Dragged Twitching and Streaming: An Immersive, Cross-Platform Journey Through the World of Esports
Featuring competitors, streamers, and dreamers SonicFox, Alliestrasza, SypherPK, and MissHarvey
Introduction by Lauren Gaba Flanagan / Essay and Interviews by Damir Inbar
2019 is an electrifying time to be in games.
For starters, levels of fan engagement and interaction are deeper and richer than ever. Social media provides unfettered access to players and communities. Players are training like NBA athletes, salaries are headed skyward, and the caliber of professional play is remarkably high. Responsiveness of developers allows publishers to endlessly refine only the most compelling aspects of games (which in plain English means playing them is really fucking fun), the proliferation of always-on content creators on always-on streaming platforms provide many lifetimes’ worth of entertainment, and the biggest names in technology, sports, and media are vying to get a piece of this rapidly growing space, driving a wild bull market.
But with capital inflows and skyrocketing valuations comes intense scrutiny, primarily from people and platforms that never paid much mind to games, unless it was to advance the misleading narrative that playing them leads to violent behavior. This inflection point in the industry just so happens to dovetail with broader movements around diversity, inclusion, representation, #MeToo, and Time’s Up. There are now larger cultural forces at play in games.
To me, diversity in esports and gaming is diversity of thought, of perspective, of content, which is best made possible when the people who make up the ecosystem—players, orgs, management, leagues, tournament organizers, publishers, media platforms, executives, journalists, above- and below-the- line talent, lawyers, agents, streamers, creators—are reflective of the world around us. It’s making sure any individual who might be capable of making it as a pro player feels encouraged to try. It’s honest reflection, holding a mirror up to ourselves as a community in order to acknowledge the privilege or unconscious biases that may be shaping our ingrained views. It’s reframing how we talk to each other about diversity and inclusion, and how we respond when we see racism, sexism, or homophobia in practice. It’s making sure we leave plenty of room for nuance—especially because gaming is axised around largely anonymous, text-based online communication, which is quite literally black and white. Most of all, it’s empathy, and exploring our understanding of how vastly experiences in gaming can differ based on gender, race, or sexual orientation.
This feature is an invitation to expand our collective mindset and change the way we think about what have historically been contentious themes in this industry. It’s not virtue-signaling or identity politics, nor is it a veiled attempt to paint the millions of individuals that comprise the gaming community with the same brush. And no, it’s not meant to suggest lowering the competitive standards set forth for those who wish to legitimately compete at the highest level; moreover, the players and streamers featured here would never accept that.
In the following pages, paired with an impressionistic first-person view of the contemporary state of gaming, are four people who have accrued significant influence in their respective games, and who did so on their own terms. Some have pursued this path quietly, some quite vocally, and one even wearing a fursuit, but what ultimately ties them together is that they have risen to this level through dedication, drive, and skill. Included among them is ESPN’s 2018 Esports Player of the Year, SonicFox—an openly queer furry who will “mix your shit” in fighting games; Alliestrasza, a Hearthstone streamer who turned pro in just two years; Missharvey, a multiple-time women’s world champion in Counter-Strike who has also worked as a game designer; and one of the top Fortnite streamers in the world, SypherPK, whose Twitch channel is among the fastest growing on the platform. In many ways, they simultaneously represent past, present, and future: they’ve been fixtures of these scenes for years, but they also provide a glimpse at a dynamic pool of competitors that will continue to make LAN parties and guilds and arenas such exciting places to be, in 2019 and beyond. Enjoy.
NAME: ALLIE GRACE / AGE: 25 / COUNTRY: UNITED STATES / GAME: HEARTHSTONE / ACHIEVEMENTS: TOP 16 SSC VIII, TOP 8 PAX EAST GEICO HEARTHSTONE, 144,492 TWITCH FOLLOWERS
What do you like most about playing Hearthstone over other games?
I love card games in general. I like strategy and outthinking your opponent. Hearthstone is particularly special because of the wonderful lore and stories behind the Warcraft universe. Blizzard tells stories like no other. My entire character handle is based off of a Blizzard character, Alexstrasza.
What’s the best part about being a prominent gamer / streamer? The hardest part?
I think the best part about being a prominent streamer is that I feel like I really have a voice in this rapidly growing industry. My favorite thing about streaming is getting told that my stream has helped someone through tough times, or that the stream is a source of joy in their lives. The hardest part is probably dealing with the scrutiny of being a public person on the internet. I am a very interactive streamer when it comes to talking to the chat, and that leads to dealing with occasional harassment and hate messages. You have to have thick skin when you allow the anonymous individuals on the internet to talk to you everyday.
