Saki Sakura: “More Than Just Visibility”

author
Hauwa Ahmadu
13 min
Saki Sakura: “More Than Just Visibility”
Talking with Saki Sakura about visibility and value in the Fighting Games Community

Playing fighting games is the most common gateway into the community. Still, few people branch out from simply enjoying the games to creating content, hosting events, and finding new ways to keep the community thriving long after a franchise ends. Our next guest for this new biweekly feature on DashFight focusing on Women in the FGC - Puerto Rican-American Commentator, Player, Twitch Streamer, and Tournament Organizer - Saki Sakura.

Stephanie "Saki SakuraDiaz competes in Mortal Kombat 11Guilty Gear Strive, and Melty Blood. She has been nominated the 1000 Dreams Fund Broadcast Awards Rising BroadcastHer category, has done charity streams for childhood cancer with St. Jude Play Live, and runs The Queen of the Hill Series - a tournament series for women and nonbinary members of the FGC.  Saki streams various games, including Dead by Daylight, and is a huge fan of Kingdom Hearts. She looks up to Cuddle_Core, citing the sheer amount of work she does, her legendary achievements in esports, and her impact beyond being a competitor, which is what Saki aspires to as she polishes her skill in commentary and event organization.

Check out the previous installment of Now You See Me featuring Farcai.

Saki, Gamertag, and Support

What is your FGC origin story?

My ex-partner introduced me to fighting games even though I didn't see the appeal. I used to think fighting games were terrible, and after getting my butt beat in Injustice 2, I didn't want to play because I didn't know what I was doing, and it was just frustrating.

To spend time with him and have something in common, he got me Mortal Kombat 11, and that's when everything changed. It was a fantastic experience because I was more open to playing and understood how to actually play. I enjoyed the game so much, especially after streaming it for the first time! I wanted to get better, and when someone told me I was pretty good at the game, I was interested in definitely setting out and making an impact with it. Ever since then, I've just been training hard, growing within the community, and just dedicating time to it.

What does your gamer tag mean?

Initially, my gamer tag was just Sakura because my favorite flowers are cherry blossoms, and I appreciate Japanese culture. However, there were limited characters in some of the games I played (especially some of the mobile games). So, instead of shortening Sakura to Sak, they would shorten it to Saki. Then when I created my twitch channel and was thinking about the name, I went ahead and combined Saki and Sakura, and that's how I'm known today.

You play multiple games. How do you make a transition from one game to another, and does it mess up your rhythm?

The transition was rough at the beginning, especially since MK11 was my first fighting game. It has a different style and is entirely unlike anime games like GGST and Melty. So when I jumped to Strive, it was weird getting used to anime notation, mechanics, and even inputs. Going to Melty has probably been the easiest for me since it is similar to Strive and is very fast-paced. I do sometimes get messed up on my rhythm, though, especially when hopping to MK11. That's where practice comes into play and is the reason why it's always important to train even off-stream and offline.

What matchups do you find challenging, and what new games are you excited to play?

If we're talking about MK, definitely Cetrion and Jacqui. Those two characters are probably some of the strongest characters in the MK11 roster, and while Jade can hold her own, it's still a battle, especially at a higher level. If we're talking about Strive, Sol and Leo give me problems. Playing Anji in those matchups can be frustrating since his buttons aren't the best to poke back, but we still twirl into good games when we can!

Melty Blood has a lot of my attention at the moment. I truly love the game, and it has fulfilled my expectations more than I thought! Just the fact I can appreciate it more makes me extremely happy.

How supportive have your family and friends been?

My family has been very supportive because they want me to find my path and make sure I love it. They saw my passion for gaming, and they realized that this was a career option for me. My friends have also been very supportive of me as they help build and support my community.

What reactions have you gotten in the gaming/esports space?

I think the most common reaction I get is surprise looks or comments. Usually, they're neutral, but it's just that a lot of people don't realize what someone is capable of. I tend to show people my knowledge, skills, and talent, and almost every time, someone is blown away by my creations or the progress I've made.

The Many Hats of Saki Sakura and Visibility

How do you manage all the multitasking involved in being a Caster, Content Creator, Tournament Organizer, and Professional Player?

I never sleep. For reals, I am heavily focused on making every minute and second count. If I'm not training, I'm creating content. If I'm not playing in a tournament, I'm trying to organize one. And if I see a casting opportunity, I try my best to get that opportunity. Of course, this is all while juggling a full-time job and going to school. I try to perfect the art of time management to always stay up to date on information and events, so I don't miss out.

Recently, there's been talk online about how hard it is for Tourney Organizers to break even while hosting events. Can you elaborate on that?

