Leah “Gllty” Hayes’ personality and competitive drive has already made her well-known in the FGC; following her recent bout of CPT competition in Asia, GRAPHT announced that they were added Gllty to their team as their first international competitor. At GRAPHT, she joins many of the best-known and respected Japanese Street Fighter players in the game today, including Fuudo, Haitani, GO1, and MOV; now fighting under the same colors as these SF giants, how does it feel to have made it here, and what’s in store for future battles? Gllty took the time to share her thoughts with us.
Zavian “mushin_Z” Sildra: What — in your own experience — is different about competing in Japan, as compared to playing in the USA?
Leah “Gllty” Hayes: In Japan, well, Asia as a whole really, they still try to force a traditional SF ground game and mentality. Everyone learns to whiff punish, everyone knows little minute situations. The way they use training mode is a lot of repetition: figure out a punish, practice it until it’s golden, and so on and so forth. Americans like it a bit more wet and wild. I competed for over a month in Asia in 2016, did rather well over there but started adopting a more methodical/neutral style — and when I came back to the US I was a little taken aback, because I had forgotten exactly how aggressive people in the West are. I feel the East/West thing are just two pieces of the same puzzle, and you need both to become godlike.
mushin_Z: What does signing with GRAPHT mean for the future of your own training and competition?
Gllty: Location-wise — in SoCal — I’m in a prime position to get some of the best Marvel Infinite comp in the world, and now I can accentuate that through also having access to some of the best SFV minds in Japan. I don’t think any other American right now really has the same intimate access back and forth? Certain some like Justin Wong could if they chose to, but I also kind of feel like he and those in his “tier” have already been there and done that more than once. The time is just now for me. I want to grow with GRAPHT, and hope to absorb as much as possible by working with my new teammates.
mushin_Z: In your view, what do you personally bring to the table for GRAPHT as a competitor?
Gllty: As a competitor, I believe my true strengths will burn as bright as a roman candle through Marvel Infinite. Recently, I moved to California, and it took me a while but there’s been a slow and steady increase in my ability. Through GRAPHT, I’ll be able to maintain a steady presence in Asia, as I’m even getting my own apartment in Tokyo. Through the combined resources of Tokyo and LA, I expect exponential growth as a player — and honestly as a person. I feel the proper direction is going up, and I hope to join my teammates in high placements at Evo Japan.
mushin_Z: GRAPHT wasn’t the first team to make you an offer, were they? What is it about GRAPHT in particular that sealed the deal?
Gllty: No, I’ve had offers and deals as soon as my first tournament in 2010. However, my fans are so incredibly supportive that I became self-sustainable without the need for a sponsor, and as a result of my steady rise in exposure, I knew my asking price was only rising. GRAPHT was different, because a caveat of my brand is that it just works very well overseas. Post Evo, almost all major CPT events are in Asia. GRAPHT, being an Asian company, was a great fit for me to explore and compete overseas while also giving them a foothold in a western market.
mushin_Z: There was some social media backlash to your signing, questioning whether you had “earned” or deserved the sponsorship. Where do you think that stems from?
Gllty: People don’t really see the hustle I put in. OK, so I’m not the single best player in the universe. How do I secure the funds and resources to enable that to change? I have attended four Asian majors in the past year. Barring TGS, the only times I saw an American at any of these was Ricki [Ortiz] in Busan and Chris T during Japan Cup. If you can afford two domestic majors and ranking events, you can transmute that budget for an overseas one. It’s as simple as: I took the risk, and others did not.
The “fit” is also a big thing. I remember someone saying that the sponsorship should have gone to Wolfkrone instead. Wolfkrone is a great player! But why in the hell would a Japanese company sponsor him — or any other American, that operates primarily in America — over someone who actively tries to cultivate an overseas presence? The flip side is, people like Wolfkrone, I’m absolutely sure he has deal offers on the table, and those offers would be a better fit for him than — again — a Japanese company. The people who would complain I don’t contribute enough also probably just stay at home and sit on Twitch and reddit, so, I mean, who cares?
mushin_Z: At the same time, many prominent players came to your defense; what does that say to you about your relationship with the FGC as a whole?
