Hot Docs 2017: Living the Game Review

Magnificent Obsessions

Living the Game is a new documentary about the gamers who dedicate their lives to professional Street Fighter. Shifting from packed arenas with thousands of spectators to tiny apartments in Japan, Living the Game strips away the glamour and depicts the more mundane existences that professional players lead in between tournaments. Along the way, it illuminates a massive (and growing) subculture and showcases an exciting but unforgiving profession with fierce competition, demanding hours, and uncertain paydays.

The film features a number of well-known Street Fighter players – including Gamerbee, Luffy, and Justin Wong – but the stars are champions Yusuke Momochi and Daigo Umehara. In that regard, Living the Game is an exercise in contrasts. Momochi is the technician, an obsessive introvert who spends hours practicing routine combos alone in his apartment. Daigo, on the other hand, is a charismatic figure celebrated as much for his personal flair as his considerable Street Fighter ability. 

Together, they allow director Takao Gotsu to examine the strange intersection of esports and celebrity. For Momochi and Umehara, Street Fighter is more than a game. It’s the way they make their living, and the metrics for success become more ambivalent when those real-world concerns are added to the equation. What makes one player more popular than another? Can you make a living as the best player, or do you need to cultivate a personality to appeal to sponsors and generate a more stable income?


Momochi’s attempts to navigate that divide make him the most vital figure in the film. Though he’s not a natural star, his meticulous approach to the game does make him an excellent teacher. He’s able to break down the mechanics of high-level Street Fighter in clear and comprehensible manner, giving viewers a sense of the dedication and skill set that separates casual gamers from professionals. His insight makes Living the Game far more accessible to the average audience.

Living the Game is not without its flaws. The movie never manages to incorporate Street Fighter tournament footage in a way that makes sense, so it’s often unclear how that footage relates to the human drama happening in front of the screen. Street Fighter tournaments are exciting. That spectator appeal fuels the entire subculture, but the film consistently fails to capture the in-the-moment thrill of unscripted competition.  

Fortunately, the subject matter and the stars are enough to hold your attention. Despite the lingering confusion about stakes and tournament structure, Living the Game explores the Street Fighter lifestyle with remarkable insight and demonstrates how a popular video game has evolved from a social hobby into a legitimate yet perilous career path. That makes it a compelling watch for fans and non-fans alike, as well as a fascinating landmark for the growing esports industry. 



Tue, May 2, 8:30 PM Scotiabank Theatre 4

Thu, May 4, 8:45 PM Scotiabank Theatre 7

Sun, May 7, 6:15 PM Scotiabank Theatre 3

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