Jason Cole didn’t own a computer, but he was fairly certain that he was the best Street Fighter player in California. It was the early 1990s, and Cole often found himself with a pocketful of quarters at the Golfland arcade in San Jose. Standing in front of a crusty Street Fighter II cabinet, he would take on an endless stream of competitors, from clueless middle schoolers to yuppies on their lunch break, and beat them all. Most who encountered Cole quickly found themselves 25 cents poorer. He was just too good.
This was long before esports morphed into the industry it is today. Cole wasn’t competing for million-dollar prize pools or hefty sponsorships, or international fame. All he wanted—all he could reasonably hope for—was dominion over his local arcade.
So you can understand why Cole took it personally when a cadre of Street Fighter players from the other end of the state—Los Angeles, in particular—started doubting his talent. On ancient web forums, they claimed that Cole’s game would never hold up in SoCal, that his gambits could be easily countered by any player worth their salt. Because Cole had no internet access, he relied on a network of friends who relayed the message-board slander. It was confirmation that his legend had grown far beyond the Bay Area and, more important, that he still had something to prove.
“I had to hear it from the homies—my boys had to tell me