A closer look at some of Toronto’s top Street Fighter players and personalities.
In my prior set of interviews casting a spotlight on Canadian fighting game fanatics, I spoke with members of the Montréal FGC–the MTLSF scene. But right next door to Montréal is the domain of their longtime rivals: Toronto. Perhaps an even a fiercer scene resides in Ontario’s capital, and these two cities combined form a maelstrom of serious Street Fighter competition in Canada. Toronto is also presently playing host to its own Red Bull Proving Grounds regional qualifier: Fight For The 6ix.
To get a look into what makes Toronto’s scene what it is, I reached out to conduct written interviews with six fighters from Canada’s largest city. Today we’ll begin with SetToDestroyX‘s Matthew “BlitzMan” Lam, local competitor SJ (celebrating in the feature image, above), and streamer StarmieGee–fellow streamer Jakyomanor is also here to offer some closing comments. Responses have been edited for clarity.
mushin_Z: Where are you from, and how long have you been involved with the Toronto fighting game scene?
BlitzMan: Richmond Hill, a small suburb not too far from Toronto. I’ve been playing in arcades since I was nine, but I started joining tournaments for maybe twelve years now.
StarmieGee: GTA–“Greater Toronto Area”; I live in Brampton. My first Toronto Major was at A&C for Toryuken in 2015.
SJ: I’ve been in the Toronto FGC for five years. Originally I started with The King of Fighters XIII and BlazBlue as my first serious fighters, but I started playing Street Fighter competitively when Ultra Street Fighter IV came out.
mushin_Z: How long have you played Street Fighter games? How did you get started?
BlitzMan: I remember playing when I was five at the video rental stores, and I’m now turning thirty very soon… I remember joining the 3rd Strike community very late, and people were so far ahead in skill, so when Street Fighter IV came out I was just good from the start, I was lucky.
StarmieGee: Since October 2014. I forced a friend to play a [different] game on Twitch, and then he forced me to try Street Fighter.SJ: I’ve been playing Street Fighter since I was in grade school. My dad would bring me and my brother to the arcade on a random Sunday, and we would play nothing but Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike and Marvel vs. Capcom 2. Obviously we were mashing but we had so much fun. I followed the scene and started getting more into fighters in high school when Street Fighter IV, BlazBlue and Tekken 6 came out on consoles. I didn’t enjoy playing SFIV that much, but I did enjoy watching the high-level play. I discovered the local scene years later when I searched “Toronto fighting game tournaments” and found Toryuken (Toronto’s yearly major). Shout-outs to Google.
mushin_Z: What is your favorite game in the Street Fighter series, and why?
BlitzMan: I still think Street Fighter III: 3rd strike is the best, because the system is so complex, combos are hard, it’s truly the hardest Street Fighter to master and I love challenging or flashy combos!
StarmieGee: USFIV was fun. Just a lot of character selection, and by the time I joined, Street Fighter IV was on its last year and it felt like a clean game.
SJ: I would have to say Super Street Fighter II Turbo. It’s a very fast-paced fighter that rewards matchup knowledge and solid play. I play Vega and I frequently play the game on FightCade.
mushin_Z: Do you prefer a fightstick, pad, or hitbox?
SJ: Fightstick all day. I was a pad player until I started learning Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 in 2013. I find a stick much easier then a pad when it comes to execution.
BlitzMan: Fightstick, just because I’ve been playing on it for most of my life.
StarmieGee: I started on pad for a few months, and then switched to a fightstick.
mushin_Z: Who do you main, and why? Is there a character you wish was selectable in Street Fighter V, but isn’t (yet)?
SJ: I main Rashid in Street Fighter V. Mobility is one of the key things I look for when I choose my characters. I got super hype when I first saw Rashid run around and throw tornadoes on people. His playstyle also reminds me of a Marvel Versus. character, which I’m a big fan of. I want Capcom to put in Rufus from Street Fighter IV!! He was my main when I played USFIV. While I didn’t enjoy the SFIV series that much, I definitely loved playing Rufus.
