Unknown Pakistani becomes world's top Tekken player

Mr Arslan Siddique celebrating his triumph at the 2019 Evolution Championship Series in Las Vegas in August.
Mr Arslan Siddique celebrating his triumph at the 2019 Evolution Championship Series in Las Vegas in August.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MANILA • Very few knew who Mr Arslan Siddique was when he showed up at a big event for Tekken - a fantasy fighting game - in Dubai in October last year.

The 23-year-old Pakistani was written off as one of those no-name wannabes dreaming of fabulous wealth playing video games.

But Mr Siddique - who uses the gaming name "Arslan Ash" - did not lose a single match and went on to beat Mr Bae "Knee" Jae-min, 34, South Korea's top Tekken player, to win it all. He then went on to top the 2019 Japanese Evolution Championship Series - Asia's premier Tekken tournament - in Fukuoka in February, beating all the best players that South Korea, Japan and the Philippines could throw at him.

Then at the 2019 Evolution Championship Series in Las Vegas in August, he again defeated Mr Bae to cement his reputation as the world's No. 1 Tekken player.

But it has not been a smooth journey to the top. As he is Muslim and comes from Pakistan, Mr Siddique has had to jump through hoops to get visas and when travelling through airports to compete abroad.

From Lahore, he had to take five flights and travel for nearly three days before he could reach Fukuoka. He slept on bleachers at Kuala Lumpur's airport after he was barred from boarding his flight to Seoul because he did not have a South Korean visa. His sponsor had to book him a direct flight to Tokyo.

In Tokyo, unable to exchange his Pakistani rupees for Japanese yen, he spent another day at the airport without anything to eat.

He recalled begging a clerk at a sandwich shop to accept his rupees.

"I couldn't bear my hunger. I went to the shop and I said, 'Please, please take my rupees and give me some food'. They said, 'Sorry, we can't do that'," he recounted to The Washington Post.

"I relied only on drinking water. For two days, I didn't eat."

At one point, he told his sponsor that he wanted to call the whole thing off and just head back to Lahore.

But he was persuaded to press on. He arrived in Fukuoka, just moments before his first match and his life-changing run at e-sports superstardom.

Even now, despite his stature, Mr Siddique keeps running into travel issues. Yet, he pushes on. He is glad he has put Pakistan on the map of the e-sports world, though he remains modest over what he has achieved. "I'm not even the best Tekken player back home," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2019, with the headline 'Unknown Pakistani becomes world's top Tekken player'. Print Edition | Subscribe