Esports.gg sits down with Cuddle_Core, one of Tekken’s top female competitors, to talk about evolving the space and Tekken esports.
This coverage is powered by Women in Games International.
Jeannail "Cuddle_Core" Carter burst onto the Tekken scene back when Turner's ELEAGUE was still heavily involved in esports, making a name for herself at the Tekken Team Takedown. Since then, she's become well known as a top player, not just a top female player, but someone that's been able to upset big names at events.
She's taken her career to the next level with a recent sponsorship by Red Bull Gaming, which she carried proudly into competition in November at Red Bull Kumite Las Vegas.
Esports.gg had the chance to speak with her in the wake of that event to find out about her career in gaming, how she's been able to succeed, and about her run at Red Bull Kumite. We also discussed the evolution of the Tekken scene, and how the FGC could better accommodate women.
Dustin Steiner, Americas Editor: Tell me about your career thus far and how you got into competing in Tekken at this level?
Jeannail "Cuddle_Core" Carter, Red Bull/Equinox Gaming: About three years ago, I graduated college. Up to that point I was competing as a hobby for a while. So during the school breaks and bigger spans of time that I could compete, I would go three or four times out of the year. I'd of course compete online, but it was very much still a hobby.
But naturally when you're playing with people who are really good, or your training partners are really good, it rubs off on you. You learn things and you grow naturally.
So even though it was a hobby, I kept getting better and better at it. I like to do everything at a level of excellence, so I became very competitive at it. After my crazy performance at ELEAGUE, Equinox approached me after I graduated. They asked me if I wanted to sign with them - and at the time, I really didn't.
I wasn't thinking about competing as a pro, I thought of it as a thing I could do on the side, get better on my own time, and something I love. But once Equinox asked me, I couldn't even think about the answer 'no.' - I said yes! I said it so quick. A good friend and training partner of mine JoeyFury was on the team, they treated him well, and Tasty Steve only had positive things to say as well. I trusted their opinion and went for it.
I've been with them for 3+ years, and I've also recently become part of Red Bull.
Steiner: Where would you like to go with your career now that you're sponsored by Red Bull?
Cuddle_Core: I want to continue to play at the highest level but also tap into the parts of myself both mentally and physically to push myself even more as not just a competitor, but a leader in the community. With the resources that Red Bull has and the support that they give, I'm able to have access to resources that I didn't have before.
The APC has been huge for me. Me learning about it has taught me that there are so many ways to strengthen yourself not just physically but mentally too. The professionals that help you do that have been great.
At the Tekken Mansion last September I got a good taste of that APC environment and I'd never thought about it before until my Red Bull teammate Anakin had told me about it. It made me value taking care of one's self very much. So pushing those aspects of myself while growing my community as well, making sure that that space is healthy and supportive of newcomers.
At some point, the current generation of players aren't going to be here competing and will move on to other things in esports. So it's very important to cultivate healthy and supportive environments where those players can come to us.
I really want to make events that cater to American players that highlight them, not just as a player, but their background and story. I want to use my influence to help the greater community.
Steiner: What sort of events did you have in mind?
The event I had in mind is a Tekken 'defend the turf' event. We have upcoming American players, the new generation, and we have international players coming. But instead of a traditional bracket, I want to do a team format.
It'd be similar to TEKKEN Crash, which was a show in Korea where they had teams of three that would fight in a bracket to Grand Finals. Over the course of the tournament, you'd interview the players, post-game interviews, pre-game interviews. I'd love to do it by region, maybe ATL, west coast, midwest, and even internationally in different regions.
Steiner: What do you think the fighting game community could do to make it easier for women to get involved in the space?
Cuddle_Core: They could have better moderation of Twitch chats. Have more protection of women overall at events. Have people that, when women come forward with concerns, listen to them. And when you generate topics for discussion about women in the space, actually involve women in the conversation.
A lot of the time that doesn't happen. There have been conversations had about improving things for women, but they won't even have a woman on the panel or the board or interview. Which is so off to me.
Scouting out more women who are hungry to be in certain positions in these spaces. Like commentary, players, hosts. Giving them a chance. If they're putting in the work and doing the research, let them prove themselves.
Steiner: Tekken 7 has been around for a long time now. Do you want another season of DLC or would you prefer to see the game move on to a new edition, like Tekken 8?
Cuddle_Core: Honestly, I want to go the DLC route. Not just characters, but stages. I think they need to start doing more with stages, add more of them, more music, maybe more interaction within the stages. Better balancing, I think, in terms of the DLC characters too.
There's been a track record with Bandai Namco that the DLC tends to be a bit overpowered. And then they have to nerf them 80,000 times, and it becomes this hot button issue in the community.
Tekken's a game that's usually praised for being able to be viable with any character you want, and being able to win on their terms, not just the top tier because any character can get the job done. But that's been different lately with the DLC as the balancing has been a bit off.
Maybe less bloating of moves, too. They've added new moves to characters every season. You don't want to overwhelm new players, and it bloats the game very badly. Maybe one more new mechanic - I'm not sure what it would be, but maybe something to do with stage interaction.
It could also use some sort of aesthetic change. The game's very old, so some adjustments or fun filters that make the game look like older Tekken games on PlayStation would be cool. But definitely, things that would connect Tekken to its past, I think that would resonate with a lot of people.
Steiner: Do you think there's anything Bandai Namco could do to better support its esports scene and its players specifically?