What does a day in your working life look like?
Wake up -> breakfast -> stream until afternoon -> Gather YouTube content from stream -> respond to emails -> Dinner -> Relax -> Repeat
Who is Alliestrasza off the clock?
I love yoga. I love music. I enjoy finding content made by other creative people. Whether that be YouTubers, Podcasters, or other streamers. When I get the chance, I love to travel and experience more of the world than just my own community. At my core, however, I am very much a homebody who loves enjoying time at home with my boyfriend, Mason.
When did you start playing video games? How has the gaming world changed since then? What do you hope for competitive gaming and streaming’s future?
I started playing video games when I was 5 or 6? I was in Kindergarten. The gaming world has changed immensely. I definitely played more single player games when I was younger, so I lacked that sense of online communication with other gamers. Nowadays, most of the popular games are all PVP online and it builds connection between gamers all over the world.
Did you start playing Hearthstone before you realized you could make a career out of streaming it? When did you seriously consider it as a career path, and how did your parents react?
I started playing Hearthstone before I knew that Twitch existed. I was fairly casual until I realized streaming could be a full time career—that’s when I took the game more seriously. I didn’t want to waste any time after graduation so I started streaming immediately. I treated it as a normal 9 to 5. Both of my parents were very supportive of my decision.
You’ve said that you want to expand your streaming career and also become a stronger competitive player. How are you working to meet your goals?
My main priority is being a Twitch streamer and content creator. My stream is continuing to grow and I hope it will keep expanding as the gaming industry also develops. I do love to compete. I love it more now that I have gained more confidence in myself. It’s an awesome rush to compete on a stage and I hope to be a part of many future competitions. With content creation being my main focus, I am happy with my competitive performances. I would, however, love to keep achieving more.
Have you faced challenges as a woman in your industry?
Absolutely. There are some people who automatically assume that because you are a woman, you must not be very good at video games. I do feel as if I have to “prove” that I am a good, serious player and that I am not trying to take advantage of the fact that I am a woman in a male dominated industry. There are certainly advantages to being a woman in this gaming world, but I don’t appreciate when people chalk my success up just to my gender. I put in a lot of work to get where I am today and I very proud of that fact. There is obviously harassment that comes with this job, but I have gotten much better at brushing it off and ignoring it as best as I can.
I overcome this negativity by knowing that I am helping other women who want to be a part of the gaming industry. I am trying to be a good example and role model for other girls— this is what keeps me going when the negativity tries to bring you down.
Do you think you’ve empowered girls and women to be gamers and streamers as well? Is that a priority for you?
I have had multiple women tell me that they look up to me and that I’ve inspired them to play games and stream. I really do think I’ve empowered some women out there, so that makes me feel amazing. I am constantly trying to spread the message that anyone can enjoy video games; it’s not just a “guys thing.” This industry needs more women to help pave the way for other girls who might be hesitant to compete
or stream. I am very passionate about extinguishing sexism from the gaming industry and I hope to help this throughout my entire career.
Photographer: Stefano Galli.
Stylist: Britton Litow.
Hair And Makeup: Alexandra French Using Chanel Beauty, Face Atelier & Nars
NAME: DOMINIQUE MCLEAN / AGE: 20 / COUNTRY: USA / GAMES: MORTAL KOMBAT, DRAGON BALL FIGHTER Z, GODS AMONG US / TEAM: ECHO FOX / ACHIEVEMENTS: 2018 ESPORTS PLAYER OF THE YEAR, FOUR-TIME EVO CHAMPION, TWO-TIME INJUSTICE 2 PRO SERIES CHAMPION
You are potentially the best player in the fighting game community, but are recognized for your versatility to pick up a new game and master it for professional play quickly. What drives you to change things up so often?
I just enjoy playing various new fighting games. I am a fighting game fan and so I just like to fluctuate from one to the other.
In your now viral 2018 Game Awards acceptance speech, you said, “I’m gay, black, a furry—pretty much everything a Republican hates—and the best esports player of the whole year, I guess.” What was it like to climb the competitive ladder and gain more visibility while remaining true to your identity?
It feels so powerful! It’s like, I made it here in spite of all these things, and now I am a big influence to a ton of people, so it has its perks!
You’ve been playing fighting games competitively from a young age. What were some of your early experiences in the fighting games community like? How has the scene changed over the years?
