Images via Wikipedia Commons and Capcom

Darryl “Snake Eyez” Lewis is one of the best Street Fighter players in the country. But he barely cracked the top-64 at last month’s North American Regional Finals Last Chance Qualifier, and he’s only ranked 20th on the Pro Tour headed into this weekend’s Capcom Cup. Why is the 2017 CEO champion going to have such a steep hill to climb?

The weekend of the Last Chance qualifiers, Lewis was competing in three different Street Fighter tournaments at the same time, alternating between Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Street Fighter IV, and Street Fighter V. He placed 49th, 25th, and 9th in those tournaments, respectively. For almost every match, he stuck by Zangief, the underwear-clad Russian fighter.

Zangief is not always considered a top choice. He’s always been a slow, huge grappler, and in Street Fighter V, he’s gotten even slower. Despite the difficulties inherent to mastering this fighter, Lewis has won big with him across multiple generations of Street Fighter and placed first with the character at CEO 2017 this past year. According to Capcom, Lewis’s CEO win as Zangief was the character’s first major tournament win, ever.

Lewis still has to decide when it’s time to play as Zangief. The Street Fighter pro has been turning heads with the fighter since 2010, when he placed first in Super Street Fighter II Turbo. In Street Fighter IV and V, Lewis stuck by his same fighter. But it’s not always easy.

Zangief in Street Fighter V

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“The only thing I really need to do is figure out when I need to play Zangief or Akuma,” Lewis told Compete. He uses Akuma as his alternate in Street Fighter V. But Zangief’s his main guy—possibly to Lewis’s detriment, especially when playing in three tournaments at the same time.

“Usually when I go to tournaments, I try to not play any other Street Fighter games,” he said. “If I do, I’ll only play one other Street Fighter game and I’ll try not to play the same characters. But at this tournament, I figured I would be able to play all three, play the same character—actually the same two characters, in all three games—and I would probably be somewhat successful in doing that.” He laughed. “But that did not work out!”

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The Zangief master ended up confusing himself each time he had to swap from one game to the next. “It was messing with my head a little bit when I went from Street Fighter V to Turbo,” Lewis admitted. “Then the moment I went to Street Fighter IV, it just destroyed me. Zangief has an attack called ‘Green Hand,’ and it’s probably one of his best attacks in that game. The moment I went back to Street Fighter V, I didn’t have that move anymore.”

He couldn’t rely on muscle memory anymore, either. “I would try to do some of the combos from Street Fighter IV in Street Fighter V. The moment I landed a crouch-jab against someone, I was thinking of Green Hand, but then I had to think of—I had to not think about that! And get my mind off of that.”

Lewis may not have made the top eight in any of his tournaments, but he was doing something that no one else had tried. “I don’t think anyone else is playing the same characters in three different games,” he told Compete. “I’m all alone in this situation!”

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“I think it would’ve been easier if I probably wouldn’t have played those games at all,” he went on. “But I still wanted to play, you know?”

Zangief in Super Street Fighter II Turbo

Lewis also had to face the best possible players in each of their respective games—most of whom had only practiced that one game to prepare.

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“It’s not like I can just lollygag and give it low effort,” he went on. “I had to actually play and give it a competitive mindset with Zangief in each game. It was a little too hard…. you have legends over here playing. And I’m like, you know what? I’m pretty sure I can’t tap back into my old potential playing this game. Because I hadn’t played it in probably a year, and these guys are still currently playing. So I’m just gonna give it my all. And play Zangief! I have to!”

Lewis’ competitors, at this event and at Capcom Cup this weekend, have proven they’re focused. Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi, who placed first in SFV at Evo 2017, likes to meditate before matches. The meditation fad seems to have caught on, according to Lewis: “XsK Samurai actually did that earlier today. And another guy also did that before he came to this play in pools on Saturday.”

But Lewis doesn’t plan to start meditating. He’s already focused, he says. In fact, he might be too focused on Zangief. He says he’ll play as Akuma at the Cup if the situation absolutely calls for it; believe it when you see it.