For any scene to survive and grow, diversity is the key!
As gaming communities go, the core FGC has generally been a positive example of diversity and acceptance — and that stems from a common philosophy: if you’ve got the guts to step into the ring and compete, you’re welcome to try. But elitism, sexism, and discrimination are far from eliminated in our community, and that’s where a group — or more accurately, a “movement” as described below — like the Combo Queens steps in. By providing a support network for women in an environment historically dominated by men, it helps ensure these gamers don’t get discouraged when they run into ignorance and “gating” from their male counterparts, while they’re out there to fight the same fight we all are.I had the opportunity to ask a number of questions of both founders and members of the Combo Queens, on why such an organization is important in the FGC right now, and what it offers female fighting game fans. Check out the replies below from Carolyn Dao (founder), Emily Ginnona (co-founder), and supporting members Romanova (streamer and prominent FGC cosplayer), Tiffany Nazare (model and Chief Operating Officer of Syndicate eSports), and young up-and-coming competitor and commentator ThatToffee.
Responses have been edited for length/clarity.
mushin_Z: What inspired the “Combo Queens”?
Carolyn “MamaDao” Dao: I was inspired a few years ago in 2016 when “Smash Sisters” was created, and pitched the idea to a couple of people to see how it would do in the FGC. My main motivator was Lil “Milktea” Chen, who consulted me the entire time to execute Combo Queens without any backlash.
Emily (Jemmillion) Ginnona: Carolyn (MamaDao) was inspired by the Smash Sisters and wanted to implement something similar for the women of the FGC. I approached her soon after about wanting to establish meetups for Combo Queens on the East Coast, eventually across the country. I believe that every community has many talented and amazing women who deserved to be positively showcased. Combo Queens was created to help encourage female players to get out, get to know each other, and play the games they love through event meetups, sessions, and social media support/promotion.
Tiffany Nazare: In my opinion, Combo Queens was created as a safe haven for talented and passionate female gamers. It was a way to connect the ladies to fellow gamers, business owners, female team owners and sponsors. In the past, it was pretty difficult for women to have a platform, let alone a voice to be heard in a male-dominated field. Combo Queens is here to break the barrier that people failed to notice, while putting a shine on the up-and-coming talents that they’ve missed.
Romanova: I believe the lack of overall support for women as a whole in the FGC inspired this; giving a community for the women and their allies to meet up, hang out, and promote overall good vibes. This in turn I think helps balance the synergy between the men and women and everyone else in the FGC. Those who created it had a really good idea when coming up with it. I will say the one thing I did contribute was the name. I know originally the word femme was in it [a tentative first name for the group was “Femme Fighters”] and that can sometimes be deemed as a term some women do not identify with, so to keep it friendly to the message I suggested “Combo Queens” to MamaDao and she liked it a lot! (I admit I had also been watching the TV show Scream Queens around that time, and it kind of inspired that bit!)
ThatToffee: We felt we needed our own version of Smash Sisters in the TFGC, because there are so many women with interest in fighting games that simply fizzle out because they can never find their place in the community. Our goal is to help them feel welcome and encourage them to pursue their interest rather than fade away because of lack of female representation.
mushin_Z: What is your role in the group?
MamaDao: I am the original founder, but for an entire year, I was a one-person team. I did everything from basic graphic designer (everything except the logo), to marketer, and event planner. It wasn’t until recently that Sharpie and Jemmillion expressed interested towards helping on the East Coast projects where we actually became a team.
Jemmillion: I am one of the co-founders of Combo Queens along with Sheila (DaPurpleSharpie) and obviously Carolyn (MamaDao), the founder. We all equally work on various different aspects including, but not limited to: social media, planning events/sessions at tournaments, giveaways, promoting other women gamers, etc.
Nazare: I am a member, and COO of Syndicate eSports. My role is to help advertise announced Combo Queens events, give counsel to certain subjects, and network with those who attend/support the movement.
Romanova: My role is just that of a member. I am definitely very active in the NRS community, as well as now getting involved in the community forming with Dragon Ball FighterZ, so I give a perspective from a different end of the FGC. I dabble in the SF community as well, though just more of a casual player when it comes to it and a fan of watching matches. I think that helps give input to the group as a whole, and all the games we partake in — as well as helping recruit those interested in coming to meet-ups from this end as well.
ThatToffee: I’m simply an avid supporter, because I feel that this is what women joining the FGC need. If it weren’t for women like ChocoBlanka and Ricki Ortiz, I wouldn’t have decided to go competitive, and if it weren’t for women like JakyoManor — who I jokingly call my FGC mom — I wouldn’t have dared to venture outside my local FGC. These meet-ups are going to be where fledgling FGC women can find the people that make you feel welcome.
mushin_Z: Why does the FGC need a group like the Combo Queens?