StarmieGee: Juri and F.A.N.G. Characters with a higher difficulty in skill interest me, and keep me going. F.A.N.G is hilarious, I find him fun to play; Juri is just sexy. Nobody else would want it… but bring back Honda. I miss my hubby.
BlitzMan: I’m a huge Yun and Ken fan, but currently in SFV I’m playing Karin/Ken/Laura. For SFV: Yun please! You can make him low tier! He makes porkbuns! No meat buns no life!
mushin_Z: What’s your best matchup, in your opinion? Worst?
BlitzMan: At the moment I think I’m strong against playing Balrog and Urien, Worst, I’d say Chun-Li, or 50/50 grapplers.
StarmieGee: I mean… I main F.A.N.G. I honestly don’t even have to say more. Is F.A.N.G still in this game? [laughs] In all seriousness, I don’t think I have a “worst.” I hate grapplers. I press so many buttons, it doesn’t do me any good. Best? I would say Chun-Li, and not because of my character, but because my partner plays her and I get good exposure.
SJ: Best matchup: I would say any character that has a hard time getting out of Rashid’s pressure. Alex, Nash and F.A.N.G come to mind. His worst matchup I would say is Cammy. I feel like she is a better version of Rashid, with more consistent damage. It’s a hard matchup, but still winnable.
mushin_Z: Where do you usually play?
BlitzMan: There’s a couple of places–online is so bad, especially with Canadian internet service providers, I play sometimes at A&C Games downtown, Toronto Street Fighter Headquarters in Scarborough, and a manga cafe–Akiba Kissa–in Markham. At A&C they hold weekly tournaments, so our version of NLBC or WNF is held there. Fridays there is TOSFHQ, or Akiba Kissa. TOSFHQ is run by some of the players from Toronto, and is often a place for high-level competition. Akiba Kissa is a great manga cafe with custom-built arcade cabinets, great environment and great drinks.
SJ: I usually play at A&C or TOSFHQ when I have the time to do so. I haven’t been going to either venue as of late due to work, so now I usually play at home. A&C is a gaming store located in downtown Toronto that also runs fighting game tournaments hosted by TorontoTopTiers. TOSFHQ is located at a storage unit east of Toronto where some of the best players in Toronto play every Friday. HQ also runs really hype BBQ events for the FGC in the summer. If you are in Toronto and you play fighting games, make sure you check both places out!
StarmieGee: At home online. Once in a blue moon I go to Toronto’s weekly. I played a bit in almost every city in the GTA, and I would have to say A&C is the most consistent in turnout, and gives you great chances to expose yourself to different matchups.
mushin_Z: Your thoughts on online competition?
BlitzMan: I played a lot of online during the beta, weird because the servers were in better condition. I currently have two accounts both sitting at Ultra Platinum back when there was only like 50 or less Diamond players, but nonetheless online is a terrible experience here in Toronto. Maybe it’s just my internet, or the speeds that Canadian Internet service providers offer, but competition online is usually unplayable. In SFIV I learned a lot about matchup knowledge, which is what I usually use online for, however SFV match up knowledge isn’t as critical to know compared to older iterations of the games, in my opinion, but the way SFV netcode is combined with my country’s bad internet infrastructure… I don’t want to put myself through a headache. Last time I tried searching for a Ranked match it took 30 minutes to find one match, and play two games. Time well spent…
SJ: I do play online SFV but I mainly use it for matchup experience. I do think online competition is good especially if you have no local competition, but the experience will never be as good as offline play.
StarmieGee: I almost always play online against stream viewers, instead of Ranked. Ranked is great to see where you are at, and climbing the ladder is great, but I like to play against a variety of ranks, vs. playing with a bunch of people my skill level (which is bad). With friends/viewers I get to compete against better players, which I think pays off. I do lag here and there, so I prefer offline overall.
mushin_Z: In your opinion, who are the players to watch in the Toronto community?
BlitzMan: There’s so many to list! I don’t even think I’m good at gauging skill in SFV, but in my opinion I’d say Mr. Trite (any game), CountBlack (Laura), OCV_LES (Bison), STDxVan (Nash/Urien), Rass (Balrog), General Luke (Cammy), GentleStep (Ibuki), Vastend (Vega), Italdan (Chun-Li), Solomon (Birdie/Balrog) SJ (Rashid) BM|OrangeMan (Rashid). There’s honestly too many.
