Cuddle_Core reflects on rise to stardom, calls on Bandai Namco to support competitive Tekken

From wall-crushing opponents to fighting for representation, Cuddle_Core doesn’t miss a chance to show the best of what Tekken and fighting games have to offer.

Photo via Red Bull

When players make a name for themselves in esports, it’s typically by dominating a game’s competitive scene and rising to the top. And, while Jeannail “Cuddle_Core” Carter is one of the best Tekken players in the world, her stay at the top of the fighting game community (FGC) is powered by more than just her skills in the game. 

On top of being a Red Bull athlete, Cuddle_Core recently signed on as Counter Logic Gaming’s first player in the FGC as the organization expands into the scene and increases its presence through tournaments. That fits her expansive role in the Tekken community and esports as a whole, where she hosts tournaments and does commentary work along with content creation. 

And while competing at the highest level in Tekken, with her recent win at Summer Jam 2022, she spends just as much time advocating for representation in gaming for women and under-represented groups, showing the FGC isn’t stuck being male-dominated and ensuring anyone who wants to give the game or scene a try knows they are welcome. 

At the end of Evo 2022, Cuddle_Core spoke with Dot Esports about joining CLG, her approach to improving during an online era of fighting games, and her hopes for the future of Tekken

First ever member of CLG’s fighting game division, Queen of Tekken, and all-around badass. How do you feel about everything you have accomplished so far in your career?

Knowing that I have such a huge impact, there are still so many times when I get shocked when people come up to me and tell me how much of an inspiration I am to them or that they love watching me play even if they don’t play Tekken. Getting called a badass and stuff like that, it still shocks me and really hits my heart. 

As a player, and as someone who is a career professional and feels like she is a perfectionist, I want to do everything well. It’s how I was raised and I’m very hard on myself, and though it’s never harmful, I gotta keep on going, keep on grinding and doing my best. So when people keep telling me stuff like that, and I see the impact whether it be at an event or being given a gift, it makes me feel good. It’s great to be reminded of that impact and I’m so honored. 

I never would have imagined that I would be where I am in 1,000 years. I remember yesterday that I in high school, in English class trying to write the best papers. And for that to translate to something completely different, where a hobby gets made into my career and people appreciate my hard work while there are potentially millions of eyes on me. I never saw that coming, but I’m glad I can motivate others because other people did it for me, and they might not even know it.

Now that you have been with CLG for a few months, how has it been repping the CLG Red jersey and knowing that you are part of an organization that has worked to provide a spotlight for women in esports and gaming? 

Photo via Red Bull

That side of things has been utterly amazing. I feel fully myself, accepted, loved, and respected. We can talk about the fact that all of the women on their teams are successful whether they stand alone or together in their sports. But along with that, we can acknowledge the fact that we’re women and we’re slaying it. 

The fact that those can be hand-in-hand is very important, and they embrace it. They don’t make it seem as if it’s something that we can’t talk. There is a lot of pride in that because we are outstanding and phenomenal at what we do, especially in a space that is heavily male-dominated. So I feel I can be proud in saying that I’m a woman, I have this jersey, and I’m one of the best players in my sport. 

We can talk about and celebrate that I’m a woman crushing it. CLG Red has really made me feel like I can embrace that without any shame or questioning the celebration. 

Ever since things went online in 2020 you have been a dominant force in Tekken across the board. What changed for you during the pandemic that allowed you to “unlock” this form you are in right now and how does it feel to have so many top cuts on your resume over the course of basically two straight years of doing it consistently? 

I have thought about that same question myself. I remember when I was still at Equinox, my manager asked me all throughout the pandemic if I still wanted to grow, and I, of course, said yes. She asked if I wanted a coach and I said yeah because I felt like I was doing good before, but consistency is what I wanted. I was looking to open up that next level as a pro player. 

And, just like with anything, it has taken some time, but we started there. Trungy, an OG Tekken player who is one of the best I’ve known, came on and was provided to me as a resource. He has been my coach for over a year now and is a big reason why that change and evolution happened. Those extra levels to my game were added because of him. 

Those online tournaments really helped too. At first, I wasn’t playing in them but I was encouraged to join by my friends so I jumped in on PC and started to realize the more I played, I could see these little holes and gaps in players and how they were playing, which helped show what I could be doing better. 

