The fighting game community is often praised for being a welcoming place for people to have fun, but is that only a reality if you’re a straight white guy? We decided to figure that out and sit down with NorCal Sheik main DaJuan “Shroomed” McDaniel. McDaniel is one of the top 10 Melee players and we talked about diversity, the Smash community growing up, and the U.S. presidency.
This interview has been lightly edited for readability. (Bold is Funké Joseph, writer for The Game Fanatics. Regular text is DaJuan McDaniel.)
Hey! How’s it going?
Sup, It’s going good man. How are you doing?
I’m chilling, but I was also wondering: what actually got you into Melee?
I’m just an all around competitive person, and so my high school actually had a local tournament. And this guy named “the cheese” came out and it was my first time seeing someone that knew advanced techniques. So he came to the tournament and he ended up beating me in grand finals, and I thought I was unstoppable back then. I thought I was the best around and all that – pretty much the standard story. Then when he was doing all the advanced techniques I was like “Well, how the fuck did you do all of that, teach me that stuff,” and then I’ve been into it ever since.
Yeah I definitely understand that when someone first wave dashes in front of you and you’re like ‘Oh my god. Wha- what was that.’ That reminds me, I was just watching your interview where you were talking about Neighbourhood P and how you used to shit-talk players on Smashboards. Has that ‘playful trickster’ kind of attitude every come back to bite you in any situations?
Back in the day – this is kind of news to me, I found out not that long ago – not that many people liked me very much back then. Apparently I was really abrasive and people were just not that cool with me. Because I literally came into the scene talking about how I’m gonna fuck everyone up, and they didn’t like that. That was my introduction to the NorCal scene: some random dude talking shit on the Smashboards all the time. I wouldn’t say it came back to bite me. It’s just that I had some work to do with the relationships in my local scene.
Yeah, I feel you. Do you play sports as well as Smash?
I wouldn’t say sports, but fitness in general. I like going to the gym. But I play sports whenever my friends are playing basketball or football or whatever.
How would you compare the esports environment and the sports environment, in terms of diversity in the player base?
I’d say esports is more diverse. But I mean I could be biased because I’m from Richmond and the ethnicities there are mainly just Hispanic people and black people. Those are the people I grew up with and played sports with all the time, but you know in the Smash community we just have all sorts of people. I think Smash is definitely more diverse for sure.
So you’re saying the Smash scene is diverse, but has it always been like that? When you started playing were there any racial barriers or anything like that?
No. One thing that actually surprised me is that there were other black guys in the scene trying to play. You know Phil, Dark Mike, homemadewaffles and all those guys. So there were more brothers than I thought there would be when I got into the scene. Which was kind of surprising because all of my gamer friends in high school were Asian or White or something.
In a previous interview with The Meta you were talking about the Bay area and how it’s progressive, and you said it just now with Richmond and its racial diversity. Do you think that vibe carries into the Smash scene? Would it be different in places like Michigan or Toronto?
In the local Smash community scenes I would hope not. It doesn’t seem that different when I travel. One thing I love about Melee is I’ve never really felt any sort of racial divide wherever I travel, in any of the States, Europe, Canada or anywhere. It always just seems like we’re all Smashers first, and then everything comes second. I’ve never felt that being a black man held me back at all in the Melee community. At the same time I got into the game in the Bay area and we’re very liberal and diverse in general. When I started to travel to other regions, like the Midwest or the South, I was already a top player. I’ve wondered if being a top player has had a hand in how I’m treated in the Smash community. I’ve never really discussed this with any other people of color in the community, like lower level players, if they’ve experienced anything exclusionary. Because I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a hint of that somewhere. I’ve never seen it myself, but I know my experience is different to some random black guy who just showed up to his first tournament.
That’s really interesting. So being at the top might offer a different experience than a person of color who’s just starting out?
Yeah. But I’m a glass half full type of guy, so I’d love to think that it’s just like that in general in the community. My experiences support that belief, so I’m just gonna hope that the community is as beautiful as I think it is.
Alright, sweet. I was watching the Smash documentary again, and I noticed that in the early days of Melee there were a lot of sexist, homophobic, and racial slurs used. And recently there seems to have been a steep decline of that kind of behavior. Can you talk about that change in the community?
Yeah, so I can’t really pinpoint when it started happening, but just kind of as a whole there was a movement in the community where we just wanted to be more accepting and inclusive with people. The word ‘rape’ used to be extremely prevalent, like it was something people said all the time. It took a little push to get people to realize that we don’t need to be using this word, it’s such a negative term. Let’s just step away from that and mature a little bit. It feels like there’s a new mentality in the community, and that word was the starting point of it. We all started playing really young, so over the years we became adults and we started seeing how our speech and actions can have an effect on members of the community. We decided to be socially conscious, and pretty much just grow up.
True. I feel like that welcoming atmosphere is a big part of why people love the community. Also, you were talking about the community maturing and growing up, do you think it’s made a lot of progress?
Overall, yes. At the same time we just got a huge influx of younger players from Reddit and things like that and they’re just… young. I like to think they’re not bad people, they’re just young. But they’re like ‘I wanna use this word’ or ‘I don’t wanna have to say this’ or blah blah blah.
Are they against Smash’s new movement for inclusivity?
I don’t think they’re against inclusivity, they just don’t want to give up their right to free speech or whatever. But I think that’s just because they’re young and they haven’t really learned the effect that little things like that can have on society as a whole. Nobody wants to exclude anyone, some people just don’t understand the ramifications of the words they choose to use.
Do you think you could use a few words to sum up diversity in the Smash scene?
When it comes to Smash, first and foremost, we’re all Smashers. We’re all here because we love this game. It doesn’t matter what kind of background you have, that’s the thing we all have in common. No matter where you’re from or what you look like, you’re nothing more than a Smasher. You’re part of the community when you’re at a tournament, and everything else is second to that.
Just wrapping up with a few more questions. What would you like to see more in terms of racial, sexual, and gender inclusivity in the Smash scene?
I actually think about this a lot, mainly in life. If anyone sees or hears anything at a tournament that is excluding or marginalizing a group of people, I hope they would address that person. Not necessarily make a big scene and all that, but just talk to them like a human being to let them know that they can be more inclusive with the things they do and say. I think Smash is kind of a safe haven from a lot of stuff like that. It’s mainly a societal problem, not just a community problem. Society is kind of structured that way, I mean especially with Trump winning and we don’t even need to get into that.
I was gonna touch on that quickly as our last question — do you think that safe haven is gonna survive with the new presidency?
I believe that the Smash community is resilient enough to not let that tear us apart. But again I’m a glass half full kinda guy, so I’m hoping it doesn’t affect our community at all. I really want us to remain committed to being inclusive. I’m hoping that if we can do that within our community, then everyone in our community can take that outside as well. I think it takes everyday people to be accepting and truly empathetic to stop exclusion. I’m hoping that Smash can be a beacon in society, where we take our inclusivity and we spread that.
McDaniel said he’s always interested in expressing his political views on this topic, and that he’s proud of where the community’s future is headed. It’s great that there are influential players who are open and critical about the community they spend so much time in. It looks like the Smash scene is getting better gradually, but sometimes it needs a bit of a push. A push that players like DaJuan “Shroomed” McDaniel aren’t afraid to make.