The answer lies in the heart of battle.
A number of years ago, Cliff Rouzier’s desire to rise up and compete at Evo inspired a journey that would become the indie documentary Road to Evolution, released in February of this year. It is available to watch for free on YouTube right now; here’s the most recent trailer:
Cliffdog now streams on Twitch, and continues to compete in both Street Fighter and Super Smash Bros. titles. To see where his fighting spirit has taken him since the events of Road to Evolution, we caught up with him on the floor of Evo 2017. The resulting discussion can be read below; replies have been edited for clarity.
Zavian “mushin_Z” Sildra: For the readers that don’t know you yet, please introduce yourself!
Cliff “Cliffdog” Rouzier: My name is Cliff, my tag is Cliffdog. I’ve been a huge fighting game enthusiast since I was about two years old, loved fighting games all my life; they’ve brought me closest to some of the best friends that I’ve ever had, or ever met. It’s just something that I’m super passionate about. I love the community and what they aspire to be. Fighting games as a whole: I love what they bring, I love the tenacity — I just love the drive, and I love the competition that fighting games provide for everybody, which is why I’m so drawn to them today.
mushin_Z: So, how many times have you been to Evo now?
Cliffdog: This will now be my fourth one. Started in 2012, attended the one in 2013, took about two years off, went back in 2016, and now I’m here for 2017.
mushin_Z: You were the subject of your cousin Jonathan’s documentary, Road to Evolution, about your drive to come and compete at Evo; tell us about what it was like to be in that film.
Cliffdog: Sure! So, in 2011, I saw an amazing match with Luffy, and I was so inspired by that. I felt that, with my age at that time, I was running out of time to enjoy such an event — something you put such blood, sweat, and tears into — that I thought it would be really cool if my cousin (who at the time was just getting out of film school) and I could collaborate together, and make a documentary on what I’m gonna do: someone that’s a “nobody,” that nobody really knows, what steps am I gonna take, what sacrifices am I gonna make, to try to make it out to Evo.
That being the drive, that setting the stage, we started doing it — and it didn’t work out that well [at first], because when we tried for Evo 2012, I was the only one that made it, so we couldn’t record anything! So the viewer didn’t get to see what happened.
mushin_Z: There was a little bit of a hole there…
Cliffdog: So, I was like, “f’ this,” let’s go for one last ride, one more time, let’s do it — but this time, I’ll make sure everything is in place, so that way there’s no excuses, no hiccups, and I’ll make sure everyone can make it. And you know, we did it, we made it happen — though we had a lot of problems with the TSA [related to the transport of camera equipment] — and it was a beautiful experience.
I guess to compare those two important years, from 2012 to 2014, I went from being by myself, not knowing anybody (I literally just went to the [first] event and came back home) to somebody that now, a year later, is fully integrated into the fighting game community, among many friends. And I think that really opened my eyes to even if you don’t know anybody, if you put in the time and effort and dedicate yourself to something you enjoy — as much as everybody else does — you’re gonna get a lot out of it.
mushin_Z: Nice. That film was essentially your first steps setting out on this path — to get into Evo, to compete at a higher level. Where has it led?
Cliffdog: I don’t even know where to start! [laughs] There’s just been so many opportunities, and I don’t know how to say thank you for each and every one. I’m so blessed that this year my flight was paid in full, and my Twitch followers even donated enough money to get my girlfriend to come with me. So I didn’t have to pay for a flight here… how does that happen?
I don’t know — maybe other streamers feel like it’s a common thing, but to me as a person — if you’re watching me, I’m just playing video games. I guess I’m entertaining you [as a viewer] enough that you want me to come to Evo, just to compete, because you believe in what I believe in. Even if you’ve seen my documentary or not, you must share the same passion as I do, and want me to have fun and succeed… That in itself, I think, speaks for itself: as long as you just do what you do, and you’re humble and you give to the community, they’re gonna give it back to you.
I’ve met a lot of amazing players, I’ve beaten a lot of amazing professional players in my time, which I never thought I could — I only dreamed about it. I got to work with LI Joe in his own event, East Coast Throwdown; I always saw him as an awesome person and a very humble guy… for him to just open his arms and say “Dude, I want you to help me out with this, no questions asked, I like you, and you’re an awesome dude”… wow. I guess there’s a “facade,” that all pro players are like this or that, and you can’t talk to them, and they’re on this higher pedestal. But at the end of the day, everyone’s a person, just like the person sitting next to you, they’re human beings and they want to converse just like anybody else. And if you take the time to just have a conversation with them, you’d be surprised what you get out of it in the end.
Again, I can’t say “thank you” enough for what’s been opened for me, and the opportunities given me, but my goal is always just to continue to give back to something that’s given me so much. It’s enabled me to fly around to different states, and different countries that I never thought I would go to. I’ve met amazing people that I’ve befriended, we’ve been able to travel together, and just enjoy unique experiences. That on its own, I’d say, is very special.
mushin_Z: So, when you first started out with the thought “I’m gonna go to Evo,” you didn’t think this was going to be the result?
Cliffdog: No, no way did I project that I’d be coming back to Evo again in 2017. But “the people” said otherwise, and here I am today. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t think my drive would be so strong — I think in my heart, I always want to play; I always have the passion and always want to compete. But at a tournament level like this, it takes a lot of time, practice, and training to not go 0-2 in your bracket, and that’s where I think they play the biggest part — because they’re cheering me on. Even when I’m down, I lost and I don’t know what happened, I don’t know what to do, and I want to quit the game — even though, I never really want to — even with those thoughts in my mind, [my supporters] are the first to remind me why I should never stop.
I’ll give you the perfect example: I was on my way to the Red Bull party last night, and I already had it in my mind that after Evo I was just gonna take a break, just relax from fighting games and focus on other things. And there was somebody I saw that I haven’t seen, in, let’s just say over a year. He was so shocked to see me, and he was like, “Dude, I saw your documentary! Never stop playing fighting games. You have to keep playing!” And the way he said it, the way he looked at me, I was like “Dang, I can’t stop right now.” I can’t! People still want me to play. Clearly, this road is far from over. Even if I were to think about stopping, they would stop me from stopping! I can’t be thankful enough for that — there’s still people that want to help me get better than I am now.
mushin_Z: That’s awesome. So, let’s talk about the pro players — right now you’re playing Street Fighter V and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U…
Cliffdog: That’s right.
mushin_Z: Who are the players getting into the top eights that you look up to? That make you think, “I need to get to that level, I want to take them on.”
Cliffdog: Oh boy. You know what’s funny? The guys that are in the top eights, they’re not really my “targets” in terms of me wanting to beat them; I just wanna learn from them, so I can do what they do and enjoy the game as much as they do.
I don’t think I could name any names. I feel like they’re all great, in their own respective games. It’s nice to see the roundabout of different characters that can win, and it’s also amazing that all these great players are getting sponsored, too. I give ’em all kudos. But I don’t think there’s anybody that’s my “favorite” player, in that I look up to them, and I want to beat them. I appreciate them for who they are, and what they give back to me.
I guess when I was younger, I looked up to them more, and was like, “Man, I wanna be like that guy, I wanna do what he does!” But with access to YouTube, and forums, and everybody’s in Discord chatting and learning — everybody can be like that person now. Anybody can do what any of those guys are doing, so long as you put in the hard work and dedication. I think that’s something that slips people’s minds, and they beat themselves up too much — but just take the loss, get back up, and keep going. It doesn’t matter how hard you lost, how hard you got knocked down — if you can rise up from that, and can continue to keep fighting, you never lose. That’s how I see it.
Additional source: Jonathan Rouzier