Joe “LI Joe” Ciaramelli has never been the most high-profile name in the Street Fighter scene, or even in the Fighting Game Community (FGC) as a whole. But that doesn’t make him any less important to the history of the game.
As the lone American player to qualify for the top eight of Street Fighter V at Evo 2016, Joe went on an insane run that had the crowd in absolute hysterics cheering him on. With his father watching from the crowd and the emotions high in the arena, Joe went on to finish fifth while making sure casual FGC fans would remember his name.
Joe really came onto the scene with one of his favorite fighting games, Street Fighter III: Third Strike. He became a fixture of the budding FGC in the late 2000s and helped it grow to a point where Evo stands as one of the largest esports events in the world.
Before one of his commentary blocks at Evo 2019, Joe talked with Dot Esports about his love of fighting games, not competing at Evo this year, and where the FGC is headed in the future.
After 11 years or so of competing in various games at Evo, how does it feel to have the pressure of making it to pools, knowing all of the matchups, and just overall being ready to play kind of off your shoulders?
LI Joe: It is a very different feeling, because it’s like, do I stress about the commentary, yeah because I want to represent the Evo brand well and I want to do well. So there is a slight bit of worry, but it is nothing like me being nervous about to play in pools. I don’t have to worry about where my pool is, who is in my pool, am I sharp enough to practice, who do I have to play once I am out of pools. So that is a huge weight off my shoulders and now I can worry about way less things.
Everything now is stuff within my grasp, you know? Which is great because I have more time to just hang around.
How do you feel personally about the growth of both Evo and the FGC as a whole?
I couldn’t be happier about the growth of the scene. I mean, we came up from playing in dingy arcades and home setups when there was no online and now we are in Mandalay Bay for the third year. The numbers are good as far as attendance goes, games are growing, like Tekken. Tekken has only seen growth over the last few years.
It’s amazing and as long as these companies keep making games and, I don’t want to say we support them, but both sides keep doing the right things by buying the games and making them, I don’t think this is going to stop at all.
What are your thoughts on this year’s roster of games?
I think the games are great. There is no one defining game that represents the Fighting Game Community, it’s literally just a bunch of ecosystems and sub-genres that are involved in making it what it is. So to have games like SamSho (Samurai Showdown) being sick and Smash in there being sick, you’ve got your 3D with Tekken, obviously, you’ve got your Street Fighter in there with MK (Mortal Kombat) and Under Night. They all touch a portion of the community and just to have the representation there is I think what is important.
I think every genre deserves to be represented, and if you remember Evo back in the day, it was a Capcom game, a Capcom game, a Capcom game, Tekken, and Smash, and that’s how it was. So to see all of these other companies getting involved and creating games like Under Night went from a side game and now it is one of the official games at Evo. All that growth has been great to see and is so important for the community.
Speaking of community, if someone were to look at your Twitter feed during the event, it’s full of your interactions with fans and other players. How much is something like fan interaction on your mind when you go to events?
Nah, I don’t ever look for that stuff because that’s not the kind of person that I am. But if people want to take the 10 seconds to say hi to me, why would I not give them my 10 seconds back? If someone supports me, supports the stream and the community, they obviously paid to be here, and if you are at Evo, you support me and the community. For me not to be able to give my 10 seconds is insane, so like why not.
If I can make someone’s day by just saying “hey what’s up man, what’s your name, sure we can take a picture,” big deal, that stuff doesn’t get exhausting for me. Because every time I do something like that, I get to see someone else’s expression and see how happy that makes them. It’s great to see people that, I don’t want to say look up to, but maybe see something in us and for them, I will do this stuff all day long. Like I said, I don’t go looking for it, but if someone like that comes up, of course, I am going to give all the time I could to them.
Talking about time, everyone knows you love Street Fighter, but you’ve played other games like Guilty Gear in tournaments before, too. So if you had to choose one game to play in out of this year’s roster, what would it be?
Well, my first question would be am I good at the game? Because if I am, then it would be Tekken. One hundred percent it would be Tekken. I actually have a Tekken background, I played Tekken forever but not at a very high level. But I am going to start getting more serious about Tekken when I get home. I’ve been soul searching character-wise for the past several weeks, but once I get home, I am going to start really, really playing.
And now that Tekken 7 has moved into that second spot after Street Fighter was dethroned as the headliner for lack of a better term, what do you think that second spot means for both the game and community?
I think it means a lot. I mean, Tekken is the only game to show constant growth over the last three or so years. More numbers, more numbers, more numbers no matter what and the company handles the game very well. The community supports the game no matter what the prize money is or the position at Evo finals.
This is great for them and I think they deserve it. And not that I’m happy that Street Fighter, but hey man, that’s change and people want change. So if this is what it takes and I think Evo is doing the right thing by showing that this isn’t just the Capcom show it’s a community, so they have to deal with the community. If people are going to come out and support the game, there you go, you’ve earned it. And if this is how things are going to go, I am all for it.
As someone who has been a crucial member in helping to grow the FGC into what it is today, what do you think are some points on a roadmap that the FGC and Evo specifically need to hit as we move toward the future?
What it needs is what a lot of the PC games have. We lack a lot of the support, and not that the companies don’t support us, but there is just a different level of support when it comes to a vast majority of PC games. Using Fortnite as the obvious example, it’s free, anybody can do it, we can all play together on pretty much a global standpoint. I think that is something that is hard to find in the FGC.
I mean, people are upset about the whole Fortnite thing, asking why FGC doesn’t have $30 million in a prize pool or 500,000 entrants at Evo. C’mon guys, it’s a different part of esports, but we still need to work on accessibility. Accessibility is a very big part of who can actually play it and it needs a game like that.
I thought Street Fighter V was going to be that game, I really did. I thought it was going to be the game to open the doors for a lot of people and show the esports world that fighting games are a little bit more than we are now. In all seriousness, the FGC is the lowest part of the totem pole as far as esports goes, you gotta call it what it is. We just don’t have that accessibility.
We still have that grassroots tone and I don’t want us to ever lose them, but I don’t know how to help steer it in the right direction without potentially starting to lose a little bit of that. It’s a tough question, but I think the answer will eventually find us. I mean, I didn’t see this (Evo) coming, so I could be totally wrong, but I hope it does grow that big, though.
I wish I knew because I thought my next was oh, we are playing in a ballroom, I can’t wait until we are on TV, which happened already. Can’t wait until we get to play in an arena, happened already. The only thing we can do now is to continue growing in numbers like those other games because for some reason FGC events that aren’t Evo don’t get great numbers compared to a League of Legends who gets the same numbers of an FGC Major. We need that. How to get it, I don’t know, but that is what we really need, I think.