The man of many hats sat down to talk to us about his upcoming projects and a scene which has captured the imagination of so many
My first experience with Ricardo "Mono" Roman was last year during the Central American leg of the Capcom Pro Tour, where players fought tooth and nail to qualify for the Capcom Cup set to hold in just over a month.
There were hundreds of competitors, many of them pretty memorable, including the eventual winner, Mena RD, Kusanagi (who uses a mean Sakura), and Gran Todakai. But, in the midst of these fierce competitors was a F.A.N.G. player that I couldn’t take my eye off. Mono’s F.A.N.G was so nuanced and different that I was immediately drawn to the player. After looking him up, I loved him even more. Mono is a proud Puerto Rican player who has done so much for his scene. He is the owner and founder of the First Attack event, a tournament that spans several games and is one of the most significant gaming events in Puerto Rico. Mono is also well-known within the FGC as a fierce competitor and a huge esports enthusiast. On top of that, Mono is INCREDIBLY generous, as he showed me when agreeing to the interview.
Once I was done looking up Mono, I knew I wanted to talk to him, so I reached out, fully expecting zilch. It took a while, but not only did Mono get back to me despite a punishing schedule, but he was more than happy to answer all my questions. We talked about his involvement in esports, the Puerto Rican scene, and how they have thrived even with what has been a crippling pandemic.
Author’s note: This interview was conducted in the dreaded year of our Lord, 2020. Therefore, the reader will need to keep that in mind going forward
Femi: You are sometimes considered one of the busiest men in the FGC with projects like First Attack and so on, but you have still found time to compete as a player, with your recent run in the Central American CPT a clear example of this. How do you manage to find the time to wear all these different hats?
Mono: It’s funny how you mentioned hats since people always see me wearing a Bison hat at these events, and I’m currently a FANG user and also have that hat, hahaha. To be honest, it is really difficult to find time to compete while producing events, so it's quite challenging. During events, especially First Attack, I really don’t get time to practice. I would just enter events if I found the time to register, like The Online Local East Coast Weeklies and the CPT events. Usually, during other events I host, I’m able to find more time to at least slip in a few hours online or with friends in online lobby, but during FA2020, I was not able to do any of that, just tried to compete in the CPT with a clear mind and take one match at a time. Being a TO and a Competitor at times makes you choose which one to focus on the most, and I really want the esports industry to flourish in both Puerto Rico and Latin America as a whole.
Femi: First Attack has been around for a while. How has this year’s edition (2020) differed from older ones, and are you encouraged by the growth the tournament has experienced in that time?
Mono: Well, this edition was completely different from every other year we’ve hosted First Attack due to the fact that the event was completely ONLINE. So we had to change a physical 2-Day event into a format that was flexible for everyone that wished to compete during the pandemic. So we turned it into a Month-Long Event and added more than double the amount of categories since hosting it online gave us a bit more leeway with schedules, and we could create a reasonable time frame for players to compete since all the tournaments we arranged to start from 6 PM - 10 PM. We also added categories such as Valorant, NBA2k21, Apex Legends, Fortnite, LOL, Rocket League, COD, and many more, including our primary categories, which have always been fighting games.
Femi: 2020 will always be remembered for how the pandemic affected every facet of everyday life, but gaming, in general, has grown, partly because of the pandemic and everyone being stuck at home. How has this new reality affected the Puerto Rican FGC?
Mono: Just as the gaming genre has grown in many areas with the switch to an online format, we also have adjusted reasonably well to this new environment. Of course, many wish to have offline events soon, but for now, we are clear with the situations surrounding us and stay active in the community. Many people, not just in PR, but in the Dominican Republic, U.S., and many other areas, now have weeklies and exhibition events to keep the community and the players active. Currently, there are so many weeklies going on online that now you kinda have to choose because there are so many. That’s a good thing because it means that everyone is doing what they can to keep the scenes alive and growing.
Femi: Traveling has always been one of the biggest problems facing PR players since ticket prices are expensive, besides visa problems and so on. How do you think the new era of online competitions will lead to more exposure for PR players and perhaps increase representation at tournaments?
Mono: Well, Puerto Rico doesn’t require Visas as much to travel to other countries because PR is a U.S. Territory, so we are considered American citizens and have passports. Traveling is very expensive, and not many players have the same opportunities to travel, which is why I feel these online events are even more critical. Because now you get to see players you didn’t even know existed, popping up in online events and showcasing an incredible display of talent in various games. Before, you would not know about them because they can’t travel to majors, but now that the events have shifted to online, it has been made accessible to more players, and now they are getting their names across and becoming well known in the scene.
Femi: Everyone talks about how much they miss offline events, but as we have seen, online events have led to a lot more exposure for the FGC. How will TOs and stakeholders be able to strike a balance between offline events and online events when things eventually return to a semblance of normalcy?
Mono: In my opinion, I feel that the shift to online has made many organizers consider having an online version of events aside from the offline version. I am considering having more online events even after the pandemic goes down because there are many players and communities that get more exposure through this. And even the circuits have seen how players that don’t get to travel automatically make waves in online events. I’m not going to shy away from the fact that online versus offline is not the same and that many of those factors give an advantage or disadvantage when it comes down to competition. BUT, there are a LOT of talented players that have recently shown up and gotten exposure thanks to online events. One of the examples being Strangehail (RYU) from Puerto Rico. He is a Ryu player that does not travel at all, but in 2020, people have begun to know who he is thanks to online tournaments in which he has participated.
