Multiple cameras capture two virtual fighters facing off in-game while both players are illuminated in cold blue light as they stare at their respective screens. The light matched May “Mystearica” Peterson’s long blue hair. The match was streamed on Twitch.tv, at Frostbite, a major Super Smash Ultimate tournament, in February.
Indiana native Mystearica , who is unranked nationally, faced off against Takuma “Tea” Hirooka, the No. 12 player in the world and No. 5 in Japan. Mystearica fought as the character Palutena, a goddess of light with a magic staff from the Kid Icarus franchise, while Tea used Pac-Man, the titular yellow circle from the Pac-Man video games. The two faced off in a flurry of magic fireballs, fruit, fire hydrants and kicks.
In tandem with the stream showing the battle on stage is a chat that displays messages written by viewers watching online. The messages in this chat were heavily delayed. The moderators slowed down the displayed comments to catch and block any transphobic or hurtful comments made toward Mystearica.
This is nothing new for her. Mystearica is transgender and often faces this kind of prejudice when she appears on stream during a tournament.
“Whenever any trans player plays on stream, the chat is always bad,” Mystearica said.
Mysterica is a 20-year-old Super Smash Bros. competitor from Pittsboro, Indiana. She has been playing the Super Smash Bros. series since she was 5 years old and first showed up near the top of the Indiana rankings in 2016. She is currently ranked No. 1 in Indiana and No. 5 in the Midwest.
Her first Super Smash Bros. game was Super Smash Bros. Melee. She played as her favorite character Zelda, from the Legend of Zelda franchise, because she thought the character was pretty. She didn’t learn about competitive Super Smash Bros. tournaments until 2016 after people on the Super Smash Bros. matchmaking website, Anther’s Ladder, told her she should go to local tournaments.
Mystearica said that she was always drawn to multiplayer games growing up, but that she was limited in her options. She only had Nintendo consoles as a kid, so that led her to the Super Smash Bros. games.
Mystearica is a personality in the Midwest region of the Super Smash Bros. community. She doesn’t have a job, and goes to up to five local tournaments a week across the state. She regularly places first and uses the money she earns to fund her trips to major Smash tournaments across the country. Sometimes she can be loud and talkative during her matches.
“People know her and remember her,” Matt “MaDShadow” Davis, Mystearica’s coach, said.
For all her results and accolades, Mystearica’s gender is usually the top Google result when typing in “what is Mystearica…”
MaDShadow said people sometimes ask what her pronouns are when he is at events with her.
"All the fixation is on her gender, or her sexuality, or how she looks, and it's unfortunate because they don't focus on the gameplay," said MaDShadow.
Mystearica came out to her family and the world via Twitter in January.
She turned off notifications on the tweet and did not look at her phone after she initially sent it out.
She eventually showed the tweet to her mom, too scared to actually say the words out loud.
Her mom gave her an indifferent response, which was then followed by a positive one online.
"Everyone has been very supportive of me and it's been very good,” Mystearica said. “It's been a weight off my chest to be honest because when I did it I was really scared.”
Since coming out, Mystearica said she has received many more positive messages online than negative ones. The negative comments usually come from Twitch or Youtube. Her own bubble on Twitter is usually a safer space.
MaDShadow said it is hard to watch videos of her matches online.
“I have to turn off chat because people are just nasty and mean," MaDShadow said. "I can't look at the comments, I just get mad."
Mystearica said Smash players don't bother her in person, since they're too afraid to say anything transphobic to her face.
Mystearica is no stranger to being tormented. She was heavily picked on in high school in Lizton, Indiana, for being gay, which was one of the reasons she left and got her General Education Diploma in 2016.
“There weren’t very many people in that school like me,” Mystearica said. “And by very many I mean there was nobody."
In the Smash community, she is not without allies. Besides her friends, she has Rasheen "Dark Wizzy" Rose. The New York-based player is ranked No. 22 in the world and played through the top eight section of one of the biggest Smash tournaments, Genesis 7, this year with a trans flag draped across his back.
Mystearica said it makes her and a lot of other trans people in the community feel more comfortable in the Smash scene.
“He doesn’t have any reason to do it besides the fact that he wants to be supportive,” Mystearica said. “I don’t think people realize how much he puts himself out there by doing that.”
In that same tournament, Mystearica finished 65th and played her last serious game as Zelda, switching permanently to Palutena. The character is considered one of the best characters in the game because of its strong and fast attacks.
Mystearica played against the No. 4 ranked player Nairoby "Nairo" Quezada in the second round of pool play at Genesis 7 . Nairo is considered the best Palutena player in the world. To avoid going against a top-five player with a character he knows intimately, she opted to play as Zelda in the first game of the best-of-three match.
Mystearica barely did any damage to Nario in the first game, not even taking one of his three lives. In the second game, as Palutena, she did much better. She took Nario’s first life in about 30 seconds, using one of Palutena's taunts after she knocked Nairo off the screen.
"Little things help her like taunting, and that really gets her going," MaDShadow said.
She lost the set but made a deep run in the losers bracket of the double-elimination tournament.
Mystearica has wins against top players during her Smash Ultimate career. Her most notable win was against Tea in 2019, followed by wins against Luis "Lui$" Oceguera and Spencer “BestNess” Garner this year. Lui$ is ranked No. 39 and BestNess is ranked No. 43 in the world.
Mystearica does not have a sponsor, an organization or company that can help pay for food, travel and a hotel at major tournaments. Even with these wins, she doesn’t think she deserves one.
“I've always had very high expectations for myself,” Mystearica said. “So when I can start getting like 13th and top eights at S-tier tournaments, then I can be like ‘alright, now I'll look for a sponsor.'”
She used to be hard on herself in the past. After losses or poor performances, she would often get in her own head and ask why she kept playing the game.
But, she said she now uses these feelings as motivation, fueling her desire to improve.
“Even though I got 25th at Frostbite, which is supposed to be a pretty good placement, I was very upset about it because I wanted to do better because I feel like I can do better. So I'll never be satisfied,” Mystearica said. “But I didn't let it demotivate me. I tried to let it motivate me instead.”
CORRECTION: In a previous version of this article, it was incorrectly stated that May “Mystearica” Peterson was from Pittsburgh, Indiana. She is from Pittsboro, Indiana. The IDS regrets this error.