Jemmillion: What was your inspiration for getting involved in the fighting game community? In particular, the NRS scene?
Romanova: Firstly, thank you for interviewing me! I’m so used to doing it to others it’s cool to be on the other end. My inspiration started from my interest as a child playing fighting games. I started with Mortal Kombat 1, 2, and Ultimate 3. As I got older I played various fighters like Street Fighter II, Super Smash Bros., and Marvel Vs. Capcom. I was still a huge Mortal Kombat fan as a casual. I got MK9 the day it launched as well as MKX. The spark that lit the flame to me wanting involved happened at the ESL MKX Pro League Season 2 finals. I had cosplayed as Cassie Cage (my favorite in MKX) at DragonCon 2015. There I met a friend named Kai Norman who recommended me to be a guest cosplayer for the Pro League finals in Burbank. It all ended up working out for me. Being there I actually met amazing people who were part of the commentators and top 16. I also noticed how there were no women in the top 16. I wanted to learn how to play like these guys regardless of if I ever placed. I hoped just being one more woman committed to playing at a higher level would help, even just a tiny bit to bring more women in the scene. I think what also continued to appeal to stay in the NRS community was the amount of support I received learning. There were a few players from the pro league I met who were willing to help teach me more about frame data and competitive play. I think their encouragement and kindness help contribute to that and I’ll always be grateful.
Jemmillion: You were first known in the FGC for your amazing cosplays. Tell us a little bit about your experience in cosplay and competing in contests.
Romanova: Cosplay started for me in 2012. I had made costumes for Halloween before then by myself (MK2 Kitana and Arkham City Catwoman), but I wanted to do more with it. My friend from grade school hit me up about going to PAX East that year. And we both decided to do our own costumes one day (I did Princess Zelda from Skyward Sword). The next day we both were little sisters and got invited on the expo floor to go to a fantastic after party for Irrational Games where we got to do a bit on G4TV back when Adam Sessler was still a part of it. Not getting into the field after graduating college, my creative outlet became sewing costumes. I feel so happy getting to create art by bringing my favorite characters to life. My first time cosplaying a fighting game character at a con was in 2014. I wanted to be Rain from MK9 cause he was my favorite at the time. Cassie Cage was my first to enter a competition as. I was her for Winter Brawl X and ended up winning the contest. Competing was great because I got to meet Kaysha, who’s now an amazing friend of mine and craft buddy. I think doing contests is a great way to get over stage fright for people as well as make new connections with other people who love the same games as you. When I dress up as a character I love my favorite bit is when people who love that character also or the game come up to me and want to pick my brain about what we enjoy. I’ve gotten to work for companies as a cosplayer for more than just the MKX Pro Series Season 2. In 2016 I worked Evo and Battlegrounds for Red Bull as well as the Pro League Season 3 for MKX. In 2017 I worked for the IPS Finals for Injustice 2 as Black Canary and for Red Bull again at Battlegrounds as Ed. I enjoy doing this because it’s fun to be there doing what I can for these companies as a cosplayer while also getting to watch these matches live instead of at home on twitch. I never expected anything going into this craft so it’s nice that occasionally I get to do work from it.
Jemmillion: Aside from cosplaying, you also compete in FGC tournaments as well. How has that experience been for you? What games do you play?
Romanova: The experience of competition is still something I work on regularly. My first tournament I registered and competed at was Combo Breaker 2016. I got totally bodied. I was so nervous and had the jitters from it being my first time competing. But at Evo 2016 I actually beat my first opponent and almost my second. Not great results, but an improvement only less than 2 months after CB. I mainly have competed in MKX in 2016. In 2017 I could not compete in Injustice 2 due to being QA at that time on the game. So at Summer Jam that year I competed in Street Fighter. I main R. Mika in that game and have a blast playing her even when getting bodied. I had started in late 2016 to learn SFV competitively. I just don’t actively put as much time into it as NRS titles. I’m no longer on contract with NRS as of October so I’ve been putting time back into Injustice 2 by attending weekly tournaments at the Galloping Ghost Arcade. I occasionally win games there and it’s really great practice. Weekly tournaments are super important to a scene’s growth. I also will be putting a huge amount of focus into Dragon Ball FighterZ soon. I’ve been a fan of the Dragon Ball series since I was a kid, so this has me excited beyond imagination. I am already registered to play DBFZ, IJ2, and MKX at Combo Breaker 2018. So hopefully I will be ready for whatever I face.
Jemmillion: You previously worked for NetherRealm Studios (NRS) as a QA Analyst and now work for Level EX under the same title. What inspired you to focus on video game Quality Assurance? What would your advice be for those who want to be a QA Analyst?
Romanova: I think what got me into doing QA was my knowledge and passion for playing the games. I had gotten my Bachelor’s Degree of Science in Game Art Design in 2012. Having a degree in the field definitely helps you. Unfortunately, I had no luck getting into my field after school despite all the places I applied to. Originally I had wanted to do 3D prop modeling. I was able to pass my resume along to NRS after working the Pro League where eventually when they needed the help, I got the call to interview. My resume was filled with experience as a game reviewer (previously for CGRUndertow via Classic Game Room) and the degree I had being relative to the game industry. However, I believe it was my knowledge at that point of the games and their data that allowed me to get the position after the interview. I would say for those who want to be a QA Analyst be aware there are not a lot of places who usually offer Full Time right away or without being there for a while. It might take you awhile to find something that works for you. Many of the people who are full time now have spent years just doing contract work until they got the chance at a full-time position. I would say if you want to be a QA Analyst know that you can excel in QA past that as well as a lead or manager for the department. It is definitely something you can make a living from in that sense.
Jemmillion: You recently started a new blog called First to Ten where you feature different competitive players in the NRS scene. What are you hoping to accomplish with First to Ten?
Romanova: I wanted to provide the community with something a little different they can read. Something that shines light on not only the players but the personalities and artists in the scene. The FGC and any sub community in it (like NRS) are not only competitive players, but so much more. It’s the commentators, TO’s, writers, content creators, and artists who all show up and contribute that make this all so exciting and what we love. I was hoping that with just a series of 10 questions the reader will be able to take away a sense that they know this player better and might become inspired by something they say. I am hoping to accomplish a better sense of community with the blog. I am also planning to have books for sale at Combo Breaker. The book will be a collection of all the interviews so far in a zine style way. Additionally, I’m hoping to collaborate with an FGC photographer (if I find one interested) to provide some of their shots for entertainment. I also would like to throw in a section in the back that advertises every tournament I can for the year. This is memorabilia that people can reference when looking back on the scene in that time. I think keepsakes like this are important. When these are available all proceeds, after the cost to print is covered, will go to upgrading the wordpress website so that it has its own unique URL and more features to grow for this year.
Jemmillion: What are your future goals for the 2018 year? What events will we see you at?
Romanova: My goals in this year are to continue to produce quality costumes of fighting game characters I cherish, at least make top 32 at an event I go to this year, and to help use my voice in the community to promote others and help strengthen the community as much as I can. With cosplay I am hoping to collaborate again with companies for events. I will be putting a lot of time into DBFZ so I’m really hoping that’s the game I do well in. I would additionally like to produce more unique YouTube content like the “Thank you NetherRealm” video I launched a few days ago. Videos like that really show you the faces and love we all have for these games which gives good feelings to see. Too many times we see just the negatives people post. I believe it’s refreshing to see the brighter side of things. The events I have set right now are Frosty Faustings (maybe), Combo Breaker, CEO, and SoCal Regionals are on my radar. I’m hoping to add more in there if possible. I’d REALLY love to go to Austria for Viennality as well. We will see what 2018 holds for me! Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of this.