The shark-infested waters of the fighting game community are not for the faint of heart. And what we mean by that is just how tough the competition is across a vast offering of fighters spread out across various genres. Over in the realm of 3D fighters, there's a female pro player that's managed to build up a huge following via her impressive performances in Tekken 7. And her name is Cuddle_Core. As a proud representative of Counter Logic Gaming and Red Bull eSports, she's proven herself to be one of the best American players on the Tekken scene. Cuddle_Core took some time out of her busy FGC-fueled schedule to chat about where her name originated, the reason she fell in love with fighting games, and so much more.
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ONE37pm: Jeannail "Cuddle_Core" Carter...that name definitely rolls off the tongue! How'd you come up with that nickname everyone now knows you by?
Cuddle_Core: So the name Cuddle_Core has such a fun origin. When I was in about 7th or 8th grade, I was very much into the Dance Dance Revolution series. So games like DDR: Extreme 2, DDR Supernova, and DDR Supernova 2. When I would play DDR Supernova, I had a favorite song called "MurMur Twins." When I would do homework, I would listen to DDR music on YouTube and that's the song I would always have in rotation. Specifically, the song had a remix which was the "MurMur Twins Cuddle Core" remix. The song felt like it described my personality based on the music alone. Very jovial, whimsical, colorful. God, I loved that song and I still do.
Around the same time, I was looking for a new PlayStation Network username and I debated the decisions in my head for a good while. One of the other username options I thought of was "Broken Butterfly," which is the name of the magnum gun from Resident Evil 4 (big fan!). Ultimately I settled on Cuddle_Core - it suited my personality then and still does, to be honest. Fueled by emotion, bubbly, expressive, but dedicated, driven, and focused to the "core."
ONE37pm: What ignited your passion for gaming as a whole?
Cuddle_Core: I’d like to think that what ignited my passion for gaming as a whole was the fact that I could express myself in any genre of game. I was sometimes a quiet child, so I used hobbies to express myself when I couldn't find the words to. Gaming and art played a huge role in the hobbies I became passionate about. I could express myself through the characters I played, the games I picked, and the decisions I made in any game.
My dad was a huge reason why I was exposed to so many types of games early on. His love for the games he played made me see how much of a journey playing a game could be. When he would play fighting games, I think that's when my passion for gaming ignited. My father was my first opponent - he was the reason I learned how to practice instead of complaining, and his presence as the "person to beat" created a drive in me. A determination for sure. I understood on a basic level what work ethic looked like. The better I became, the harder it was for my dad to take rounds off of me. It got to the point where I was older and had a way better understanding of fighting games. So he couldn't just mash on me haha.
When I wasn't playing fighting games, playing iconic games like Kingdom Hearts 2 also ignited that passion in me. I remember I was maybe like 10 or 12 years old. Playing KH2 during the summer (such a long game, too!). I was along for the ride - hours of fighting bosses, traveling to familiar worlds, being invested in a great story, and lots of grinding for experience points to level up Sora. When I finally defeated the final boss, I remember crying. I couldn't believe I finished such an emotional story. I felt like I was a part of the story and I felt how hard the journey was for the main character.
Video games are art and I am a huge art appreciator. I'm also an artist. I know how much blood, sweat, and tears it takes to make a phenomenal finished product. And then you have to show that product to the world. Being able to experience interactive art from beginning to end, I’m able to understand the game dev team through it. I appreciated how difficult it must have been to make such an iconic game. Looking back on it, I think I felt that if a game can evoke emotions in me like that, then I wanted to play a lot more of them.
ONE37pm: And what made you gravitate so hard towards fighting games?
Cuddle_Core: What made me gravitate towards fighting games were so many factors. When I think about the number of options to choose from in a fighting game, I feel like it gave me a lot of room to be creative. I played many fighting games back in the day, from Tekken to Soulcalibur to Capcom vs. SNK 2 and many others. Each of these games has unique atmospheres, from characters, stages, dialogue, story, and so much more.
I ultimately decided on Tekken. My dad is the reason I play Tekken. He bought Tekken 1-3 (including Tekken Tag Tournament). I was always playing Tekken with him for hours - it was so fun. But I'd also get so mad while losing to him haha. Tekken appealed to me so much more than the other fighting games I played. It gave me way more options to shut down an opponent in a way I could understand. Being able to step into the foreground and background, not feeling limited by movement, and having a massive roster to choose from.
I also think the aesthetics of the game drew me in, too. Being able to play a game where I can express myself through fighting was so exciting. My dad, sister, and I watched a lot of martial arts and kung fu movies back in the day. The movies always made the art of fighting so fun and dynamic. I think that's also a huge reason why I gravitated towards fighters, too. I secretly always wanted to experience learning martial arts. Maybe through fighting games, I felt that's what I was getting.
ONE37pm: Can you remember the first time you competed in a fighting game tournament? How was that feeling of going pro? Were you hella nervous or comfortable in that competitive surrounding?