I’ve been playing since I was 13 years old, and those years were some of the best! MK9 [Mortal Kombat 9] will always have a special place in my heart. The scene is much bigger now and is going strong into MK11!
While the esports community is full of plenty of compassionate, accepting, and well-natured people, it also fosters its own fair share of ugliness and toxicity. In spite of that, you come off as friendly, easygoing, and capable of some serious generosity yourself (after winning the Injustice 2 Pro Series 2018 Grand Finals, for instance, you donated $10,000 of your winnings to fellow gamer Rewind to help fund his father’s cancer treatment). How do you maintain a positive attitude in the face of adversity?
After being in the FGC for years, you get some tough skin. I have determined that I don’t really care what people who I don’t know say about me. My friends and family, and the people who I have influenced or the ones who have been with me from the start are enough validation for me to keep remaining positive and to keep doing what I do!
What words of wisdom would you have for other aspiring pro gamers who are eager but nervous about stepping into the spotlight and competing themselves?
I say find a bunch of people who want to get better with you or support you the whole way, and to just keep gaming. Get to your first tournament ASAP and make new connections and bonds. That’s what it is all about at the end of the day anyway. You will see your game get stronger with the more connections you make!
Photographer: Stefano Galli.
Stylist: Britton Litow.
NAME: STEPHANIE HARVEY / AGE: 32 / COUNTRY: CANADA / GAME: COUNTER-STRIKE / ACHIEVEMENTS: FORMER GAME DESIGNER AT UBISOFT MONTREAL, 114,063 TWITCH FOLLOWERS, 1ST MINOR WESG 2018 IN HER CATEGORY
When did you first start seriously considering a career as an esports athlete and gaming personality?
Although I have been playing video games my whole life, it always felt like a passion I would pursue on the side. I’ve had over a decade of unpaid 40-hours/week of esports work, but it was normal to me for it to be a side project and not my main focus because there was no career to be made in that field back then! It was only about five years ago when Twitch started gaining ground that I thought I could do this fulltime. I didn’t want to leave my game design job because I truly felt passionate about this line of work as well, but I knew I had to eventually give it a shot because I would regret not trying it. Three years ago I finally made the jump, and so far I am not regretting any of it.
What do you like about Counter-Strike Global Offensive [CS:GO] as a game? What about its design is compelling to you as a player?
There are so many little details that make me love a game like CS:GO, but I think the most important one is that it’s very simple yet very tactical, so it lets the players’ imagination reinvent optimal strategies over and over all the time. Just like in most popular sports, the rules of the game haven’t changed much over the years, but because the original gameplay is so solid and sharp, it makes strategies and teamwork the most important thing. There is not much luck involved but instead skill, experience, communication and preparation. You don’t have to be the best all-around player to perform on a team; it’s more about chemistry cooperation. But, like I mentioned, all of this wouldn’t even be possible if the gameplay itself wasn’t one of the best shooters on the market to this day, from the weapons and the maps to the game goals and the money system, CS really is special on so many levels.
How would you characterize Canada’s esports scene when you were first beginning to play professionally? How has it changed over time?
Canada’s esports scene back in 2003 was practically non-existent. The term ‘esports’ wasn’t even around back then, and we were probably seen as a bunch of weirdos gathering in a room to play video games together on a weekend. But I think is has evolved tremendously, because we now see top players from Canada in almost all games. It’s also starting to be recognized as a legitimate profession, and we’ve seen numerous international big events make a stop in arenas across the country. Every major media company now has an esports column, and the debate isn’t about if it’s legit or not, it has progressed to questions like, ‘How should we cover it?’
It’s great to finally talk to the mainstream audience normally about my career and not have to dumb down everything because they can’t understand what video games are. It also helps me to raise awareness on the real issues that we can tackle as a country, like cyberbullying, cyberdependance, and understanding our online interactions.
What are the greatest challenges you’ve faced over the course of your professional career as an esports athlete?
One of the most difficult things about my career was the uncertainty.You never know when your big break is going to come, you never know if you are going to be benched or replaced, the whole process can be very fragile. Also, I struggled with facing most of the adversity on my own. There was and still is very little support for players, from your grind to becoming a pro, and even then, most pros still don’t have an agent. Adversity also came from my real life, where I was kind of an outcast, or seen as “different” (no one was a pro gamer, what does that even mean???) or within the community, because I was also different (being a girl then was a big deal, in good and bad ways).
