Interview with the professional Killer Instinct player Nicholas "NickyFGC" Iovene
The Killer Instinct professional scene has a long and storied history, with the latest installment being around for eight years already. It had seen it all – ups, with World Cups, Combo Breakers, being present at Evo, and lows, with no major tour and a seemingly disinterested community. But the latter assessment couldn't be more wrong: the community of this game is as passionate and as hungry for events and wins as ever. The latest tournament, KI Lives, held by Twitch Rivals and hosted by the one and only Maximilian Dood, made it quite clear and apparent. We spoke with NickyFGC, one of the most prominent members of the KI community, about professional gaming, the importance of bringing back KI, and many other things.
Hello Nicky. You won Combo Breaker in 2019, which was, for all intents and purposes, a World Cup for Killer Instinct. Do you feel that by winning it, you reached the peak of competition, or is there anything more to achieve?
Hi. Believe it or not, there are still some things I have yet to do. In my time in Killer Instinct, I never got the chance to win the KI World Cup, which is one of the biggest events, obviously, because it's like our Super Bowl. We spend an entire year playing in tournaments and earning points for the prestigious KI World Cup. And then at the end of the event, you have the finale, which is just like the Capcom Cup or the Tekken World Tour. That's our big one. And I got ninth in the first one and I got fourth in the second. So I'm looking to try to change the script this time and finally win a KI World Cup.
You lost at KI Lives and Combo Breaker 2017 to Wheels. Would you say that he, or anyone for that matter, is your rival? Do you feel any additional motivation while facing the opponents that you have previously lost to?
Yeah, I definitely consider Wheels a rival. We've definitely gone back and forth in tournament scenarios before. I've beaten him in tournaments online and offline. He's beaten me in tournaments online and offline. So it kind of just depends on the day, depends on what kind of mood we're in, and how we're playing that day. It could always really go either way. And I do feel like that for a bunch of players in Killer Instinct, whether it's Bass or RavenisRaw, there are some players that I've both beaten and I both lost to. It really kind of just depends on the day and how we're playing that day and who the better player is on that given day.
You came in third place with COVID at KI Lives. How did it impact your gameplay? Did it hinder you from showing your best or was it already past its worst when you were playing at this tournament?
I think I still played my best despite having the illness. I didn't feel all that great, and there are definitely some lingering effects while I was playing. But what did help was, while having COVID, I was resting a lot. Because the event was on Monday, I hadn't touched the game since Wednesday or Thursday the week before. So I was away from the game until the day of the event. And then, a few hours before the event started, I played and I felt super fresh, so maybe that break was what I needed. And I came back into the game, kind of doing some new things and had a new approach. So it was kind of almost a blessing in disguise that I was able to rest up for this event.
Would you say that sometimes it's better to not overthink or overprepare for a tournament and just to rest mentally to be a clean slate before the event?
Yeah, without a doubt. I feel like so many people get lost in the notion that, "Oh, I have to train constantly to win this tournament or else," or, "If I train more than everybody else, I'm going to win." And there is some truth to that. But at the end of the day, the person who plays the best in the event, that's the person that's going to win. So training is going to give you the by-product of winning, but it's not going to be a guarantee that if you train more than everybody else, that you'll win. I had very minimal training within the week before Twitch Rivals, yet I placed better than most people. Only the first place and second place players beat me. And to say that everybody else didn't train enough would probably be an insult. So, for me, I didn't train very much because I couldn't, and I didn't feel very well. So there are two different ways to look at it, I guess.
You're known to have tons of in-game knowledge and you make videos on how to break with every character. And at the tournament itself, you broke a lot of combos on frame one. Is this something that comes with in-game knowledge or does your intuition come into play more? Or is it, perhaps, your opponent knowledge? What helped you the most with this?
