The Smash community has always prided itself in its diversity, with players of all ages, nationalities and races coming together for the sake of having some healthy competitive fun with the game we all love. The scene, however, has always had a bit of trouble attracting women.
Female representation in tournaments usually seems to be somewhere between low and non-existent. Even with groups like Smash Sisters stepping up to the plate to try and make the community a more welcoming environment for them, growth seems slower than we’d like to admit.
Subsequently, seeing a female player earn as much recognition and popularity as Kayla “Mew2Queen” Mackay has could be seen as something special. A Smasher hailing from British Columbia, she spent her first few years with the game as a member of the Vancouver Island scene but eventually moved to the mainland hoping to pursue better practice and more tournament opportunities.
In that time, she’s managed to grow a decently popular stream following and has attended a variety of high-notoriety tournaments, like TBH6 and Genesis 4. Today, she joins us to discuss her experiences with the Smash community and how she believes we can become a more welcoming environment for women moving forward.
* * *N: How long have you been playing Melee?
M2Q: I got the game along with GameCube for Christmas of 2001. This was my first gaming console ever. Me and my friends played casually for a while, until eventually one of them discovered SmashBoards. They told me about it and started showing me all of these advanced techniques, like short-hop lasering, wavedashing, and dash-dancing.
N: Is this when you started getting interested in competitive Smash?
M2Q: Yeah, but we mostly watched a lot of combo videos: “Shined Blind,” “Mind Reader,” “Tipping an Illusion,” etc. After a certain point, our casual friends stopped playing with us because we started getting significantly better than them and wanted to play on less casual stages. Even so, "less casual stages" back then still included things like Poke-floats, Corneria and Mute City.
Still, I didn't actually join any kind of competitive scene until much later: I always assumed my region was too small to have tournaments and my friend never found anything on SmashBoards suggesting otherwise, so it was never really something we thought about. Eventually, we moved on and Smash slipped our minds altogether.
That was until about 2014: I was really into Starcraft 2 back then, and I was on http://teamliquid.net pretty much daily, watching streams and tournaments. I’d heard of the Smash Documentary but never really thought to check it out because I had grown up hearing about all those people on SmashBoards anyway. It wasn't until Team Liquid signed Ken and KDJ that I started taking an interest in Smash again.
I asked my friend to start playing Melee with me so we could relive the nostalgia, and he suggested that we go to the University of Victoria's Smash Club as well. Now that we knew about a local scene, it seemed like a no-brainer to check it out.
The first time we went I ended up playing Shunsuke, a Japanese exchange student who would probably have been ranked first or second on a PR if we’d had one at that point. We played for at least an hour straight and he beat me every single game, probably 3- or 4-stocking me every time. I had never been beaten so badly before. I was hooked. I went to my first tournament a month later.
N: Earlier, you mentioned Smash Sisters, which is something I was meaning to ask you about. How are you related to the organization, and what’s your general consensus of it and what they’re doing for the Smash community?
M2Q: I've only ever been involved with Smash Sisters as a player, and I’m extremely glad something like what they do exists in the community. I've been the only girl at tournaments a lot, and it wasn't until I attended my first Smash Sisters event at Big House 6 that I realized how much I wanted something like that.
The crews environment is great because you get to know the girls there a lot better than if they were just another opponent in a singles bracket, and crews is just such a unique and fun experience on its own. Plus, it's just nice not feeling alone at tournaments and knowing that I have a group of wonderful women I can count on to help me at events if something goes wrong.
N: Let’s talk about your combo videos. You just uploaded "This is What a Feminist Looks Like" a few days ago, and it immediately gained some traction on Reddit and Twitter. First of all, tell us about the production going into it. What was the process behind making it?
M2Q: “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” was my second video. I released “Super Smash the Patriarchy” earlier this year, also on my Youtube channel.
The process is generally pretty simple: I gather clips from tournaments and my personal stream and then send them all to Alex, my editor. She's part of the team doing the Project M Documentary. She had offered to make a video for me around the time of Battle of BC 2 this summer, and it felt right to have another woman on board to make my feminist propaganda. I always have the name thought of beforehand, so I just give her the clips and let her work her magic. She gives me draft versions based on what I suggest, and we go from there.
For “This is What a Feminist Looks Like,” I tried to take a hands-off approach. I had made some changes to “Super Smash the Patriarchy” in the editing process that I felt weakened the video overall, so even though I was nervous about the final product I think it turned out much better than my first video.
N: And how did you feel about the feedback?
M2Q: It was pretty predictable, although it was noticeably louder this time around, probably because my profile as a player had increased a bit in the last few months. The r/smashbros thread was locked super fast, within an hour I think, but the r/ssbm thread stayed up and garnered almost 350 comments at this point.
