A chant of “let’s go Cuddle” broke out through the crowd at Combo Breaker as rows upon rows of people raised their hands in support of their hometown hero before the screen flashed “Next Battle.”
It was the loser’s bracket for the top eight of Tekken 7 and the person that commanded the crowd’s affection was one game down and on the brink of elimination. Jeannail “Cuddle_Core” Carter took a deep breath, her hat tipped toward her lap, and closed her eyes as the crowd’s chants subsided before the match began. Her character darted back and forth on the stage, avoiding danger on a razor-sharp wire, before a cavalier flurry of moves allowed her to shift the tempo in her favor. Before the commentators could call upon the audience to show more support, the set was tied 1-1 and the nervous murmur that filled the room evaporated in that instant.
Comebacks and unfavorable odds are the norm for Cuddle_Core, one of the top Tekken professionals in the world, but she wouldn’t have it any other way -- that’s character-building stuff. She would end up finishing Combo Breaker in a tie for seventh out of a field of 558 competitors. Although it wasn’t a tournament victory, she placed well in front of a home state crowd in Illinois.
“I prepared for this tournament, and it meant the world to me. I proved to myself how high my endurance was and how strong I was able to sustain my energy for my reads and reactions and my decision-making,” Carter told Nerd Street. “I showed up and that was what I wanted. Every match I had, I adapted and adjusted even when I lost, but I stayed focused, and it was a huge thing.”
Photo credit: Carlton Beener via Flickr
Combo Breaker was the debut of a fully loaded Cuddle_Core, and if that was any indication of her potential, the Tekken world needed to be on notice. Behind the backing of Red Bull and Counter Logic Gaming (CLG), she is equipping herself with every tool necessary to take the leaps she needs to conquer the tournament scene.
She is focusing on her mental strength as a player and person via breathing exercises, cardio and meditation. A lot of that work comes from clean eating with a lot of protein and oats as well as a lot of hydration. Then, it’s extensive lab work with coach, Trung “Trungy” Mai where they go over matchups and playstyles that she can emulate as well as simulate as much of the emotions and feelings when you play on a big stage.
She said the pandemic did a number on her mental health, and she needed to retool her approaches when she faced live crowds again. She works on her deep breathing and to better her approaches to turn negatives to positives to overall lift her mind and spirit to greater heights.
“I’m not complacent as a competitor and now that I have resources to be a better version of myself, I have access to unlocking different parts of me. I have teachings from coaches to reach specific goals, and true fans won’t care about all of that because people can have bad runs,” Cuddle_Core said. “I know I have support, but these are individual goals. We didn’t have these kinds of resources back in the day, and now I can tap into that to be the best player possible. It’s a physical and mental thing to always push the limit to be as high as I want.”
The work is already very evident. One of the world’s best players, Arslan “Arslan Ash” Siddique, played Cuddle_Core in one of the best sets of the tournament at Combo Breaker. Although Cuddle_Core lost the set by the slimmest of margins, the lab work and adaptability was on full display. She exposed Arslan Ash’s tendency to rely on advancing jabs in scramble situations, low enders after specific pressure and just what spacing he wanted to keep. Her side steps were on-point, aggression was unpredictable and counter-poking put one of the best players in the world in a fit.
Overall, Cuddle_Core is lethal in her hit-and-run game and plays at a pace that encourages the opponent to keep up with her even if it leads to their detriment. She’s incredibly fast in her decision-making, and her movement is her biggest strength. She uses her fearless approach to the neutral game to make opponents uncomfortable and artificially create scramble situations that she excels at. Couple that with her superior spacing and she makes for one of the toughest outs in any competition. The added coach tool to her kit allows her to really plan better for opponents and could end up being the last edge she needs to take down a big tournament.
“My playstyle sometimes stays at range one because Alisa capitalizes a lot on whiff punishes. I am very movement-based and a huge rage drive user. I am defensive, but I am explosive when I want to be through my movement,” Cuddle_Core said. “My timing and unpredictability make me very different from other players, and it can be seen as unorthodox. I can be very technical, but also throw off timings from opponents when I turn on my switch to be offensive and fast-paced.”
Photo credit: Marv Watson / Red Bull Content Pool
Cuddle_Core’s skill is no secret to the competitive Tekken world, and her ascension to tournament threat is no coincidence, but with the addition of professional teams and tags to her brand, the pressure is at an all-time high to back it all up. At the core of everything, there’s no more pressure on her because she did all of it for herself and not for others’ opinions. She already gracefully deals with the pits of mental health as well as being a minority in the fighting game community being both Black and a woman. What’s a sponsor or two to all the causes she already champions? Her experiences coming up to this point may be unknown or foreign, but Cuddle_Core is not one to shy away from them.
“I want to show people that no matter what your background is, you deserve to achieve the things you want and that it should be protected -- it’s ok to fight for what you believe in,” Carter said. “If you want to shoot for the stars, just because you are a certain demographic, you can. I am very expressive, but I also work very hard. I am not the majority in the fighting game community, and I talk a lot about the solutions in mental health.”
This version of Cuddle_Core is dangerous. She is equipping herself with great support, mental preparation, and better match understanding alongside her already top-notch gameplay. If she wasn’t a person to lab against before, she will be now. With CLG, she feels safe and encouraged to continue contributing as more than just a player. Cuddle_Core said that she wanted to create and expand more community events to reach out to more people within the spaces she exists in. Her already strong voice will only be amplified to those looking up to her, but her growth as a player will be equal to all of it. This is only the beginning for one of the smartest and creative players in Tekken.
“I never downplayed my ability to do better because when I did do well it only fueled my hunger to play against top players. I’ve always been focused and driven on being the player I want to be,” Cuddle_Core said. “Growth is not linear, sometimes you need to take some losses, but you need to appreciate the things you did well.”
Lead photo credit: Marv Watson / Red Bull Content Pool