In Super Smash Bros. Melee’s early years, the game and its future were almost entirely forged by the players. Names such as Ken, Isai, and Azen immediately come to mind. Now, one of the original pioneers of Melee has returned – Ryota “Captain Jack” Yoshida. In this Smashboards exclusive interview, we sat down with the Japanese legend to discuss his storied career and more.
Captain Jack’s Smash career dates back to the first iteration on the Nintendo 64. He received the game as a present on his 14th birthday, two days after the game’s release. “Nobody could have imagined that this game would change my life in the future,” he reflects. It was at this time the name Captain Jack was conceived, as a reference to the German band of the same name. “You guys know Captain Jack though Dance Dance Revolution, right? There were 2 big popular groups in the early Dance Mania series. One was Captain Jack, and the other was E-ROTIC. I was 14 years old, and I was wondering which one I should name myself after. If I were a bit more stupid then, my screen name would have been E-ROTIC and I would never have gotten sponsored.” In his hometown of Kyoto, he mainly played Smash 64 with his junior high school classmates, quickly becoming the best player in his circle of friends. “Although it was very fun, I started to become bored of winning with such ease.”
However, it was not until the rise of the internet that Captain Jack started competing seriously. “One day while I surfed the internet, I found a forum about Smash. I wrote my opinions there, and I soon participated in my first ‘Ofu-kai’ (offline meeting).” Although the turnout was small, it was an experience that would change his life forever. “[The meeting] was in Osaka and there were 6-8 players, including myself. They seemed to be meeting for the first time, also like myself. We did a round-robin and I won every match. [In retrospect,] that was a wonderful result for someone who took part in a Smash-fest (albeit a tiny one) for the first time. From that moment, I started to believe in my talent in this game little by little.”
Captain Jack and friends enjoy dinner after the Jack Garden Tournament. Pictured on the far right: a young Bombsoldier.
Smash 64 was only a taste of what was to come for Captain Jack, as a new game was on the rise: Super Smash Bros. Melee. At only 16 years old, Captain Jack became one of the best Melee players in Japan. “[Being at the top] felt completely great. I can say that my career made me confident by making a world tour through Smash and winning numerous tournaments," he remarks.
In 2004, Captain Jack traveled to America for the first time to compete at Tournament Go 6, where he established himself by outplacing Chudat, Isai, Ken, and many other to only place 2nd next to Azen. It was at that very tournament Captain Jack experienced the biggest difference between the American and Japanese communities firsthand: spirit. “I was a foreigner participating from Japan, and there were about 100 Americans in the audience,” he remarks. “However, when the game started, I heard everyone call ‘CAPTAIN JACK!! CAPTAIN JACK!!’ Although it was really tough to resist Azen’s Sheik’s chain grab with my Red Sheik, something that I never saw in Japan as people thought it just simply was stupid to do, the people’s ‘CJ call’ made my heart skip and it was absolutely unforgettable, even after 12 years. This kind of atmosphere, you could never experience in Japan at that time.” The adrenaline rush Captain Jack experienced at that very moment has stuck with him till this day. “When you come right down to it, I’d say my favorite moment in Smash was the ‘Captain Jack call’ against Azen.”
Azen holding his trophy after winning TG6. Video: TG6 Grand Finals - Captain Jack (Dr. Mario) vs. Azen (Marth)TG6 would not be America’s last taste of Captain Jack. One month later at MLG San Francisco, Captain Jack won the tournament over Ken and Isai. For Captain Jack, the culture shock very much hit him out of the game instead of in-game. “[Americans] are upbeat guys and I love that. In Japan, “nerds” tend to gather with nerds and don’t talk with “jocks” so much. However, in the US, I saw that many “nerds” were chatting with “buff jocks”.
Captain Jack, Isai, and Ken after MLG San Francisco.Captain Jack later decided to expand his world by learning French – a decision that would bring him to Angers, France, for his fourth year of university. “[In Europe,] I participated in many Smashfests and European tournaments, and I even met Armada many times there. Even if my French is still far from perfection, it highly expanded my entire life,” he expresses. Captain Jack decided to expand his horizons even further by taking a journey through Africa, starting from Egypt and ending in South Africa. His drive to partake in life-long experiences inspired Captain Jack to take the trip. “When I thought of my next vacations longer than 1 month, it would be in 43 years, according to the Japanese working system. In 43 years, I would have been 65. That’s why I decided to go to Africa, where I felt the farthest away in every way.”
