“What a difference a year can make”…is how I wanted to start this post, but sadly I cannot. A year after the first African-American Journalists post and things are still the same. We hardly have any representation in games media and this year’s E3 proved that we still have a long way to go on the development front. But the games industry isn’t alone, even tech companies like Google have published company statistics in an attempt to bring more light to the subject. And after the events of #gamergate, people who love games have found themselves dealing with growing pains. It is these growing pains that make me wonder if our energy would be better served creating our own platform.
To answer my questions and gain insight into the industry I reached out to Wynton Smith. A well known Evo commentator and Smash Bros. player, Wynton was the best candidate for the follow up to part 1 of this series. We discussed his path to commentating, Evo’s diversity, and if there is any value in minorities creating their own games media platform.
1. As one of Evo’s more popular commentators, you are known as the “Ambassador of Smash”. How did you get started in commentating and when did you earn your title in the fighting community?
I got started in commentating back in about 2008. Temple University’s campus had a student center that we kind of took over and made a miniature arcade, so there would be people playing everything from obscure fighting games, all the way up to Marvel vs Capcom 2, Street Fighter: Third Strike and Super Smash Brothers Melee. A good friend of mine would run small tournaments there every Friday, and one day, he brought in a laptop to record matches along with a microphone, and our group started doing commentary for a game called Battle Fantasia. It wasn’t serious, it was fun, and well, eventually I started doing it for the game I enjoyed the most of the rotation, Super Smash Brothers Melee.
I don’t know about the ambassador of Smash title though. I think a lot of people saw the efforts made by the Smash community at once again integrating with the Fighting Game Community at large, especially with the breast cancer research fundraiser prior to Evolution 2013. The efforts there, combined with a Marvel commentator remarking on my notes that I had left at the desk, and working with various groups in gaming to help get Smash back in the public eye as a competitive title might have done something to get people to call me that, but I always say I don’t deserve it, it has been a group effort.
2. Speaking of Evo, this year’s tournament was probably the only place where you could see minority gamers on the center stage and in front of the camera. How and when did Evo become so culturally diverse?
It’s something that has always been present in the fighting game community. I think most people in my age bracket and older remember where their local arcade cabinets were. I’ve played a few different types of games competitively at some level, and the barrier of entry with a fighting game is basically nonexistent, compared to many other titles that require one of the best PCs on the market or high-speed internet.
Also, one thing that we all know is the importance of representation. Fighting games are among the most likely to have characters of various ethnicities, and well, being able to play as someone that looks like you (although we have seen caricatures in the past) is still something that a lot of other genres are playing catch up on.
3. I spent the entire weekend watching the tournament and the one thing that stuck out was the lack of women gamers(on stage and in front of the camera). What would you say attributes to this lack of female participation?
Well, the ladies are present, certainly. They enter, Chocoblanka is on Evil Geniuses for her skill in Street Fighter, Admiral has been rising up the ranks in Melee, and they aren’t the only ones. Persia is Brokentier’s team manager and a gifted commentator, Milktea has gone from an active player to content creation and also is asking this very question to the Smash community.
I think there are still issues stemming from the old arcade culture. There was a lot of trash talk, and no holds were barred. Recently, we have seen some outreach, with ladies only events, which I think is a fine first step. However, anyone, regardless of gender, race, religion, creed, LGBTQ+ status, able-bodied status, that wants to be a great player has to get experience, whether that’s locally or playing people around the world. This requires events from locals to the most prestigious majors to be open and friendly to all, and the players have to not just believe that sentiment but act on it. Can’t close off diversity at any one given point.
4. Let’s shift from Evo to the gaming industry as a whole. In the fighting community you have earned a level of respect and prestige among your peers. Has that same level of prestige transferred to the industry as a whole? If not why?
I think it has, in a weird way. Players and people I respect in other games know me. I see community managers in different games follow me, other people involved in competitive gaming and speedrunning, and it’s all really new and weird to me. The Smash scene is a small pond compared to a lot of other games being played competitively, but many are fans and know our struggles through the years. I’m not looking for an industry job by any means, but I know that when people in the scene view individuals like Combofiend (Capcom’s community manager), it is a sign to them that with enough devotion, they might be on other end of the spectrum of the games they love.
5. When I wrote the first ‘African-American…’ post a year ago there was a distinct lack of color in the industry, more specifically games media. A year later and nothing has changed. In your mind what should be done to increase minority participation in the industry?
It’s really tough to say. There are people who want to be a part of it but aren’t getting the opportunities. Gaming is at this point right now, especially with recent controversies, where journalism is being put under the microscope, and one thing that is mentioned is the lack of diversity in comparison to the wide breadth of individuals who play games. A lot of people are making their own way, going the Youtube route, but we all hope that some of the bigger, well respected groups start looking to have their staff represent the diversity that gaming brings.
6. It’s no secret that the gaming community is very particular about who is welcomed and what can be said. Do you see any value in minority gamers, journalists, and Internet celebrities coming together and forming their own platform (i.e. Centric, Essence, etc.)?
To some degree. I think we all want to see representation on the major scale, at some of the most esteemed groups. However, being able to talk about issues that directly relate to minority gamers is a necessity. Too often we see people who say “it doesn’t happen to me” or “it doesn’t impact me” so there’s a lack of interest. Or even worse, a minority gamer makes a statement and it isn’t pondered or taken seriously unless it is co-signed by someone in the majority.
7. Shifting gears again, you’ve recently retired from commentating. Any advice for people looking to fill your shoes?
Do it out of love. When I first started doing this, it was for YouTube recordings that’d get 30 hits at max. Now, I’ve gotten to do it to for over 300,000 people live. Also, it’s not just what you do on the microphone that counts, the preparation before hand is just as important.
8. Last question. Every year at E3 I always look for a person of color to hit the stage and introduce the next big game. Last year it was Aisha Tyler holding it down at the Ubisoft press conference. Any chance of seeing Wynton Smith on stage at E3 2015?
Haha, I don’t know about that! I actually had the honor of commentating the Smash Brothers WiiU Invitational Event along with D1 and Scar this year at E3, close enough for me! Besides, I’m not one for introducing games, I prefer weaving the stories behind players and scenes, that’s my comfort zone.
Thank you for your time.
Thanks. Any questions, you can follow me on Twitter (@progducto). If competitive Smash is your thing, check out Smashboards.com to find out about how to play, local scenes, so on and so forth.. Also, I’m a part of the Melee It On Me Podcast (@meleeitonme) where we discuss behind the scenes stuff, upcoming events, how to make things better and such, so don’t hesitate to check us out.
So here we are, one year later with triumphs in some areas and status quo in others. And as we begin to close out 2014, I want to pose a question. Should we as minority gamers come together and create our own platform? It’s clear that continual outcries for more diversity are going to go unheard. So we can wait for the day traditional games media gives us a chance, or we can create our own opportunities. This is not to say that we must segregate ourselves from others, but that we should be in control of the conversation. If minority representation in fighting games can give birth to Wynton Smith, Snake Eyez, and countless others, imagine what would happen if we had our own platform…just a thought.