MamaDao: Because events can be intimidating for everyone, but if you’re a girl, it’s downright uncomfortable. You can literally feel eyes on you when you walk into the venue — whether you’re being judged or ogled — and even if you’re just sitting in the crowd watching the main stage, chat will chew you apart with harassment. The discomfort alone might be enough to make a woman not want to associate with the FGC, so we’re trying to give newcomers an area to play in the safety in numbers, and to also maybe inspire those at home to come out for the very first time by showing them how fun majors can be. Who knows, maybe we might inspire the next biggest player to finally come out of her shell.
Jemmillion: The women of the FGC need a good support system, an organization to help women learn, grow, and get to know each other. It’s an opportunity to help women feel comfortable at tournaments, whether they are a player, commentator, spectator, or content creator.
Nazare: This is a way to inform and educate. This FGC needs to be informed on how women are important in tournaments, game development, streaming, and production. The more there is awareness, the more we can reach our goals of achieving unity in the scene.
Romanova: I truly believe it helps make the women involved feel more of a sense of sisterhood with each other, and gives those in it more visibility to all others in the scene for the talent that many of our community’s women have whether it’s playing, commentating, or writing, etc. I also think it helps break stereotypes that are given to all types of women gamers in our scene.
ThatToffee: Without meetups like Combo Queens, we might never actually get the representation that we need to pull more women in. Whenever people argue that women are worse at fighting games because there are so few female pro players, I argue that the amount of women we currently have pursuing the goal of becoming a top player is so minuscule in the comparison to the number of men. Eventually, a lot of them fizzle out because they don’t feel like its the place for them; having a community like Combo Queens can show them that women have a place in the FGC, despite what some idiots may say.
mushin_Z: What does the Combo Queens offer to women in competitive gaming?
MamaDao: In the beginning, we just provided a sisterhood and gave something women wanted to be part of, but lately I’ve been trying to promote them where I can to give them the exposure they deserve. I retweet their accomplishments, personal streams, and when they were playing in tournament. In the future I want to start producing merchandise to eventually send some players out to tournaments or purchase coaching sessions with professional players.
Jemmillion: Whether you’re a player, commentator, spectator, content creator, etc., we offer women the chance to get to know who the other women of the FGC are, to gain possible new opportunities, to showcase their talents, and the grow/expand in the community.
Nazare: I know there is some news to be announced soon, but in a nutshell: we are offering the women sessions to play with each other. Meet-ups to help newcomers feel welcome and shed light on how we can help them. Let’s not forget the podcasts and panels that we have to connect to our viewers to help answer questions — especially for the people that couldn’t make it to an event, but have interest in us.
Romanova: It offers equal playing fields. No Queen is treated as more important than another and it’s not an “exclusive” group. All of those who identify as women are welcome, and the ladies I’ve gotten to talk to and meet have always made me feel warm and welcome. I think it also shows us we are not alone — and we all are a very diverse bunch of ladies.
ThatToffee: It offers a space to explore your love of fighting games in an inclusive environment, and allows you to meet and connect with women just like you — who may be hard to meet otherwise.
mushin_Z: What sort of response has the Combo Queens seen from the FGC? Has there been support from male FGC members as well?
MamaDao: There has been overwhelming support from everyone! Last year was a really strong year for female empowerment (with the Women’s Marches and #MeToo movement), so we were able to see encouragement from men and women alike. I’ve even had some men come to me and tell me that the nieces, wives, girlfriends, etc. were all inspired by Combo Queens and started taking the game more seriously. We’ve also caught the eye from some organizations and businesses such as Red Bull, who has expressed great enthusiasm for future events.
Jemmillion: So far, Combo Queens has received primarily positive feedback from the FGC. Male FGC members have been very supportive from the start as well. In fact, some organizations/TOs have even given us merchandise to give out during our meet-ups here on the East Coast! I’ve been very happy with the support we’ve been receiving.
Nazare: We have seen a huge response from the FGC. More girls are excited to attend tournaments. People are reaching out in the inboxes on how to support us. The male FGC members are supporting us by liking our social media, and letting others know what events we have. For our meet-ups, they respect our space and cause… for the most part! [laughs]
Romanova: I feel reception of the name/group has mostly been positive. I think this is accomplished because it’s not just like a “HEY, GIRL GROUP!”… Combo Queens seems to be its own sub-community in the FGC. A lot of the members as well are also people respected in the community who I think the men in our community know mean business. There will always be naysayers who can’t accept any type of change or forward thinking when it comes to equality and being more inclusive, but for the most part I believe Combo Queens has been able to give more visibility to many of the women in the scene.
ThatToffee: From what I can see, there has been a ton of support all around for Combo Queens. I can only see the idea itself being offensive to the most nitpicky individual alive.
mushin_Z: How many members comprise the group currently?
MamaDao: We’re not really exclusive, so I think “movement” is a better term than group. I’ve had women asking if they could be a Combo Queen, but if you have the passion in your heart, you’re already a Combo Queen. <3
Jemmillion: Any woman can be a Combo Queen! 😊
Nazare: I’m actually not sure about the number, but we have a great group and we are very welcoming of others.
