PhiDX: The man who risked everything to turn his passion for Tekken into a career

Carver Fisher

Though Tekken has been one of the most popular and well-known fighting game franchises for decades, Tekken 8‘s release has put the series on top of the world. Even in the so-called “Golden Age” of fighting games that’s been ushered in over the past few years, this game stands out from the crowd.

However, Tekken has always had a reputation as one of the hardest fighting games to get into. That third dimension adds a lot of depth, often forcing strong players from other fighting games to unlearn a lot of their old habits and build new ones—not to mention how hard it is if it’s your first game in the genre.

Phi ‘PhiDX‘ Lam has taken this steep learning curve and turned it into an opportunity to change his life with Tekken by becoming a full-time YouTuber and streamer.

With him going from being a small, relatively niche creator to teaching some of the biggest YouTubers in the world in a matter of weeks, you’d be forgiven for thinking Phi’s story is an overnight success.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Finding a niche

PhiDX, like many creators before him, started as someone who made videos and streamed on the side while working a full-time job. It’s a tough gig, and time invested doesn’t exactly equal success. To “make it”, you’ve got to be doing something special.

In an environment already saturated with content creators, standing out and finding your niche is a tall order. But, instead of sticking with his early approach of hopping on games with large followings like League of Legends, Phi wanted to put a renewed focus on Tekken after falling in love with the game.

So, for years, Phi just uploaded when he could. He put out content and tried to figure out what really worked for him as a creator. Some videos would do poorly, some would do alright, but he wasn’t really getting anywhere. That is, until former Tekken pro Speedkicks helped him along and gave him some crucial advice.

“All he told me is, ‘You need to upload.’ So I was like, well sh*t, what do I do? We kind of arbitrarily came up with this goal of uploading every day.” Phi explained. “At the time, we were both watching GothamChess a lot. So, my approach is entirely ripped off from GothamChess. Entirely.”

PhiDX described how he used the base of GothamChess‘ analytical style and applied it to fighting games. By putting together concise notes and adapting that style into something that fits fighting games, he finally found a formula that works.

Phi’s approach to content creation makes Tekken easy to digest for players of all skill levels

This format allows him to review his own tournament matches as well, turning his competitive pursuits into videos and streams. Now, he’s able to keep his identity as a competitor & turn that into content.

However, finding this pipeline took a lot of trial and error and some realizations that came to him before Tekken 8 launched.

“I tried daily uploads with the beta of Tekken 8. So, I did a 72-hour stream. Every time I’d take a break from my stream, I’d go to the other room on my laptop and edit a clip. And I would just run back and forth. I felt like I entered, like—You know when people go on a retreat and they come back a different person? That was where I felt the content creator high, where it was like, ‘I’m doing this, I’m releasing it, I’m streaming, I’m doing it again.’

“It did well, but I think that’s when I found out people like watching me talk about the game more than playing it.”

This would lead Phi to a realization: He didn’t just have to be confident in his gameplay, he had to be confident in himself.

Many Tekken pros prioritize their their skill level as a competitor over making videos & streaming, but Phi realized he could make a full-time job as a content creator work by banking on his personality and knowledge rather than relying on tournament results.

So, he invested everything into trying to carve out a space for himself. He saw a vision for what his career in Tekken could be, and he went all-in on trying to realize it. And, though Tekken 8’s popularity helped, that isn’t the only reason his channel blew up.

Luck is a mix of opportunity and the ability to take it

Pretty much any content creator will tell you that luck plays a huge factor in who ends up getting to the top of platforms like Twitch and YouTube. This doesn’t mean the world’s biggest creators don’t deserve it or that there aren’t ways to game the algorithm, but luck is always a factor.

Him going from around 17k subs before Tekken 8 launched to over 100k currently was no coincidence, but the gambles he had to take in order to make content creation his full-time career were, even by his own admission, long shots.

Two stories of his really stood out to me, the first of which involved him capitalizing on an event in a way no one else could have.

Even before he devoted himself fully to being a Tekken YouTuber/streamer, PhiDX took a leap of faith. Thanks to being in contact with Knee, the man widely known as the God of Tekken, Phi found a way to make the most of the EVO Tekken 8 showcase in 2023.

