Most people get places by playing at tournaments or going to locals, but I had friends who were already up there who could show me the way and guide me.
I first started with Street Fighter V in 2017, when I was playing with Smug and Punk. Smug has been big since Street Fighter IV where he was known for his Dudley, but I’ve known him since before that, before his name was even Smug.
A long time ago we played a Ranked match and, even though I beat him, I messaged him and said “yo, can you train me? You’re mad good”.
He sent me a friend request and we’ve been cool ever since.
Both of us just happened to live in New York at the time. He was the one who told me to go to Next Level battle Circuit. I did go sometimes, but honestly, I thought it was pretty “nerdy” back then so I wasn’t a regular.
When Street Fighter 5 released, I started going to NLBC more often. I was actually homeless at the time, and staying at a friend’s house. He and his mom argued that I was there too much, so I was looking for reasons to get out of the house anyway. I didn’t want to hurt their bond as a family.
So I’d go to NLBC and just practice Street Fighter. Smug was there helping me out and it was Smug that convinced me and helped me go out to tournaments. You have to pay out of your own pocket when you’re not sponsored, and obviously being homeless meant I clearly didn’t have the money for that.
My first big tournament was Kumite in Tennessee. I don’t know what I expected exactly, but when all was said and done I walked away in fourth place. It was the kind of achievement that gives you the motivation to continue and push yourself even further.
Throughout the rest of the year, I managed to grab top 13 at a premiere and top 8 at Defend the North, Summer Jam, and a few other events. I was very pleased with the progress being made.
Punk was another player that motivated me a lot. I knew him a little from the Street Fighter 4 days, but the first time I met him was at NEC. He told me: “I’m gonna win this tournament”.
I thought there was no way he was going to beat all the people that were down there. Justin Wong and NuckleDu were there, you don’t beat those guys easily.
But then he actually won. And kept on winning.
He and Smug were both just my friends, but as I saw them improve, it made me want to get to their level.
For a while Smug and I were even on the same team. Pie or DIE. The manager of the team, Citiofbrass, even helped me get out to events when Smug couldn’t. He was a good dude, and helped me a lot.
At the end of 2017, I was at Punk’s house live-streaming when I found out that UYU wanted to pick me up. I was hesitant at first, they were a really small team.
A lot of small teams at the time had bad reputations, but I took the risk and signed with them. Shortly after they started signing players like Jeondding, NL, Oil King and I thought “OK, this team might be legit”.
They helped me develop my brand, they helped me get deals and do giveaways too. I remember in my first competitive year, I did terrible for them.
I went from being an average player to being non-existent. I was always drowning in pools, I was always losing, but when my contract came up they re-signed me anyway. They put their faith in me to turn it around.
It was a second chance and I decided to step it up.
Now, I’m back to getting top 8 at tournaments, and I’m not done improving.
Most sponsors look for crazy high-end returns from their players. Obviously, it has to be worth it for them. But at UYU, even if you’re struggling, they’ll stick it out with you if they see that you have the potential. They do it for the love.
It’s very cool because we’re all different ages and from different backgrounds, but fighting games and the FGC in general has brought us all together. If I’m struggling, my teammates are there picking me up, just like I’ll be there for them.
Sometimes we have to face each other in tournaments, but we don’t let that get to us or cause any problems. It just means we’re all doing well for ourselves.
It’s just another example of what makes the FGC so great. I went from being homeless two years ago, to being a pro player and competing at events with my friends and teammates.
And it all started with just making friends, listening to them, learning from them, and working with them to push each other to the next level.
A lot of people say “Go to your locals” and sometimes people don’t understand what that means exactly.
When I hear “go to your locals” I don’t hear “go to your locals and practice”. I think of it as going to your local community and meeting those people who are going to help you and push you to be better.
There really is no better place to start.
Image Credit: EGX and 0drift
Tam Mageean assisted with the creation of this article.