I was doing really well, and every week, my coach and I would go over the footage. I’m constantly watching my matches, and that’s been helping me adapt quicker. It’s helping me see what’s working and what isn’t giving me that ferocity and tenacity I need as a player to take the next step. So by the time everything online happened, I had all the tools I needed, including Red Bull and CLG’s resources on the mental and physical aspects of training as well. I had everything at my fingertips during the pandemic to help mold me into what I am now. 

With that in mind, how do you prepare for events? Is there a specific mindset you go into every tournament with or is it different depending on the lead up? 

Something that I always feel is that I have to kind of check myself before a match. It always feels like it is about the affirmations, things like “hey, you’ve been in this place before, you know what to do.” Just little things that will help you when you are down, reminding myself to take a second and don’t overextend, small things that commonly happen in a match and you will run into every single time. 

It’s just a good reminder, and it helped in that online factor too because I could tell myself “remember the way you played online? Just do that offline.” It really helped a lot because it’s just small impacts in the way I play, but it is all still Cuddle in a way that is explosive and shows I’m letting loose. 

It is all just remembering in a way, emulating that and reminding myself of some of my most competent plays from those online tournaments, which I’ve translated to offline. I use that as the blueprint for any offline event, and when it goes well, I celebrate because it feels so right to get excited, which gives you that competitive fire you can carry into every single match. When you’re feeling your best, you tend to play your best. 

Beyond being an ambassador in the space and for Tekken, what are your hopes for the Tekken community moving forward into whatever is next? 

Photo via Red Bull

For the next interaction of Tekken, whatever that ends up being, I would just like for the company [Bandai Namco] to really focus on more community-based projects that will bring people together. 

Something I always thought about was the fact that their tutorial mode is kind of off, you know, there aren’t as many tools to really help a newer player get more familiar with the game. So we keep a loyal fanbase, but sometimes, I think it kind of gatekeeps new audiences from coming in. I mean, they just added frame data something like last year, and that should have always been in the game. I really think Bandai really just needs to try and be in tune with what the players need and what will make it easier for people to get into the game, because Tekken can be pretty hard at the start. 

Maybe stuff like frame data tutorials or collaborating with Tekken content creators to showcase the game or making their official tutorials since they already make great ones on their own YouTube channels could be a start. Or even something like a community board where people can talk and discuss through Bandai’s esports page sort of like a social club for the game and tournaments. 

Anything that would give us as a community more help and exposure, which could lead to more sponsors, because I think Tekken is lacking in that money aspect on the competitive scene too. We, as a community, can’t just keep supporting the game the way we are. We are giving it our all, keeping Tekken alive, and yeah, we know they are working on stuff, but I really hope they take a lot of the advice from fans and players to make changes. 

Is there one big hope you have for the next entry in the Tekken franchise? Something that you feel will elevate the game as a whole? 

Man, this is going to be super selfish of me, but I love the retro Tekken. That charm and the aesthetic of the game was insane. I remember everything about them because I played them so much, and for a new game, I want them to go back to the oldest era, where it’s like the 90s and the music sounds like it. All of it is jazzy and funky, every character has a theme, and every stage is very distinctly made for characters and moments. 

There needs to be a dark tone for everybody’s story that has that classic edge, and that needs to carry over into the music too because that’s what makes it memorable. That’s what makes stages and characters something players fall in love with. The mechanics? That’s fine, they will work that out, but I really think in terms of aesthetic, that is something I care about a lot and gets people talking, which it feels like [Tekken] 7 was lacking.

So in terms of design, you want them to take a page from older games and try to be distinct? Maybe take a page from Capcom’s approach to a fresh yet retro approach to Street Fighter 6 that has fans excited for a new pop to something classic? 

Exactly. Tekken 7 is a great game, but it’s very modern. I think it might have lost a bit of its identity along the way in terms of aesthetics. I mean, I love it because my characters are in it and it is fun, and sure there a couple of great banger tunes, but I do miss the experimenting that was done for something like Tekken 4

People remember Tekken 4 because it was wonky, because the music was great, the characters all had iconic outfits, and unique animations and everyone could stand on their own. I think we really should get back to that because, when you play, those are the memories you think of. 

I love that Street Fighter is doing that and I hope Tekken can take that as an example and get on board with that mindset because if they can do that properly, that Tekken would be a hit. Even if it is just revamping it in a way like they tried to do in some of the DLC, just give us new stuff that can act as a remix of what we love. Take the old, add the new.