And if you don’t know, now you know! A talk with the outspoken team owner of InTheSkies
If you’ve been keeping up with the Tekken Tour or any major Tekken tournament this year, then you have undoubtedly seen a player or two (or three or more) with “ITS” in front of their name. In case you didn’t know, that is short for team InTheSkies. Who are they? Where did they come from? How long have they been around? Not only that, who is the owner? You’d be surprised to learn the answer to all of these questions and more.
In the past some haven’t taken ITS seriously, but with recent acquisitions and placements, that is beginning to change. “Respek” is being put on their name. The owner? She goes by the name “HeavenlySkies,” affectionately known as “MamaSkies” by her team. She’s vocal, competitive, and will go to bat for her team on any given day. She lives and breathes ITS. I had a chance to catch up with her to learn more about the teams history, inner-workings, recent accomplishments and more.
You seem to maintain a level of anonymity. No-one really knows your real name. Why is that? Are you on the FBI watch list?
I’ve been on the internet for a long time. During my time I’ve learned that the more people know about you the easier it is for them to exploit you and-or put private-personal information out there when and if they decide to. Being that I’ve had addresses, numbers, family pictures and things of that nature posted in an attempt to create drama. I decided that it’s better to remain as anonymous as possible because it’s very few people you can trust with information these days. But, no, I’m not on the FBI watch list, but I do have watchers. (laughs)
I know that you’re out in Las Vegas. What’s the Tekken scene like out there?
The Tekken scene here is pretty much dry here simply because Jackie Tran is the best player in Las Vegas and a lot of people don’t want to play him because he’s too good so it’s sort of a domino effect as far as the other players here not leveling up because they don’t want to take the beatings to learn how to elevate their game.
How long have you been into Tekken, and who are your main characters?
I’ve been into Tekken about a year and some change. I don’t know if I can really say I have mains because I’m still learning a lot and haven’t had much time to put a lot of effort into being decent at the game. But I like to use Nina-Leo, and also Bob-Ganyru.
I remember first learning about InTheSkies on Twitch when looking for TTT2 streams. I had no idea it was a team, but thought maybe you were a freelance graphic designer or something.
InTheSkies actually was never meant to be a team at all. It spawned purely out of curiosity and interest from random people while I would play Resident Evil 5. My gamertag as you know is HeavenlySkies, so one day a good friend of mine decided to make a name as well ending in “Skies.” His best friend became FracturedSkies. We would team up online playing versus mode in a lobby and people began sending me questions asking if they could have a Skies name and what kind of team we were, etc. So, that’s when it went from just something between close friends into the whole team mentality.
Okay, so when did you make the transition to Tekken?
Starting out on RE5 I then began branching out to other games and eventually started seeking out folks on Tekken Tag Tournament 2. Streaming quite frequently I’d get the trolls bringing up how we weren’t a “real” team simply because the majority of players I had only played online. And that’s when I began to watch tournaments, getting a feel for who was who and what I wanted to look for in future players so when I branched offline we would be ready to make a name for ourselves.
Do you really think that’s true though, that offline players are better or “more legit” than online warriors?
Yes and no. I decided to go offline with it not only because I felt like it was a way to legitimize us by doing well offline, but to also take the team to the “next level” and separate us from those who just share a name by me actually sending players to events, etc.
What is the goal of ITS as an organization? What do you hope to accomplish?
My initial goal was just to be the best online team with the best players, now it’s way more to it than that. Since going offline with the team the purpose has shifted more to helping my individual team members achieve their goals with their careers in the FGC. Ultimately, I would like to be in the position to be a legit sponsor for my squad because I believe they deserve the best.
Legit sponsor? Explain.
The only thing that is preventing me from doing “legit sponsor” stuff are finances. It becomes expensive and fast. Legit sponsors I believe cover travel accommodations fully and all fees associated with the tournaments, along with a per diem. I’m not at that stage yet because it’s just me on my own. I was really hoping to win that billion dollar lottery so I could then do everything I always wanted as far as the team, along with taking care of college tuitions and more. But as you can see that didn’t work out. (laughs)
Yeah, I see. (laughs) What’s the hardest thing about running ITS?
The hardest part for me without a doubt would be the financial aspect of everything involving the team. Getting logos made for gear and advertisements, travel accommodations and registration fees it all begins to add up when you don’t ask for anything in return.
You don’t ask for anything in return? Why?
I don’t ask for anything in return because that’s not what I have the team for. I’m basically just here to see them succeed and help them along the way. I want to help them get the exposure they need so they can actually get a “real sponsorship.” Of course it’s going to be hard when that time comes but that’s the goal if I can’t make it happen myself.
Hmm. But don’t you think that viewpoint will change once you start investing more money? Won’t the focus be more on winning when you do that? Because winning means making your money back.
