Black lives have always mattered in the fighting game community

Steve “Tasty Steve” Scott (right) plays fighting games alongside Stephen “Sajam” Lyon (left) on the CrossCounterTV YouTube channel.
Image: CrossCounterTV/YouTube

The fighting game community, often shortened to the FGC, has long been called the most diverse space under the gaming umbrella. If you go to fighting game events or follow tournament livestreams, you’ll see the assortment of people of different colors gathered around different monitors, each armed with their controller of choice. In the United States in particular, one thing you may notice that further distinguishes the FGC from other competitive gaming circles is the abundance of Black community members.

In other words, the scene isn’t simply diverse. The fighting game community is a seemingly rare instance of a gaming community being led by tons of Black talent, from tournament organizers, to commentators, streamers, and top players. Each of these key members and others in the scene have worked together as a well-oiled machine, using their individual success to build upon the foundation of the community and bring it to where it is today.

The presence of Black leaders in the FGC, and the push for further inclusivity in the scene, has created an environment that allows members to be unapologetically political as well, allowing each and every member to be as vocal as they wish about what they believe in.

The FGC and Black Lives Matter

In the past few weeks, many community leaders have taken it upon themselves to host donation drives to go towards various organizations and charities that support the worldwide protests against racist police brutality, as well as Black Lives Matter and other Black support orgs.

ICU Hater’s weekly Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite tournament raised $2050 for Black Lives Matter, community leader LI Joe raised $5,392 with a four-hour stream, Kitana Prime raised just under $20,000 with his Panda Global donation exhibition series, The Console Gaming League and the NRS community raised $7,424 with their KombatAgainstInjustice event, RedditSF raised over $17,000 for BLM charities with a big Street Fighter 5 event, and Majin Obama raised over $3,000 with a special charity stream. That’s not even half of the fundraising efforts that the scene has pushed to show support with causes championed by many different community leaders, both large and small, who have been taking it upon themselves to create and use their platforms to support an amazing movement.

Steve “Tasty Steve” Scott is a player who rose to the limelight in games like Tekken and Guilty Gear. He’s since become one of the most well-known personalities and commentators in the fighting game community, equipped with his own special brand of hype. I asked Steve about his thoughts on the FGC’s overwhelming support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

“It has meant a lot,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of people that may be seeing or understanding things to a new degree. As a Black person, I never thought we’d see a day where countries all over the world with multiple states protesting alongside in unison with Black Lives Matter movement. It gives me so much hope for change. Knowing I have people in and around my field/passion that can’t personally relate but have opened their hearts and used their words to show support, not just for my life but all the Black lives that have been and could be affected, lets me know their hearts are in the right place.”

I also spoke to Majin Obama, who is not only one of the most popular streamers in the FGC, but a part-time player, commentator, and full-time tournament and event organizer in Japan. Many times he acts as an ambassador for the Japanese scene to English-speaking audiences. He put it this way: “Well, if the recent companies that all of a sudden decided that they care about the struggles of Black Americans tells us anything, it’s that people generally feel more comfortable expressing themselves where they know they will be heard and it is socially acceptable. Naturally, in a community where people know others will understand their perspective on things and will have similar or shared experiences, people will obviously feel more comfortable expressing themselves.”

Along with Tasty Steve and Majin Obama, the recent worldwide pushback against decades of institutional racism in America has also brought to the front other notable players, commentators and organizers in the FGC, such as Michael “IFC Yipes” Mendoza, Bryant “Kitana Prime” Benzing, Victor “Punk” Woodley, and more. Many Black members of the scene look at these figures as people who made it okay to be yourself and, even more strongly, “okay to be Black”.

It should come as no surprise that the FGC would come together and act so strongly to support the Black Lives Matter movement. After all, it’s always been recognized as a huge problem in the minds of many community members. This was not only due to the racial diversity of the scene, but because of the regular focus on and uplifting of Black community voices as well.

Majin Obama (left) and Steve Scott (right) introduce Guilty Gear Xrd at Evo Japan 2018.
Image: Sajam/YouTube

A history of Blackness

The Black community has had a giant impact on where the FGC has gone since its start. This ranges from community lingo introduced predominantly by Black players — like “OD,” “runback,” “L,” and “bodied” — to series like Marvel vs. Capcom, Tekken, and Mortal Kombat that have had many Black top players making their way into the spotlight. This has led to a community with a uniting goal of encouraging literally anyone to participate. The scene has had its share of issues when it comes to upholding that, but it’s still the goal that community leaders aspire to.

