A closer look at some of Toronto’s top Street Fighter players and personalities–continued.
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. Yesterday we began with StDxBlitzMan, SJ, and StarmieGee; today we’ll continue with The Fifty/Fifty founder Andrew Le Nguyen, also known as Drewface, competitor and organizer Charles “Chokehold” Downer, and 17-year-old fighter Brutus. Ottawa’s Toffee provides some additional closing comments as well. 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?
Drewface: I’m from a borough called York Region, that is one hour away from Toronto. I however identify myself with Toronto, since I’m there more often than I am at home. I’ve been in the Toronto scene for almost ten years now–man, I’m getting old.
Chokehold: I live in a town about half-an-hour north of Toronto called Richmond Hill. I’ve been involved in the Toronto FGC for about eight years now.
Brutus: I’m from Whitby, Ontario, it’s about a 20-minute train ride away from Toronto. I first got involved in the FGC in 2012 as a spectator sport–I was twelve at the time. I started playing after Evo 2015 with USFIV. I only played USFIV online, and that’s where I met my first community, the A4 community. My first time being involved with the Toronto scene was a weekly for SFV in summer 2016.
mushin_Z: How long have you played Street Fighter games? How did you get started?
Drewface: I’ve played Street Fighter games since I was five years old, on my grandparent’s Super Nintendo with my cousins. My family is highly competitive, so we all strived to beat each other in almost all aspects in life.
Chokehold: I have been playing Street Fighter ever since I got into the scene, around the ’09 boom of new players. I started out watching streams and videos of tournaments on YouTube. Eventually after playing with friends, I went to a tournament at a local comic book store and met some cool people; been around ever since.
Brutus: I’ve been playing fighting games casually my whole life from SSF2T, SFIII, MvC2, UMvC3, Injustice, MK9, etc. Competitively, I’ve been playing since post-Evo 2015. I got started because I was watching Evo, and a friend messaged me asking for USFIV tips (he knew I played fighting games casually), from that I learned the game was on sale on Steam and bought it.
mushin_Z: What is your favorite game in the Street Fighter series, and why?
Drewface: My favorite Street Fighter is Super Street Fighter II Turbo, it’s easy to pick up yet difficult to master, and still holds up in fun factor today. It goes to show you don’t have to balance everything to make it fun.
Chokehold: It would have to be Street fighter IV, more specifically USFIV, because I liked the long combos and Red Focus Attacks.
Brutus: My favorite game in the franchise is definitely a coin toss between USFIV and SFV. USFIV got me into the scene, and I’ll always have good memories of it. SFV is the game I’m having the most success in, and I love playing it.
mushin_Z: Do you prefer a fightstick, pad, or hitbox?
Brutus: I used to play on pad when I played casually, but now I play on an arcade stick.
Drewface: Initially when I started, I loved using a Dual Shock 2 pad–but now I 100% prefer an arcade stick over any other medium for fighting games.
mushin_Z: Who do you main, and why? Is there a character you wish was selectable in Street Fighter V, but isn’t (yet)?
Chokehold: In SFV I main R. Mika, because I like how when you get her V-Trigger, it kind of feels like you have an assist from Marvel vs. Capcom. Also she fits my playstyle–I like to rush down.
Drewface: I play Ryu, I love the characterization and personality he has; he is a student of fighting and always strives to be the best he can be. Competitively, I feel like he encompasses a wholistic learning approach to even be competent with him. Thus, I will always respect any Ryu player, since Ryu has to overcome game mechanics with basic fundamentals to win.
Brutus: I main Zangief because I love to mind games and hard reads. Zangief really rewards that. Also I love playing to entertain the crowd, and I think my playstyle with Zangief really does that well. If I could add one character, it would definitely be Cody. I think his game plan from USFIV would be really strong in this game. Just don’t destroy his frame data [laughs].
— Red Bull eSports (@redbullesports) April 1, 2017
Drewface: There are quite a few characters I would love to see; I would love to see Sodom or any samurai/sword wielding character in the series (even Garuda), Skullomania–since I love characters with funny personalities–and Sagat.
Chokehold: The Canadian ice hockey character that shoots hockey pucks for fireballs, and whacks people with a stick–yeah, I’d love to see that in SFV.
mushin_Z: What’s your best matchup, in your opinion? Worst?
Drewface: My best matchup is the mirror match/shoto mirrors. It’s just plain Street Fighter, and I can really express myself in that match in every game, despite how dull Street Fighter can get. My worst are generally newer characters to the series, and heavy mixup characters.
Brutus: My best matchup is Laura. I practice against a really good Laura player a lot, so I don’t think there’s anything a Laura could do to surprise me. Also I think Zangief beats her up pretty bad. My worst matchup is definitely Dhalsim. I have a lot of tech to fight the character, but it’s such an uphill battle. I need to practice with Shane Walker more.
