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‘Smug’ Huggins’ mastery of ‘Street Fighter’ brings all kinds of shine on Twitch

He learned and honed his skills growing up in Queens, New York

“I had to do what I had to do,” Bryant “Smug” Huggins, a professional Street Fighter V gamer, quipped dryly after pummeling a competitor four times in a row during a recent Twitch stream.

The humorous 25-year-old claims a position as one of the best North American Street Fighter players and hosts perhaps the most entertaining fighting game Twitch stream. “You’re watching and you’re learning what to do in situations, and it’s fun to watch him play,” says David “UltraDavid” Philip Graham, a fighting game commentator. “But on top of that, he’s fun to listen to and hang out with.”

As a child, the native of Queens, New York, lived with his siblings and cousins under the same roof. The youngsters huddled around a television with joysticks in their hands, scrapping with one another in various genres of video games. But when Capcom released Street Fighter IV in 2008, 14-year-old Huggins grew determined to dominate in that game. He sparred in previous iterations of the franchise, but this one hit him differently. New fighting mechanics. Highly stylized 3-D graphics. Enchanting combo system. “I loved everything about it,” Huggins recalled.

The road to Street Fighter mastery demands more “than just practice,” Huggins says. “You have to learn every single character. You have to learn every single matchup in the game on a high level to have a really good understanding of what you’re getting into when you [face] other players.”

Grinding for three to five hours a day, he started with in-game tutorials that taught him the game’s fundamentals. Online play also drove his improvement. Sometimes he’d meet people online, exchange contacts then start playing. Other times, he’d mix it up with random players. Whatever it took to improve.

“I found out professional gaming was a thing before playing Street Fighter IV,” Huggins says. At that time, he associated esports with first-person shooters like Halo. He knew nothing about Capcom cultivating a similar esports scene around Street Fighter in which contestants traveled to tournaments all across the country, all across the globe.

A friend told him about New York City’s Next Level Battle Circuit, housed in a small Brooklyn storefront, where fighting game enthusiasts compete against each other and hone their skills weekly.

“You should start going to it,” the friend told him during his senior year of high school.

“That’s where you get the best practice, especially in a city like New York,” Graham says. “That’s one of the best fighting game cities in the world. Getting to know the players there and getting to play against them is really helpful in learning how to play. What to do in certain situations and being able to ask more experienced players questions — or even not asking questions, just getting to play them and seeing how they handle things … that is really important.”

“That’s how I learned, just asking questions when I see things I’ve never seen and I wanted to learn more about it,” Huggins says.

“When you play against people, people have so many ideas. It’s good to ask questions: ‘Why did you do this?’ ‘Why did you do that?’ Then you start adding that to your game, to your knowledge, and it makes you a stronger player.”

“Hey, Mom. Hey, Dad. I want to be a gamer.” — Huggins never initiated that conversation with his parents. Instead, every so often he would let them know, “ ‘I’m going to this tournament.’ ‘I’m going here.’ ‘I’m going here.’ That’s how I told them. Then they started asking where I’m going. They were cool about it.”

Smug burst onto the Street Fighter IV tournament scene playing a character named Dudley, an old-timey, gentlemanly English boxer. “My initial impression,” Graham says of Smug, “was that he was supergood at execution and the difficult aspects of the game in a way that was unusual.”

“He played a character in Dudley that I had always thought was weak. I never saw anyone use him in the way that Smug did. He changed my mind about how good that character could be. … Dudley has a lot of really difficult stuff in Street Fighter IV, and he was really, really good at making that work.”

He became so prolific and such a fan favorite that fans dubbed him “The Mayor of Duff City,” duff being slang for punch. Watch him work here:

As Smug gained more experience under the bright lights of tournament play against the world’s best, his growth appeared obvious: “When I first saw him, I thought it was primarily about the combos, but toward the end of Street Fighter IV, I thought he was very patient and he capitalized really well on everything,” Graham says. “Every time he would hit it would be into big, big damage and stuns. He had optimized all of the combos. … I would say he was pretty patient. He was a good, patient player.

“He was really the only Dudley player who did damage.”

Street Fighter V debuted in February 2016, and although the game’s mechanics resemble the previous iteration’s, it features its own idiosyncrasies that professionals must master. But more important to Huggins, Dudley was not included as a playable character.

“When the new game came out and he was playing it, it was hard for him to adapt to that initially. That’s how it felt to me from the outside. And that’s very common,” Graham says. “He was not alone in this. There were lots of players who were good in Street Fighter IV, who came up in Street Fighter IV — it was their first fighting game — who had a period of not adapting that well to Street Fighter V. But I always thought Smug would figure it out.”

In fighting games, players “main” a character, meaning they pick that one character nearly always. Huggins struggled to settle on a character that matched his offensive, long-combo playing style. “I was in a character crisis,” he says. “I was playing [with every character]. My worst moment was when I was going through my character crisis.”

In July 2016, Capcom released Balrog, a boxer clearly fashioned from Mike Tyson, as a playable character. “I saw him, and I knew I’m definitely playing this character. I knew I was going to play that character. I liked his moves. Everything,” Huggins says.

The mayor of Duff City returned:

“Once he had a character and play style that he liked, that let him figure it out,” Graham says.

In June 2017, Smug signed with Rise Nation as his gaming sponsor. Traveling to tournaments all across the world costs money. “Having a team take care of that stuff for you, from a fighting game perspective that’s probably the most important thing that a team does,” Graham says.

Says Huggins: “Before I signed, I wanted to make sure the business was right. I didn’t want to sign anything right away. This was my first sponsor. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.”

The relationship has worked well for him. “They help promote you. They help promote your brand,” he says.

Bryant “Smug” Huggins is living a dream, one that other kids harbor too. What advice does he offer them?

“I’d definitely tell them go for it. Don’t let anything stop you. Do what you feel is right. I felt it was right for me to become a gamer, and look at me. I made my family proud by watching me on television, and that can definitely be you or better.”

Brando Simeo Starkey is an associate editor at Andscape and the author of In Defense of Uncle Tom: Why Blacks Must Police Racial Loyalty. He crawled through a river of books and came out brilliant on the other side.