Many people wonder why and how the fighting game community ended up being so racially diverse and, in particular, how it became a scene with so many Black players. When I asked Majin Obama about possible originating factors, he said, “Arcades and a large selection of fighting game IPs having international influence early on played a role. Fighting games primarily being played on consoles is another classic socioeconomic reason that contributes to the community’s diversity.”

The American fighting game community began not just in arcades, but in laundromats, liquor stores, gas stations, convenience stores, and anywhere else a hungry player could find a Street Fighter cabinet. Many oldheads of the scene will tell you about the good and bad sides from these glory days of having to meet face to face with the legions of competitors, but there was always one huge plus to this that played a hand in the scene’s history: The only entry barriers were quarters and transportation.

So how does this fit into the Blackness of the scene? Well, due to various factors, many Black American citizens were and are still on the lower-class side of things, with many living in more urban areas. That could be why so many up-and-coming Black players were one of the main groups of arcade faithful. Coupled with the fact that home consoles didn’t always fit in the disposable income budget, and with arcades being the main home of fighting games, the perfect storm was created, bringing with it many of the community leaders that still represent the scene so well.

The Hold Back to Block YouTube channel interviews Majin Obama about “Fighting Tuesday,” a fighting game event that he co-organizes in Tokyo, Japan.

In the 2000s, the increased popularity and accessibility of the internet, personal computers, and new home console technology all brought about the end of North American arcades. However, the diverse scene birthed in those arcades still flourished, with players finding new ways to connect in forums, messenger applications, and tournaments, both online and in-person.

Now the scene has grown to a level far beyond what anyone could have imagined back in the ’80s and ’90s, and it’s giving many young Black members opportunities never thought imaginable in gaming circles for people of their complexion. The diversity and, specifically, Blackness of many key figures in the FGC are huge parts of why so many new community members join and feel free to be themselves.

I asked Tasty Steve about being an inspiration along these lines. “I’ve never really thought about it like that,” he said. “I think that’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard actually … I’ve always been a player but I’m a Black man first, so I don’t think it was about being okay to be Black in the gaming circle as much as it’s about finding the circle that makes you feel comfortable enough to express.”

Part of that, he went on, was because of his early experiences in gaming. “My original St. Louis scene was really diverse, and they never made me feel a way about expressing myself, even if it meant me getting so excited I’d physically grab and shake them or even scream sometimes. I think in a growing scene there’s a surplus of fighting gamers — a lot of them Black gamers — who have the same passion for these games. Having an avenue is important to make that space even more accessible to some smaller communities from places that may not have the same resources or event and community infrastructure. There’s a lot of talented Black players from places that I feel need that representation.”

Growing pains

While the fighting game community is often seen as the pinnacle of inclusivity in the gaming world, it isn’t without its own problems. Issues like transphobia, misogyny, and harassment rear their ugly heads in the community at times. Among these issues is racism, as well. As Tekken player and content creator Justin “King Jae” Nelson highlighted in recent YouTube videos titled “Thoughts on Black Lives Matter” and “Breaking the Black Stereotype and FGC Racism,” many players have been caught spouting racist nonsense but have not been punished to the degree they should be, when they’ve been punished at all.

As King Jae noted in his videos, many times racism has not been taken seriously and even been blatantly ignored in the fighting game community, especially when the perpetrator is a top player. That’s why King Jae asserted in a video that “the FGC is fake,” at least when it comes to the community’s energy towards addressing racism.

This feeling was shared by many Black fighting game fans following the response (and the lack of response) that some top players, commentators, and popular tournament organizers had to the clash between community outcast Low Tier God and fighting game content creator Ceroblast.

This situation sparked when Low Tier God was exposed for delivering transphobic comments on stream and got banned from several tournaments, with many key community figures vocalizing their dislike of him and his behavior. Afterward Ceroblast was caught using the N-word on her stream and, after being criticized for it, blamed her mistake on Black culture. While she was punished as well, this situation was met with less noise than the former in the community leader corner and left many Black community members scratching their heads. The FGC has pushed for these discussions before and has been growing along with the political world around it, bringing a relatively young community into a more mature light as the years press on.

Majin Obama brought these issues up as well when asked about the scene’s reaction to the BLM movement. “It isn’t surprising that the community at large is generally pretty understanding about the movement,” he said. “That said, I hope when attention eventually shifts away from the current movement, the community can do better with its response to other issues, topics, and discussions that come up. The fighting game community is not without its own struggles.”

For Black players in the scene, Majin Obama had a message. “Keep that energy, keep that momentum. Just remember: you are eventually going to have to come to terms with people that do not understand you. Do your best to leave a path for those people to recognize your perspective, and come to terms. Let’s do our best to support and listen to each other.”

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