Ultimately, I feel like it's a combination of many things. It's a little bit of game knowledge because you have to know what characters can combo off of certain openers. So if I think that this character is going to go into a light off of this opener every single time, then I know that's the only thing I can break there. If I have the idea in my head that, "Okay, I've seen this player do this like three or four times already, I'm just going to commit to this," and nine times out of ten, I seem to be right with that. So I'll commit to player based reads, and I'll go off of game knowledge, like where they are on the screen, what they could possibly get from that combo. If I know that they can't get a heavy, it could only be a medium or a light, then that gives me a 50/50 shot of being correct on that aspect as well. So it's a little bit of educated guessing if you will.
You played Fulgore and Mira. What is your thought process behind the decision to main these characters?
Well, Fulgore was the character that I first started with back seven years ago, and I was always in love with him. I thought he was such a cool character. Then I realized that he fits my play style super well because I like to play slow and methodical, and then, once I get the initial hit, I start going crazy and teleporting all over the place, and going for left-right high-low mix-ups. So in certain matchups where I like to lock my opponent down and never let them breathe or completely zone them out, I'll go with the Fulgore pick. But if I want to go for massive damage and fly all over the screen, then I'll go for Mira, who is very different in her archetype. She's got an anime-style air dash. She has the ability to put these bats on the screen that control a lot of space and she just flies everywhere. And if she does get the hit, if she gets a lockout or a counter breaker, she can take like an entire life bar. She's really a huge damage output character. So two kinds of different characters that I use for two different sets of matchups. So there are player matchups, and then there are character match-ups. If I know I do better against a certain character with Fulgore than Mira, then I'll stick with Fulgore. But if I think I'm better against the player with Mira rather that Fulgore, then I'll use her instead, like I did with Bass. So I kind of look at two different things while I'm choosing what characters to use for certain matches.
You picked Mira into Gargos in the last game against Wheels only to be eliminated. What advantages do you think Mira has over Fulgore in the Gargos matchup? Why did you pick her?
So it was two to one, and I just had lost with Fulgore. I felt like I could always beat his Gargos with my Fulgore, but I didn't want to take the chance of it being two to two and then me being stuck on Fulgore and then him being able to switch to Eagle. I really want to avoid that match up because I'm not very comfortable with it, and I always like to pick Mira for that match-up. I just feel like she has the advantage, whereas Eagle might have the advantage over Fulgore. So in that two to one scenario, I wanted to stick with Mira because if he did lose with Gargos there, then I knew that I was safe from the Eagle pick. That was what my concern was. I felt more comfortable with Mira against all those other characters than I did with Fulgore against Eagle. So that was the scary part for me. I felt like I could get the job done with Mira versus Gargos even though it is a little bit of a bad matchup, but I couldn't get the job done at the end of the day. But, ultimately, I didn't pay Fulgore because I didn't want to be stuck with Fulgore versus Eagle in the end.
You switched to being a full-time content creator and streamer. How's it all going? Any goals, any regrets?
Absolutely no regrets. This is the best thing I've ever done. I've always wanted to make YouTube content and stream as much as I can. And implementing the idea in my head to start my Patreon – UltraTech University. That's actually been the most important thing in my life since last summer because that's been one of the biggest things in the Killer Instinct community to this day. And it's been an absolute pleasure to work with so many people that I've met, who have just meant so much to me, just meeting them and playing video games with them. It's just been completely awesome. So it's actually been a very life-changing experience for me, and I'm super grateful to have the opportunity to play my favorite game with all these people who are so like-minded.
Killer Instinct Lives was a unique opportunity for you to grow your audience. What do you have planned for future content, be it on streams or on your YouTube channel?
Well, I definitely would still like to run tournaments. That's a big one for me. I run the Killer Instinct Insurrection series. That's a sanctioned Killer Instinct World Cup event that I started at the end of last year. That will be happening. There will be another qualifier this month and then there'll be the finale for top 16 next month. I also want to post more KI sets. I want to play with more top players that are interested in getting into the game. So people from the outside that are looking to get into Killer Instinct; I want to show them the way because I feel like there are so many talented players that are now looking at Killer Instinct and trying to get into it. And it's like the perfect time for them to get into such a great game with all this great stuff happening in the game's competitive lifespan. So many tournaments to get into, so many KI events happening. Twitch Rivals really set everything off. I'm really just trying to stay at the front of the pack and carry the flag, if you will.