Chokehold: I feel like my best matchup is probably Dhalsim, because one of my good friends that I practice with a lot uses him. Also that matchup in general is pretty good for Mika–once she gets in, Dhalsim has a hard time getting away, I feel.
mushin_Z: Where do you usually play?
Drewface: I generally play at three places: Toronto HQ, a place I call home, and where most of Toronto’s FGC culture is developed. Any Friday night and you’ll see a Canadian star-studded cast of former and current top players socializing, having a good time and best of all throwing down. It is definitely the pinnacle of Toronto Street Fighter and the best part is, it’s unique. It is run by the community and made for the community. It closes late and you can get a ton of great sets in to learn from an OG, or any competent Canadian player–and its run out of a storage room, like you’d see in Storage Wars. Shout-outs to Paul187, DarkDragon and the HQ team.
Next: Akiba Kissa, a cafe that is based off of otaku culture, and has its own arcade room. This is my new place to play and I’m here just having a great drink or chomping on some pocky while mashing buttons with my friends. It’s fun, relaxing, and one of the great places to play at. It is currently my favorite place to play, and it has a great selection of manga too, so when I’m salty I can read Berserk or Vagabond.
Finally, A&C Games, one of the hotspots in Toronto; it is the place to play on Wednesday nights and run by TorontoTopTiers–it’s a friendly place, and a great starting point for anyone going down the FGC rabbit hole.
Brutus: I’m mainly an online warrior. The weekly I go to the most is TorontoTopTiers, AKA Stun City. I can’t go as much as I want to, because of school/travel costs.
Chokehold: I usually just practice at home with friends. Also, I try and go to the Toronto weeklies as much as I can. As of late, I’ve been going to some of Toronto’s new esports bars. Places like Raiders E-sports Bar and Meltdown. Great to see the esports presence growing in Toronto. Red Bull is running Proving Grounds: Fight For The 6ix at Raiders, and the TorontoTopTiers weeklies being held at Meltdown.
mushin_Z: Your thoughts on online competition?
Drewface: I rarely play online, I believe lag ruins the experience and Capcom has failed to deliver a suitable online environment for player development–once again. I’ve seen great players learn online, and I’ve seen terrible habits develop online. I believe the real experience is not based on online rankings, but the good old tournaments, so I always encourage the social aspect of meeting up offline and sharing the passion of fighting games and conversing in what we all have in common.
Chokehold: I don’t play online too often. I’m in the Diamond ranks. The online competition can be pretty fierce; for me personally, I use it to train matchups and try new things out. If I play for too long, I feel that I develop bad habits and the bad connections can get frustrating.
Brutus: People online are definitely a lot more nutty, but I think playing against those types of players teaches you to adapt really fast.
mushin_Z: In your opinion, who are the players to watch in the Toronto community?
Chokehold: There are a lot of players that I get excited to watch in the Toronto scene, there’s a young guy named Rass who’s been beating people up with Balrog, GentleStep is an Ibuki player that has improved a lot lately, Sin is a Bison player that is new to the scene and is really solid, I could go on with a whole list of names. I really just like watching the Toronto scene grow, every year it seems like it’s getting bigger and there is some new talent popping up.
Brutus: Current top five in Toronto, in no order, in my opinion are Rass, Solomon, Sin, Shane Walker and Italdan.
Drewface: Well, here’s a detailed list that I bet most people wouldn’t have:
– KS-Tali: Famous for being a troll, but offline he helps others around him get better, and on top of that with his methodical offensive play and air tight setups, he is bound for greatness as long as he enjoys the game. In Ultra Street Fighter IV his Poison was a pioneer in innovation, and in competitive play he has made a name for himself.
– Amato: The epitome of passion and emotion, his exciting decision-making and thorough analysis on the fly make him a well-versed player and fun to watch as well.
– SJ: Probably the most talented player I’ve experienced watching in a while, with a great attitude and hunger for success. His talent for skill knows no bounds and he continues to surprise me with his progress in any game–the man touches a game and he’s good or great at it. He’s great at Marvel, defeating a slew of known players in America, (Justin Wong, Unknown, Flux to name a few), and in Street Fighter he is no joke either.
– Italdan: One of the hardest-working players I know, and a veteran who finally is recognized for his skill. He’s always been representing Toronto well, and has a great understanding of momentum. He has great mental fortitude and always makes every match exciting.
– Shane Walker: A ‘sim player with an aggressive style and a personality to match. The most electrifying man in Toronto FGC today.
– GentleStep: A player whose execution show no limits and methodical breakdown make him a threat in the future. His play in SFIV was fantastic and technical, and while Street Fighter V is not as technical as SFIV, he still manages to impress everyone in Toronto with creativity and ability to respond to situations with the most optimal answer.
