Faces of the FGC: Garrett “mtxWRL” Dickson

By on January 6, 2020

Photo: Bryan Gateb

In Witches Abroad, the twelfth book in Terry Pratchett’s classic Discworld series, one of the protagonists finds herself in a mystical world of mirrors. There, she’s confronted by the incarnation of Death, who tells her that she will only be able to leave once she figures out which image of her is the real one. But instead of rushing from reflection to reflection in a desperate search for her perfect likeness, she simply looks down at herself and says, “This one.”

This story is a valuable lesson for our times. It teaches us that we’ll never find true confidence or fulfillment if we’re always obsessed with finding a better image of ourselves. Instead, the reverse is true: self-acceptance is the solid foundation that makes it possible to build towards the heavens. This is an unorthodox idea in our age of lifehacks, extreme exercise regimens, esoteric diets, and algorithmic envy. Artists and other creators are encouraged to be their own “brands” and reconfigure their whole lives into the shape of a business. Tech-enabled employers like Amazon rank their employees by efficiency, creating a “gamified” work experience in which the same performance that earns you praise one day might get you fired the next.

Given all of this, there’s something refreshing about meeting someone who lives the lessons of Witches Abroad. One such person is Garrett “mtxWRL” Dickson, a member of the Fighting Game Community (FGC) who lives in Redondo Beach, California. As he tells it, his parents raised him to be a striver. They “wanted to me to excel in whatever I did.” But looking towards the next echelon isn’t everything in life. Indeed, as Dickson’s story illustrates, there’s at least one thing that’s equally important: the ability to live in the moment with the people who matter most.

Photo: Bryan Gateb

LANs And Clans

Although he’s part of the FGC now, Dickson’s relationship to video games didn’t start with fighters. His first serious title was Counter-Strike (CS), the immensely popular first-person shooter franchise that was first released in 2000. Dickson himself picked up the game in 2002. “What led me to CS was a group of people I met in my Cisco class in high school,” Dickson explains. “I told them I played CS at a friend’s and loved it. They told me they go to a local LAN [local-area network] center…to learn the game with them.” His classmates formed one of the top Counter-Strike “clans” in his area. When Dickson followed their advice, he “got addicted – bad. I would skip lunch at school and use my lunch money to buy time at the LAN center,” he says, laughing.

Dickson competed seriously for years, attending both local tournaments and the Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL). “I lived for CS, because I never could play it from my own home, so I was hungry to get out of school and go play.” He says that he attended his weekly CS locals every Friday for nearly two straight years.

Once he graduated high school in 2004, Dickson was surprised to learn that his parents supported his gaming. Indeed, looking back, he had good reason to be surprised. When Dickson competed in the CPL finals in 2005, the grand prize was a mere $18,000, which would be split among a team of five. As such, even if Dickson had conquered the world, he would have earned only $3,600 for his efforts. And as Dickson himself admits, “I never got anywhere in CS and spent a decade trying but coming up very short.”

So why were his parents so supportive of his efforts? Dickson says that his dad had an eye on the money, but another possible explanation is that his parents preached excellence as a way of life rather than a strategy. Most of us are more familiar with the latter approach. We push ourselves in grade school so that we can land at a good college; we push ourselves at college so that we can snag a prestigious job; we push ourselves at work so that we can have money and power. But there’s another way of thinking about the pursuit of greatness, namely, as a source of meaning. Perhaps this is what Dickson’s parents had in mind: to give him purpose, which is something that money can’t buy.

If so, their efforts were admirable. Yet excellence isn’t the only source of meaning in life. Another source of meaning is visible in Dickson’s experience with Counter-Strike: belonging. Yes, he worked hard at the game. Yes, he saw himself as a competitor. But his experience with Counter-Strike was just as much about his friends – his clan – as it was about the game. Years later, the same pattern would play itself out again as Dickson found his way to the FGC.

Photo: Bryan Gateb

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

“I was introduced to Street Fighter back on the SNES with SF2,” Dickson recalls. Back then, “I was never good at it, so I just stopped.” He was brought back to the series by the same thing that drew him deeply into the world of Counter-Strike: friendship.

“A friend introduced me to Super Street Fighter IV when it was released. I started playing SSFIV and learning how to play on a [traditional fighting-game-style arcade] stick. I loved watching tourneys but never invested time into getting good at the game. After a couple years of trying, I just wasn’t understanding it at all.” Street Fighter was a completely different category of game, it required him to learn how to use an entirely new controller, and, on top of all that, it was incredibly deep. “I gave SFIV a chance but it was so complex, with so many characters to learn [and so much] data, that I was overwhelmed,” he says now. “I started playing guile and liked it a lot, but honestly, I was so far behind that any time I went online I wouldn’t win a single game. Out of a hundred games, I’d be lucky to win two.”