StarmieGee: Italdan, BlitzMan, Van1up, OrangeMan. The reason I say these guys is because not only do they place well in tournaments, they actually travel and represent Toronto at other North American majors.
SJ: Italdan, BlitzMan, Shane Walker, LES, and Chokehold. Those players have been the most consistent so far in SFV. We also have strong talent outside of SF that you should be watching. We have players like Karn (KOF), Psykotik (BlazBlue), Rebelo (Killer Instinct) and the NRS brothers Biohazard and Honeybee.
mushin_Z: How has the Toronto FGC impacted your experience with the game? Has your own skill improved through interaction with the Toronto SF scene, and has involvement with the Toronto FGC increased your enjoyment of fighting games?
SJ: The Toronto FGC is like family to me. While we want to beat each other, we also want each other to improve. We do trash talk each other a lot, but most of us know not to take it to heart. I would say I owe most of my success in fighting games to my local scene. Playing with the top players helped me perform well in major tournaments.
StarmieGee: I never left a weekly without learning something different. It makes my experience with the game more diverse, and is a reminder that the FGC is so much more than just an online game. Roots is offline, and because I never grew up with Street Fighter, the scene is a reminder of how supportive people are and how competitive this game is. There’s only really two kinds of people: someone who encourages you, or just another person to compete with. But the Toronto FGC taught me to cheer for my own (any Canadian). [My skill has improved] a bit–I used to work on many of the days the weeklies were, so I haven’t gone as much as the regulars. After a good experience at Toryuken, I went to Evo and traveled around the world playing Street Fighter. My experience with the Toronto FGC made such a great impression on me for FG tournaments. I love fighting games a lot more now.
BlitzMan: It’s gotten worse for me, to be honest, with the release of Street Fighter V. The Toronto FGC lost so much talent and skillful players after the game’s release. The community is growing with new faces, and that makes me happy, but at the same time I’ve lost probably four of the strongest players in the community, and my closest training partners for the last eight years. I do really enjoy seeing the newbloods step up their game though, and that makes me really happy, but I’m also becoming an old man and I miss the rivalries and trash talk sometimes. =D Of course [my skill has improved]! I can’t play online like 90% of the time, so where else could I get better! Everyone of all skill levels from the community push me to become a better player. It’s kind of amazing how you can gain so many long-term friends from an offline interactive social video game. I don’t think I’d be playing fighting games at all if it wasn’t for the Toronto FGC. I’d probably be playing Dota2 or Overwatch.
mushin_Z: Has any particular player acted as a mentor, or a rival for you?
BlitzMan: Well, throughout Street Fighter IV I had a lot of mentors and rivalries. A group of us would get together probably every day in summer, or multiple times a week during school to play. There was JS_Master (Balrog), Eric Hai (Ryu), Spiralguy, and Mr. Trite. We’d all push each other to get better, think of strategies, practice matchups and often trash talk each other. None of us wanted to lose to the other in tournament, so we’d often practice together to always be one step ahead. Later on in the game’s lifespan, Riceata (Blanka) moved to Toronto and I played with him the most. I’d say all of these players impacted my life, and the way I play.
SJ: The two players that acted as a mentor for me were Mr. Trite and Drewface. Playing Trite in USFIV and UMvC3 improved my overall fighting game skillset. Drewface taught me proper fighting game mindset and mentality. I find both skillset and mindset equally as important when it comes to competitive play. A lot of players have been rivals to me. Shout-outs to Broshadian, Chokehold, Joker, Italdan, Pikachu-Salty, Shane Walker, and KS-Tali.
StarmieGee: Justin Wong actually invited me to my first major, in my own city. Justin Wong, K-Brad, Noel and Infiltration were actually the ones who got me to get out the house to play. Infiltration taught me so much about FGC culture regarding money matches, experiences with crowds, and competition. Justin has been there basically from the beginning. He’s been my support when things were a bit rough in the scene, and guided my way when I wanted to give up. As for gameplay, Gllty is my coach. I love her.
mushin_Z: What major tournaments have you attended? Have you traveled to tournaments outside of Canada?
