Tanukana is a Rising Star in the World of Competitive Gaming

eSports isn’t known for its gender diversity

The fighting game community, like most competitive scenes, has an issue with representation. While there’s no arguing fighting game tournaments are a veritable melting pot of different cultures, women are rarely on the forefront of high-level play. Sure, ladies like Ricki Ortiz, Marie-Laure “Kayane” Norindr, Leah “gllty” Hayes, and Yuko “ChocoBlanka” Kusachi have been taking names for years, but little has been done to cultivate a larger female contingency in a community that’s unfortunately weighted towards the male demographic.

Efforts have been (and are still being) made to correct this, but rarely have developers taken matters into their own hands quite like Bandai Namco Entertainment. Near the end of 2016, qualifiers were organized leading up to The King of the Iron Fist Tournament, a massive Tekken 7 event held in Japan. In addition to the open qualifiers at each venue, the tournament organizers also hosted brackets specifically for female competitors, ensuring at least four would be able to play in the main event.

One of these women was Tanukana, a relatively new player that got her start with Tekken 6: Bloodline Rebellion. As a resident of Japan’s rural Tokusima region, she was unable to maintain a consistent level of play, but recently got her shot at a professional career by signing with Cyclops Osaka and moving into the eponymous city. Tanukana was invited to participate at The King of the Iron Fist Tournament thanks to her second-place finish at the Osaka qualifier, and although she didn’t make much of a mark on the event, her inclusion alongside a handful of other women was an important step for the fighting game community as a whole.

(Photo c/o Famitsu)

But the Tekken team’s efforts to expand the competitive scene don’t stop there. With the release of Tekken 7, the developers introduced a brand new online system that ensures players are matched up with opponents at a similar skill level. Apparently, some high-level competitors made a habit out of hunting down newcomers as a way to boost their own standings, possibly frustrating those simply trying to learn the game.

“There was a female player in my town who started playing Tekken again because she was able to consistently find players of her skill level,” Tanukana told BattleFinger in a recent interview, a sign of the importance for such a system.

These changes led to perhaps Tanukana’s most impressive performance in her career at MASTERCUP.8 in late 2015. As a team tournament, competition at MASTERCUP events is typically frenetic and tense, and even a minor slip-up could mean the difference between leading your squad to the next stage and letting them down. Tanukana’s team — made up of similarly skilled female competitors Yuffuto, Kurone, Kobore, and Sar — fell behind a group made up of former Virtua Fighter champions in their first match.

As she stepped up to the plate, Tanukana faced a 3–0 deficit, but her potential as a Tekken 7 competitor stole all the momentum built up by her opponents. She quickly stopped the bleeding with a victory over Itoshun before setting her sights on Gamecenter Arashi, Jin, Gorgeous Leo Lao (formerly Gorgeous Irene), and Koedo. When all was said and done, Tanukana had single-handedly defeated the entire Virtua Fighter team, allowing her group to move into the next round.

While she was no doubt a competent player in earlier iterations, the changes Bandai Namco Entertainment has made in both developing and organizing tournaments for Tekken 7 have opened a ton of doors for players like Tanukana. Her latest sponsorship, a deal with GRAPHT signed alongside Cyclops Osaka teammates Ryo “Dogura” Nozaki and Kishida “GO1” Goichi, might not have been possible without the added exposure of The King of the Iron Fist Tournament. And now, with a full-time job as a professional fighting game competitor, she’s been provided with the resources necessary to become a major player on the world stage.

Look out for Tanukana competing in Tekken 7 at Final Round 20 this weekend.