Since the days of the arcade, fighting games have long been a popular form of competition within the gaming community. Players lined up alongside Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter machines, challenging each other and the so-called “pros” who knew the killer combinations few could beat.
Today, fighting games are a more popular part of competitive gaming culture, attracting sponsors and large crowds to professional events like EVO and the Capcom Pro Tour. As eSports have continued to grow, fighting games have become a more widely-recognized and appreciated form of competition spanning national and racial divides around the world.
For all its inclusivity, it remains a male-dominated realm in which female competitors are greatly outnumbered. Like virtually all aspects of nerd and geek culture, however, there are several women who have stepped in and paved the way for others to join them.
One of these women is Sherry Nhan, who has made a name for herself as a prolific fighting game competitor in the past several years.
Better known as Sherry Jenix in competitive circles, Nhan is a player who regularly competes in Street Fighter IV tournaments. She recalls first being introduced to the scene when invited to a tournament by a friend.
“I first started playing because my friend, SHGLBMX, asked me to compete in the ‘Ladies of Street Fighter’ tournament at Arcade Infinity. At that point, I [had] never touched the game, but I was interested in seeing how I would do,” she says. “Unsurprisingly, I got destroyed, but I loved the experience so I kept at it.”
It was at her first EVO tournament that Nhan realized what this community could mean to her.
“I watched all the way to grand finals when it was Justin Wong vs. Daigo. After Justin reset the bracket, the crowd went nuts and that’s when I realized that this was something I’d want to do for a very long time,” she remembers.
Nhan considers herself a competitive person, and to her, competition is a way in which she can focus and better herself. When considering her proudest moment, she cites a competition that didn’t bring her great accolades, but instead proved what she was capable of.
“There was a moment in time where I got destroyed at every tournament I went to,” she says. “I went 0-2 for almost six months straight when I first started playing. I asked myself if there was any point to continue playing because I felt like I was going nowhere.
“That all changed when I entered Sunroute Cup at Denjin Arcade in 2010. I went 2-2 for the first time and thought to myself, ‘Hey, it’s not a great result, but at least this means I’m improving.’”
Her continued progression and focus on improvement shines through. She admits she’s nowhere near the top, but that hasn’t stopped her from continuing to push forward. “I’m definitely nowhere close to being a top player yet, but I tell myself I’m just a work in progress. That moment when I broke my streak of going 0-2, I knew that I could better myself as a player if I kept trying.”
A very niche community in eSports, the fighting game scene is one often misjudged by the greater public as being closed off and unwelcoming to minorities. But Sherry speaks of it fondly, comparing it to a family that bands together and proves supportive during difficult times.
“A lot of people outside of the [fighting game community] have a bad impression of the it. They kind of see it as a group of rowdy people who fight and scream at each other,” she says of the common misconceptions. “I think the greatest thing about the [fighting game community] that people don’t seem to realize is the family aspect. The community is similar to a large, extended family.”
Whenever negative press or isolated incidents threaten the competitive scene’s image, Sherry points to the way the community unites to dissolve poor perceptions. “I think this is something very unique to the [fighting game community] because of how extensive the roots go,” she says.
As a woman in a heavily male-dominated environment, Sherry admits to facing some discrimination in her time as a competitor. Despite the persistent belief that the fighting game community is overwhelmingly sexist, she believes her worst discrimination comes from an entirely different realm.
“Overall, there is not much negative reaction [toward women] from the competitive players in the scene. If anything, most of the players are pretty supportive of the females trying to play competitively,” she says.
“All the discrimination that does happen doesn’t really come from the competitive scene. It comes more from people on the Internet.” Staying true to her penchant for optimism and self-improvement, Sherry combats ignorance simply by pushing forward. “The only way I have dealt with it was to ignore the hate as much as I can and remember that I came into the scene for myself and not anyone else,” she says. “So I don’t need to be concerned with the approval or disapproval of other people.”
She’s quick to offer the same advice to other women interested in playing fighting games.
“Whether it’s casually or competitively, play because you want to have fun. Compete because you want to get better,” she says. “Everything else is just white noise that should just fade to the background. The only way to become a better player is to stay strong and have a lot of willpower. I stand behind the common phrase ‘screw them and do you boo boo.’”