BlitzMan: I recently got sponsored, so I get to travel to more events, but I mean there’s too many to list. I’d say older times I went to Season’s Beatings 5, or the older Toronto majors T-series (Which I want to bring back!), but if were talking about recently, CEO, Evo, SCR, Canada Cup obviously. I really want to go to Combo Breaker and DreamHack Texas this year.
StarmieGee: Inside Canada: Toryuken 4 & 5, EGLX, Red Bull, Canada Cup (two years), LAN ETS (Montréal). Outside Canada: Evo (last two years), Summer Jam, Final Round. Much more to come this year…
SJ: Toryuken was my first tournament ever, and I have been going there every year. I also attended Canada Cup, when they started hosting the series in Toronto. Outside of Canada I’ve been to Final Round, CEO, and a few big East Coast Tournaments. Make sure you guys come to Toryuken and Canada Cup this year!
mushin_Z: How well have you placed? How would you describe the experience of traveling to compete?
StarmieGee: Not well. That is all.
BlitzMan: I only made top 8 twice last year. As for the rest, there’s too many to count, but not as good as I’d like. [laughs] I’ve had some terrible experiences traveling to compete, mainly due to airlines/airports or cabs. Other than that It can get exhausting having week to week events go home, have to go to a tournament at home then fly out for another tournament in another city. But It’s also an amazing experience at the same time, meeting new people who share the same passion and seeing new cities!
StarmieGee: But traveling to places I never been with friends is the best thing since entering the FGC. I have made so many friends online that I met at the tournaments I travel to, and I definitely met friends in different countries I think I will have for life. I also played SF in France at Meltdown (probably my favorite traveling experience).
SJ: For SFV the best I’ve done so far was top 16 at Summer Jam and top 64 at Canada Cup last year. I’ve placed well at majors for Marvel vs. Capcom 3, making top 3 at Canada Cup and Frosty Faustings. As well as placing top 16 at Final Round, NEC and Summer Jam. I always find traveling and playing other players from around the world to be so thrilling. You encounter so many players and their unique style of play.mushin_Z: How often do you encounter players from other cities in Toronto? Do they fit in easily while visiting?
BlitzMan: Pretty often… I’d say the players that visit Toronto the most would be, EG|K-Brad, Dieminion, Beeball, and Riceata. Chi-Rithy, Snafoo and the MTLSF crew come whenever they can, too. The Toronto SF community is super welcoming to all. Anyone can easily fit in. The Canadian FGC in general such a diverse melting pot of ethnicities and cultures, it’s almost impossible to feel left out.
StarmieGee: Often. Quite a handful of people at A&C are not actually from Toronto, but the outskirts. Fitting in is not easy, in my opinion. The Toronto SF is aggressive in competition, and also closely-knit. When you go, you don’t feel like sitting and having a nice chat with people. I feel that people have a “let’s get to work” mentality. It’s not a very social environment.
SJ: Usually anytime a Toronto major happens. The Toronto scene is a very loud but welcoming scene. I find that the outside players really enjoy how hype we can get.
mushin_Z: Are there any players from outside Toronto you see/compete with regularly?
StarmieGee: Yes–because I almost always play online, and most of the viewers and friends are actually from the West Coast.
BlitzMan: Hmmm.. Maybe Chi-Rithy? I played a lot with Dieminion, Snafoo, Riceata, and K-Brad when they stayed at my house for Toryuken. Compete with “regularly,” not too sure… I know I lost to EG|Ricki Ortiz three times last season. Her Chun-Li is too strong!
SJ: I usually compete with Chi-Rithy and the MTLSF crew anytime they come to Toronto, or when I go to Montréal. Justin Wong, K-Brad, Noel Brown and RayRay are also players I encounter a lot, because they tend to go to our local majors.
mushin_Z: Do you stream?
BlitzMan: I did stream very often! Unfortunately, I don’t have the equipment at the moment. Hopefully I can again soon! www.twitch.tv/blitzman_g
SJ: I do stream from time to time. Might start streaming more. Catch me at www.twitch.tv/ontimeslackers.
mushin_Z: What games other than Street Fighter are you into, and why?
