world of Street Fighter ever-changing, Chris T is starting to explore a new passion: music. Taking up the moniker “Zen,” Chris T uses his music to express himself in ways he couldn’t in the competitive gaming spotlight. He’s most recently used his music to call out atrocities facing Armenia and to spread awareness.
While this is a new field, Chris T said that gaming has actively helped him make connections in the music industry. During hip hop gaming collaborations, many artists have reached out to Chris T via social media for tips, tricks, and coaching. He’s even worked with Ne-Yo. Still, Chris T says he has a long way to go before he’s made it, and he knows the grind is worth it.
“Something I learned from Street Fighter that I’m applying to music is that it takes time,” he said. “I didn’t become a Ken master quickly. It took time. I won’t be a rap master in a year. It’ll take time.”
As he continues to advance his music career, Chris T continues to play competitively, and has since become a member of Ford Models, which he notes he is grateful to be a part of.
Before Chris signed off, he had one final message, spoken directly to those who would want to follow in his gaming footsteps.
“I want to say something that could go a long way for someone who wants to be a professional gamer. Your mind is going to be tested like you’ve never been tested before, but in a different way. How people perform in clutch situations and handle stress, those types of human beings are people you should be studying. Watch people succeed under these moments, and hopefully something will click in your brain. It’s these moments that are what makes someone a professional.”
When he was 14, Chris T knew he wanted to be the best Ken in the world. While that may not be his title, he’s done something more important: he has Ken mastered.