The comments themselves were just what I expected: lots of people misunderstanding the point of the video, saying I don't know what I'm talking about or don't understand "the point" of feminism, saying that I was "baiting" people for views by choosing an inflammatory title (the word feminist is inflammatory apparently), all kinds of good stuff.
The most common comment I've gotten across both videos is questions about whether I’m serious about the title or if it’s all a big joke. I've never really said anything about this publicly because it's too nuanced for a flame war, but the answer is... both, really.
My combo video titles are funny. I intentionally named them after common “feminist phrases,” I guess you could call them, because the humour is seeing them in an unusual context: Smash Bros. But I also believe in feminism and proudly identify as a feminist. It's really not an either-or situation.
The real punchline is the people who get so mad at them.
Smashers talk a lot about providing a welcoming environment for women and gender minorities, but then many of those same people are in my comments section raging at me when I express myself in a way that makes them uncomfortable. I'm not harming anyone by releasing these videos, far from it. Especially with the most recent video, a lot of people reached out to me privately through Reddit messages and Twitter to say they were inspired by my videos to give Smash Bros. a shot, or telling me that they felt more comfortable pursuing Smash because there was someone like me standing up for women.
I don't really care what random Smash guys think of my video. It's not for them. If they enjoy the combos and/or the message that's great, but it's secondary to my goal. I want more women to play Melee and go to events and have the same fun I have playing this game without feeling like the community is dangerous for them.
The video itself I think is under a microscope to a degree that I think is unprecedented for combo videos. People dissect everything I do to look for points of weakness because they hate the message, like people saying my friends have bad DI. Newsflash, every combo video has bad DI. The fun part is watching me punish it.
A lot of people like to hate on the music as well, but I think Snow tha Product fits the message of the videos perfectly, and I plan to continue using her music for future videos as well. There's something really special about women doing the combos and editing and then having a really aggressive and in your face female rapper backing it up as well. It's unique and I love it.
N: This actually leads into my next question: How do you feel about the Smash Bros. community's treatment of women? What do you think we should do moving forward to become more accommodating and attract more people that could be interested in the game?
M2Q: I just wish people would listen when we say something is a problem, and believe us when we come forward with abuse allegations for Smashers, regardless of how famous or skilled they are. No one should be exempt from the consequences of their actions just because they can play a game pretty well, but it's unfortunately something we see mirrored outside of the gaming world -- with athletes and such.
I want to be able to feel safe coming forward and I want my friends to feel safe too, and right now that doesn't happen. In the case of Mafia or Hyuga, there's still hate and denial to this day, victim blaming and excusing of heinous crimes though all levels of the Smash community. Even on a local level, women struggle to be heard because the community is so tightly-knit. People refuse to accept that one of their closest friends is capable of assaulting or ****** someone. So at basically every level of the community, women are left to fight alone because no one wants to believe them.
That's not even to mention the untouchable elite of the Smash community. Players, personalities, and commentators that are simply too famous and well-connected to ever come forward against. The Smash community has its own Harvey Weinsteins, but we can't even safely come out about abuse that happens from fringe top-level talent because of the rabid fanboyism present in the community. We literally deify men in the community. No one feels safe coming forward against those people. My video merely mentioned a word that some guys didn't like, and I received graphic **** and death threats for it.
Also, it always kinda bugs me when guys pretend like Smash Sisters is some kind of female illuminati presence in the scene (which is exactly what someone who had something to hide would say), but it's literally just two women and a handful of volunteers at events. It's also the name of a tournament series, not a group of people. You wouldn’t call a fellow tournament goer an EVO; don't call me a Smash Sister.
First of all, unlike the people who do things while KNOWING what they're doing, hyuga didn't, there's legit people who do things on purpose.— Liquid | Salem (@LiquidSalem) July 17, 2016
N: What can you tell us about your plans for the future?
M2Q: I recently raised enough money through my stream to head down to SoCal for roughly a month, starting next week* and ending after Pat's House 3 in December. So right now, I know I'll be going to lots of Training Mode Tuesdays, UCI tournaments, the SoCal PM and OC Melee Arcadians as well, in addition to Pat's house and inevitable smashfests. If anyone reading this is gonna be at those events, please feel free to say hi.
I also opted in for player nominations at Genesis 5. People can vote for me here!
N: And if people wanna keep up with you, where can they find you?
M2Q: Twitter and twitch are the best ways, @mew2queen and http://twitch.tv/kaylmao respectively.
N: Anything else you’d like to say before we wrap things up?
M2Q: I wanna thank my mom, a.k.a. my #1 fan, and Alex for always putting up with me and also making my videos. Also, my fave Marth players: Reaper, Nightmare and BY15. And thanks to all my friends for not refusing to play with me after I put them in my videos.
Mew2King please follow me back on twitter, I love you.
* * *(*) This interview took place in October the 23rd.