In professional wrestling, heels (or villains) give babyfaces (or heroes) a reason to exist. Similarly, heels in competitive environments inject excitement into tournaments outside of results on a page. They are, for the most part, where storylines begin and end.
People like Filipino Champ. Justin Wong in the days of Marvel vs. Capcom 2. Leffen.
Though his pseudonym can come off as ostentatious, Carl “Perfect Legend” White has never seemed particularly “villainous” to me apart from the fact that he, at one time, was considered by many to be the best Mortal Kombat player on the planet. That’s likely because I’m not as engrained in the communities he calls home, but it’s this opinion that pushed me to reach out.
“All I really wanted to do at the end of the day is have someone to play with,” White explained in response to my surprise that he crafted his first tournament experience himself: Ohio Fighting Game Classics, a cooperative effort with friend Tim Fields. “I reached out to whoever I could to come. I wasn’t known back then, but people actually came.”
This “build it and they will come” moment was just one of White’s numerous fighting game milestones, a long list that stretches back to some of the earliest moments of his life.
“I got my first taste […] when I was four years old,” White said, describing his earliest experience with Mortal Kombat and the genre in general. “I was going to the arcade every day for a couple years. My dad would take me right after kindergarten and again after he got home from work. Sometimes we would go three times a day and I would just play. That’s when I knew, right off the bat, that it doesn’t matter how old you are. That was before competing or anything. I just loved fighting games.”
It’s this sentiment that forms the basis of our discussion. White, for all that he’s achieved, is still that kid who grew up adoring fighters. He has never given up that love, borne from a childhood, enriched in video games and kung-fu flicks, that preceded any notion of competition or community.
“Honestly, I shouldn’t be seen as a Mortal Kombat player or a Dead or Alive player or a Street Fighter player,” White confessed. “I should be seen as a fighting game player because I play a lot of these games. Tekken, Virtua Fighter. I just love fighting games.”
Still, it’s hard to ignore what games for which he’s known. Before there was Mortal Kombat for Perfect Legend, there was Dead or Alive, more specifically Tecmo Koei’s sophomore effort. While grinding Dead or Alive 2 online, he was directed to check out DOA Central, which at one point was the premier destination for the competitive community. From there, he stumbled on Shoryuken and results for Evo 2003 and 2004. The rest was history.
“I started looking through everything I could find, like Seth Killian’s Domination 101 series, everything,” White said. “Everything I would read, I would translate it to relate to me. I would habitually practice Tekken, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, and Super Turbo instead of practicing Dead or Alive. Just playing those games helped me transcend in the games I was playing.”
His first major competition was Tournament in Texas, an event hosted by Eddy Pistons that predominantly catered to the Tekken community. He took second in three different games.
After that, White made his first trip to Evo in 2006, where he placed first in Dead or Alive 4 over Emmanuel “MASTER” Rodriguez, who was something of a legend himself in those days. But all the drama surrounding his win is the furthest thing from his mind during our conversation.
“I was at Evo not just as a player but also as a spectator. I read about this tournament so much, I just wanted to show up. My goal wasn’t to win Evo, it was to be highlighted in one of James Chen’s trailers. I was like, ‘I wanna be highlighted like this, I wanna just be [messing] people up.’ And every part of the Dead or Alive section in the 2006 trailer was me [messing] somebody up. I loved every second.”
Despite all his success, numerous factors led to White’s transition from Dead or Alive to Mortal Kombat. Issues between creator Tomonobu Itagaki and Tecmo saw the franchise take a lengthy hiatus from 2006 to 2012, and many of the competitive leagues subsequently fizzled out. After a brief flirtation with Street Fighter IV (“If it wasn’t for [Wolfkrone] and Bananaken, I would have probably been seen as the top guy in the midwest,” White said), an old friend from the Dead or Alive era would reintroduce him to the world of fatalities.
“Tom Brady got me into playing [Mortal Kombat 9] at a high level. I took all the information he gave me and ran with it,” White continued. “I became obsessed. I just loved studying games.”
But that doesn’t mean things went smoothly. White explains that, at first, he thought the game was garbage. “At the time, there was no movement. I was tired of getting hit by random supermans, random shadow kicks. I just started block dashing so we couldn’t do that anymore. I started whiffing dive kicks and teleporting. I made up this entire way of playing Kung Lao that I hadn’t seen before.”
With a main character and improved movement, White was in the zone, even if his mind wasn’t on being the best. He was, again, having fun, and that mindset brought him two more Evo championships: first in 2011 and then again in 2012. He would close out Mortal Kombat 9’s tenure with a fifth place finish in 2013.
“A lot of people gave me shit for not going to every tournament, but for the first year I went to every tournament I could get to, and then after that I went to the ones that mattered more, the MLGs and the Evos,” White explained. “My thing is, if I beat you at Evo, I don’t need to beat you again. We’ll play again at the next Evo.”
This echoes some of the criticism leveled at Nicolas “Kane Blueriver” Gonzalez, who has become something of a villain himself after winning Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 at Evo 2015. After not participating at SoCal Regionals, he was labeled as a champion not willing to defend his title. I was curious what that kind of attention is like, and White was more than happy to share insight from his time on the throne.
“It comes with a lot of pressure. When you become good at anything in life, people expect you to be a certain way or they already think of you a certain way. Everyone thinks I’m an asshole, have a big ego, etc. Yeah, sometimes I feel myself, but sometimes I have to. ‘Oh you suck, you ain’t shit, you got lucky.’ [Hearing] that every day, sometimes I have to look back and see where I’ve come from and what I’ve done up until this point. It’s more for me, for my own self-esteem. People forget that me and other players are human.”
