Yoshinori Ono - 'There's never been a time when I wanted to give up on Street Fighter'

Street Fighter can be seen everywhere, including on skateboards. Darin Kwilinski for ESPN

Thirty years.

That's how long Street Fighter has been out in the wild, and it's taken many different forms since it's inception in 1987. While it's easy to think Street Fighter has always been successful, it was actually dormant for a long time until one man decided he would pound on the door at Capcom until he could make another one.

Enter Yoshinori Ono, a celebrity in the Street Fighter community for his signature Blanka toy in every photo, excitable demeanor, and casual dress style. It is safe to say that without Ono, Street Fighter esports would not be what it is today.

ESPN was able to speak to the "godfather" of Street Fighter about his time at Capcom, his interest in esports, and his history with the iconic franchise.

Ono on Street Fighter

ESPN: What made you want to create Street Fighter IV?

Ono: Once Street Fighter III was created, Capcom thought it was a great game, but sales did not reflect that. Capcom took a break from fighting games and I joined the action/adventure team for Monster Hunter and Devil May Cry. During that time, I interviewed with different companies and I kept getting questions about when the Street Fighter was coming? After a period of time, I came back to Capcom leadership and said I wanted to make the next Street Fighter game, but Capcom said "no." The conversation would continue for several years and that's why there's a 10-year gap between Street Fighter III and Street Fighter IV.

ESPN: Why are you so passionate about Street Fighter?

Ono: Since I'm one of the people responsible for creating the characters, fighting styles, and scenes in the Street Fighter world, I like the process. I enjoy seeing the fans that like it as much as I do from a creator and fan perspective. I love coming into conferences for signings and see people that are so passionate about the franchise and it's incredibly rewarding.

I'm a big fan of baseball and there are people that come to the games for a number of reasons -- the game itself, the stadium, or the players. It's the same with Street Fighter. There are people who enjoy fighting games, the characters, the backgrounds, or even the silhouettes. To see so many people and all the love, it's rewarding.

ESPN: What was the biggest challenge in your career involving Street Fighter?

Ono: There's never been a time when I wanted to give up on Street Fighter. Even with the hiatus, my mentality was always, "I want to produce a Street Fighter game." My passion for Street Fighter never dissipated and it was challenging to convince the rest of the team to get on board, but I never gave up. I used all my money before I joined Capcom on Street Fighter, why would I give up before I get it all back?

I see players that love the game and it gives me the energy to keep producing and improving the franchise. I continue to get the same love pouring in that I use to give back to the community.

Ono on esports

ESPN: How much do you follow Street Fighter esports and did you expect it to be one of the biggest esports in the world?

Ono: When I started, my vision was a tournament around Street Fighter II: Turbo Edition to find out who the strongest character was based off wins and losses. But, as time went on, I wanted to expand the scope of the game itself. I thought to myself that the term 'esport' as a concept and what better way for better exposure than to throw Street Fighter into that world. It's helped bring the fighting game world into the esports field and have a lot more people appreciate the game.

I like the term of esports [instead of] tournament because sports has a wider scope of appreciation. There will be casual fans that cheer on their home team like the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants. You can also play sports as an amateur and professional and the esports concept is the same idea; it opens up the world to a lot of people.

ESPN: How involved in esports are you?

Ono: I like seeing how different players play, but I create the rulebook [of the game] as a part of the Capcom Team. I want to draw a big divide between a player and creator. From that standpoint, I want to create a rulebook that anyone can access -- if you want to be a professional, here are the ways you can do it. I'm taking a step back from the professional play so I can enjoy from a distance.

Ono on his history

ESPN: Did you ever think Street Fighter would be this big after 30 years?

Ono: I joined Capcom when I was a fourth year university student and during that time I spent the majority of my salary playing Street Fighter II. When I joined Capcom, I thought that I could get all my money back by working with these guys, but in order to get all of it back, I figured I had to work for around 20 to 25 years. Now, I figured I got my pay back and then some.

ESPN: What's your single proudest moment in regards to Street Fighter?

Ono: I want to meet the Ono-san of Street Fighter III and congratulate him on fighting for the legacy of Street Fighter. I'm proud of the fact that I never gave up despite the opposition; the franchise could have died at the time. The fact that fans still made it to this far for the 30th anniversary, I'm incredibly proud of that.

Around the time that Street Fighter: Alpha was out, most of the Capcom titles were using the platform "CPS-One." When Alpha came out, we used "CPS-Two" for it and there was an exciting shift when we released games on both CPS-One and CPS-Two. I'm incredibly proud of how we transitioned everything into CPS-One into CPS-Two in a one month period; it was very difficult.

ESPN: What's next and when do you stop?

Ono: When ESPN is able to create an exclusive channel called "ESPN 5" for Street Fighter content, I'll retire to Hawaii and have a great time.

I want a fighting-specific station, so I'll keep fighting until I can get that.

ESPN: Do you view yourself/accept as the "godfather" of Street Fighter?

Ono: I don't consider myself as the primary representative, but as a bridge from the game to the general public. I want to connect with the community and listen to their feedback. I would rather just expand the game so people can continue to enjoy the content.

As the bridge between the product and community, there are negative things said, but I take everything into consideration.

The Evo 2017 Street Fighter V finals will air on ESPN2 at 10pm ET. Click here for more info.