‘Street Fighter Saved My Life’ — One Man’s Journey From Prison to eSport Pro

Tom Regan
Games PlayStation
Games PlayStation PC Gaming

For fans of Street Fighter, Sean Dench is a name that carries some clout. Better known by his gamer handle, imStilldadaddy, Sean is one of the top 25 Street Fighter players in Europe, and  comfortably sits in the best 100 pro players globally.

Yet, despite currently traveling the world to compete in gaming’s most prestigious tournaments, this eSports star almost had a very different life.

From Prison to Pixels

Like many bored kids, at the age of 13 Sean slowly started hanging around with the wrong crowd. Finding himself roaming the streets with nothing to do, it wasn’t long before he got himself into trouble.

“I had a lot of opportunities when I was younger and I didn’t take them. I steered into terrible things that could have got me killed,” reveals Sean. “One of my friends is in prison for 26 years and the other’s in and out of prison all the time. They’ve destroyed their lives. I was locked up with one of them. That’s the life I could have gone down”

Yet unlike in the movies, it wasn’t true love or a generous job offer that turned Sean’s fortunes around – it was a chance round of Street Fighter IV in his friend’s bedroom.

After being acquitted of some pretty serious assault charges, Sean found himself calling up old friends and wanting to make a change.

“It was the day I was acquitted for a GBH (Grievous Bodily Harm) court charge. I went to see one of my old friends that I used to game with when I was younger. Street Fighter was remade again — with Street Fighter IV — and he was playing [it]. I was like ‘ah it’s out again!’  I used Guile and it was sort of the same as when I was a kid. I loved it straight away.”

After years of finding himself making the wrong decisions, Sean suddenly saw the chance to change his life for the better.

“I thought … right, I can really knuckle down here because these were good friends. The chill-out, play computer games [kind of friends], not the wild sort of friends I used to have. So I started hanging around with them. I played online and met people online. I was always looking for someone who could beat me, the next warrior to fight.”

Fighting For A Living

Sure enough, he found the next warrior, but little did he know that the next time he picked up that controller, it would change his life forever.

“I wanted to beat Ryan Hart. He was the UK’s first sponsored fighting game player … he’s a really well-known figure, and I remember searching for him and all the community were saying, ‘An, he’s in here, he’s in this lobby’ so I got an invite.”

Sean pauses, then lets out a cheeky grin. “I managed to ‘perfect’ him in the first round.”

Unsurprisingly, from then on, Sean’s impressive skill quickly began to get him noticed.

“I started to travel and go to offline tournaments. Street Fighter has changed my life and I’ve changed as a person over the years. Through the game, I’ve met better people, magical people … gaming is a positive way you can change your life.”

Yet despite being able to rule the roost online, Sean quickly found that competing face-to-face in front of big crowds was a whole different challenge.

“I discovered that being in the tournament environment was totally different to online, and a lot harder. When I would go there that guy who I’d ‘perfect’ online, he would be the guy who was actually winning the tournament, and I’d only be top 8.”

“The journey to learn … the journey to better yourself, that’s the good thing about Street Fighter. It’s kind of like martial arts, martial arts people always train – it’s the same with fighting games.”

That’s when Dench decided that he wanted to devote his all to the game and cement his place as one of the best Street Fighter players in the world. “I didn’t go into gaming to look to get paid, I did it as a passion. [It’s the same] even to this day. Whatever the prize money is … I play for the win. You can’t buy the win, that feeling of winning.”

Changing The Game

These days though, the prize money for eSports tournaments is certainly nothing to sniff at. Last year’s leg of the annual Street Fighter tournament, the Capcom Cup, commanded a prize pool of over $350,000. showing that pro gaming can be a highly lucrative career. With Sean seeing eSports grow from the inside, he strongly believes that one day eSports could well become more popular than the real thing.

“I’ve started to notice that year by year the money is going up on tournaments and now that we’re signing contracts, people are actually getting salaries. It’s got bigger and bigger.”

“It may not be five years from now, it could even be 20 years from now, but one day, gaming will take over when it comes to sports. Kids ain’t wanting to go round to their friend’s house and to play FIFA with five of you in a room and they’re not wanting to watch football with the old man, they’re wanting to watch games on Twitch. That’s where it is now, millions of people watch [Twitch] on a daily basis.”

Seeing what this game’s done for Sean, it’s difficult to argue. Despite his career starting to take off, however, Sean’s now hoping to use games to help give less fortunate kids the opportunities he never had.

“Something that I’m going to do in the future is to make sure that there’s some kind of gaming place or club where communities can come together and play computer games. Because if I had these when I was 15 or 16 I would never have made the choices that I did in life.”

“It will definitely help, giving kids something positive to do. I think gaming could have a better impact than some things that [the government] has been doing in the past. Through gaming, there is a positive way you can change your life. The only way we can change the world is to change ourselves and to help people better themselves is a win-win situation, and that’s what I’m really passionate about doing.”

You can catch Sean competing in the Gfinity Elite Series when it returns in March.

Tom Regan
Having written for everyone from Trusted Reviews to The Guardian, Tom is a London based writer who can't stop talking about games. Now he's joined the team at FANDOM as gaming editor, we have to constantly remind ourselves that he's not actually Ed Sheeran.