Cuddle_Core: I think they're starting to do this a bit, but there are a lot of content creators that do a great job with creating tutorials. Things that help newcomers and advanced players understand the finer details and mechanics of the game.
Tekken is a very layered and deep game, so it's needed. Bandai Namco pairing up with these content creators would be really good and healthy for the game. It would expose it to a wider audience and make it easier to get into it.
For the esports side, I think highlighting them a lot more. Working with them on a project, which they kind of did do before, but it wasn't just players but influencers in the scene.
They've previously partnered with players on things like tournaments and ran those throughout different months of the year. It was cool, but I think highlighting players from different regions not just because of a following, but because they're really good. And putting more of an emphasis on players that are rising up rather than just the big names, because they deserve it too.
There's sometimes too much of a focus on follower count than skill, which should change.
Steiner: Something other games have done very successfully is have cosmetics for influencers or champions of a given esports tournament. Is that something that Tekken should look to emulate?
Bandai Namco should definitely pay attention to what other games are doing. I think a cosmetic based on someone who wins the World Championship or something like that would be amazing. It adds more character to these events.
It's awesome when someone wins but right now it's, okay, they get their money and a trophy, but that's it. But there's no way that they're embedded in the game forever, and it'd be cool if they could be. It'd be a huge thank you for being dedicated to the game.
Steiner: Tell me about your Red Bull Kumite run. What are you most proud of from that event?
Cuddle_Core: There are a few things I wish I would have done better, such as against JCDR. I won the first game, he took the second, but I just couldn't close out the last one. And that was because of not adjusting to how he was spacing me.
My character relies on being close to you, poking, to rush you down. But if someone is spacing me and moving away I have to chase. I should have played a lot more patient, a lot more compact, dashed in his face, and created that intimidation through my movement. I got a little hasty towards the end, started off strong, but ended on a weaker note in that set.
Against Infested, I played the Fahkumram matchup quite a bit. But something I noticed that he was doing was that a lot of people weren't ducking a lot of his strings. Against that character, you have to duck a lot more. You have to commit to it because that's how you kill Fahkumram.
When you guess right you want him to hurt for it. I ducked once or twice, didn't stay as close as I wanted, should have brought out the chainsaws a bit more. He can't step as much because the chainsaws are homing attacks. That attack destroys big characters, so my chainsaws are essential in fighting Fahkumram. I would have liked to applied a lot more offense in that case.
In my final fight, vs Super Akouma, I did really well overall. I was able to anti-air him, which is important against 2D characters. They jump a lot and doing so gets rid of their opponent's offense. So I used my anti-airs, I used my spacing, I applied the proper amount of pressure. All the things I did, I did right. I paced myself.
Overall my pacing throughout the event was on point. It was a little tough for me in certain matches, but in my final one, I really was able to come through and punish when I needed to.
I'm really proud of myself for not going 0-3, even if I didn't make the playoffs. It's a Kumite - sometimes you're going to lose 2 other games, it can be close, and you can have comebacks, but you can still lose.
There were only three games in the group stage, so I was proud of myself for being focused and not getting discouraged because something didn't go right in a round. It still matters that I perform well. I think I did well in keeping that positivity, keeping that focus and endurance, and still demonstrating that I'm a high-level player. This is my job and I love it.
Steiner: What's your stance on invitationals in the FGC? Some people are a little wary of maybe oversaturating those vs open bracket events, for example.
Cuddle_Core: I've been invited to three or four invitationals, and I love them. But, I think there's a time and a place for them. And there's a time and a place for open bracket events. Invitationals are a place to see the highest talent, all in one location. There's no massive, long tournament of 300+ players, it's 8 or 16, or 32. You get to see the high-level action right away. It pays respect to people that put in the work.
Sometimes people get left out in those, and that's why they don't like invitationals. But it gauges where your skill is among the very best, and I think it's really important to have. To see where you're at, because it removes the beginner and intermediate players, and just throws you in with the high level right away. The type of rigor it presents is important in seeing how you perform in that type of pressure.
Regular tournaments have their place too, but invitationals are essential in the FGC.
Steiner: What do you think the right balance is - would you prefer more invitationals, or do you like it as it is now with one or two a year?
Cuddle_Core: I'd like a bit more because there are so many themes you can do with them. For example, there was an invitational in Atlanta. Most of the players were from southern states, but newer. So it was a place to play really great players and gives them a chance to be in the spotlight and test their skills.
So I think those types of invitationals would be cool. Not just the best of the best, those are fine. But I think different themes of invitationals and putting those out there for players at different points in their careers could motivate a lot of people coming up in the scene.
Steiner: What's the number one thing people should know about high-level TEKKEN if they want to get involved?
Cuddle_Core: The number one thing about high-level Tekken is you need to be kind to yourself when you're learning this game. There are a lot of growing pains with it. It means sacrificing time. It doesn't need to be a negative thing though. If you are trying to get good at a game that's so deep and layered like this, you have to be willing to lose. That's to make you stronger. You can't make excuses as to why you lost. Otherwise, you'll find yourself throwing controllers all the time.
Because the roster is so big and the mechanics, you're going to have to do a little seeking on your own, too. YouTube exists, thank god for that. All this content is accessible at a touch of a button, there's no excuse - if you want to get better you can. Sometimes you have to go outside of your comfort zone. You have to ask players questions. You're going to have to socialize, go to locals, test yourself. If you don't meet your goal, just go back to the drawing board.
Coaching's become a very discussed topic lately in the FGC, as it's become apparent how important it is. This is a sport, an esport, so you need a coach or training partner.