“I had been in contact with Knee on Twitter because I bought four of his premium levers, branded with his name, and I won a tournament and took a picture with it and said, ‘What’s your secret?’ He laughed, said ‘Thank you for supporting,’ and since then we’ve been loosely in contact. I used that contact to ask what hotel he’d be at, but I had no idea what their schedule was.

“My assumption was that I was gonna go there, and there was gonna be a tournament, so I booked a flight. It turns out it’s not a tournament, it’s a Tekken 8 invitational. Oh, at least I can watch it? No, it was closed for cast and crew only. Great! I can’t do anything.

“I was gonna cancel my flight – I actually did cancel my flight and re-booked it (laughs) but my plan became… Well, if they’re just there for an invitational in a game they’re not competing in, then nobody’s going to take the brand-new game that seriously if they’re trying to win the world championship from the previous game. That was my assumption,” Phi explained.

“So, I was like, ‘Ok, they’re gonna be playing one day, they’re there for 4 days. They’re probably gonna be bored. What if I showed up and just had a Tekken 7 setup? Sure, maybe I lose a day to a media day or a warm-up day… But, I bet I can get games.”

Phi decided to book a flight with his PC in tow, ordered monitors and headphones from Amazon to ship to the hotel, only to have to deal with internet issues as he was forced to spend 18 hours on and off with customer support at the hotel to get it working again.

That said, he also got games in with big names like Knee and Arslan and made contact with some of the best players in the world—contacts that helped cement him as one of the biggest names in Tekken.

Despite being down a couple grand after just one weekend and experiencing egregious tech issues, jumping on this opportunity paid off.

“It was the craziest weekend and the weirdest gamble. All my friends after the fact said, ‘You are so insane for that.’ But I really believed. I had this naive, idiotic belief that it’d work.

“At all of these majors, it’s so hard to get time with these players because they’re focused on winning. I was like, ‘I know they’re gonna be here, I don’t have to get a Visa, I don’t have to go to Pakistan, I don’t have to go to Korea, they’re all here right now! On the West Coast! Let me just pull up.’ And I was so glad I did.”

Phi was beaming at this point. Even after a rough day 1 at Combo Breaker, it was easy to tell just how glad he was to be in the community and to have built relationships with these players.

“I think that’s how things started moving up for me, too. Afterwards, I came back home and did the GothamChess-style analysis of their matches. The stream was popping, I got to network with them and have fun with them. That was a huge moment, but it was scary and expensive.”

This first gamble is the one that really earned him props in the Tekken community and gave him faith he could make it as a creator, but the second one is where he really took off.

Teaching the world how to play Tekken

Coaching Tekken was something that came naturally to Phi considering he’s got years of experience coaching, but not because of years of competitive experience with Tekken or other games.

“This is another situation where I feel really lucky because, since grade school, I’d help other people with homework,” he explained. “So like, in high school, if I had a crush on a girl I’d help her with homework. (laughs) My current girlfriend, we went to school together since Kindergarten, and I helped her with her homework.

“I think that, throughout that experience, I’ve always worked with people who were stressed out and tilted that they can’t do, like, math. So, my approach has always been to meet the listener where they’re at, and I just try to find little things that help a little bit and stack wins rather than imposing a rigorous approach—which I think has its place. But, I thought my strength was that I could really empathize with someone, they could trust me, and then I could be hard on them later.”

As it turned out, Phi’s years of patience with others that refined his approach to teaching helped immensely with coaching. This skill, even compared to everything he ended up learning from playing Tekken for so long, would end up being the most important one for furthering his career.

Most people who know PhiDX now learned about him through his coaching of some of the biggest content creators in the world, people with millions and millions of subscribers: Disguised Toast, LilyPichu, a few RDCWorld members, the list goes on.

But where did that start? It’s not like Phi just came out of nowhere and started coaching people with massive followings without any prior connections, right?

“I saw a Discord message from Speedkicks, and he said, ‘BoxBox is playing Tekken, do your thing.’ And I was like, ‘Why? What does that even mean?’ And then I went into his stream chat, and I was like, ‘He plays Asuka… I don’t know anything about Asuka.'”