Ever since I’ve started taking the team seriously as far as taking things offline I’ve invested a lot of time and money. Outsiders who don’t know any better tend to sit back from behind their computer screens and ignore everything I’ve put into this, which does nothing but make me even more ambitious. But it’s gotten pretty old, and now I tend to not show as much restraint when it’s brought up that we’re not a “real team.” I’ve gone from spending 100’s in ITS gamertags and memberships on Xbox. Unlike PS3, it isn’t free. I’ve sent members PS3’s who didn’t have or couldn’t afford them, streaming equipment to some as well. Putting money into multiple logo designs, web hosting, emergency flights for members who missed theirs just so they wouldn’t be stranded, last minute hotels because “so and so” didn’t come through, and now one of my people has nowhere to sleep.
Every time I go to these events it’s a loss out of my pockets. It’s nothing funny about it. I go because I want to be there as support for my people, there in case something comes up so I can help, I rent a car every time so I can be the chauffeur if they need anything. Thousands of dollars later I still have the passion to want to continue what I’m doing even though financially it’s draining. Tournaments haven’t really paid anything until these Wizard World events came about but they also have a $100 price tag added on to each individual to get registered. I’m doing all that I can and I try not to let the burden of it all come to the surface but sometimes it’s apparent. I’ll never want to be the person that is only concerned with my team winning and nothing else. Everyone takes a loss at some point and that’s just what it’s about. I would rather make investments of my own to generate a more disposable income for them than to worry about making money back through their winnings.
Players are taking team sponsorship more serious these days. Why do you think that is?
I think people like the idea of being paid to travel around and play video games. Though I’m not sure of how many sponsors actually pay their members a salary of some sort, but it does seem like a dream to get into something that you enjoy and can also benefit from.
How many members are on your roster?
As a whole ITS has about fifty (50) members spread out across various games. There are some ITS members on games that aren’t competitive offline such as Destiny, and Rock Band. Outside of Tekken, I now have some players who will be playing competitively in Mortal Kombat X, BlazBlue, and King of Fighters XIV. The only time ITS was exclusive is when we were solely on Resident Evil 5 on Xbox.
Wow, that’s a lot of members. How many are Tekken players?
Forty-one (41). All aren’t tourney players.
Ah, okay. How’d you get so many? Can just anyone join, or is there a criteria?
I talk to a lot of people and with the recent high placements of my team the interest in people being a part of it has been on the rise. If people aren’t coming to me, then I am seeking out new talent myself. There is a certain criteria to be met when becoming a part of ITS. When someone wants to join the Tekken branch they are given a tryout. How this goes about is the interested party is invited to a lobby to play against some of my strongest members. After a certain amount of games are played a form is then filled out judging the prospective member in various categories and from there it’s decided on if they make the cut or not.
Good to hear. What’s it like being on ITS?
Well we’re pretty much one big family. When it comes to the game sessions are setup between members who may want to train to learn more to get better and or try out new strats etc And when it comes to things that are personal there’s always someone to talk to. I myself am referred to as MamaSkies so that should say something. A player can expect a lot of fun and a lot of late nights when joining ITS. It’s always someone up in the group chat, memes, voice clips and just random good times.
I know that JustFrameJames was on ITS at one point, but recently at SoCal Regionals he did not carry the tag. Is he no longer on the team?
JustFrameJames is still very much a member of ITS, he in fact just recently had to make a new Skies PSN because he lost access to his original “JFJSkies” account. To be honest I’ve registered a lot of players for tournaments and somehow have still had to tell the people in charge of the stream/brackets to add the ITS to the members names. The reason JFJ hasn’t had our tag since FR is because he’s currently under the advice of an outside party which in turn he hopes to expedite the possibility of being under a complete sponsorship, and one who can accommodate him in ways that I can’t at the moment.
Who is the strongest Tekken player on the team, and who has the most highest placements?
This is probably the hardest question, so I’ll answer it this way. I have a lot of very strong players who go back and forth when playing, but the player who has placed at the most events attended has been Princess Ling. Out of the 12 events I’ve sent him to he’s placed at 11 and won two. With the new additions I have next year will be something to look forward to as far as our overall strength as a whole and individually.
I see that MakNificent and CuddleCore are still on the team. Why haven’t they been competing in more events? Mak did initially, but lately he hasn’t at all.
Cuddlecore is extremely busy with college and education comes first. So, she hasn’t been able to attend any events lately. MakNificent is going to the nationals.
Oh really? Good!
Mak will be attending more tournaments, but with working two jobs it’s hard to get approved to be off both to travel to these events. But I’m sure you will see more of them next year.
Will any players be attending Wizard World Pittsburgh, or any others going to the last chance qualifiers besides Mak?
