Dragon Ball FighterZ came out on January 26th and ever since then I’ve been grinding the hell out of it. Everything about the game captivates me: the colourful graphics and sharp animations, the depth of the mechanics and philosophies of team strategy. I’ve spent the past two months learning the slickest combos, trickiest mix ups and tightest block strings so when I saw that the new Red Bull Gaming Sphere was opening up in Shoreditch, I saw my first real opportunity to test myself. I put on my newest, freshest Nike Air Max and headed right into the heart of gentrification capital.

The fighting game community in the UK has always been a diverse group. The genre grew up in the arcades, the arcades used to be everywhere in working class communities and London’s working class communities are as diverse as they get. But I knew that when I rocked up to this newer, cleaner more corporate venue I was probably going to be one of a handful of other girl gamers there. In fact, I was the only girl gamer competing in my event out of 62 participants and as far as I could tell the only black girl gamer in the venue. So when I was asked to play my first match on stream, against a fairly confident looking bloke and what felt like the entire venue crowded around my set up… yeah, nerves doesn’t describe it.

But before that let’s take a little detour into the relationship the fighting game community (FGC) has with women. As you’d expect, it’s complicated. On the one had there is a growing number of women in the FGC making waves; big tsunami, run-for-your-life-massive-threat-incoming kind of waves. Yohosie, Infinitii, Palushina, Tanukana, Romanova and many more amazing players and community contributors are joining the ranks of classic legends like Ricki Ortiz, Gllty, Kayane and others. It’s fair to say the increasing respect and recognition women are getting in the FGC is palpable.

But, on the other hand, there have been recent scandals involving powerful and popular men in the FGC abusing and exploiting women and people actively covering things up. No doubt there have been many in the past we’ll never know about. There was also the furor last year when well known figures in the NRS scene trashed The Sirens (a dope all-women’s team) for being an all-women’s team (for the purposes of validating a ridiculous argument we’ll ignore the countless all men’s “brotherhoods” that have always been a part of the FGC, without question…).

High profile players – and I mean really high profile, EVO top 8 and sponsored – have made disparaging comments about black girl gamers being “ratchet” and actually uninterested in fighting games or that a guy’s fighting game career is over when he loses to a woman in tournament.

And let’s not forget that women players are always questioned on our knowledge of the game. On whether we’re playing because we actually like and understand the game or are we playing for our boyfriends (fun fact: some of us have girlfriends, eek!). And increasingly we’re questioned on whether we’re “real” women or transgender, to the point where some players have felt pressured to share their passports on social media to prove what’s in between their legs (the answer by the way is: trans women are real women).

So, going into a competition as a woman is not just nerve wracking for the obvious reasons, but there’s an added pressure to not let other women down. To not be the woman who shouldn’t have entered because she actually doesn’t have the knowledge, reactions or execution. A lot of us go into tournaments with the added anxiety of not wanting to muck up so badly that we confirm what many people in the venue and in the stream chats are probably thinking: she doesn’t have the slightest clue what she’s doing.

So back to my set. The first match was a disaster. I pressed buttons at the wrong times, blocked the wrong way, dropped combos. You could say I was playing auto-pilot but even auto-pilot flopped: I was just not on course. This loss caused my nerves to shoot right up, my hands were shaking on my arcade stick, I was legit shaking all over and I found it difficult to focus. As someone who’s made speeches and done talks to audiences of hundreds of people I did not expect this level or nerves playing a video game.

Thanks to some stellar advice from Captain Reckless, C4IQ and A F0xy Grampa (thanks boys!) I managed to collect myself a bit and clutched out the second game. After that I knew I could beat this guy and got into my groove, dominating the final match with all three of my characters still alive at the end. I won my first set, conquered the nerves, and made someone a lil salty: good start.

I got sent to the losers bracket the next match by a sponsored player, so I couldn’t be too hard on myself. I then eliminated two guys from the competition before being eliminated myself in round 5. But the main thing is, I didn’t go 0-2, thank the gods. In fact, I did okay for my first ever serious tournament in the second fighting game I’ve ever seriously played.

Now I have a better idea what to expect from a tournament, including, but not limited to, mental torture, the sweet and sour mix of sweat, body odour and Lynx deodorant, excruciating hunger and dehydration I feel much better prepared for my next tournament on the 28th April. Wish my opponents luck, because I’m out for blood…

To be continued.