BlitzMan: I was really into Dota while I was playing 3rd Strike; I used to join foosball tournaments before Street Fighter tournaments, too! Foosball/table soccer was huge in Toronto arcades/pool halls. As of right now I watch a lot of CS:GO, and am trying to hit Masters in Overwatch. Too many Street Fighter IV players went to Overwatch!
StarmieGee: I grew up playing WoW, and actually play MOBAs like LoL and HotS. I currently love Overwatch. Games, to me, are great if the character kits are amazing and the graphics are good.
SJ: I play a lot of other fighting games other than Street Fighter. My favorite fighting game of all time is Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. It’s a crazy-fast fighter that requires you to play solid, or else your whole team dies. I am a big fan of the Versus series and I am very excited for Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. I also enjoy Guilty Gear and BlazBlue. Outside of fighters, I’ve been recently been getting into Counter Strike: Global Offensive. I’m not that much into shooters, but this game is very challenging and the competitive play is very intriguing. I’ve also been going back and playing GameCube games, because I never owned a GameCube [laughs]. Luigi’s Mansion so far is my favorite.
mushin_Z: What does Toronto offer a Street Fighter fan that can’t be found anywhere else?
BlitzMan: I’d say the Toronto FGC isn’t just a community to play games. We’re a big family across different races, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. We share our passion, while having a good time with community events such as fundraisers for charities and community BBQs! We’re all just having good fun and good times.
StarmieGee: Racial diversity. They used to do this thing on weekly tournaments where beside the player name would be the flag of his or her nationality. I thought it was awesome to showcase how diverse the community was. In general, I think Toronto is very similar to other FGCs around North America, which is great–because if you are from another community, it won’t feel so different.
SJ: I’ve traveled to many scenes around North America and I would say no one gets as hype as my own scene. We yell and trash talk so much especially when the outsiders come down to compete with us. I find our hype makes the tournaments much more exciting and interesting.
For some additional comments, I reached out again to Toronto-based streamer JakyoManor, who was previously included in Part 2 of my Montréal interview set; she has been branded a “traitor”–both affectionately and not–for her connections to both the Toronto and the Montréal scenes. She had this to offer:
The Montréal and Toronto FGC have a complex relationship. We are bitter rivals within our homes, and yet we are all love and support in International tournaments. We’ve been competing against each other since the arcade days. Toronto always had a strong 3rd Strike scene, and Montréal had the better CvS2 players. Toronto also had a strong showing for MvC2 and 3. Today, the FGC in both cities has evolved.
The Montréal scene is quiet and calculated–with the players playing in a venue that is akin to a lounge, where players reflect on where and how they can improve their playing. Toronto is a loud and vibrant community, with an almost rite-of-passage mindset to welcoming new players. They’re going to sweat you a bit to make sure you have the courage to stay and compete. Both cities have their OGs, and their new bloods. What makes the relationship between these adversaries so interesting is how intense the atmosphere becomes when they get together. Maybe it’s rooted in the deep-set past of French vs. English, or the constant struggle between the cities’ respective hockey teams? Whatever it is, it makes a tournament between these two cities electrifying! I have been to several tournaments and nothing, NOTHING, can get a crowd going like two players from these cities being pitted against each other. When the two FGCs meet up, it’s going extremely loud, it’s going to be funny, full of side bets, French cursing, and bitter grudge matches. It’s hard to believe just how much fun you can have winning (or losing) so much on side bets and how the cities really get together to champion their respective area.
The rivalry between Toronto and Montréal makes Canada strong. The competition is not one set in hate, but in constantly keeping ourselves in check, wanting more. It’s a great way to get the fire going, and to make players hungry from both cities. I love the Canadian FGC. I hope we start getting top 62 and 32, and eventually grab those top 8 spots! Patience. Work. Rivalries!
Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll get to know more about Drewface and the 50/50 brand, and we’ll also hear from Chokehold–as well as Toronto’s Brutus, and Ottawa’s Toffee, some of their respective scenes’ youngest rising stars.
[Feature image courtesy of Mae Vandelay]