Olivier 'Luffy' Hay is one of the best Street Fighter players in Europe, but it was his championship-winning run at Evo 2014 that made him a legend of the series.
In winning the fighting game tournament, the French player became the first European player to lift the prestigious Evolution trophy.
But, how did a Street Fighter fan from Paris reach a point where he could compete with and beat the best players in the world? He took us back to the beginning.j
“At first, I only played casually, just when I got home from school,” Luffy recounted of his Street FIghter origins. “I wasn’t playing to improve, just to play. At some point, I hit a wall, and I couldn’t really get over the wall. I chatted with other players and started matchmaking online. That made me improve a lot at this point.”
Like most other players, Luffy eventually attended a local FGC event held in a gaming shop near his home. However, unlike most players, Luffy managed to take home the gold in his very first local -- a good omen for a successful career to come.
After getting a taste of victory, Luffy expanded his horizons domestically, taking down the country’s best talent and becoming ranked #1 in France. While he was renowned in the French scene, the rest of the world took notice of him when he made his international debut at the World Game Cup Cannes 2010, beating the already-legendary Daigo Umehara in Winner’s Finals.
Even though he went on to lose to Fuudo in the Grand Finals of that event, it was clear that Luffy was someone special. He went on to win several tournaments and enjoyed impressive runs at various Dreamhack events, but none compared to the holy grail of fighting games: the Evolution Championship Series. It was there, in 2014, that Luffy would forever cement his name in fighting game history.
“When I came to EVO that year, my first goal was just to be able to play without regrets and play my best,” Luffy told Dexerto. “I’m not the type to go to a tournament with the mindset of ‘I want to win,’ and if I lose, I just want to work on why I lost and come back stronger next time.”
His Evo that year didn’t start off ideally, as he dropped a match against Xian early on. This meant that he would have to battle back through many more opponents than his rivals on the Winners’ side from the Losers’ bracket.
“I don’t even really know when I lost in the bracket – the TO said play, so I played. And I won.”
Luffy’s run that day saw him fight past some big names, taking out the likes of Japanese pros Mago, Tokido, Misse, Pugera, and Eita. With five of the country’s best players down, he scored a seat in Sunday’s Top 8 bracket - and although he sat just a few matches away from glory, his hardest challenges were yet to come.
His Top 8 run kicked off with a great start, sending EG’s Momochi home in 7th place thanks to his knowledge of the Ryu-Ken matchup.
From there, he went on to face the lone American hero remaining in 2014 - the Zangief specialist Darryl “Snake Eyez” Lewis.
“I think Snake Eyez was my hardest match in the entire tournament,” Luffy recalled, grinning. “This matchup was very stressful, as I had to zone Zangief with Rose the entire match. If I made any mistakes I was down, and it was very hard to survive.
"Once Gief is in, you just have to pray for your life. It went down to the last match, last round -- it was a very difficult match. At some point, it was just a matter of luck with who was going to win.”
After this match, Luffy expected that he would get the win at Evo, as he rated Snake Eyez as his toughest opponent. Next up was the player who had defeated him in World Game Cup Cannes 2010 - and Luffy knew what to expect for this grudge match.
“The match after was Fuudo, who played Fei Long,” he said. “Fei Long is a very common matchup in France. Two big players from France play the character, and they both play opposite styles, so I was ready for any Fei Long matchup.”
This knowledge came in handy for Luffy, who went on to take the set in a clean 3-0 run. This put him in Grand Finals against Bonchan, a player many had predicted would win the entire event before it had even kicked off.
Bonchan, a Sagat specialist even then, could not have picked a worse character to use against Luffy, thanks to the Frenchman’s extensive experience playing another European Sagat main.
“Sagat was Ryan Hart’s character, so even in Grand Finals, even if I had to reset the bracket on Bonchan, I was very confident I was going to win,” Luffy remembered. “Bonchan didn’t have a lot of Rose experience, and I had a lot of experience thanks to Ryan Hart.”
This knowledge paid off big time for Luffy, who only dropped two games throughout the entire reset. You might expect that a win at Evo would mean a lot to Luffy - but for him, it was just another day at the office.
“Between 2009 and 2014, I played in a lot of tournaments,” he reflected. “I was used to tournaments – it was just another tournament win, but today, I can realize how big winning EVO is, because up to this day French people still come to me and say congrats on your EVO win, I was up til 5 am watching you win. I actually understand how big this win was even if I didn’t realize it back then.”
While this cemented Luffy as one of the best Street Fighter 4 players in the world, he has not had as much luck in Street Fighter 5, especially as his main, Rose, is not in the game.
While he’s always been a threat in the bracket, and has enjoyed early victories during Street Fighter V’s lifespan in Europe with R. Mika, he’s not been as dominant as he would like.
However, Luffy has still scored a wealth of top placements in the Capcom Pro Tour since Street Fighter V was released - but his last top finish was at 2018’s EGX. 2019 has been one of the slowest years of his career with no tournament victories, and only eight Top 8 finishes.
Despite this struggle, his legacy as a top competitor in Europe lives on in the hearts and minds of players around the world.
With Street Fighter V Champion Edition coming in February 2020, and hopefully Street Fighter VI in the near future, time will tell if he can pull the reset on his own career and show his dominance once more.