Captain Jack visiting the Omo Valley in Ethiopia.Captain Jack decided to travel to France after returning from Africa. After some relationship issues, he settled back in Japan, desperate to find more time and money. Although he would achieve this goal, a debt of $55,000 from a con artist would put his Smash career on hold for many years. “The debt still remains, but the enthusiasm surrounding Smash was too attractive and irresistible,” he says.
After an extended hiatus, Captain Jack has returned to the Smash Bros. scene ready to bring his all in Melee and Smash 4. “Until recently, the last time I played Smash was January 23rd, 2015, with my dear Smash friends, “Team Shinjuku”. That day was my 30th birthday and the day I proposed to my Finnish fiancée, Juulia. It was so unforgettable.” Money matches between Captain Jack and his friends followed. This would be the last time the group would play together for a year, due to Captain Jack’s move to Kansai for work. In spite of that, he still managed to find a way to reunite with Team Shinjuku. “I had a plan to go to Tokyo so I called them to gather to play Smash. I just wanted to see how good I was after my break and how much they improved. I didn’t think I could have any chance to win at all. In fact, I did really well against them even though I only watched tournament matches on YouTube sometimes. At that time, I realized how I am talented once again. Sorry if I seem arrogant to say this, but it was really incredible.”
Captain Jack with Team Shinjuku.That day motivated Captain Jack to make his comeback, so he quickly took action. “Since that day, I wanted to make a comeback on the Smash scene. I finally bought a Wii U and Melee, and I tweeted on Twitter and got 318 retweets and 1033 likes in 9 days. I was really surprised about it. I just tweeted, saying “legendary comeback” by myself as just kind of a joke. But the reality was there. I felt like people were asking me [to make a legendary comeback]. So, why not?”
Captain Jack’s comeback is not without its own shocks, as Smash has changed exponentially since he left. “I noticed that the Smash world has evolved into a giant community since when I was active. The older people get, the more mature the community becomes,” he explains. However, the monetization of Smash has easily been the largest change to Captain Jack, with players, content creators, and figureheads making more money than ever. “Now that old players are adults, we have other things we have to do in our lives. If playing Smash makes money, it can be a drastic help for working Smashers. Even if the financial success is limited for some top players, I think it is a wonderful change, as I could never think of getting money other than money matches. In my era, it was just a dream that Smashers could obtain sponsors one day.”
Captain Jack's post tournament interview at MLG San Francisco
Although Captain Jack will have lots of catching up to do, he is already determined to reach the top once again. His goals? “Undeniable No.1 of Smash, traveling the entire world! Japan, North America, South and Middle Americas, and Europe. (Africa, Middle East, and Asia? If someone gives us an invitation, why not!)”
In the end, Captain Jack's return to his old pastime was a return not fueled by money or fame, but rather by his love for Smash and the pursuit of becoming the best. Whether it be hosting the famous “Jack Garden Tournament," pouring time into a game that yields no monetary reward in Japan, or travelling to 9B’s house just to get in some top player practice, there is no doubt that Captain Jack loves Smash. Most importantly, Captain Jack is grateful for his fans, whether they be new or old. “I always appreciate you guys for your warm support and encouraging messages. My wife and I are willing to come to big tournaments overseas in the near future. We are really looking forward to meeting you again soon!”
Pictured clockwise starting from top-left: Isai, Chudat, EK (former #1 in Europe), and PC Chris.Finally, Captain Jack left us with one last message: “To all loved Smashers, thank you very much for reading. If you have something you want to know about Japan or make a contact to the Japanese community, don’t forget that you guys have Captain Jack here! The Smash community worldwide is now growing like never before. Let’s pump up our Smash community more and more together! Glory to Smash!”
Writer's Note: This is the condensed version of Captain Jack's original interview. Be sure to stay tuned to Smashboards for the full raw interview which goes further into detail on his journey. Follow Captain Jack on Twitter @CaptainJackSSB4 and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org for business inquiries.