Cuddle_Core: I remember one of the first times I competed in a fighting game tournament. I would show up to my locals in Downer's Grove, IL. I remember how nervous I was going up on stage and playing against out-of-towners and our best players in the state. It took some time for me to get adjusted to being in a competitive setting. I would definitely get nervous on stage and in matches. But like with anything you have to experience it, you have to put yourself in those situations to get accustomed to playing under pressure. The better I became, the more I showed up and placed well, plus the nerves slowly formed into confidence. I was able to turn my nerves into more productive gameplay. I definitely think nerves are a good thing in competition when channeled in a healthy way. As long as the nerves don’t affect your focus.
I remember the tournament Chicago Heart and we had players in and out of the state show up. It was amazing being a newer competitive player attending such an intense tourney and it was only 30 minutes from me. For a long time, there always was some place or venue where I could play the other players in Illinois. Even if that meant me painstakingly driving into Chicago to do it, I did. We had multiple gaming venues over the years that disappeared over time. And to be around for every new venue and to see them vanish is bittersweet. Unfortunately over the years, the locals for Tekken are very hit and miss, especially after the pandemic lockdowns. But things are changing it seems and locals in Illinois show up here and there. But I will always remember the fact that my own state had locals and tourneys that were pretty accessible. And that made my determination to get better even stronger because it was never too far. The feeling of going pro was somewhat seamless.
I was a college grad who just happened to be an upcoming Tekken player. I was trying to figure out what my art career looked like for me. As I was pursuing that, I was still attending tournaments and improving. I was approached by Equinox Gaming and was offered a position as a pro player on their team. I was with them for four years before they discontinued. When I claimed the profession of a pro player as my full-time career, I knew that's when I was a legit pro. The feeling at the time was excitement about the possibilities and opportunities. But reflecting on it now, I also feel DEEPLY grateful. I am grateful that I worked so closely with the Equinox manager Emily Tran to get me the opportunities I deserved. Those opportunities helped expand my skill in and out of the game and my brand growth along with my exposure overall. In the long run, all those things I learned in the four years with them solidified me as an official professional Tekken player.
ONE37pm: So you mainly play with Alisa and Xiaoyu in Tekken 7. What made you make those two characters your mains?
Cuddle_Core: Yes I mainly play Alisa and Xiaoyu. And I love them so much as characters. I started playing Xiaoyu in Tekken 3 where she debuted. I loved how colorful Xiaoyu's design was - she was fun and evasive.
Alisa, I started playing in Tekken 6 where she debuted. Alisa reminded me of a ballerina with graceful, simple movements. Very colorful as well. At the time, I was playing Xiaoyu while experimenting with other characters. But I couldn’t find a secondary at the time. When I saw that Alisa was one of the new characters of Tekken 6, I was curious. Alisa was different from many characters at the time in the roster. She was definitely different from Xiaoyu - Xiaoyu was a lot more complex. I thought playing Alisa would be a great challenge for me since she was so simple.
When I first started practicing with Alisa, I thought I would never become better with her. I thought her playstyle would maybe never fit the way I wanted to play. But over time I found my rhythm with her, especially going into Tekken Tag Tournament 2. I was known as a Xiaoyu player even in TTT2, though Alisa was my 2nd character on my tag team.
When Tekken 7 was released, I became known as an Alisa main based on nerfs and buffs to each of my characters. Because Xiaoyu got nerfed early on and Alisa got buffs, I started spending a lot more time on Alisa. After a few seasons, my peers thought I should bring my Xiaoyu back into the competitive realm. Since then, I have found my rhythm again with Xiaoyu in tournaments. And now I have both my characters to counter-pick with.
ONE37pm: Your accolades are many - you've been featured in Forbes 30 Under 30 for 2022, popped up on a billboard in NYC, and are currently coaching for the XO Academy. What are some future aspirations you have?
Cuddle_Core: I'm currently not coaching for XO Academy this season. But for the last three seasons, I definitely enjoyed coaching for them. Future aspirations I have are so many, but I’ll name a few.
Working with more global brands to expand my reach and career outside of just esports.
Continue to grow as a professional player mentally, emotionally, and technically.
Make a successful offline tournament series that highlights more new talent.
Use my influence and resources to make more venues/hubs for gaming meet-ups.
Dive more into my Tekken commentary. I really enjoy doing it when I can.
Return back to creating artwork for me by specifically using my favorite medium of colored pencils.
Speak publicly at a college on esports and my journey in person.
Being on a commercial on television for anything esports related.
Collab with a controller/gaming technology company to make my own gaming controller.
ONE37pm: What are three essential pieces of advice you think every up-and-coming FGC player should know?
Cuddle_Core: Three pieces of advice every up-and-coming FGC player should know are these:
Growth is not linear - it takes time to see results.
If you want to improve, play the people who will challenge you. Not the ones who won't push you.
Becoming one of the best takes sacrifices and time - use your time wisely.