The road through Mortal Kombat X, however, has a few more obstacles.
“I knew as soon as the game came out that it was going to be hard for me to practice,” White said. “This is how I learn games: I find a character, figure out strategy, and take it online, even if there’s lag. It’s hard for me to do that now. When I go to ranked match, everybody’s like, ‘Oh it’s Perfect Legend! Let me put this shit on Youtube!’ I’m not allowed to lose, I’m not allowed to learn the game. I have to, out the gate, know everything, be dominant. That’s very unrealistic and it’s never been like that. It may look like that, but I put a lot of time into Mortal Kombat 9!”
White is far from the conqueror he once was, relegated to again being the hungry competitor nipping at the heels of a better opponent. In this case, instead of MASTER, it’s young Dominique “Sonic Fox” McLean. With two Evo medals of his own as well as a pair of championship victories at the ESL Pro League, it’s hard to argue anyone is more dominant than McLean, and no one understands that better than the former reigning champ.
“When Sonic Fox first came on the scene, everyone called him Perfect Legend Junior. they called him that for like two years because we looked so much alike, he was so good, etc. I was like, ‘This kid’s gonna be good when he gets older.'”
A high-profile match between the two at Summer Jam 9 would cement Sonic Fox’s dominance. “I’m always one to play the high-profile exhibition. It’s not about the money, it’s about the prestige behind it,” White said of the match. “The clashing of two eras–everyone likes that.” Unfortunately, the lack of training, both from constant travel and Mortal Kombat X’s poor netcode, would catch up with him.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say White’s mindset was entirely backwards, something he freely admits to. He stuck with Kung Lao to, in effect, “own” the character, but the blinders kept him from picking up reliable counters. “I let peoples’ perception of me control how I felt about myself, how I felt about my play, everything. I felt like my intentions were in the right place, as far as wanting to help people learn the game, but then it became all about Perfect Legend vs. Sonic Fox.”
But even with all of that clouding their history, White has nothing but respect for the young player. When I made comparisons between Sonic Fox and past opponents like MASTER, White was quick to dismiss the notion. Where his Dead or Alive rival was a thorn in his side, he doesn’t hold the same animosity towards Sonix Fox.
“I actually like the kid. He reminds me of me a lot when it comes to picking characters. He has no shame, and I used to be like that,” White explained. “Sonic Fox is the player you want to be as far as not having any kind of pride in your characters. Pick what you need to win. If you gotta counterpick, counterpick. That’s why no one is beating him right now.” More than that, though, White is impressed with Sonic Fox’s pure skill and the work ethic the young player has established to remain on top.
Of course, that doesn’t mean White is done competing for that crown. Looking up to Daigo Umehara and Justin Wong means he wants to attain the same consistency, and that starts with getting his head back in a healthy place. Now that ESL has finished up and he has more time on his hands, it’s time for White to get back into the lab and grind. Thankfully, where he once had to offer to pay for players’ internet in order to get decent matchup knowledge, the upcoming netcode improvements mean Mortal Kombat X will be easier to practice than ever. White admits to “coasting” a bit in Mortal Kombat 9, but now he’s ready to return to the level of dedication he showed during his days of Dead or Alive competition.
These statements echo those made earlier in the conversation. “No one is going to care about how you did during the season if you don’t win the championship,” White explained, making clear the importance he places on history. “I feel like I have a much bigger will and determination than other people. I do my best at [tournaments like Evo, ESL, etc.] because I prepare better for them, I care more about them.”
Other than that, White is hesitant to look too far into the future.
“These last five years alone have been life-changing. I want to just live in the moment,” White said. Ten years ago, he was preparing for a Dead or Alive 4 competition in Virginia. Evo, world championships, and sponsorships weren’t even part of the equation. Just five years ago he was playing in Evo’s online Super Street Fighter IV tournament, where he placed third behind Wolfkrone and iPeru. “I will work harder than ever before to bring Team Razer as many championships as I can.”
The immediate goal is, naturally, Evo, but White’s reasons mirror those of his very first visit. Where it was once making it into one of James Chen’s trailers, now it’s stepping foot on one of the biggest stages the fighting game community has ever seen.
“I need to play on the Mandalay Bay stage. I would like to win [Evo], look back at the crowd, look at the titantron in the air. That entire image is what I’ve been dreaming about my entire career,” White said. “I need to be a part of history. I have to play on that stage. It doesn’t matter who my opponent is, I’m doing whatever it takes to play on that stage.”
So, is Carl White a heel? I’m inclined to say no. Carl White is, like many of us, a kid who has spent his entire life with fighting games, growing and learning as the genre itself has evolved. His perception of the world has changed over the years, as have his views on competition and his place in the community.
Perfect Legend is an entirely different story. Perfect Legend is a competitor. Perfect Legend is a champion. Perfect Legend will not back down until he is the best.
And, honestly, what more can you ask for?
Perfect Legend would like to thank all of his sponsors (Razer, DXRacer, Netduma, Alienware, Design by Humans, and Elgato), and shout out some of his biggest influences in the scene, including Justin Wong, Daigo Umehara, Tom Brady, JOP, EP and the entire House of Goons crew in Dallas as well as honorary members, Jeff Schaefer, Alex Valle, David Sirlin, Wolfe Bros, Seth Killian, Jason Cole, Knee, Nin, Holeman, Qudans, Jang Iksu, Ryan Hart, Itabashi Zangief, Fuudo, Tokido, Jackie Tran, Jinkid, Jinmaster, and many more.
“It feels very good to be mentioned in the same breath as the many greats that have come before me.”