Femi: The Caribbean and Central American FGC are known for their closeness, with the likes of Mena RD known for their unabashed support of other players in the scene. Do you think this has improved the performance of some of these players on the world stage?
Mono: I mean, Mena and other players from the Caribbean have always supported the growth of their scenes and are people who are always willing to be part of projects or events close to their region. An example being that both DR and PR support each other in events participating, commentating, and even streaming each other’s events. FA2020 has a Spanish stream for SFV hosted by DPGL from DR, while we hosted the English version of the stream. This is just one of many other examples in which you see this support, and it has only grown since now with everything being online and the need for content, now there are a lot more collaborations coming into play between the regions.
Femi: Besides being a Tournament Organizer, you are also the co-founder of an esports company. What are the prospects for the growth of esports in Puerto Rico?
Mono: I honestly feel that esports has a vast potential in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. First Attack has turned into THE Esports event of Puerto Rico and is also well known abroad. Many more brands are each year realizing just how big this industry is and it’s potential. So I’m hoping that we can only go forward from here on out.
Femi: What are your medium to long-term plans with First Attack?
Mono: Right now, First Attack is an annual event, but lately, with the Road To First Attack events and the requests from many communities to showcase additional categories, it makes me think that First Attack can turn into something that will no longer be once a year. Plus the fact that we are considering both online and offline versions in the future. And I also host other significant events like Winter Clash, which we host at the beginning of the year. And as time passes, more opportunities and collaborations with brands keep happening, so I’m looking forward to a bright future with both First Attack and Esports in general.
Femi: You are well known as an incredible F.A.N.G player, and watching you strut your stuff at the last CPT was a delight; why did you go for such a character? And why do you use him in such an aggressive way?
Mono: The reason why a chose FANG baffles people, including me at times since in SF4, I played M. Bison. So everyone has been like, “why are you not playing Bison in SFV if he’s even stronger than in SF4?”. This is a good question, and to be honest, I use Bison on the side, but I got interested in Fang due to his mechanics. He lacks damage but is a character that maintains control both mid-screen or at a farther range, and when the time comes, he can also be very aggressive. I think I like him mostly because of his mobility. He has a reasonably good walk speed, good normals, and anti-airs— which at the beginning of SFV, not everyone had reliable anti-airs; thankfully, that has changed over the years. I play other characters like Poison and Seth, but I have the most fun with FANG and Seth. Bison, even with his strength, sometimes gets boring. But he does have a lot of interesting tools, so I feel I would be more entertained if I learned ALL of his nifty setups and combos, like when I watch Problem X play.
Femi: Besides First attack, what other projects do you have cooking at the moment?
Mono: Our next project is Winter Clash 2021, along with working out some new collaborations with the new categories I’ve been hosting and gotten to know thanks to First Attack and the communities supporting it. I would also like to try to stream more consistently personally to create content like I once did in SF4 and at the beginning of SFV with Shadowloo Bootcamp, but it’s hard trying to find the time, hosting events, competing, managing an esports team (Team Red Rooster) and creating content (streaming). So it’s really hard to find time for all these while still finding time for those NON-Gaming activities with family.
Femi- Besides gaming and nurturing an entire community, what else do you enjoy doing?
Mono: Well, I like traveling, which is a bit limited now. In Puerto Rico, I try to visit a few spots, with enough precautions, of course. I guess streaming content like I used to is something I would like to do again and host different types of events from time to time. And if I manage to find a lot more extra time on my hands, probably play an instrument.
Femi: We all know players like Caba and Mena RD, but who are some of the other Street Fighter V players within the scene whom we might not have heard of, and who you expect to explode unto the scene soon?
Mono: From Puerto Rico, I would say Strangehail, AJ Martinez, and Olivo. Those are the players that are constantly competing and leveling up as much as they can. I expect to see a lot more from them in the future. There are many other players in the PR scene stepping it up, and I hope to keep at it because I know there is a lot of potential in P.R. it's a matter of dedicating themselves and not getting discouraged.
Femi: Finally, where do you stand on the old school FGC v New school?
Mono: I really had not followed much of this conversation because I don’t feel there is such a huge gap. Like, back in the day, the Old School had a big advantage because we did not have access to so much content, match replays, etc. You had to learn from experience or whatever you were able to find on your own. Now with how much content is available, new players get into the scene with access to all of the knowledge, but they still won’t have the same amount of experience as old school players, but they have the time and determination to catch on fast and exceed them. Old School players are also keeping up because they also have access to content that wasn’t available before, so they can read up on and adapt to the changes. Some might fall behind, but others have shown that they are still huge threats in the scene, as well as the rising prodigies of our generation.
I really don’t have a side on this topic because both sides have vast potential and a lot of room to grow.
A huge thanks to Mono for taking out the time from his busy schedule to do this with us. The Caribbean scene is getting bigger and bigger with more players coming in like Blink esports among others. First Attack will be back this year, and from all indications, it's going to be even grander and better than the previous iterations. I'm looking forward to it!
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