The 'unstoppable force' of SonicFox
UPDATED: A previous version of this article stated that Tekken Master was from Iran. It has been corrected to Bahrain.
ST. CHARLES, Ill. -- It's another Sunday, in a different city and a familiar face holds yet another trophy above his head, which is garnished with a blue fox hat. Dominique McLean has just netted himself just under of $10,000, a small sum compared to what he made in 2016, but that doesn't make the victory any less special.
McLean -- famously or infamously, depending on who you ask -- is known as SonicFox and has been a top competitor in the fighting game community for just over five years. He's a 19-year-old video game assassin, but his happy, cheerful demeanor wouldn't have you believe that. Well, at least until he steps on stage.
In the moments leading up to his latest victory, this time on the newly released NetherRealm game Injustice 2, SonicFox showed why he's such a crowd-pleaser. On stage, he opened a bag and pulled out two letter-sized pieces of paper. He had commissioned an artist, who has a booth in the hallway outside of the arena, to draw two illustrations -- both a mixture of his anthropomorphic fox alter ego with Injustice 2 characters. The first was the popular DC Universe villain Deadshot, with a fox tail and notable fox ears. The second, a fox with a black and gold cape, styled to look like other DC super-villain Black Adam. He calls the drawings his "lucky charms."
Turning toward the camera, which is broadcasting to over 25,000 people at home and on a massive screen above the stage, he raised and lowered each graphic, inciting a crowd to help him choose his muse. Deadshot won.
Shortly thereafter, SonicFox took three wins and one loss in his next series, barely phased by his opposition. And in the one to follow, the result was the same. Soon after, SonicFox had earned the title of inaugural Injustice 2 Pro Series champion.
"I'm at a loss for words," SonicFox told ESPN just moments after his victory. "I put all my passion and my potential into this game, I no-lifed it for a couple of weeks and here we are with a victory."
Since the mid-May release of Injustice 2, SonicFox has dedicated himself to learning yet another game in his arsenal. Within hours of the game hitting store shelves, he had uploaded videos on Twitter illustrating some of the techniques he had learned. The process of learning a new game for the fighting game veteran is nothing new. As a result, his winnings and success reflect that.
In 2016, he earned almost $200,000, taking home three ESL Mortal Kombat X Pro League championships and the most coveted prize of them all, the Evolution Championship Series title -- his third in his career. He already has paid for his college in full, something he pursues on the side of his pro fighting game career.
"It's a very solid way [to invest in my future], but I know that it won't last forever," he said. "That's why I'm still going through with college right now. After I finish college, I want to end up working for a fighting game company or potentially start developing my own fighting game. But for right now, money is nice. It's nice."
His continuous victories are fairly well-received in the NetherRealm community, which built off of games, such as Injustice 2 and Mortal Kombat.
"The unstoppable force that is SonicFox won -- as I'm sure a number of people predicted -- because he's such a dominant force of nature," Mortal Kombat co-creator and NetherRealm creative director Ed Boon told ESPN about the weekend.
Despite his reception in NetherRealm's games, SonicFox also took first place in the weekend's Skullgirls competition, a significantly smaller tournament at Combo Breaker on Saturday.
"F--- you, Sonic!" the front row of the crowd barked as SonicFox held his Skullgirls trophy in hand.
"F--- you!" he yelled back, smiling as he celebrated his victory.
"It's fine. Within the Skullgirls community, the motto is, 'You cheer for SonicFox in every single game but ours. In ours, we boo you,'" SonicFox said. "I'm very happy to be a crowd-pleaser for people. Even though people always want me to lose, I'll always try to do things that get the crowd to go, 'Oh my god, he just did that' ... I live for those kinds of moments. Even in Skullgirls, I do moments like that so I'm always looking to be a crowd-pleaser, even for those who want me to lose."
Because of his success, SonicFox said he constantly has a target on his back. He gets attention from fans and opponents, including his rival and friend Sayed "Tekken Master" Hashem.
"Every time I look forward to meeting SonicFox in tournament, but he's very tough," Tekken Master said. "It's very hard to get into his head. Every time I step into the ring with him, I feel excited. I want to beat him every time, if I can. [I don't get nervous] at all. Only at Evo, there was some nervousness, but now, I've just adapted and now, not at all."
Now, as the first Injustice 2 champion, the target has grown larger. NetherRealm and parent company Warner Bros. Interactive have announced their plans to create multiple entry points into a final tournament at the end of the year, a new opportunity for players like Tekken Master, who didn't have the frequent opportunity to attend events.
"I'm expecting to see many more international players, like you saw many players from Europe and players like Tekken Master, who's from Bahrain, people from West Coast and East Coast, I expect to see nothing less," SonicFox said. "Players from all around. It's bringing every single aspect of anyone who might enjoy Injustice 2 all into one scene. It's a really good step forward into esports, honestly."