Ahead of Evo, Hotashi confident going in to money match vs. Latif

by Tim Lee

Guilty Gear Strive in North America is running on Julian “Hotashi” Harris’ clock.

The best Nagoriyuki in the world, the most consistent tournament placer in the West, and the highest-profile money match target is about to be the talk of the anime world again with the Evolution Fighting Game Championships (Evo) set to happen this weekend.

Unique is a great word to describe Hotashi -- whether it’s his sponsorship by Moist Esports, his streaming overlay, his personality or his risk/reward playstyle with Nagoriyuki. But in addition to all of that, he’s also a winner.

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He won the hardest North American event this year, ARCREVO America 2021 Finals, and finished top eight at each of the major Guilty Gear Strive tournaments, Combo Breaker and Community Effort Orlando (CEO). There really isn’t much left to solidify himself as the biggest fish in the Western pond. For Hotashi, the pursuit of victory is no longer the thrill it used to be when he has established himself as the most consistent player in his region. Now, it’s all about the wait.

He cites players like Jonathan Tene, Peter “Flash” Susini, Razzo and UMISHO as some of the few that can keep him in check, but he’s waiting for the next crop of top players to catch up and truly unlock the strength of the region against the world. He’s confident that the veterans of past Guilty Gear titles, who have yet to show consistent results, will start popping up in tournament finals. It’s just a matter of time.

“The level of competition in North America is nothing too outstanding outside of 12 players. It’s a legacy thing where I’ve played for a long time, so a lot of new players need to catch up,” Hotashi said. “I can do tricks and gimmicks that they haven’t seen before, but when they do understand them, I’m able to adapt and pick on their habits. This answer may change in a year or so, but it really comes down to the people have some catching up to do.”

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Confidence is not an issue for Hotashi. The results prove he’s a top player, and the complaints about his character Nagoriyuki only verify his decision to play him. Guilty Gear Strive was the perfect storm for the anime fighting veteran because it combined a character he truly could immerse himself into, great netcode to play a wider pool of players, and a reward system within the game’s mechanics that synchronizes with his core game plan to explode an opponent through difficult decision-making.

Even though you’re one of the best in your region, you have to be somewhat humble to prevent too large of an ego, and Hotashi does have some humility. According to him, there’s always someone better than you are out there and that’s enough for him to perform well regardless of pressure.

“I always perform in tournaments no matter my condition unless something goes seriously wrong. The game is fun, and I like being surrounded by so much excitement,” Hotashi said. “I love competing and I do enjoy being a final boss for people, but I’m a little bit over just winning things.”

Photo credit: Marv Watson / Red Bull content pool

Nagoriyuki vs. Zato-1

Enter EMEA ARCEVO winner Abdulatif “Latif” Alhmili and a chance encounter through a stream chat that set two large egos against each other in the upcoming first-to-10 $1,000 money match the night before Evo begins. They’re both winners of their region’s ARCREVO Finals, both proven names for Guilty Gear, and both major tournament winners facing off in an international battle.

For Hotashi, Latif is a legacy. He feels that he’s the newer player that needs to prove himself because Latif’s experience goes beyond his own, but he’s still an unknown to him in Guilty Gear Strive. The Nagoriyuki matchup against Zato-1 is also an improvement from the first season, and Hotashi is going to rely on the character’s explosiveness, higher health and overall consistency in his rewards to take down the set. There are a lot of games to adapt and, according to Hotashi, he has yet to lose a long set against a Zato-1 in months.

“The key is defense. If I’m able to play neutral with my character, I won’t be behind. I need to practice my defense and my knowledge, but I’ve practiced enough to handle it,” Hotashi said. “The money match excites me because I don’t know if I can win. I wanted something to remind me of my mortality as a player.”

Both sides are preparing for the showdown, and something this exciting is a great step for the fighting game community -- a scene built on trash talk and competitiveness. As for the big tournament this weekend, Evo, that’s just the icing on the cake during this trip to Vegas. If there’s anything we know about Hotashi’s reputation in big-time competitions, it is to not count him out and to consider him a favorite to be in the final day as a legitimate threat to take down the whole thing.

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“The excitement of Evo hasn’t hit me, but I’m sure before I play at the suite for the money match, it’ll get there. I think of it as an advantage to be relaxed before the event,” Hotashi said. “The first thing I want to do is eat a big dinner and hang out with friends. It’s like I forgot the tournament is even on the way.”

If everything goes Hotashi’s way this weekend, his success won’t be forgotten.

“I am goal-oriented and while I don’t care whether I win or not, I want to perform accordingly to what I want to be happy with,” Hotashi said. “When Strive first came out, I wanted to make my gameplay special and separate myself as my own Nagoriyuki. I’ve been playing so long that I can outperform by trying a little and especially when I can have a character to be unique with.

“I have the perfect character for me, the netcode is great, and all the conditions are perfect for me to perform well.”

Lead photo credit: Ian Witlen / Red Bull content pool

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