In my previous interview with Gerald “mintcheerios” Lee of Core-A Gaming, we talked a lot about his unique perspective on the Korean Fighting Game Community. But Lee is known for having a unique perspective on all things fighting game-related. A lot of this is due to his life, which has found him situated in various places across the world.
In this interview, we not only get to know Gerald as a person, but we also hear more on some topics he hasn’t talked about in any of his videos to date.
Corey “Missing Person” Lanier: You’ve been interested in the FGC for a while, but when did you start playing seriously?
Gerald “mintcheerios” Lee: I’m a dirty ‘09er. But I’ve always played Street Fighter. I grew up in the arcades. But I had never really thought about it competitively; I just played a lot back in the day. It wasn’t until about 2009 with Street Fighter IV that I started following the top players. And, of course, the Daigo full parry video was very important for me. But to see how high of a level the play in a game I’ve been playing forever can get was kind of inspiring.
So around that time, I was living in China in a very rural area. I even tried to host a mini-tournament there, and only two people showed up and they were King of Fighters players. But that’s how I got into the competitive mindset. I was just trying to make a scene and get games going wherever I was.
Missing Person: Having lived in China, do you believe that Chinese players like Xiaohai and Dakou are playing at an advantage or a detriment, just based on where they’re from?
mintcheerios: Well, obviously the fact that they have to get special visas to attend events is an obstacle. Other than that, I’m sure they get to play a ton. But I don’t know how the scenes are where they live.
I mean, where I lived was at a university in a very rural part of the country, so there weren’t that many Street Fighter players. That forced me to play King of Fighters. But you see this with Xiaohai and Dakou. Xiaohai especially is known for being the best at KOF. When I interviewed him at Street Fighter Crash, he even said that he preferred the game over Street Fighter. It’s kind of natural, since King of Fighters has always been China’s game.
But personally, I’m happy to see Xiaohai playing Street Fighter. It’s great to see his talent in what isn’t his favorite game.
Missing Person: You grew up in Texas. And you had said you had grown up in the arcades. Had you ever competed in any tournaments prior to moving to Asia?
mintcheerios: No. Like I had gone to China right around 2009. When I was in the arcades, there was a mini-scene around the 3rd Strike machine at the miniature golf course. You could recognize the regulars that were there. But it wasn’t a huge scene or anything like that.
There was no competitions, but it was still fun. I feel like I have a similar story to people who grew up in the arcades. My mom gave me a few quarters, and you’d basically play a fighting game and try to win so you could play longer. I was never competing in the way we describe it now, but it was still a competition, because in a sense, every single match in the arcades was a mini money match. You were playing to not have to feed the machine more quarters, which shaped the fighting game culture in a way.
Missing Person: Do you feel that the decay of the arcade scene has changed the mentality of players?
mintcheerios: Absolutely. Street Fighter is not that old as compared to other sports. But it’s old enough now that people can now say, “Back in my day…” Which is weird for someone to say about esports at this point. And I’m sure all the people that were in the scene long ago like Alex Valle or John Choi are regaling newer players with stories of yesteryear and what they had to do to be competitive. There is definitely this cultural divide. Back in the day there wasn’t a training mode and you had to play the CPU if you wanted to practice your combos. The easy mode CPU was the closest thing to a training dummy we had.
I remember reading about how Justin Wong would go to Chinatown Fair and play against the CPU to practice his combos. The CPU was a sort of moving target. Coming from that to now, where you can record your training mode dummy to do whatever action you want on wakeup and after blocking, and all these added features, there’s definitely going to be a divide.
Missing Person: Are you saying that things are better now? There’s been a lot of argument that the mentality of modern players is worse, because they play online, and don’t have to worry about losing quarters every time they play.
mintcheerios: There’s a couple of different things there. I think the situation is better for players now, because when you buy the home version of the game you can play it as much as you want, and practice the setups all you want. But at the same time, there is this lower investment barrier to play. Because to play at an arcade, you had to physically leave your house to play. As a kid sometimes you’d have to convince your parents to take you to the arcade. When you got there, you were vulnerable; you had to talk to people.
Nowadays, it’s more anonymous. I know that there are now measures to protect people from ragequitters, but when you’re playing online, people just think, “Who cares?” But the thing is, overall I think the situation is better due to the fact that there are more people playing. But you are still going to get people whom fighting games aren’t necessarily suited for.
Missing Person: Total scrubs, right? [laughs]
mintcheerios: [laughs] Right. But regardless, it’s still better to have a larger pool of players, even if some of them complain about cheap tactics. They were always there back in the day as well. But because you can buy these games at discount prices and play online, it allows for less commitment. Which is good, because it allows for more players to come in, but at large some of them may not be emotionally suited for fighting games.
Missing Person: You had your formative years in the States, then you moved to China, then after that you moved to Korea. What prompted this move?
mintcheerios: I have family that lives here, so I came here to visit them. After my stay in China to study China, I took a bit of a break here. I was doing some freelance video jobs to make some money. That ended up becoming a video production company. I met some filmmakers, and we started a small business together, and it kind of grew to the point where I have to live here now.
Missing Person: There’s no escape!
mintcheerios: Nope. But it’s cool. I have fast internet, and I’ve been enjoying it here.
Missing Person: You said in one of your videos that Evo 2016 was your first time competing at the event.
mintcheerios: Right, but I was also there at 2013 to spectate and record footage for a mini documentary that hasn’t come to fruition yet. I blame Core-A Gaming for taking up so much of my time.
Missing Person: A lot has changed between those years. Is there anything you can say about the differences between the two?
mintcheerios: Evo 2016 definitely felt way more catered to esports. Having the finals at Mandalay Bay with the stage and the jumbotrons, as well as having Street Fighter on ESPN definitely propelled it there.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both. The competing mindsets are always FGC vs. esports, and I feel like there’s merit to both sides of the coin. I feel like it’s going esports because of the increase in popularity, and that’s a natural and inevitable evolution. I feel like some people think that the FGC will be ruined when esports gets involved.
Even if it’s esports, I’ll still be playing the games as well as finding and building scenes. But what esports has allowed the FGC to do is do more of what they’ve already been doing with the financial backing of the game developers and sponsors. You see players who couldn’t put as much time into the game otherwise get sponsored and finally be able to do that. It goes both ways for each case. People joke about “Poverty FGC,” but poverty’s no fun.
Missing Person: It’s been a while since we’ve played. How are you doing with regards to leveling up?
mintcheerios: It’s slow and steady. Again, I blame Core-A Gaming. I’m using the YouTube channel option select as an excuse. But being in Korea has leveled up my game a lot. The online play is so good here. Having a scene where you can meet and talk about the game as well is huge. I have a feeling that’s why Japan has traditionally been so strong in Street Fighter is that the arcade scene allows people to meet up and talk about the game as well as play it.
Missing Person: When can we expect your next analysis video?
mintcheerios: Well, I’m working on one now. I can never say that it’ll be out soon, because nothing is ever soon with the channel. But thanks for the patience guys and I’ll have it out as soon as I can!
Missing Person: Are there any shout-outs that you’d like to give?
mintcheerios: Naturally I want to thank Drakefang for all his sacrifice for the community over here. Naturally I want to thank all the players over here in Korea—Laugh and Infiltration in particular, since they have helped me a lot with the channel. Plus, everyone who I’ve met in my journey. I’ve met so many people in the FGC that I never thought I’d meet, which has been awesome for me.