Tekken’s got a pretty wide roster of characters, and they all have drastically different playstyles. In order for Phi to get his foot in the door here and start making connections with much bigger creators, he’d have to hit the lab.

phidx-tekken-8-locked-inPhi has spent countless hours practicing and honing his skills as a competitor

“At the same time, BoxBox asked for coaching on Twitter, and Sajam was like, ‘I can’t coach you in Tekken, I’m not a Tekken guy, but I can recommend people.’ So it was a mix of me showing up in his chat, and then his outreach on Twitter and Sajam’s recommendation.

“But also, when he put out that Twitter thread, I didn’t pitch myself. I went to my Discord and was like, ‘Even if I can never ask for anything again, I just want you guys to tag me in the replies of this Twitter thread.’ (laughs)”

And, just like that, Phi had some time booked with BoxBox and it was off to the races. Although, Phi was pretty transparent about things not going as well as he would’ve liked in the beginning.

“We had our first coaching session, and it was actually one of the worst coaching sessions I’ve ever given,” Phi lamented. He explained to me how his Tekken 7 knowledge of Asuka was getting in the way of how she plays in Tekken 8, and that he had to learn as he went.

“That was the first time I coached in forever, but I think I just prioritized good vibes. These people wanna learn Tekken, but I have no idea how long these people want to stick with it, I have no idea what their commitment is. I think I’d rather them have fun than, like, ‘Oh, let me put you on a six-month plan to become a Tekken God.'”

Additionally, this first outing taught him a lot about the challenges of teaching people who have mastered the games they came from and helping them unlearn their habits.

BoxBox was one of the best Riven players in the world for years when it came to LoL, and he’s a top level TFT player as well. But the mentality that earned him success in other games made teaching him Tekken a lot harder.

PhiDX alongside BoxBox, Disguised Toast, and Sajam at the Disguised Creator Clash

“BoxBox likes the game, but his brain likes to jump to cheese first. He asked me for setups and stuff, and I’d be like, ‘Oh… Ok. He’ll learn… eventually.’ But I had to teach him through setups and why those setups don’t work. It was so different from what I normally do. Teaching somebody who got good at their game is very weird for me.

“I was always teaching people who had only played Tekken, mid-level, ‘How do I get better?’ Versus someone coming from another game and figuring that out themselves. How do I not patronize them with info they may have figured out? How do I get them to trust me? That’s a skill I had to develop, how to interact with former pros or former high level players, Scarra, Toast, all these really smart players who are looking for direction more than, ‘What should I do?'”

Despite him not feeling overly confident in his coaching skills in the moment, he and BoxBox got along well, & the two of them to kept going with the coaching sessions. All the while, BoxBox was nice enough to throw Phi raids when he wrapped for the day.

At this point in time, Phi had stepped away from his day job. He morphed his entire schedule around coaching BoxBox, sleep included, to try and capitalize on the opportunity.

“I was like, ‘Ok, I’m now going to copy his schedule and stream after him to catch all those raids. And that dude could stream for… 16 hours. So, I would log on around hour 8, and I was like, ‘I’ll be ready to stream when he’s done.’ I’d stay up—and I was interacting, coaching, having fun, it wasn’t straight clout fiending, but I was also just like, ‘This is an advantageous time to set up my stream!’, but also, ‘Oh my god, he’s still going.'”

This experience would lead to him to working with a number of Offline TV folks, as well as taking part in the Sajam Slam, an event that brought a bunch of streamers together and put them onto teams led by different coaches.

Phi was the coach of one of those teams, and, even if his team didn’t perform the best at first, those who trained under him had a great time and a newfound passion for Tekken.

Even as he was working on his own content, Phi dedicated a ton of time to tailoring custom, character-specific documents and training resources so everyone on his team could learn at their own pace.

“These people are so busy. I needed to have as many resources as possible for them so that, when they feel like it and they have a moment, they can get something out of it. I made Google docs for everybody, studied all their matchups in advance,” Phi explained.

