According to a study conducted by the Entertainment Software Association in 2013, women make up around half of the entire gaming population. Despite this general diversity, competitive gaming continues to be a widely male-dominated scene, a fact that naturally extends to the fighting game community. Sure, we have ladies like Ricki Ortiz, Samantha “Persia” Hancock and Leah “gllty” Hayes making waves on the tournament circuit, but they’re far from the norm.
That said, a growing number of women are becoming involved behind the scenes. From cultivating communities at the local level to producing events at the upper rungs of organizations, women are regularly responsible for ensuring the tournaments both big and small run smoothly — or sometimes, even run at all.
Breathing life into an old classic
Super Street Fighter II Turbo, for instance, largely survives in Southern California thanks to the passion of two women. Tania “Killer” Miller and Sharon “sharonasaurusx” Yoo have partnered with Level Up Series to host Super Turbo tournaments at Wednesday Night Fights on a weekly basis. Miller handles organizing duties between playing her own matches, and Yoo supports them while broadcasting the competitions to the world.
Despite separate childhoods growing up with fighting games, both women came in contact with the scene thanks to the release of Street Fighter IV in 2009. But where Miller was focused on the competitive aspects, Yoo simply fell in love with the people she met in the community. Her attention shifted to Super Turbo thanks to its simpler mechanics, and she had an opportunity to become more involved by streaming play in the classic title at Evo 2016.
"She is honestly the reason why this brand is growing by leaps and bounds," Miller said of Yoo. "I cannot thank her enough for being a tournament organizer and streamer for this amazing scene. She has put countless hours and so much energy that it’s revitalized a lot of us in the community to do our part."
Apart from competing, Miller has also dedicated her time to spreading the good word of Super Turbo to the rest of the community. While most older players have fallen off, she’s found success in the more recent generations of fighting game players, introducing newcomers to the classics with significant other and fellow tournament organizer Eugene "eltrouble" Lin.
"The only reason Super Turbo tournaments are still around is because we base our model on attracting new people," Miller explained. "We didn’t even announce the tournament at Evo last year, but we still had to cap entrants based on how many people showed up. We keep adapting and trying to bring more new members into the fold; it’s about the next generation keeping this thing strong."
Yoo is just as welcoming. "We do what we do every single week because we love Super Turbo, and we want you to love it too!" she added. "The reason why is because of how kind and welcoming the people are. I see a lot of people at Wednesday Night Fights who are interested but are too shy to play. Come play Super Turbo with us!”
Anime and puzzles
Mia "TheIceyGlaceon" Martin, on the other hand, entered the community just four years ago after seeing Persona 4 Arena competition streamed from Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament 9. She found herself in attendance the next year, admitting that she was impressed by the experience despite her quick elimination from the BlazBlue bracket.
"I was mesmerized by the community’s enthusiasm and how quickly everyone made you feel like family by welcoming you with open arms," Martin said. "By the end of the second day, I knew I would be returning next year. I had never had so much fun in my life, and there was no way you were keeping me from doing it again."
Competition didn’t remain a huge part of her life, but Martin soon became interested in the way tournaments work. While attending a local tournament, she was taught about the role judges play in running event brackets, and signed up to volunteer as soon as Combo Breaker rolled around in 2015.
"When that weekend finally came around, I’ll never forget how I felt wearing that staff shirt," she said. "I felt important. I felt useful. I knew this was something I wanted to keep doing. Because to me, there was and still is no better feeling than being part of the team that makes something so great come to life."
Over the last year, Martin has found a new calling in competitive puzzle game Catherine. Her dedication played a big part in being accepted at last month’s Frosty Faustings, and she’s looking to make her mark on more events in the near future.
“Frosty Faustings was a huge success for our community and I’m proud to say Catherine will be returning next year as a main game,” Martin continued. “I encourage everyone to give the game a try. The community is always willing to show new players how to climb, and we welcome everyone with open arms.”
Work, work, work, work, work, work
Although she entered the fighting game community later than most, Caitlyn Thiher’s dedication to pushing event production forward meant she quickly transformed into a recognizable staff member at tournaments across the United States. After getting her start handling brackets in her garage alongside husband and Combo Breaker lead Rick Thiher just a few year prior, Caitlyn became a key component of the Evo 2016 staff alongside other women like Rachel Pedraza and Kristine Xie.
"At that time, I didn’t see that what I was doing had much value," Thiher told me. "Other people started to, however, and things transitioned from my attending as a surprise or bonus to event organizers specifically asking if I was free and available to attend their events as staff. I went from Rick’s tag-along with the hair to a familiar face for production staff, organizers and commentators."
As time passed, Thiher’s responsibilities grew from simply running a few pools at events she was attending to handling entire games and, eventually, becoming assistant event director at Combo Breaker. Her ability to remain patient and calm in the chaotic tournament organizing environment made her presence a valuable one.
"I’d like to claim some magical skill set or attribute but the truth is that what makes me good at event work is very simple: I work on whatever needs to be done, until it’s done," she continued. "When it’s done, I move to the next thing that needs to be done. Nonstop. I can do that for 14 hours straight, multiple days in a row, and that’s what event work often is. What I offer fellow event organizers is reliability; if you point me in a direction, consider it handled."
Sharing the spotlight
From outside the spotlight, these and countless other women contribute perhaps the most important work of all to the fighting game community. They help keep games alive, and help tournaments thrive. Because the fighting game community is diverse in so many wonderful ways, it can be easy to forget that we often overlook the parts women play in making the scene what it is.
"I started playing competitively because at the end of the day, I’m a competitive person, but I’ve also had many aspiring female [role] models," Miller said. "Watching Stacy ‘Time to Empress’ Liu kick my boyfriend’s butt at Super Turbo was a glorious moment. I was shown the women’s Super Street Fighter IV tournament at Evo 2010 and found out about Marie-Laure 'Kayane' Norindr’s amazing Soulcaliber dominance. Even this year, Ricki Ortiz got second place at Capcom Cup. All these amazing inspiring females fuel me to get better."