What would you go through to be the best Street Fighter player in the country? What would you sacrifice to compete at the highest level and become a world champion? Whatever your answer, it’s likely nothing compared to what 31-year-old Michael “Brolylegs” Begum has experienced in the decade-plus he’s been competing in fighting games.
“I took a 40-hour bus trip to EVO once,” Brolylegs said. “I got stuck for 12 hours in this middle-of-nowhere station in Amarillo, Texas because the bus didn’t have a lift.”
In this day and age of accessibility, this is the struggle Brolylegs goes through to get to a tournament. He doesn’t often do it alone either. His younger brother and caretaker, Jonathan Begum, and friends have been right there with him. It’s the 21st Century, and sometimes, Brolylegs can’t get on a plane with his motorized “chair” -- which is more like a table on wheels than an actual chair. Despite the hardships, Brolylegs fights on, for himself, his family and friends, and his fans.
Brolylegs the Broken
If you’ve never heard of Brolylegs, he’s often referred to as the “disabled gamer” or “the guy who plays Street Fighter with his face.” Brolylegs was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC), more commonly known as arthrogryposis, in which an infant’s muscles don’t grow, causing deformity in their limbs which can prevent the full use of their hands and feet. Brolylegs’ case is severe enough that he has to grip his controller against his face and literally uses his tongue against his cheek to play video games. Miraculously, he has parlayed this incredible method of gameplay into a competitive career in Street Fighter IV and Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition.
Brolylegs is more than just “the guy who plays with his face.” He’s competed against some of the best in the nation and the world in Street Fighter. He’s an integral part of Team Inferno, a Street Fighter League: Pro-US 2019 team consisting of arguably the best SFV:AE player in the world, Victor “Punk” Woodley, along with SoCal transplant and up-and-comer Jonathan “JB” Bautista.
At one point, Brolylegs topped the online rankings with Chun-Li in SFIV, and is currently a Grand Master in SFV:AE. His experience opened a path for an unlikely side gig - teaching people how to be better Street Fighter players. A lot of players don’t get the kind of help they need in their local scenes. Brolylegs has found a way to fill that void, while at the same time learning from the very same people he taught.
“I want to help players that don’t have anyone to go to or that are embarrassed or too scared to ask for help,” Brolylegs said.
“Seeing the progression of players keeps me motivated,” he continued. “It’s not about making them champions or the next Justin Wong or Punk. It’s about seeing them reach a potential they didn’t see in themselves.”
Who is the real student?
Brolylegs has witnessed how different players approach practice, execution, and how tournament play can affect them throughout his teaching career. The variety of ways of improving his game allows him to cater to his students individually, bestowing upon them the technique and training needed to be successful. However, success doesn’t mean winning tournaments. It can be as simple as not going 0-2 in a tournament. Fear of drowning in pools scares many players.
“Nerves is the number one thing that kills a lot of players, even at a high level,” Brolylegs said. “There’s no remedy for it. You have to find a comfort zone. When I want to beat nerves... I say this stage is not too big for me. If the person next to me deserves to be here, I deserve to be here.”
Of course, if you’ve ever spent time around Brolylegs, one might say he employs another tactic to beat the nerves; trash talk. A good Brolylegs pop-off is likely to make you do a double take, because it comes out of nowhere. Check out the way he has layered self-deprecating humor on top of his Texas-sized jabs at his opponents consistently on Street Fighter League.
Talk the talk, walk the walk
Touch my leg, I want to walk baby! I’m about to pop off this wheelchair real quick. I went from wheelchair to crutches, next time I’m gonna need a blind dog. I’m leveling up in this world!
What can you say to that? It’s all about the mind games for Brolylegs. He’s the ultimate crowd monster, even if he isn’t performing well in game. Brolylegs recounted a story of a tournament years back in which he had to be laid on a table in pools (not uncommon for Brolylegs, since space is a premium at a lot of tournaments). While watching a friend play his match, Brolylegs talked so much trash, his friend’s opponent was clearly annoyed and he turned around to let Brolylegs know. There was a distinct possibility he might flip the table Brolylegs was laying on over. Did that stop Brolylegs from talking? Nope. It probably spurred him on even more.
Johnathan, who corroborated that table-flipping story, describes Brolylegs as “humble” but “aggressive.” Brolylegs plays to his personality. Johnathan believes if his brother wasn’t disabled, you’d still know him because everyone becomes aware of his presence.
Still, life isn’t always easy or fair. For all the great things he has accomplished, like starring on the top team in the first season of Street Fighter League, writing a book, or making Top 8 at major tournaments, Brolylegs deals with unique adversities that come with his disability. Johnathan has been right there with him for most of it. He’s seen the good and the bad, the wins and the losses. He’s been stranded in bus terminals and airports with Brolylegs.
“His struggles are my struggles. I feed him. I change him. I carry him. We do everything together,” Jonathan said. “I do it because I love him and he’s the best human I know. He feels like he’s a bother sometimes and that’s the last thing I want him to think.”
The struggle is real
Brolylegs admits tournament placement and consistency is an issue largely because of how difficult it is for him to make it to events. Getting on a plane or bus going anywhere can be an ordeal for Brolylegs, which is why in recent years he and his brother have tried to stick to driving. Unfortunately, they’ve had a run of bad luck with vehicles, and it’s proven costly. Brolylegs recently missed out on Texas Showdown, an event he hadn’t missed in nine years because his van was broken down.
These troubles and a lack of consistency can weigh a player’s confidence down. A few players as individuals in SFL didn’t have the greatest results, Brolylegs included -- but it’s no coincidence that some playcrppers have shown much improved results in tournaments after taking part in SFL. Take Texas Showdown’s results as proof. Five out of the Top 8 finalists at Texas Showdown appeared on SFL, including all four players on the Winner’s side of the bracket. Imagine the potential if Brolylegs was in that mix.
Regardless of the “should haves” and “could haves”, Brolylegs doesn’t let the setbacks deter him from training rigorously online and teaching his students how to be better Street Fighter players.
“If I could wake up one morning and say I’m going to a tournament without fears or worries, the beast would come out,” Brolylegs said. “Since I’m not there all the time, it’s always going to come back to ‘Oh, that’s the disabled player.’ ‘That’s the guy who plays with his face.’ I don’t want that conversation anymore. I’m not mad at it. My focus is to show progress and win. Be a better player...the best player.”
Street Fighter League was a big milestone for Brolylegs. He was one of six players voted in, and he was drafted by Punk to play on Team Inferno - the team finishing with the best overall record in Season 1. Yes, his individual record wasn’t stellar, but the 3v3 team format proved that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. First, the team got to know each other as individuals better. Then, they trained and improved over time at SFL.
Brolylegs’ biggest takeaway from SFL was the support his team gave each other. He had never met most of the participating players in SFL, so it gave him and his teammates the chance to bond. Team Inferno learned each others’ skill sets, analyzed games, and strategized together to earn that top record and a potential shot at the big SFL prize at CEO 2019.
Whatever the odds, Brolylegs will always be in the thick of competition, proving he not only belongs, but he can thrive. It would be easy to give up, but what kind of example would he be setting for current and future students, and other players -- disabled or otherwise -- dealing with adversity if he threw in the towel on his dreams?
“I want to be known as that guy that never quit. I see players talking about missing flights or a delay and hope to make it to 10am pools. I envy that,” Brolylegs said.
“I’d rather have those problems than stuff I go through. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I’ll keep doing this until I can’t anymore. I want to be the player everyone can look to, and say, ‘he’s still trying so I’m going to keep trying too.’”