Ricki Ortiz has a decision to make. As she sits down in front of the monitor with her fight stick at DreamHack Austin in April, she has to choose whether to keep playing Chun-Li, the character around whom she has built the majority of her 20-year career, or abandon her for a more viable alternative. It might seem like a simple choice, but Chun-Li is no ordinary character for the 34-year-old Ortiz.
Most other players have made the switch this season, since the character has been nerfed, or downgraded, in the new version of the game. (This happens frequently in esports as game developers release new patches.) But Ortiz can’t bring herself to do it. Her attachment to Chun-Li goes beyond the professional: Chun-Li, who first appeared in Street Fighter II in 1991, is the first female character in the game’s history, a cult figure who paved the way for more female characters and spawned multiple Hollywood movies. Ortiz is not just one of the original players in the Street Fighter scene, a pillar of her community, but also an openly transgender woman in an industry overwhelmingly dominated by cisgender men.
The severity of Chun-Li’s downgrade has taken Ortiz by surprise. After one of the best seasons of her career in 2016, Ortiz has been a shadow of her former self thus far this year on the way to Evo, the premier fighting games tournament, which takes place this weekend in Las Vegas, largely because she refuses to abandon Chun-Li.