P. Ling will be in attendance of Wizard World Pittsburgh. WayGamble and Crowder will be in attendance of the last chance qualifiers. A few others have been talking of going to the LCQs but none have confirmed it as definite.
Will you be at Nationals?
Yes, definitely! Jackie Tran actually invited me to be his guest for it, so I decided to use my last two vacation days to have it off to be a part of it. I want to have front row seats of this to see him do his best.
I know that’s right! How do you like your chances? Who poses the biggest threat?
Competition most definitely is steep at the nationals, it’s going to be the defining tournament of every players career with so many heavy hitters involved. Of course I hope that my team wins, I just want them to have fun and do their best that’s all that really matters after all is said and done. It’s definitely going to be a learning lesson. The biggest threats I believe are going to be Anakin, and Mr. Naps. These players are definitely going to be a problem.
You don’t think Speedkicks poses any threat?
Speedkicks is a very good player. He definitely holds his own no doubt, but the question was who poses the biggest threat and to me Anakin and Mr. Naps are the biggest threats in my opinion.
How important was it for an ITS member to qualify for the North America Tekken 7 Finals?
It’s not the end of the world if my team didn’t have any representation in the North America Tekken 7 Finals, but of course it’s a goal for them and for me because I feel like they’re the best and deserve to shine. For me personally, every time one of my people does well at an event it’s like they’re showing the world the potential I’ve seen since recruitment. Specifically referring to Princess Ling, he gets a lot of people speaking on how he’s only good online, etc. But he’s proven over time that he can win tournaments and do very well offline as well, and I’m very proud at far he’s come and how much he’s grown.
Yeah, he’s definitely blossomed before our eyes. He’s a respected player now. How would you say ITS has performed in the Tekken Tour as a whole?
I think my team has done very well throughout this tour. They’ve placed top 8 at Final Round 19, Northwest Majors, Combo Breaker, Wizard World Pennsylvania & Sacramento, CEO 2016, Summer Jam X, Wizard World Austin, SoCal Regionals and Canada Cup. So 10 out of 14 attended isn’t bad at all.
ITS held the top 3 spots at Wizard World Tulsa. And with Jackie Tran winning it and qualifying for nationals, do you feel like that legitimized you all?
Wizard World Tulsa was unreal. For me to have my team take the top 3 spots at the event the feeling was incomparable. I was on edge the whole time. I hate when there’s team kills in the brackets because then it’s one less of us to go forward but it’s something I’m dealing with better. I don’t feel like taking up the top 3 spots legitimized us because we’ve been placing top 8 ever since I sent P. Ling to his first event but there will always be negativity coming from somewhere or someone that’s just how the Internet operates. Too many people get enjoyment out of attempting to put down others instead of uplifting as a whole so everyone can step up their game and improve themselves or their teams whichever comes first. I’m happy that Jackie Tran won. He’s put in a lot of work in the game lately and he definitely deserved it.
You seem to be very vocal and competitive, almost how Marc Cuban is with the Dallas Mavericks. (laughs) Where does that come from? And why so vocal?
I would like to credit that spirit to all of the naysayers. Everyone that has something negative to say instead of appreciating all of what I’ve put into this and-or what I’ve done to help the community. I LOVE my team, love everything they do, and I want them to succeed at any and everything and go above and beyond any obstacle so when it’s time to show and prove I’m right there for it because I know what they’re all capable of. I’ve done the quiet thing before and that’s when people come out of the woodwork thinking they can say whatever they want, so now I’m there to call out these people who have nothing better to do than bring hate to me or my team. It only makes us stronger and we will continue to grow and go further.
Your team recently had an interesting battle with another team called 20z. What was that all about, and what was the outcome?
To sum up the history of 20z and ITS, 20z has a few ex-members of mine and there’s a lot of drama behind that. And obviously there’s a lot of residue “salt” leftover from where we are compared to them. The outcome was we won 5-1. One of my players ps3 decided to die right before he was supposed to fight the leader of 20z and I had to have another player play a 2nd time instead of having a new person for each fight. I’m sure had there not been technical difficulties it would have been an easy 5-0.
I saw a little of it. (laughs) Those images between the matches were straight hilarious! What can we expect from ITS in 2017? More player acquisitions, championships, winning EVO?
I’m hoping to work out some type of partnership/sponsorship for my team and hopefully more player acquisitions once t7 comes out I’ll probably be on the prowl again but as of now I’m very content with who I have on the roster as of now.
Lastly, where can people learn more about ITS?
The official website of ITS is www.intheskies.us. We’re also on a newly created social media on Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, and there’s a Youtube account for our casual online games and tournament footage.
Awesome. Thanks for the interview, Heavenly.
No. Thank you for the recognition and everything you do for the Tekken community I appreciate it.
Indeed. And best of luck at Nationals!