We spoke to F.A.N.G. specialist Mono ahead of the competition at Red Bull Kumite Las Vegas to learn about Mono’s quest to show Puerto Rico’s strength at his very first invitational.

Ricardo "Mono" Roman of Team Red Rooster is what many would consider the pride of Puerto Rico's burgeoning esports scene. Not only is he a strong competitor that's been well known throughout the Street Fighter 4 and 5 eras, he's been a pioneer in Puerto Rico's FGC, hosting many events - most notably the First Attack series.

He's made a huge name for himself in the online era of SFV due to COVID-19, getting top placings at the Intel World Open, Evo Online, and the Capcom Pro Tour's online circuit. This, and his large Puerto Rican fanbase, led to his invite at Red Bull Kumite, where he's hoping to bring the heat.

With Red Bull Kumite being his very first invite to a large-scale invitational, Esports.gg had a chance to sit down with the F.A.N.G. specialist ahead of the 16 man Street Fighter Invitational, which kicks off today.

Dustin Steiner. Americas Editor, Esports.gg: You play F.A.N.G., which is a really unorthodox pick, that not many players have adapted. What is it about F.A.N.G. that really attracts you and what are some struggles you’ve been through with the character?

Mono: I mean, everybody knows me and asks me every time, like, “Why aren’t you playing Bison?” I used to play Bison in (Street Fighter) IV, but I somehow got attracted to the character, to F.A.N.G., because at first, Bison in IV was a fast-paced character; his walk speed was fast, he had a lot of movement, he had a lot of escape options, and stuff like that, and he didn’t have it in Season 1.

So I saw F.A.N.G., I found he was like intricate, he would have a lot of cool stuff, and he had good movement, and he was one of the few characters because Season 1 anti-airs were super important because jump-ins were too strong, stuff like that, so he had consistent anti-airs, he had good zoning because, in the early versions of Street Fighter V, I feel like zoning and spacing weren’t that strong but that was the type of style I played in IV. Because with Bison you could maintain control with his normals, he had scissor kicks, he had a pressure that you could just keep on, and I feel like with F.A.N.G., you can be just as oppressive, you can be zoning, which is what brought me to him.

The character itself, is just, I don’t know why, I just became a specialist with him, sometimes I think if I did the right choice, because compared to the rest of the cast, he’s not the strongest. He’s not top 10, either. But I’ve been able to make him work, through the events this past year, I’ve managed to get top placings at Intel World Open, and EVO, and CPT I got second, and it’s all been work with that character.

I do have my secondaries, I do bring them out from time to time but I do just go with F.A.N.G. even in bad matchups, and it means a lot when I manage to beat those matchups, and it means, even more, when I get a high placing just with that character.

And the way that people refer to me or consider me one of the best F.A.N.G.s, is really appealing in the sense that I’m grateful for all the support I’ve received just for using F.A.N.G., and other than that, being a TO, I’ve also participated in bringing in, I remember in 2019 we brought Haku, because I couldn’t compete in the event so I had to bring a F.A.N.G. specialist to the event, so those things and the F.A.N.G. discord, and everybody that supported that so I feel like it’s just good for me to continue with that character and now I got invited to this event which means a lot because this event is like, the way Puerto Ricans see it, is a prestigious event.

"I hope to do more just to prove that the Caribbean has a really good scene, not just DR, Puerto Rico, Panama, all those places have really strong players."

Mono on the strength of the caribbean and central america scene

It’s like Bloodsport, right, like the movie? They bring them all here, and they gotta fight - “Get in the cage!” - it’s like overwhelming, the experience. Even when I got the news I was still a little ecstatic, I was in disbelief, at first. I was like, “Really? My F.A.N.G.?” but I’m really happy that they decided to invite me to this event and I am having a blast, I’m playing a lot of sets, and I’m having fun. I just hope that I get to make Puerto Rico proud, they’re already happy with the fact that I just got chosen, but I hope to do a lot more, just to prove that the Caribbean has a really good scene, not just DR, Puerto Rico, Panama, all those places have very strong players,  and we really want to make sure that they get highlighted with this event.

Steiner: Did any players from Puerto Rico come with you to play in the LCQ?

Mono: No. Because they literally just ended with First Attack, they weren’t able to travel. I did bring a friend with me, who’s catching up with what I’m doing, and stuff, so it’s hard for me to maintain with the stories, buzz, all that stuff. And that’s pretty much it but I’ve got online, everybody’s asking me, “Yo, who have you played,” “You need any advice on a matchup,” they all are very attentive to what I’m doing. 

