Red Bull Kumite New York in Brooklyn, New York on March 17, 2024
© Todd Owyoung / Red Bull Content Pool

The stories that define the New York fighting games scene

As Red Bull Kumite looks ahead to its future in Paris, we share some of the stories that made New York such an enticing destination for the prestigious tournament.
By Brandon Brathwaite
8 min readPublished on
The confetti has already been swept up in the venue that hosted the 9th edition of Red Bull Kumite. The event combined the best competitors in the world with the historical legacy of the New York fighting game scene for one amazing weekend of hype and prestige. This latest chapter of the iconic tournament series joins the collection of everyday stories that built the ethos of the New York scene today.
MenaRD competes during the Red Bull Kumite New York in Brooklyn

MenaRD competes during the Red Bull Kumite New York in Brooklyn

© Todd Owyoung / Red Bull Content Pool

Every player has a unique story made from an environment that is as competitive as the hustle-hard nature of the city. These are New York experiences through and through. The folklore of the New York fighting game community. Here are just some of the stories that make the scene so special.

If You Build It, They Will Come - Joe "LI Joe" Ciaramelli

One faithful day, Henry Cen said that he was buying a Street Fighter IV board. He imported the arcade version from Japan and he had them in two, homemade DIY cabs. He built them himself. He got the monitors, he put the sticks in. It wasn't an official arcade cabinet.
Now I'm going to say all these negative things, but I mean it with all love. When you walked into this dingy, dirty, smelly arcade hole in the wall, there was this kind of makeshift do-it-yourself, Japanese arcade cab side-by-side that had Street Fighter IV in it. I want to say there were two others in the country maybe that we knew of, someone else we knew owned one and there was also one out in California.
But needless to say, it was literally like being at a concert every day. As soon as you opened the door, it took two minutes to get to the cab because of how many people were lined up around the cab. There was a yellow loose-leaf notepad that was tied to the side of the game. You had to write your name in the notepad if you wanted to play. The guys that worked there would be calling names like, 'Joe, where's Joe? Get on Joe.'
Fans wait in line to get into Red Bull Kumite in Greenpoint Brooklyn

Fans wait in line to get into Red Bull Kumite in Greenpoint Brooklyn

© Ryan Muir / Red Bull Content Pool

The craziest thing about it too was most games are 50 cents. Maybe some of the older games might be a quarter, but they were charging $1 to play Street Fighter IV. Not only was it $1, it was $1 with a six-game win streak max because Henry knew that if Justin was there, Justin would never get up. If Justin wasn't there and Sanford was playing, Sanford would never get up. If Sanford wasn't there and I was playing, I would never get up. Henry being the smart businessman that he is said, 'No, I can't have that.'
It would say, thank you for playing and two people would have to come in and play. What we started doing in order to help the line is this, if I was beating you, let's say I would let you win on my sixth game so you could at least stay on, so the next person would get up and would get to go. So instead of like me beating you and we both raise up, they would be like, I would almost beat you then let you beat me. Very, very rarely would there be instances where if two people had beef, they would just play and not actually play the last game because they didn't want to give the game up to one another.
The amount of people and how hype the arcade was when that game was out and just the whole scene, it really did revitalize the New York FGC in a way that you would not believe.
YipeS, Tasty Steve and James Chen seen during the Red Bull Kumite New York

YipeS, Tasty Steve and James Chen seen during the Red Bull Kumite New York

© Todd Owyoung / Red Bull Content Pool

I really felt what Street Fighter IV did to the scene. I felt it, I lived it. It was one of the greatest time periods of my life going to Chinatown Fair during that game. Now I loved going to Chinatown Fair before that game, but when that game was out, there was just absolutely nothing like it. Just from a social aspect, it was the greatest.