Romanova: I think almost 200. I know that sounds like a lot, but we honestly have a lot of women in the FGC from all over, we just don’t get to see as much as others. I hope to see it keep growing, since it isn’t necessarily a commitment when you’re a part of it. Again, it’s a community, so if anything it’s a great way to share info with each other and have meet-ups at tournaments as well.
ThatToffee: Combo Queens is a very open community. Anyone is entitled to join and be a part of it.
mushin_Z: What games are the most popular in the group right now?
MamaDao: Right now I think it’s pretty even with Street Fighter, Tekken, and with the support of the “Sirens,” now NRS. We chose the name “Combo Queens” because I didn’t want to corner us into one game, and wanted to be inclusive to the FGC as a whole.
Jemmillion: Every woman is unique, and has their own game(s) that they enjoy playing. I’ve seen it range anywhere from Street Fighter V to Injustice 2 to Tekken 7 to Skullgirls. The nice thing about our diversity is that it gives other women to opportunity to learn about other games they might be on the fence about playing — which in turn, if they choose to play such game, will grow those communities even more.
Nazare: Mostly we’ve played SFV and Tekken 7, but we are seeing some new faces in DBFZ. We’ll keep you updated with all of that! Stay tuned!
Romanova: I feel like right now (and usually) Street Fighter is the most popular and most-played among the members. However, we have a variety of people also playing Dragon Ball FighterZ now that it’s out. It’ll be interesting to see if that starts to take over some of the hype that Street Fighter always seems to have.
ThatToffee: The game I can see being most popular is Street Fighter — but we support a variety of games from Tekken to Marvel.
mushin_Z: Are members more focused on competitive success, or having fun?
MamaDao: I’m sure everyone has the dream to making it big and becoming a professional player, but having fun is a great perk while doing it. We also have a good chunk of commentators, tournament organizers, and cosplayers who are Combo Queens.
Jemmillion: It depends on which woman you speak to. We have a little bit of everything in our community. Some women focus on competing, others go to play fighting games casually and socialize, and others work behind the scenes (whether commentating, working the event, or streaming, etc). We are a unique and diverse group of women!
Nazare: Honestly both. We help each other level up, but in a fun atmosphere.
Romanova: It honestly varies what members are most focused on. We have many women who are just about coming out to tournaments, playing casuals, and enjoying their time there. But we also have many who are competitors that train a lot! We are all so diverse in our interests so it’s beautiful to see us in one spot hanging out or contributing to this community. Many women are even very self-motivated in their own personal success. We have many who are journalists that write for different websites or their own blogs, and want to keep excelling at that while reporting on a scene that means the world to them.
ThatToffee: We support individuals who are here to compete and be the very best, and individuals who play to have a good time. At the meet-ups there is a focus on encouragement and inclusion, in addition to improvement.
mushin_Z: The group’s first big face-to-face gathering took place at Evo 2017; what was it like for everyone to meet up?
MamaDao: We talked a lot prior via social media, so it was a giant get-together where most of us met for the very first time in real life, or a reunion of friends who only see each other at majors. It really connected all of us for the very first time, and proved the passion that the women have for the scene.
Jemmillion: From what I saw and heard, the meet up was very successful and positive! We’re working on implementing some big and exciting ideas in 2018, so I’m looking forward on helping to make Evo 2018’s Combo Queens meet-up even bigger!
Nazare: It was amazing! Girls were so happy to connect. We exchanged stories and gave advice on how to get better with each game. Of course some girls were nervous, but that quickly changed after we’ve all shared personal interests.
Romanova: I was lucky to get to meet MamaDao in person, which absolutely made my time at Evo even better. It was beautiful, though, to see so many ladies hanging out together having fun. I look forward to every time there is a meet-up now because it’s just a fun time with women who have similar interests!
ThatToffee: (I wasn’t there. .-.)
mushin_Z: What do you want to see for the future of the Combo Queens?
MamaDao: I want to make Combo Queens bigger and better this year, with so many things already in the works to help us expand. We’ve been drafting merch ideas, and even want to have a booth up and running to have our own set-ups at majors.
Jemmillion: I hope to see Combo Queens expand in the future and attract more women into the scene. Each woman brings something unique and important to the FGC. Through Combo Queens, our meet ups, showcases via social media, and future partnerships with other organizations, I hope that we’re able to give more opportunities to the women of the FGC to grow and be successful.
Nazare: I would love to see Combo Queens holding tournaments and charities to help fellow women get further in the gaming world. We will definitely have a great impact in this scene and others — so look out! We are coming for you!
Romanova: I would like to see more meet-ups at tournaments, as well as us collaborating together to send some of our own out to tournaments they might not be able to afford on their own, so they can play more. I’d absolutely like to see this be something women coming into the scene — or looking in from the outside — get a peek at, and are encouraged to come in. We want you here, we want you to hang and play games with us. And if there are any women out there who ever want to ask questions about the community come talk to any of us, we got your back.
ThatToffee: I want to see Combo Queens meet-ups and ladies nights at every major and every city. Even if a chunk of the gaming community doesn’t think so, helping women foster their love of gaming is so important.
Special thanks to DaPurpleSharpie for her assistance in arranging these interviews.