KI Lives peaked at around 43,000 viewers. How surprising was it to see this positive of a response for the Killer Instinct tournament? Do you think this can serve as a spark for the future events for Killer Instinct?
I was very surprised to see that. I wasn't shocked that there were that many people, but to see so many people putting interest into the game during the event and now afterward too. It's truly awesome. It really makes me feel like, "Wow, I wish you guys came here a little bit sooner. Like, we've always been here." So for 43,000 people to tune into the event, I was super grateful for that opportunity for the KI community to showcase its skills, show off how great of a game it actually is, and how many incredible and exciting moments we had to share. All in all, it was just a great experience.
SonicFox is known to be a huge force to be reckoned with in many different fighting games. And they tweeted about them liking this Killer Instinct tournament. Do you think they would be good at Killer Instinct? Would they stand a chance against you, for example?
Having played SonicFox in other games, I know what it's like, I've been there. I've played SonicFox in MK11 and Injustice 2. Yes, they would absolutely be good at this game. If you give them just a little bit of time, we'll be running for our lives.
What was it like seeing all the old school and new school KI players in one place? Did it remind you of the old Killer Instinct World Cups or similar events?
Yeah, definitely. It was great. Having people like ChereeZ, TuboWare, GutterMagic, the people that you don't normally see in the current top eights, and stuff like that. It was just awesome to be able to reminisce about season one and season two while having them in the event.
Do you think Killer Instinct needs some updates for the current game for the competitive scene to grow? Or maybe there should be a new KI game that could probably reignite the scene and be as big as it once was?
Ultimately, I think for the community to grow, to grow the way that it wants to, I think we're going to need a game eventually. Iron Galaxy, the developers of Killer Instinct: Season 3, have already stated several times that they will not be making any more KI content, and they will not be working on a new game either. The game is pretty much at a standstill in terms of content, but it doesn't mean that somebody else can't go pick up the IP and start working on a new one. That's ultimately what we're looking for here, for some fighting game developer to be like, "Hey, Killer Instinct's popping, let's get involved in that and let's make a new game." You know, the last title that we are playing right now is almost eight years old. So it's getting dated a little. It still plays great, and it's still an amazing game, so there are some big shoes to fill, but ultimately, I think the community wants a new game overall.
You have played many different games competitively, like Mortal Kombat or Injustice. What sets Killer Instinct apart from them for you?
The difference between Killer Instinct and every other fighting game that I play seems to be creative freedom. I feel like I'm able to express myself almost artistically while competing, which is a great thing for me being an artist and a competitor. Whereas in a game like Mortal Kombat or Injustice, I feel a little bit more restricted. I don't feel that same artistic freedom that I have in KI, where I can play in many different styles while staying optimal. In other games, I have to be a little bit more cut and dry and follow a specific kind of cookie-cutter ideology if I want to succeed. I don't feel like that's the same level of creativity that I want to have in a fighting game. I'm not saying those games are bad; it's just a different outlook and a different competitive approach. With Killer Instinct, I feel like I really get to do whatever I want, and the game allows me to play in so many different ways.
Let's get a little imaginative: let's say there is some new fighting game coming out. What does it need to have for you to give it a competitive chance?
The visuals have to be very striking, it has to grab me. I have to be able to look at the game and be like, "Yeah, this looks very fun." If I enjoy the way the gameplay looks, if I can watch a trailer for the game and want to play it, then that's my selling point right there. There are some fighting games that have come out in the past couple of years that I've seen the gameplay for, and it's just been kind of "eh." And that's not a dig at the games or the developers because they're probably great games. But for me looking at it, it just has to be like, "Whoa, what is this game?" And I haven't really felt that way about a game in a very long time. It has to just be what Killer Instinct was for me the first time that I saw it, which was just, "Oh my God, I have to play this game right away."