“I felt like I put in really good effort and made a good impression in terms of, like… They got the idea that I wanted the best for them to have fun and to win within their capability. With that, I think there was already in the air, like, ‘Oh, he got the OTV team. Is he gonna join OTV? Is he gonna join Disguised?'”

Sure enough, one thing led to another, and Phi naturally became part of Disguised.

“I just stayed in contact with Lily very naturally, she just wanted to keep playing. We got along the best, I think we had the most fun. Sykkuno reached out to me recently, too, he wants to learn Reina. But, he’s also very busy. Toast is extremely busy, but has occasionally reached out. I just feel like I built good relationships with them, poured in a lot of time and energy.”

Bear in mind that his coaching arc started a short time after quitting his day job. If he hadn’t stepped away from the life he had before and into coaching & content creation, it’s likely this wouldn’t have happened.

A combination of luck, effort, and sheer determination got Phi where he wanted to be.

“I set myself up well, and I felt like I put in more work than most people around me would. I got kind of lucky too, because I was able to do it full-time. I really didn’t wanna waste that opportunity and that potential, so I was like, ‘I’m gonna throw all my energy at it. If it doesn’t work, I know I tried.’ Then, down the line, Toast reached out.”

The path to being able to support himself as a full-time creator, one that specifically focuses on Tekken, wasn’t exactly an easy one. But it was certainly rewarding, and it only came about as a result of a direct, concerted effort from Phi to make it happen.

As we talked more about the game itself, it became clear that the mentality Phi gained through learning Tekken was a huge part of how he was able to pull all this off.

The unrivaled beauty of Tekken

While Phi was “succeeding” before his journey working in Tekken full-time, it was more in the sense of having a stable job that put food on the table. He was exceedingly unhappy with the workplace grind.

“My immediate parents, I think they saw how hard I was working at conventional stuff and how unhappy I was. So, they came around to be very supportive. I feel really lucky because I know plenty of people don’t get that. I feel very fortunate in many ways, and one of them is that my immediate family is very, very supportive. It wasn’t always that way.”

While PhiDX has had his fair share of success as a competitor, beating big names like Chikurin (EVO Japan 2024 Champion) and Arslan Ash in tournament, the biggest thing he seemed to gain from Tekken was a new mindset and outlook.

phidx-smilePhi may be a fierce fighter, but he’s all smiles as soon as the match is over

“I’ve had a big problem of needing to accomplish something at any cost in my life. That definition would be vague and it’d change all the time, but it just existed forever,” he lamented. “I knew it was a flawed way of thinking, but I couldn’t get out of it. Tekken was the first time I tasted the success of letting go of the need to succeed.”

Tekken, in a lot of ways, is the game that changed Phi’s mindset enough to allow him to take the risks that’d end up finding him true success.

For reference, Tekken (Tekken 8 especially) requires a lot more “eating your vegetables” than almost any other fighting game franchise. The process of gaining true mastery is a long one, and it’s not always fun.

Matchup knowledge is just as important as knowing how to pilot your character, and there are a lot of cases when learning Tekken where players lose simply because of a knowledge gap. You have to sit in training mode for hours and study the game intensely if you want to compete in the highest ranks.

Failure is inevitable on the path to actually getting good at the game, and no amount of watching guides or doing high-level VoD review will tell you everything you need to know… Although it does help, seeing as Phi has made a career out of it.

His change in mindset comes through clearly in his coaching. By eliminating the ideals behind the way you “should” find long-term success and aspiring to be better from day-to-day, Phi has managed to make a game like Tekken accessible for many people outside of the fighting game community in a way no other creator has.

“I stopped thinking about the long-term intentionally a while ago. It was kind of built on that idea of expectation of success. The more time I spent thinking about the long-term, the more I’d set myself up for failure in many ways, I’d just start tweaking. It was important for me to set an arbitrary, long-term goal and just buckle down.”

Phi’s outlook on life being so close to the way he teaches Tekken, the fact that he’s evolved away from shutting himself down when he hits a big obstacle, is a sentiment that became apparent to me more and more as we spoke.

Being okay with failure and having fun with the process is essential, but the people he met on this path who have put their faith in him are also crucial part of why he’s so successful today.