One For All, All For One - Javits Arias

A memory that came as I was here today, I talked to my friend Chris Hu. "We met at Chinatown Fair when Street Fighter IV came out and he used to be so quiet man. He just came in, played his Ryu, and never really talked to anybody. We kind of communicated through the game, kind of built a small rivalry because I would beat him more and then he would figure something out and start beating me back. It was just this unspoken language."
So a little funny story about Chris Hu. In Street Fighter IV, they introduced a mechanic called FADC. You could dash cancel out of special moves and he was the first Ryu player that was consistently able to do Dragon Punch, FADC into Ultra Hadoken. So we used to have an inside joke that he was secretly a tester of the game because he was able to bust out that technique so early before anybody else could.
We would encourage him to enter tournaments. We got him to come to East Coast Throwdown 1, which was run by LI Joe. He had his breakout performance there and we were all rooting for him because he was one of the Chinatown Fair boys. Even though he didn’t speak with anybody at that time, he performed so well that we knew that in a way we were a part of his success. We kind of reveled in his success together. Now we’re great friends.
Gamers at the Red Bull Kumite tournament in Greenpoint Brooklyn

Gamers at the Red Bull Kumite tournament in Greenpoint Brooklyn

© Ryan Muir / Red Bull Content Pool

That's one of the beautiful things about Street Fighter you have this unspoken language, communicating through the game and expressing yourself through these characters. You end up making friends, rivals, or enemies wherever it may take you. It’s something special for sure. Something you really can find with other games in my opinion.

A True Master Is Forever A Student - Steven "Coach Steve" Delgado

So I vividly remember my very first time visiting "The Arc" in Brooklyn (around 2009-early 2010). It was probably about a week or two after I had a very strong local performance at Battlefield Arcadia X for Street Fighter IV.
When I went there, it was with the intent of just getting better and playing with different people. The entire time I was there, I got to play against IFC Yipes, Hiro, and Jago. They all played M.Bison at a high level, with very different styles, and I got to fight against them for hours in this one match-up
I didn't think I could level up in a single match-up (Blanka vs Bison) as fast as I did that day. They all taught me different things about the game, the match-up, and myself as a player. I was 15 years old back then. Even at 30 years of age, I look to them as some of my mentors in the FGC. Always love and respect them.

Iron Sharpens Iron - Sean "Shine" Simpson

One of my favorite things about New York City is probably just the rivalries that popped up. A lot of times the U.S. will have regional rivalries, right? Like we'll have, the patented East Coast versus West Coast or NLBC versus Wednesday Night Fights or NY versus the South or whatever. But what made NLBC and New York unique is that there were so many rivalries within our state. The one that I got to be a part of in New York and that I got to watch live was Smug and Sanford. I think that was one of the greatest New York rivalries.
Red Bull Kumite activation event in Times Square, New York City

Red Bull Kumite activation event in Times Square, New York City

© Nicole Fara Silver / Red Bull Content Pool

I don't know when it particularly started but when Smug started going to NLBC, it must have been later in the game's lifespan, maybe around 2012. Smug, you only really knew of him online and Sanford was one of our best players. Smug came out of nowhere and he beat Sanford with a character that's not very well known. His character Dudley had a lot of bad matchups and there weren't many people playing that character at a high level.
Sanford is a super passionate guy. He's not he's not one to take an L and be happy about it. He's going to find out an answer and he's only going to come back and then try to smoke you. For a while, Smug just had his number and with the type of personality that he has, he can be a bit of a troll. He's just having fun on the camera. It would get under Samford's skin like he wasn't feeling that type of energy.
Spectators seen during the Red Bull Kumite New York in Brooklyn

Spectators seen during the Red Bull Kumite New York in Brooklyn

© Todd Owyoung / Red Bull Content Pool

You just see this rivalry forming over time. Smug had the upper hand in sets over Sanford by a decent amount, but you could see the passion and the stakes just felt so high every time you watched them play every week. There are times Sanford just started playing out of his mind, he tried to dissect and figure out how to beat Smug and this character. It was just very unusual for him to have this level of difficulty with someone. He didn't have that type of difficulty with a lot of people, especially in Street Fighter IV.
It was sick to watch and I think, when people talk about rivalries in New York you have to consider that as one of THE rivalries when it comes to the Street Fighter IV era.


The stories presented here can be summarized as ones of community, shared wisdom, and rivalry. A magical place where skill could garner opportunity and ingenuity led to success. These stories defined them in the past and as each person spoke further, it’s clear that these tenets of the New York scene will be the guiding light of a bright future.