Times are changing and we see more and more gamers having children, which will make it easier for future generations to get into esports and competitive gaming with the support of their families. How was this for you? Did your parents support you when you first decided that gaming is what you would like to do in the future? Or did they oppose your decision?
I pretty much had full support the entire way. I was working full-time hours with my cousin while playing Killer Instinct. Whenever I had enough money saved to go to a tournament, I would let them know that I'd be gone for the weekend and I'd take a couple of days off. I was making a name for myself at the same time. I did this for about six years up until I got to the point where I thought, "I've been doing this for a while now. I'm going to take a shot and I'm going to try to do this full time," which is what I did last year. And yeah, I had full support the entire way. My mom, my number one fan, she was cool with it the entire time. And my family are all very supportive of me traveling to events and competing and doing the stuff I'm doing now, making the content that I'm making. I'm very lucky to say that my family supports what I do here in Killer Instinct and just in the fighting game community in general.
What was your first entry into gaming? How did you start playing video games?
When I was about four or five years old, my cousin had a Sega Genesis. It was actually my brother's, he passed away before I was born. It was a Sega Genesis and it had Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on it. That was the first game I remember ever seeing and ever playing. I loved playing it with my cousin and watching him play the game and get through the levels with all these vibrant colors. Then, a couple of years later, maybe it was when I was about like five or six, I got into Super Smash Bros. and Tekken 2. I had a Nintendo 64 and a PlayStation 1 in the household, and we played fighting games. So I actually grew up playing fighting games with my cousin.
What do you usually do in your free time? What are your hobbies? What do you do to recharge your batteries?
I don't have a lot of free time, but when I do have free time, I like playing music. I've been a musician since I was about twelve years old. I play the guitar and the bass. I write a lot of music for fighting game content creators, too. I like to create music for their events and for tournaments. That helps me de-stress. Also, anybody who knows me, knows I'm a huge wrestling fan. Professional wrestling has been a huge part of my life ever since I was a small child. That's my sport, If you will, even though it's sports entertainment, and people want to jab at it or whatever, I really don't care. It's fun for me, I enjoy it. And then I just really enjoy playing all different sorts of video games with my friends. I've been stuck on a bunch of different video games. Right now I've been playing a lot of Dead by Daylight. I've been playing that with my girlfriend and my friends. Just, you know, stuff that's going to relieve the stress from working long, long hours making content for you guys.
Who's your favorite wrestler from the past or the present?
Currently, my favorite wrestler is Adam Cole Bay Bay! He's just been an absolute role model for me in terms of how he speaks, how he performs, and his artistic and competitive crossover is very influential to me. I just love everything about his style, so definitely a big role model for me.
What is your favorite genre of music? What do you listen to when you're playing, training, or relaxing?
I'm all over the place. I love all different styles of music, but I think first and foremost, I'm a metalhead. I grew up on metal. My cousins got me into it at an early age — a lot of hardcore music. I grew up with a lot of that, it's pretty much a go-to for me. I think it's still pretty popular to this day, but still, in terms of mainstream, it's a little uncommon. So if it's got harsh vocals and very abrasive noises, I love that stuff, but for the most part, I try to keep it to myself.
Any parting words to your fans, or maybe those who saw you play at the KI Lives tournament and are thinking about picking Killer Instinct up?
I just want to say thank you to everybody who has been supporting me over all these years, especially this last past year; it has been extremely difficult for everybody during COVID-19. This pandemic has taken so many lives and it's just been so tragic. I really just want to say thank you to everybody who's stuck with me through it. You guys have helped me more than you could ever possibly imagine. I'm super grateful for each and every one of you. And I'm super grateful for everybody in the Killer Instinct community as well because, without you guys, I would not have the things that I have today. I'm incredibly grateful for all of that as well. Thank you guys so much and play KI!
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