Gllty: Game recognizes game. It’s that simple.
mushin_Z: You’ve got a reputation for trolling your opponents; what draws you towards that type of behavior? Natural tendency? Calculated mind-games? Are you deliberately cultivating a “heel” persona?
Gllty: I’m not one to complain about treatment, I let my actions speak so loud I don’t need to. The reality is I do deal with a certain amount of BS, but I’ve also dealt out my fair share of BS — so there’s almost an innate feeling that I’m paying penance on my life’s karmic check.
That said, I don’t really come into social settings — including the arena of the FGC — with the default expectation I’m going to be treated fairly or respected. Diffusing things through antics and humor was initially a means to stake some kind of control from a landscape that could often be hostile to me. You need to kind of go into the social game knowing it’s a little rigged against you, and play that game until it becomes your game. Also, I have a never-ending supply of nerds eager to step to me to “put me in my place” or whatever, which kind of gives me a license to roast pretty hard. I really don’t have many people directly stepping to me, and 7/10 times if you just address them as people, the troll behind the computer screen shuts down and they become people again. People just want validation and a sense of belonging, not being singled out either to be roasted or have their target turn the other cheek. Trolling is sort of a performance art, especially when people volunteer themselves to be taken to task.
mushin_Z: As your popularity has grown, you’ve become somewhat of a role model for younger female players. What’s that like? Do you feel a sense of responsibility for them?
Gllty: That is weird. I’m not a role model, I play video games. I’m also transgender, not born, which adds a complicated personal dilemma of authenticity to the mix. I’ve had a dad come up with three young girls who wanted a photo, and I honestly didn’t know how to respond. I went through the motions, said the correct things, and walked away from it with a reiteration that I have a responsibility with my actions not only to myself, but to others as well. For me to pop off and troll someone who ostensibly “asked for it” is one thing — but being reckless, ribald, and loud about it is sending a completely different message than “Hey, stand up for yourself.”
I think I have a lot of growing before I truly inhabit that role, but I am getting older, and my 20s are drawing very near to a close, so I suppose it makes a lot of sense to transition into a role that paves the way for others to do better and be better than me. I would say, I’ve never really had an output of “18+” content in terms of language or whatnot, but as fighting games grow, my PG-13 demeanor is going to have to refine even further to PG. It’s an inevitability, and I’ve accepted it.
mushin_Z: What player(s) do you look up to most right now? Any particular rival that you’re aiming to take down?
Gllty: NerdJosh and Tasty Steve are two of my favorite people in the FGC, hands down. I admire what my Sim brothers-in-arms bring: FChamp, Jesse, Dank, to name a few. I’ve always been a fan of Haitani — whom is now my teammate. I admire what Kayo has done with her direction outside of the FGC. As far as rivals, I’ve been getting gatekept a lot by the usual suspects at WNF, and right now those are the people most on my radar. BushinStyle has been bodying me since I came here, and I lost one with Ed but beat him twice in a row with Sim. I guess you could say he’s earned my respect enough to want to decode him.
Gllty vs. BushinStyle at WNF, courtesy of Body Count Fighting
mushin_Z: You’ve been using Ed more in Street Fighter V lately, in addition to your usual Dhalsim main. What caught your attention about Ed? What do you like/dislike about these two characters in SFV?
Gllty: Ed has Makoto dashes! I feel he does better vs. Rashid than Dhalsim also, but it’s still difficult. I feel Ed isn’t that popular with professional players, but connects really well in terms of popularity with fans and the community in general (Juri is also in this category). As for Dhalsim, really my only complaint is he’s missing like… one thing. I dunno if it’s that ground teleport needs a change, his V-Reversal should be faster, or **YOGA KNEE**. Thrust kick was a great tool and I love it, I just feel he needs an extra tool against a sizable portion of the cast.
mushin_Z: What are your long-term competitive goals?
Gllty: I want to win majors. I want everyone who’s ever looked up to me to see my success. I want to make my mum proud. I want everyone who’s ever looked down on me to be sitting at home writhing in helpless contempt. I wanna bring the danger.
mushin_Z: Anything else you’d like to say to your fans, your haters, or both?
Gllty: Love you guys / HOLD THAT L
Additional source: Body Count Fighting