In less than a week, I had made more than I would on a normal paycheck, from playing a game that I love. As the days went by, I began to realize that I had a simple choice ahead of me. I could keep working a job that I hated — a job that was dull, unfulfilling, and downright depressing — or I could quit and live off of playing a game that I love. I gotta say though, even though it was an easy call to make on the surface, I was still a bit terrified. How long could it last? How long could I keep winning? Would the tournaments keep going on as the game got older?
Those worries subsided as I soon discovered Morrigan/Doom in late 2011 and found a great rhythm in my tournament play. There were ups and downs, but I was on an overall upward trend. I had started to find steady success over West Coast players — who had been my bane for some time — and I was even making strong runs in nationals. But nonetheless, in 2013 I found myself back in that corner again. My roommate Nelson had just passed away, I lost my sponsor, I was about to get kicked out of my apartment, and I was starting to get sick of how things were becoming here.
All of this brought me to an impasse — I needed to move. I was told going to west coast would be my best bet If I wanted make it in the gaming scene. So, with the help of some friends, I dove in headfirst. In only 2 days, I packed up what little belongings I had — giving away everything that was nonessential — and hopped on a plane to California. Even there, I was in a corner. There was less money, the competition was fiercer, and I didn’t vibe with the community that same way that I did in New York. Despite all of this, I kept fighting and fighting, remembering how dark it had been, and I climbed up that damn mountain.
Eventually, the breakthrough came. It was EVO 2015. I was playing UMVC3, and I was one match away from Top 8. Here’s the thing about Top 8: at the time, I had always gotten it. Since 2011, I’ve always made the finals on Sunday. This time was different. I found myself face buried in hands wondering what just happened. I got 9th.
At that moment I realized that I needed to make a change. So a few weeks later, while talking to my girlfriend about going to a few tournaments, she turned around and said “Well… why don’t you just not go next week? And skip the tourney on Friday also! Let’s just go hiking instead.” It was so simple, but that ended up being the change I needed. I had gotten so caught up in the minutiae, in dedicating every second to the grind, worrying about winning so much, that I had forgotten why I had done so well in the first place: I was having fun.
With my lifestyle changes, time seemed to rush by and I suddenly found myself in the car going to EVO in 2016. The contrast was so obvious. In the preceding weeks, I wasn’t fretting over every last detail of my play, over-analyzing combos late into the night. I wasn’t grinding out double digit hours of play every day. Instead, I was just playing a few hours a day, taking the odd weekend off to hike or something, and even spent a few just playing Third Strike. To be honest, I was considering not going to Vegas at all. 2015 had been rough, and the memory still stung. But a buddy had been able to book a suite, so he offered to house me and my girlfriend for free.
That EVO was just so much fun for me. I was removed from the usual exhilarating highs of victory and the sometimes crushing lows of defeat. Instead, it was more like I was just playing at a big festival, riding the vibe of the whole weekend. The best part of EVO that year was waking up that Sunday, putting on a really nice outfit, and going down to play my Top-8 match against Justin. When we were duking it out, I wasn’t thinking about meeting KaneBlueRiver in the Grand Finals. I wasn’t thinking about getting a one-up on Justin, calling back to when he beat me in Grand Finals in 2014. Frankly, my mind was back in Chinatown Fair, remembering being $4 down against Justin, but damn, I just wanted to keep going and take a round. And here I was, almost a decade later, putting up with the same damn pressure from the guy — albeit with a bit more than $4 on the line. My back was against a wall.
When I finally beat KBR and won EVO, the payoff was sweeter than anything I had ever tasted. It wasn’t the money, nor the trophy that did it for me. It wasn’t about achieving something at my job. It wasn’t just something that I needed to add to my resume like all the other tournaments had become. I had accomplished something incredible, doing something that I loved. I had realized a dream.
Despite all of that, here I am again with my back up against a wall. This time, instead of the competition or myself, my battle is with Capcom. Infinite isn’t that fun. It isn’t strategically deep. It isn’t very conducive to my playstyle, and most teams are stale already. But I don’t care. I’m ready to meet the challenge, to find a way to make it fun. I can’t wait to force my playstyle onto the game, to push harder than anyone else in the world. I’ve realized that it’s not about money, it’s not about the titles. I’m in it for the laughs, for the long nights grinding with friends, and for the hellish car trips to tournaments. Fighting games are my life, and bad design is never going to ruin that. I will keep going anyway and I will get my back off that wall.