A lot of the time, people think that TOs make money from the events that we do. In reality, the expenses for the events we host mostly comes out of pocket. The FGC does not have sponsorship money like Fortnite or League of Legends, and we're not ready for it either. The FGC is just starting to branch out to the public market of esports, and there is a lot to do before we can even get a percentage of that status. TOs are usually grassroots, so we're literally supporting events out of our own pockets and receiving very little in return, sometimes not even exposure. When we say break-even, we mean growth and opening doors to more opportunities. Right now, TOs struggle for just that.

You're fresh from commentating at Summer Jam and a feature on PlayStation's Women of the FGC. What does it mean for you to clinch these opportunities?

Commentating on my first major was insane. For starters, that opened a door that was previously closed due to Covid. I got to commentate on two of the games I love, including a Top 8 for MK11 that isn't given easily to just any commentator. As for the feature, I was in tears to be featured on Playstation, and in EVO 2021 Online was incredible. I am the definition of what people said I couldn't do. I do so much, and it's honestly a testament to "I never needed your negativity. I thrived off of it even."

Do you think visibility = value for women in the FGC?

Something I learned recently is that it has to be more than just visibility. Sure your name is out now in public, but are people talking about you, or are they talking around you? I focus heavily on my community and tell them often to support the projects I create. Don't just watch my content; interact with it. Support it beyond just tagging me and telling people my name. Support it by showing, speaking about my achievements. That's more important than just getting my name out there.

Which other female gamers deserve more attention?

I think more women that are constantly competing and pushing themselves should be highlighted more. I also want to shout out Royal Rivals, Kunoichi, Ladies Night, and Combo Queens for the work that they're doing. They need to be more than just spoken about. They need their work shown to more people. Without these groups, there is no inclusivity.

Team Dynamik Focus and the Future

Tell us more about Dynamik Focus. How did you join, and what precisely drew you to the team?

Dynamik Focus is an esports team based in New York. They're an amazing team dedicated to diversifying the gaming scene and uplifting their players and creators. Aziza, the team owner, noticed how well I commentated with Grr who is one of their players and how good our chemistry was, despite being still new to Injustice 2. From there, she noticed all of the projects I do, and that's where the conversation began.

I remember seeing Grr in Final Kombat, and I honestly think that's when I knew I wanted to be part of their team or a team like that. I remember starting as a competitor and how I needed to do a lot to get a team like Dynamik Focus to look at me. And that's what drove me. I remember seeing how happy and how much support Grr received during the life cycle of MK11, and I wanted to have that too.

What is it like being on the team, and is there a lot of interaction between players/content creators?

Chaos!  In all seriousness, though, it feels like family. I wake up to my teammates being siblings. Before I went to Summer Jam, I felt that sibling relationship even if I was based in Florida (farther than most of my teammates in New York). After Summer Jam, where I met everyone, I instantly knew this was the right team for me. Not only were they supportive, but they made me laugh so much, and my first major was an amazing experience because of them. Also, I should mention I'm like 4'9, and everyone else is above 6', so I'm the literal baby of the group.

There is a lot of interaction between players and content creators because we're both. One of the coolest and unique things DF offers is that they don't have you just as a player. They push you because they know that you need to be more than a competitor to truly succeed in the esports and gaming scene. You need to be a personality and have your brand echo more than you're just good at a game.

What are your dreams for the future of the FGC, and do you have any advice for newbies?

My dream is to see an inclusive environment. No matter who or how you identify, I want you to feel safe and like you belong. That feeling of belonging and that feeling that you feel like you feel represented is essential, it is how we can all grow and eat at the table.

As a competitor, be yourself. A top 8 finish is great, but you're skills are not validated by that placement. They're validated by your passion, your sportsmanship, and, most of all, who you define yourself to be. As a TO, a lot of patience and confidence. If you love something, do it because you want to and you have a passion for it.

If you have had a turning point when you almost quit fighting games or content creation, why did you decide to stay?

I have had moments of burnout. It's just like one day you wake up, and you're not feeling it. Burnout often combines with my depression and anxiety. Honestly, some days get so hard that there have been times I've just said, "Why keep going?"

My community and my friends are the reason why I keep going. I have had people tell me that what I do inspires them and pushes them to do more. My work impacts many people, and without it, they wouldn't be able to grow. Knowing that I have an impact on people, in turn, motivates me.

What do you want to achieve in the FGC?

I want to continue to commentate, compete, and stream at some of the majors. I want to show that regardless of what people think, I'm a competitor dedicated to playing my passion.

Saki Sakura actively works to make the FGC a more inclusive space whether by creating events for marginalized groups or proving that her mettle in tournaments. Keep an eye out for her commentating at events, follow her on Twitch, and look forward to our next interview. If there’s a phenomenal woman in the FGC that you don’t think is getting the kudos she deserves, contact me at vanteya37@gmail.com. 

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