– Broshadian: A player whose intuition and reads are fantastic–his Spider-Man in Marvel 3 and Abel in Street Fighter IV were known to upset a few names. He was the best in Toronto for Street Fighter IV.
– BlitzMan: A great student of the game, and best of all just a fun guy to be around, always joking around and equally kicking ass, he has always been able to stay on top of the scene with his great play, ability to learn, and risk-reward assessment.
– LES: Some may say he’s the best Bison in North America; with his technical knowledge, great reads, and pressure, he is no joke. He doesn’t come out as often but when he does, he never fails to make a splash. And he’s a great graphic designer!
– Chokehold: One of the best Marvel players we have, and one of the best Mikas! He’s defeated Chi-Rithy in Street Fighter V, won tournaments, and was at the pinnacle of Toronto Marvel play. A great attitude, and aggressive style with great reads, he never fails to entertain and place well.
– Jimmy Fierce: The best Ryu in Canada–whenever he comes out of the cave, he always shows people what clean and fundamental look like. Fantastic player and a shoto brother-in-arms.
– General Luke: In Street Fighter IV his pressure with Bison was fantastic and suffocating. In Street Fighter V his ability to change the pace and capitalize on it makes him a threat.
– Vastend: A newblood in Street Fighter V who quickly rose through the ranks with his great pressure, surprising everyone. His timing on offense, and ability to assess as a situation, make him an exciting player to watch. I can’t wait to see how he grows into becoming a great player in the scene.
– Baked Eyez: A highly energetic player, with creativity to match, he always finds new ways to open you up and that’s what makes him fun to watch, and one of the players to keep an eye out for.
– Sin: A player that can control the pace to a whim, his Bison pressure and ability to strive under pressure make him also great to watch. His hunger to learn and improve make him a threat.
– Solomon: A newblood in Street Fighter V, his Balrog and Birdie knows no fear, and with his great insight/views on Street fighter V he’s definitely fun to watch. Using “turns” and momentum really well have made him win a few locals recently. His passion for Street Fighter V and positive personality make him another player to watch along with Vastend.
– Flipside: A player who is continuing to learn with Karin, a new blood in Street Fighter V. He continues to pull upsets and shows great development in his play rising through Toronto ranks in weeklies.
– CountBlack: His Elena was awesome, and his Laura as equally entertaining as it is knowledgeable. While he doesn’t come out much, he is always someone to pay attention to when he does.
– OrangeMan: His Rashid play make him a sleeper for any top 8 in Majors!
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?
Drewface: There are times when I don’t enjoy playing the game–it’s tiring, boring. The scene is what brings me back, the people, the hype moments, the friends I’ve made. I wouldn’t trade this for anything. My skill in not only Street Fighter has improved, but my graphic design ability–my views and perspectives on things have grown from growing up in the scene.
Chokehold: My experience with the scene has been overwhelmingly positive. Everyone is really nice, and I’ve met some lifelong friends for sure. Although I do feel like the Toronto scene sometimes needs a reminder to stick together–especially when internationals come down for big tournaments like Canada Cup. My skill has definitely improved having played in the scene, getting to play new people/playstyles is always a good thing, in my opinion.
Brutus: The Toronto scene has been nothing but a positive force. They’re super cool guys/girls to talk to and hang around. One way Toronto helped me improve is with my nerves; just playing these guys on a competitive level offline has helped my nerves a lot.
mushin_Z: Has any particular player acted as a mentor, or a rival for you?
Drewface: Gerjay, Teddy Bauza, and Jamie and Rey for ST have helped me a lot. My rivals have always been Jimmy Fierce and Blueblazer since we were kids. (But they body me fraaay…)
Brutus: My ‘Gief brother is definitely Ironstien. We trade tech and help each other out a lot. I have two current rivals: my most prominant rival is Shane Walker. Shane has always bodied me, so it’s a goal of mine to take a FT3 off of him in tournament. My second rival is Italdan. Me and Italdan have only played twice. Both matches were last game, last round. He won the first set, and I won the second. Since then there has been some friendly trash talk between us on who would win the next set, so it’ll be very interesting.
mushin_Z: What major tournaments have you attended? Have you traveled to tournaments outside of Canada?
Drewface: Toryuken, Canada Cup (all the Toronto ones), NEC 2011, Winter Brawl (last year), MAT, LanETs, Rumble in the Tundras. I have traveled…
Chokehold: I’ve attended a lot of major tournaments over the years, outside of Canada some of my faves would have to be CEO, Summer Jam, and SoCal Regionals.
Brutus: The only offline major I attended was Canada Cup 2016. I’ve never been outside of Canada.
mushin_Z: How well have you placed? How would you describe the experience of traveling to compete?
Brutus: I drowned in pools. I went 2-2. I lost to XSK_Samurai, and LordJimmyBones‘ Dhalsim.