You’ve been very vocal about your criticism of sexism in the esports industry and the culture that surrounds it. How do you think gaming communities will need to change in order to accommodate a better future for non-cis men, as well as other victims of discrimination or harassment?
Oof, that question is loaded. It is very hard for me to say how it should evolve because I don’t necessarily think it’s just a gaming or esports problem. I think it’s a society problem. We need a shift in our culture to be more respectful of others and of differences. We need to learn how to interact with others on the internet, in games or not. Social media is a part of our lives whether we like it or not, and yet we are unequipped to face it head on and criticize it. Too often we have no empathy for others behind the screen—technology evolved too fast for our own good, and we have to do something now for the next generations to have healthier online interactions.
I think this would drastically help games make a shift to a more inclusive environment. I think this starts with our education systems and our parent’s influence. Parents need to be more aware about what their kids do behind the screen and be more interested in their online lives to help support a healthy interactive environment. Schools need to start teaching at a young age online respect just like we teach students how to respect their classmates or teachers.
Meanwhile, on the gaming side, we need better support from game development teams with ingame tools and gameplay mechanics that promote positivism and respect. We need more initiatives to promote inclusivity and respect among communities, and we also need to look at our own behavior in games. Is there something you can do differently now to help this change? I think you can. Do it.
What advice would you give to non-cis men who feel discouraged to participate or be made visible in gaming spaces? What are some resources or techniques they can use to help themselves?
First of all, I would say, that I totally understand. Too often I wished my nickname wasn’t missharvey but just harvey. It can be very discouraging to be discriminated because of your difference, but I just want to say this: you are not alone. You are not alone in your difference because one of the only things we all have
in common is that we are all different. You are also not alone, because there are tons of gamers across the world and I know you can find a group of people that will respect you for you and not focus on very stupid subtleties.
Please don’t let the haters win because in the end they are the ones suffering the most—holding on to this anger all the time must be so exhausting for them! Focus on yourself and what you want to do and be. Give yourself goals and stick to it. In the end, I strongly believe being part of a gaming community is amazing and worth it and that you can find a community who will make you feel like you belong, no matter your “differences.”
Photographer: Royal Gilbert.
Stylist: Rima Chahine At Folio Mangement.
Hair And Makeup: Ashley Diabo Using Kevin Murphy Products At Teamm Management.
Styling Assistant: Samuel Joubert
NAME: SYPHER ALI / AGE: 22 / GAME: FORTNITE / ACHIEVEMENTS: 2,037,928 TWITCH FOLLOWERS, 5,331 STREAMING HOURS
How did you get your start streaming? What was the moment you knew that you wanted to be a professional streamer?
I used to stream casually ever since 2012. I didn’t really start taking it seriously until the release of the game Elder Scrolls Online in April of 2014. That following summer I was streaming every chance I could to a few dozen viewers, and by the end of the summer I had around 100 average Twitch viewers. It took me a full year before I was accepted for a Twitch partnership in April of 2015, and that is when things started to become serious and the potential of doing this full time started to become a reality. However, the dream of becoming a professional streamer is something I’ve had since I was 15. It took years to make it a reality.
What were the early days of streaming like? How did you build your audience and maintain a loyal following?
The early days were unorganized but less stressful. I would stream around 4 to 6 hours about 5-6 days a week. I didn’t stick to a solid schedule initially, and as a result my progress suffered. I quickly developed a schedule I could follow so my audience could depend on my stream being there at certain times of the day. As a result, I had more regulars who would come in day after day to tune into the stream. Sticking to a routine definitely helped solidify grow the stream following.
What is it about Fortnite that you and so many others find compelling to both play and watch?
Fortnite is unpredictable in many facets. The gameplay itself has up to 100 players all playing for the same goal of being the last man standing. Not knowing who you will run into, what items you will find, and where the game will end makes every game a unique experience with a story to tell. The development of the game has also shown that it can go down a lot of paths. From collaborating with Marvel for a limited time “Thanos” game mode to incorporating a creative mode that allows for players to create their own custom maps and game modes, the game is always fresh to play and always changing.
Did you have a favorite game as a kid? Were you always an excellent gamer?
My favorite game was Halo 3. It was the first FPS I played and also my first experience at competitive multiplayer games. I was always the best ‘gamer’ among my three younger brothers and classmates. I didn’t think I would eventually become a professional video game player, but it definitely was a dream of mine.
What is the best part about being a full-time streamer? The toughest part?
