Unsung Heroes is our series about the many members of the Fighting Game Community who work behind the scenes to make our community a vibrant, positive, exciting place to be. If you would like to submit your own Unsung Heroes, contact us here or @toptiergg.
If you want to measure the importance of athletics to US culture, look no further than the language. Successes here are known as homeruns, touchdowns, or slam dunks. When you have no more opportunities, you’ve struck out; when you analyze an event after the fact, you’re a Monday-morning quarterback. But for all of our sports imagery, we’re missing the obvious metaphor for life itself. People say that it’s a marathon and not a sprint, but the truth is that life is a different track event. It’s a relay race.
Nowhere is this more true than in the Fighting Game Community. For nearly thirty years the FGC has been carried by the steady hands of expert players and passionate event workers. Now, the time is coming to pass the baton. A younger generation of players has made its claim to the community’s highest honors, and fans of all sorts are learning to find their own niches in the scene’s tournament-dominated ecosystem.
One of those new arrivals is ProfessorLiquid, a podcaster and community advocate from the Charlotte area. For years, he watched his favorite events purely for the love of the genre. Then, this past February, he felt it was time to become more than “the person on the other side of the screen.” Only nine months have passed since then, but those nine months represent a vital promise. They’re proof that, whatever comes next, the FGC is going to keep moving.
A Real Fight
As a gamer, Liquid’s heart belongs to the Tekken series. When he first encountered the franchise in his early childhood, he was drawn to the characters, the world, and the lore. What’s more, Tekken’s input system resonated with him. Unlike many other fighting games, in which basic attacks are broken down according to abstract categories or types, Tekken’s four buttons each represent one of the character’s limbs. For Liquid, the result was that the flow of the game felt “close to a real fight.”
At the same time, he was learning that there was more than one kind of real fight. Members of his household struggled with addiction. He was a witness to abuse. And on three separate occasions, he found himself without a home to call his own. “The same kids that would go to the park and play,” he says, “I slept in those parks growing up.” One consequence of all of this was that, at just nine years of age, he was diagnosed with clinical depression.
Pass It On
Liquid didn’t solve his problems on his own. Instead, he found aid and solace in the presence of professionals: counselors, therapists, and others. These experiences left him with the unshakable belief that people can heal from even the most crushing traumas. Just as importantly, he also learned how people heal.
“We all go through dark times in our lives,” he says. “But no one should go through darkness alone. No one should ever walk in darkness alone.” Though he’s a tech worker by trade, he’s made it his personal mission to bring compassion and loving kindness into the world. “My whole thing is, I want to make a lasting impact on the world that I will eventually leave behind.”
To turn that ideal into a reality, he started a one-man podcast called Liquid Wisdom in which he discusses mental health issues and teaches his subscribers how to “take the fear out of everyday life.” Shortly after he released the first episode, he was contacted by a representative of Brutal Democracy, an esports team that sponsors competitors in Dragon Ball FighterZ, Tekken 7, Street Fighter V, and Killer Instinct, among other titles. They wanted to know if he would be interested in hosting another podcast, this one focusing on Brutal Democracy and its presence in the FGC.
For Liquid, it was as though the stars had aligned. “My primary function for the scene is to provide positivity and resonance to those in the community,” he says. “I use my podcasts as a vehicle to bring that to fruition.” Where other shows focus on highlights, news, or tech, he opts to take a different view. “What isn’t talked about enough is, okay, what about the person who lost that set?…How do they recover from that? Do they deal with doubt within themselves, depression, that sort of thing? What sort of mental fortitude did it take for them to pick up the sticks again and to come back the very next year or the very next tournament and to perform better?”
He believes that there’s something special about fighting games, something that takes players on a journey of self-improvement. And if there’s any chance to help them along, he wants to be involved. “I didn’t want to be a bystander…Sometimes change can start with one person daring to do something.” As others did for him, he wants to be the one person who dares to make a positive change for others.
Just Getting Started
Like a relay racer who just grabbed the stick, Liquid is still bringing himself up to speed. At times, he still gets an “out-of-body experience” from meeting and talking with his favorite players. But he plans on pushing even harder, because he knows how much untapped potential still resides in his community.
“I’m trying to help shape the landscape that can better benefit others and the newer generations,” he says. In part, that means working to make sure that the FGC learns and matures. Along with thousands of others both inside and outside of the community, he was appalled at the recent revelations of sexual assault, predation, and prejudice within the scene. His ideas are ambitious: players’ unions, a unified “front office” of Tournament Organizers, partnerships with mental health organizations. But his moral stance is simple. “Whatever you choose to dedicate your time and effort – and sometimes money – towards, there is an incumbent responsibility on every individual to conduct themselves in a way that is both decent for yourself and also to the people around you.”
He also wants to reinforce the positive momentum that the FGC has enjoyed for the past ten or so years. “There are so many jobs that go into making the finished product a thing,” he says. “Like, if you go to any NFL stadium, you got your groundskeepers, you got people working sales, concessions, all these people working together.” This is his vision for fighting games. In his ideal world, there would be room not only for professional players and TOs but also commentators, streamers, podcasters, coaches, and more.
Of course, all of this will take time and hard work. Liquid himself may not be the one who achieves his goals. Instead, he may have to pass the baton to the next generation, just as the first generation passed it to him. But he knows that the only way to make anything happen is to keep moving and to trust that the next hand will be waiting for him. “Maybe,” he says, thinking of the future, “just playing isn’t enough anymore. Maybe, if we want to continue to enjoy this community, we have to pick up the bricks ourselves and help build this thing side by side.”
No matter how far he ends up going, he knows where he wants to make his mark. “I love the FGC. It’s been a major part of my life, even though I’ve never been to top eight or traveled around the world or anything like that.” He eagerly awaits the day when US tournaments can resume and he can make the trip to Atlanta for Final Round or to Orlando for CEO. In the meantime, he’s going to carry the community as far as he can.
Eli Horowitz lives and writes in Pittsburgh, PA. His first novel, Bodied, is set in the FGC. Buy your copy here, then follow him on Twitter for fighting game jokes, memes, highlights, and general positivity.
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