Chokehold: I got top 32 at this past Summer Jam for SFV; in Canada I’ve won a couple events for SFV and UMvC3 as well. The experience of travelling to compete is great, I like meeting new people and seeing new places.
Drewface: Depending on the game, my placement has a huge variation from either drowning in pools to top 32. The experience of bonding with people in your community and getting an insight on other scenes is something any person in the FGC should always do. It gives you an outside perspective.
mushin_Z: How often do you encounter players from other cities in Toronto? Do they fit in easily while visiting?
Chokehold: At most of the big tournaments, I’ll encounter a lot of people from other cities coming down to Toronto. Most of the time I’d have to say everyone fits in pretty easily (I hope so?).
Drewface: I mean, it happens almost every four months, so pretty frequently. A lot of people love the Toronto community–it still has that old school hype with the new school cool. Many people fit in and feel comfortable if they get to know the scene. Toronto itself is a beautiful and fun city to be in, as well. Shout-outs to Drake/Tory Lanez/PartyNextDoor.
mushin_Z: Are there any players from outside Toronto you see/compete with regularly?
Chokehold: Outside of Toronto… there is a player named “Bee” from Edmonton that I try and see/compete with as often as I can! Shout-outs to Bee.
Drewface: We often see K-Brad, Noel Brown, Chi-Rithy, Dieminion often. We used to see Andre (Jago) often as well. He loves it here.
mushin_Z: Do you stream?
Brutus: I stream on www.twitch.tv/brutus.
Chokehold: I don’t stream as often as I want, but I do have a Twitch channel. It’s www.twitch.tv/TheChokeh0ld.
Drewface: I stream! I usually show people how to design certain items, or drawing lessons. As well, I run a streetwear brand called The Fifty/Fifty. I grew up from 15-year-old to a 25-year-old in the FGC scene, hence my deep roots and the roots of the brand. [Many Toronto players sport “50/50” as a tag prefix as a sign of support for the brand, including Brutus.] My graphic design portfolio can be found at drewface.com. Also shout-outs to r/StreetFighter, they’ve been supporting my brand since day one. A personal thank you to the scene, and all Fifty/Fifty supporters!
mushin_Z: What games other than Street Fighter are you into, and why?
Drewface: Counter Strike Global Offensive (I love FPS), Overwatch, Dark Souls, Zelda, Guilty Gear Xrd, Tetris, Dragon Quest–they’re just fun games.
Chokehold: I really like the Marvel vs. Capcom series, and am pumped for Marvel Infinite. I love those games for the crazy characters and combos, and the fact that every match feels like something new happens is super fun.
mushin_Z: What does Toronto offer a Street Fighter fan that can’t be found anywhere else?
Drewface: Toronto is kinda like Cheers–you walk in and everyone knows your name, and it feels at home. The multiculturalism, and the many faces and connections that have come and gone, can really be anyone or anything. I feel it makes Toronto really unique.
Chokehold: I feel like the Toronto scene offers a Street Fighter fan the opportunity to see a lot of new talent that are slowly and steadily becoming world class. I look forward to seeing the Toronto scene have a bigger impact on the FGC as a whole, in the future.
50/50|Brutus is just one fighter in the “next generation”–players that have grown up alongside the last two Street Fighter titles, after the fading away of the old arcade scene in North America. Toronto and Montréal both naturally draw in a lot of players from the surrounding areas to join their scene, and another young player (and oftentimes commentator with JakyoManor) breaking into the Street Fighter scene in Toronto is Toffee, from Ottawa. I asked her for a few words on what it’s like joining an established FGC scene at her age. She recently brought out her Ibuki to compete at Fight For The 6ix, and shared her experience:
As a younger player, its very easy to be intimidated going into the Toronto scene, there’s a huge amount of trash talking, side-betting, and all sorts of thuggery and rowdy behavior. I, however, was right at home. I have to admit I had a leg up coming in–I had met and interacted with a large majority of the people there. One of the things that drew me to the Toronto scene–instead of the Montréal scene–was the diversity. There are tons of women and young players in the scene. You can imagine as a 15-year-old girl that would make me feel more comfortable, but as I met more and more people, it quickly became more and more apparent how welcoming everyone is.
When I sat down to play, I quickly won over most of the crowd by taking a swift victory. The second match, however, I faced a Bison player who after I took one round, downloaded me and took the first game with a perfect. I began to spiral, panic clouding my judgment. Then, some members of the crowd started to cheer me on, I gathered my thoughts, and went into the next game with my head held high. However–I lost that one too, due to a string of bad decisions. The crowd, however, wanted me to have my redemption. They campaigned for my next match to be on stream, as well. I won my next match thanks to the crowds’ support, and won one more match before going down in losers.
While the Toronto scene may seem hard on the outside, they’re definitely some of the nicest people I’ve met in the FGC, and I can’t wait until I visit again.