Making a hobby into a career makes working a very fun part of my day. Being independent and creating my own schedule is a big bonus as well. The downside is the industry is always changing and that means as a streamer it is very important for you to be on top of all the newest trends and stay extremely consistent with minimal downtime to maintain relevance and to keep your stream moving forward. I haven’t taken more than two days off in a row for over a year now.
In your view, how has Twitch’s general community changed over time? What were some of the major developments that led to the platform becoming what it is today?
Twitch has become a lot more mainstream now. Initially what was more of a niche genre of watching gaming livestreams has now launched as a global phenomenon. The addition of IRL, Music, and Art has made Twitch a lot more inclusive.
As streaming platforms like Twitch become populated with more and more content creators, it’s becoming harder and harder for individuals to stand apart from the crowd and make a home for themselves amongst a stable audience. What, in your opinion, does it take to be a top-tier streamer in 2019?
There are three main qualities a streamer must have to some degree: audience interaction, a likeable personality, and being talented at the games they play. That on its own can give you a head start, but it doesn’t guarantee Twitch success. You will need to find something unique about you that you can use to set yourself apart from the thousands of other broadcasters. For me it was my ability to educate others on how to become better at the video games I was playing. I made plenty of guides and educational commentaries to serve as a gaming tutor. This gave me the edge I needed to stand out amongst the crowd.
The world of streaming is constantly expanding. Major media companies are only just beginning to see the potential in the medium, and Epic is still in the midst of figuring out just how to make Fortnite into a fully-fledged esport. What are some of your personal ambitions for the upcoming years? Where would you like to see your content in the future?
I have a very strong audience with Fortnite, but over the next few years I want to establish myself even further by expanding the gaming genres that I play. Being able to try out new games and different genres while not taking a significant hit on my active viewership is the goal right now. Which is why as of lately I have been playing other games mixed in with my Fortnite gameplay.
Photographer: Todd White
Ten Reflections on the Contemporary State of the Social-Digital Competitive Landscape
Written by Damir Inbar
LEVEL 1: Games are evolving, both in and out of the arena. This year I will follow the circuit––and maybe do so without ever leaving the house.
LEVEL 2: Now how about this? Here comes a large slinking bungalow. Swallows me whole! I find myself trapped in its unfurnished interior, one of three captive avatars. There’s a skittish Pikachu running in circles, helplessly searching for a way out. In the corner, that walking talking testament to human retrogression known as “Ugandan Knuckles” berates our four-walled captor with mic-peaking howls. A typical evening on VRChat, the present-day analog to Spielberg’s squirrely epic Ready Player One. Yesteryear’s dreams of hoverboards and space tourism must seem quaint to these anonymous humans in headsets, embodying sentient houses, living their truth(s).
LEVEL 3: I’ve noticed a certain gameplay mechanic showing up in dozens of games as of late. It goes by many names, but most of the people I’ve talked to call it “detective mode.” Essentially what it does is enhance your in-game vision by overlaying information that was imperceivable beforehand. In some instances it allows you to see through walls. Other times it color codes points of interest. This mechanic often tows the line between a diegetic depiction of your character’s sixth sense, and a visual crutch applied to reduce the game’s difficulty. Regardless of its intent, “detective mode” gives us a peek into the near future, in which our symbiotic relationship to augmented reality devices will be comparable to the instinctual/reflexive functionality of a video game controller.
LEVEL 4: Just attended my first Overwatch League game with E. and P. It’s not altogether different from other competitive sporting matches I’ve attended: The roar of thundersticks punctuates crowd-rousing plays; there’s a gaggle in the cheap seats chanting “de-fense!” when appropriate; the buttery waft of snacks threatens to spoil the day; an unseen commentator provides a seemingly omniscient blow-by-blow that might be absorbable in slow-mo playback. The audience faces a theater- sized screen, which provides alternating glimpses into the POVs of 12 players engaged in a match. The teams sit on opposite sides of this screen, facing their computers. When I squint my eyes just right I can tell that the players’ lips are always moving. In this game, victory hinges on constant communication. At a cursory glance, Overwatch looks like a Pixar-helmed reimagining of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Further investigation reveals a game defined by its vast and inclusive group of characters, drawn from an extensive range of backgrounds and influences. E. and P. are big fans of D.Va, a pro esports gamer with a mech suit. I’ve grown quite fond of Junkrat, a maniacal demolitionist who can launch himself into the air using the blast of his own explosives.