I appreciate their support, today I saw a message from some of the Roosters, because I’m part of the team Red Rooster, just saying that “We’re very proud of you, do your best, we’re here, we’re gonna do spirit bombs for you,” so I just appreciate it. And a lot of people, artists and stuff have even showed up, it even showed up on the local news today that I’m going to be at this event.

Steiner: A lot of your events the past year have been online, what has it been like coming back to an offline setting, and have there been any adjustments regarding that?

Mono: To be honest, it’s a relief. But playing on PC offline to me, is better, because I play a lot on PC now, online PC is obviously better than playing console online, but I guess that I’ve been able to play more. The fact that here, they have PCs, a good amount of setups that literally there is no way that you could not play. There are setups everywhere.

Confirming is the most important thing, and I feel like it’s easier for me to confirm on PC and just playing I’ve been adjusting a little because I do play on PC but I play online mostly, so I get to play PC offline in months, because First Attack, we had to do it on PS4 because there were too many people. I feel that the adjustment, you feel like you press a button too late or too early because of the speed of the platform you’re playing on, but I’m getting adjusted, I’m warming up, I’m pretty much landing all my setups, not screwing up my charges too much, hopefully, I screw none of them during the event.

Steiner: Is there anybody that you’re, maybe not necessarily dreading, but preparing for more than other players?

Mono: I feel that out of all the players here, that I’ve managed to interact (with) and stuff, I think the most that I’ve felt I need to prepare a lot, and I am preparing a lot, is iDom, yeah, cause he’s a Capcom Cup champ, his playstyle is super oppressive, when he’s in the zone he’s in the zone. It’s really hard to throw him off of his flow once he gets started. As a F.A.N.G. player that tries to keep control, it’s harder, because I feel like as soon as he’s in the zone, I can’t get him off. So I’m trying to find good strategies to see how I can handle that matchup and hopefully win it.

"The most I've felt I need to prepare for is iDom - he's the Capcom Cup champ, and when he's in the zone, it's really hard to throw him off his flow once he gets started."

Mono on who he's dreading facing

Steiner: How has this experience been as your first time at an invitational with your preparation, knowing who's going to be here, versus a more open bracket-style event?

Mono: I mean technically I still don’t know who’s gonna be through LCQ, but I feel that I get to prepare, because I know who’s playing. I get to check out the matchups, because you know on paper objectively you can see matchups where you can see these work on this character, and I can just focus on these counters for this character so I can make sure that I can do well.

But then comes the players’ styles, but the thing is that the players, you already know who they are beforehand, you can go back to videos, see matchups, and the thing is that F.A.N.G. matchups, I don’t get to see them as much, because there are not that many F.A.N.G.s, so I just have to take account or consideration of how they play the other matchups and try to see if I can see any patterns that can be like, “OK F.A.N.G. can do this, here,” ''F.A.N.G., can do this in this other situation,” when they’re trying to create versus Ken, versus Chun-Li, or versus Karin.

It’s been good, I like the invitational format because you can get that preparation time, and it’s cool in that sense because it’s some of the relief that there aren’t that many wild cards in that sense, sometimes in an open bracket, you’re preparing for all the people that you think are there, but then you get hit by somebody, like a wonder that you’re not expecting and it’s a matchup you’ve never played, and you just get bodied, and that’s still a possibility with the LCQ, and they’re gonna decide them tomorrow.

Steiner: In closing, what would you like to say to your fans back in Puerto Rico, and fans that are gonna be tuning in to Red Bull?

Mono: I personally would just like to say thank you to everybody, to Puerto Rico, my family, my friends, sister, everybody that’s been messaging me like, “Don’t get yourself stressed too much, you got this,” or “You’re already there, just do your best,” and even the fact that people I’m not expecting are sending support or like this local news stream that just came up, I mean Puerto Rico in itself is there, I’m getting obviously hit up by the community, the F.A.N.G. Discord, people that know me from the FGC worldwide, like on Twitter, or something like that.

And I’m just very glad, I would like to say thank you to them, to all those that practiced with me before this event, very grateful, after First Attack I went to DR  to practice, and then from there I went here. So I wanna than the DR people, the Dominican Republic, because they helped me out grinding matchups as well. Those two places in the Caribbean, we’re like neighbors, we’re brothers, pretty much, like Mena and me are like really close in that sense and we both support our scenes and we just want them to grow even more.

I feel that this is a huge opportunity for both of our countries, and we hope to do the best that we can so that both countries get highlighted more and get more exposure so that in the future, more international talent will go to that scene because it’s strong, because sometimes you want to look for the strongest players, and I feel that the Caribbean and Latin America in general has some very strong players.

We'll have more with Mono later this week as we deep dive into his work with the Puerto Rican government to grow esports on the island. Keep it locked here to esports.gg for much more from Red Bull Kumite.