But 11 years is a long time for any scene, and the FGC is in a much different place, especially with regard to how it views queerness and treats its LGBTQ+ community members.
Of course, fighting games are no strangers to LGBTQ+ characters. Bridget and Testament from Guilty Gear are two of the most prominent examples in recent memory, but queer representation in fighting games arguably goes back to the genre’s roots in the late ’80s. While no mention of it was made in the original Street Fighter, the gentlemanly British fighter Eagle, whose design was inspired by bisexual icon Freddie Mercury, is implied to be gay in later appearances. Other games like Mortal Kombat, Tekken, and BlazBlue have included queer or gender-nonconforming characters in their playable rosters at various points.
In the competitive scene, queer players have risen to the heights of their respective games. The most popular of them all is Dominique “SonicFox” McLean, who has won major tournaments across multiple games including Mortal Kombat X, Skullgirls, Dragonball FighterZ, and seemingly any fighting game they decide to pick up for more than a couple months. Claire “UMISHO” Harrison, a trans woman, took home the top prize for Guilty Gear Strive at the 2022 Evolution Championship Series (EVO), one of the largest fighting game tournaments in the world. Other players like Ricki Ortiz, Dawn “Yohosie” Hosie, and Mia “Mira” Reshel have also won or placed highly in major tournaments for their games.
Even beyond top player representation, however, the FGC is one of the most diverse communities in esports. Whether it’s tournament organizers like Montreal’s Ishmael Cohen-Scali, casters like Gar, or even developers like Mane6’s Lindsay Towns and Jen Barboza, queer voices can be found in practically any game or role in the community. If you go to any local fighting game event on any given week, you’ll almost certainly find a trans girl practicing some fighting game you’ve never heard of before on the setup she brought from home, and she will teach you how to play it if you stand there long enough.
So how did we get here? What makes the FGC specifically so diverse?
Jamaal “Ryyudo” Graves, a player, commentator, and occasional tournament organizer, mentions the historically diverse casts of characters that have been a staple of the genre since its inception. He says that fighting games “have done extremely well about shying away from strictly straight white male casts, doing more than most games of earlier decades and even today. Having more characters meant fleshing them out in unique ways. So we get the World Warriors of Street Fighter when, around that time, NES classic Punch-Out!! might have been the closest to matching that variety. Players attached to these characters and still do years later; Chun-Li as a strong woman in gaming is one of the best examples. When done with good intentions, we’ve received strong representation and empowerment within fighting games.”
Cohen-Scali says the same, and also cites fighting games’ “arcade roots” as a contributing factor. “Arcades were a cheap and centralized place for people to meet up and play games with others, cultivating a local community and culture centered around these games. Arcades could also be connected to bowling alleys, movie theaters, or other smaller businesses that let them recoup the cost pretty easily, even in poorer neighborhoods, because of the low barrier to entry for the games.”