LEVEL 5: Take a walk though any public school playground and you’ll hear it: “Fork Knife,” a fitting mondegreen for a game that’s cut the rest of the industry down to size. Fortnite is bigger than the NFL. The most popular spectator sport on our planet is a mélange of hide and seek, foraging and skydiving, with a soupçon of gunplay and fort-building for good measure. At the moment, it doesn’t look like this game stands a chance of becoming the next big esport: high-level Fortnite play consists of much hiding and not a lot of seeking.
LEVEL 6: How many gamers have you met who consign themselves to a steady diet of Fifa and Madden? “I’m only in it for the sports,” they mumble incoherently. Granted, it’s not the wrong way to play games, just a missed opportunity. Skew your perspective just slightly and you’ll realize that most games are sports, without counterparts in the physical realm. Sure, you’re just jumping on goombas or shooting plasma at aliens, but the competitive element is there. Maybe: all games are sports until proven otherwise.
LEVEL 7: When store-bought guns are drawn in our schools, politicians tend to lay the blame on video game guns. “Games like Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct and Doom make our children more active participants in simulated violence,” argues Bill Clinton. This year, Trump’s best people thought up a new and inventive way to hammer that position home. An 88-second video was uploaded to the White House Youtube channel, lacking any description save for its title: “Violence in Video Games.” Apparently this montage of bloodshed was made to be shown at a meeting hosted by Trump and attended by game industry executives along with their vehement detractors. Now that this superfluous distraction is over, what we’re left with is the mental image of some self-righteous Washington weirdos pushing games to their gory limits, scavenging for choice moments of virtual brutality.
LEVEL 8: My old friend C. is taking a break from his studies to flesh out a new game idea. He laid it all down for me in a series of intriguing elevator pitches: “It’s Zelda meets Pro Tools,” “It’s inspired by Vega Lyra, the mysterious ‘harp star’ that is larger than our own sun,” “The year is 14015 and Earth is shaped like a curved CD. At its center is a laser light beam.” “In the beginning, your job will be to decipher ancient rhythms on Akkadian clay tablets.” “In-game currency is measured using musical notation, with the double whole note being the greatest amount of money.” I often feel like we’re on the cusp of a major sea-change in game development, which will be lead by radical thinkers like C. (a classical music enthusiast and nongamer).
LEVEL 9: Just finished playing through Nier: Automata. The final boss fight, in which my flying mech was forced into aerial combat with the game’s end credits, seemed like an insurmountable challenge until a troupe of unsourced spacecrafts appeared out of nowhere and joined my plight. Finally, the credits were vanquished and the bittersweet relief of closure washed over me. At this exact moment, the game confronted me with the option to convert my save file into one of the aforementioned savior-spacecrafts, at the cost of my own progress in the game. In other words, to help another human player struggling with this indomitable endboss, I had to erase all evidence that I’d ever played this game. But what of all the side quests left hanging? All the stones left unturned? The game map was still speckled with dozens of tiny markers, each one an invitation to dig deeper into this world. Ultimately, I chose the sacrificial route and felt a synthetic rush of altruistic satisfaction. Even the most insular gaming experiences often lend themselves to genuine camaraderie. For instance, Dark Souls, an enigmatic single-player game notorious for its convoluted systems and arcane storytelling, has spurred a near- decade long discussion of its bottomless well of mysteries. Gamers flock to forums to analyze their findings, to vaunt their tactics and interpretations, to report back on their isolated excursions into incorporeal realms.
LEVEL 10: Had a sizable bowl of soup with I. at the Beverly Soon Tofu House. Post meal, discovered my car’s battery was dead, leaving us both stranded in a Koreatown strip mall. While waiting for Geico to come through with the jumper cables we bided our time at the Zero Ping Cyber E-Sport Gaming LAN Center—a neighborly gamer’s den decked with massive monitors and sunken couches. Players sat stoic, wielding their peripherals with electric urgency while a throng of spectators stood off-center, whooping and hollering at the Mortal Kombatants onscreen. The air of playful competition transports me back to 3rd grade after-school in the lunchroom, teacher wheeling in a CRT hooked up to a Gamecube, a wiggly line of keyed up competitors clamoring for a chance to prove their mettle in the Super Smash arena. I study my more experienced peers’ fingers: a flurry of button mashes I could never hope to replicate. An also-ran hands me the purple controller. In the character menu I choose to play as Kirby, an excellent jumper. I’m thrown off the ring five times in under two minutes. I hand the controller over to the next kid, take my place in the back of the line, and watch the next game.