By himself, the lure of excellence wasn’t enough to get Dickson over the hump as a player. He continued to watch Street Fighter tournaments, marveling at the skill of the players and soaking in the FGC’s characteristic hype. He even dreamed of having his own version of Evo Moment #37, the FGC’s paradigmatic highlight, in Counter-Strike. But he just wasn’t clicking with the fighting genre. Then, in 2016, Capcom released a new Street Fighter title, and with that new game came a new dynamic. “I had a friend, Azad ‘818azad’ Jarrahzadeh, who would come over and play SFV on my account,” Dickson says. After about a year of this, he finally decided to dedicate himself to the game. He deranked his account so that he would be matched against other beginners, made himself a Twitch channel, and started streaming.

Photo: Bryan Gateb


Jarrahzadeh worked intensively with Dickson, and Dickson still considers him to be his mentor. Yet without the support of the broader Fighting Game Community – that is, without a stronger sense of belonging – Dickson says he would never have grown as much as he has. “Twitch chat and viewers would come in to teach me things,” he says, “and that helped me [a lot]. The knowledge Azad gave me and the new tech they taught me [made me] the ‘decent’ player I am now.” By reaching out to him and including him, “the FGC proved to me that they are very generous and fun people.” Once again, belonging was the spur that kicked Dickson’s interest into overdrive.

“I would stream every day after work for three hours, and I started to get decent at the game. I told myself once I hit Platinum I was happy and would be done. Well, I hit Platinum and wasn’t satisfied. I kept playing and am now currently Diamond and want to get to Master rank.” Dickson considers himself “a casual tourney player and enthusiast streamer,” but he says that he “plans to keep growing. I won’t be satisfied ‘til I manage to win a local tourney against those same great people [who helped me get to where I am].” Those people include not only Jarrahzadeh (@818azad) but Jesse “Commander Jesse” Espinoza (@cmdrjesse), Bryan Angel “Dankadillas” Teran (@Dankadillas), “Clasico” (@Classicbts), Paul “BlaqSkillz” DeCuir (@BlaqSkillz24), Jeff “JD247” Dion (@JD_247_), Vicente “blarrlad” Prieto (@blarrlad) and his brother Edgar “kirbylight” Prieto (@KirbyLight), Mike “MrKagiwada” Kagiwada (@MrKagiwada), Thomas “Arlieth” Shin (@Arlieth), Joe “NoGoodCitizen” Howell (@NoGoodCitizen), Sarah “litebritejpg” (@litebritejpg) and Brian “ocelotyouth” (@xocelotyouth) Oppelt, and more.

Ultimately, that’s what matters for Dickson: being part of something that allows him to have fun while connecting with other people. He may achieve excellence along the way, or he may not. For him, the most important type of greatness is a greatness of experience. It’s the greatness of living freely, connecting with others deeply, and drinking in everything that every moment has to offer.

One of Dickson’s personal highlights is his appearance on Excellent Adventures. Of his performance, Dickson jokes, “I’d just hit Platinum – I didn’t know half the stuff I do now!”

Here And Now

“I’m the kind of person who doesn’t think about [the past] and [thinks] more about what I’m doing in the moment,” Dickson says. Yet he doesn’t practice any of the usual techniques for living in the moment. There’s no mindfulness for Dickson, no meditation, no psychoactive drugs or ritualistic means of focusing his attention. Instead, he has help from an unusual source: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, with which he was diagnosed at age nine.

Dickson took Adderall for about four years in his twenties, but he stopped when he felt himself becoming dependent on it. Now, he simply relies on his own capacities to keep everything in order. Of course, there are some times when this works better than others. For example, he ducked out twice during our interview to play matches in the r/StreetFighter west-coast online “local,” and he lost both of those matches. All in all, though, he leads an enviable life.

In addition to his video gaming, Dickson works at a machine shop recasting bearings. “I work with molten metal,” he says, laughing at the incongruity of a kid who couldn’t pay attention in school being entrusted with metal that’s been heated to hundreds of degrees. Three of his friends work at the same place, and the four of them play on a softball team together. And just in case that’s not enough, he also customizes Hondas with another group of his friends.

Dickson is living proof that life doesn’t have to be the proverbial rat race. Simplicity is his go-to move, and it works. When he was first introduced to Street Fighter and the game didn’t feel right for him, he didn’t force it. Instead, he waited until his friends reintroduced him to the game years later and helped him get his bearings. When he felt like it was time to try medicating his ADHD, he tried it; when it didn’t work out, he stopped. Dickson has a charmingly diverse hype-up playlist for when he wants to get himself hyped up. Every now and then, he has a few beers when he competes – but only a few: “Too many and I’m dropping combos.” When he envisions himself at sixty, he sees himself “playing games with some serious carpal tunnel. I imagine one day I’ll be in a nursing facility gaming with old timers and LANing.” As long as he can find something that he likes to do and someone he likes to do it with, he’s exactly where he wants to be.

Photo: Bryan Gateb


And that’s a beautiful way to live. There’s nothing wrong with excellence, of course. Without the excellence of Dickson’s friends and role models, the FGC and his other gaming communities likely wouldn’t exist. But there’s a great deal to be said in favor of someone who can look at themselves and know with absolute certainty that they’re happy being who they are.

To support Dickson, follow him on Twitter and subscribe to his Twitch channel.

Eli Horowitz (@BODIEDnovel) lives in Pittsburgh, PA, where he writes novels and works in software. His first novel is set in the FGC.

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