People like Tone and Speedkicks who have consistently coached, practiced with, and supported Phi through competition after competition. People like Disguised Toast, BoxBox, and LilyPichu who trusted that he’d be the best teacher they could find. People like Arslan Ash, Knee, and all the other Tekken pros who have helped prop him up as a pillar of competitive and casual Tekken.

Phi has given a lot to the Tekken community, but they’ve also given a lot back.

That said, his growing YouTube following and time spent making content have certainly taken their toll.

Growing pains

At an event like Combo Breaker, Phi is practically a celebrity. Getting from one side of the convention center to the other was a tall order considering how often he’d get stopped by his fans to sign something, or how often people would thank him for helping him learn the game.

“I enjoy positive attention a lot. Every time feels pretty fresh. For now. I’m sure everybody gets to the point where it becomes tiring or more work. But, at this point in time, I enjoy most interactions I have with everybody. It took us forever to find these seats [for the interview], but each time we were stopped, I was like, ‘That was really cool, that was really cool, that was really cool.’

“I have this weird thing where, any game I play, I get really immersed in it and things don’t get old for me. I think that’s really beneficial in this case where I can genuinely enjoy when people come up and say hi.”

However, his competitive side has started slipping. The reality is that making so much content and investing hours upon hours into teaching people how to play takes away from his own time to grind as a competitor.

When asked whether or not becoming a full-time creator impacted his ability to compete, he had this to say:

“700%. Roughly. (laughs) I have spent more time teaching people how to backdash and block punish than, for example, in my elimination match, building the muscle memory to sidestep right duck when Victor has plus frames. These kinds of skills require not just research, but time under tension. Just like at the gym, time under the bar might be all you need, I just gotta fight a ton of Victors to do the thing. Right now, even if I know it, I can’t do it.”

For reference, this discussion came from just after Phi dropped out of Combo Breaker by losing to AO, a Victor player. His loss and the adjustments he should have made were fresh on in his mind, but he still made it to 33rd overall despite a crushing loss in pools that sent him to the lower bracket.

Phi facing off against AO, the player that’d ultimately knock him out of Combo Breaker

That said, AO was a TWT finalist and has a ton of experience under his belt as one of Japan’s best pros. There’s no shame in losing to him, but Phi clearly wanted to push himself further, especially considering that he’s repping Disguised now.

Being represented by an org and gaining so much popularity in a short time put a lot of extra pressure on him to perform.

“Not 700%? But probably 100%. (laughs) The pressure wasn’t that bad? But it was pretty bad. And, like, nobody on the team is pressured. I asked very point blank, ‘Are there competitive expectations?’, they said, ‘No, we want you to just be you.’ But I am neurotic, so I will constantly be like, ‘Well, will I get resigned if I play really poorly? What if I’m doing really well but I’m on stream and it looks bad? Because I’m a content guy.”

That last part may sound strange, like something that’d make you ask yourself, “How can he be playing well but look bad? That doesn’t make any sense.” Phi’s got a knack for “cheap” characters. Lili’s been his main in Tekken 8, and he played Noctis in Tekken 7.

Neither character is exactly loved by the greater Tekken community, and there are those who go out of their way to make Phi feel bad for winning, claiming he’s making it so far solely based on his character choice.

“I even thought of picking Steve just to look better, which is not something a competitor should be thinking of. People just don’t like Lili. I make one good Steve clip, it looks better than winning with Lili for the general public. They’d rather root for a cool character that loses than root for a character that’s lame.

“I think a competitor should never even engage with that thought process, not burn any energy at all debating it… But I do. I truly think I’m a content guy in that sense.”

A huge crowd would form around Phi any time he was playing a match in pools

Phi is the sort of person that’d travel across the country to an event to compete, only to retreat to his hotel room for the Grand Finals to livestream it and make YouTube content rather than being there to experience it. He’s someone who will bend over backwards for the sake of putting together videos and streams.

“Deep down, I know—gauging by like my life priorities and everything—it is always a content angle. Like, if I’m being 200% honest. I also put that very deep away to keep doing the reps and to motivate myself to compete, because I know I can. But… I have a core understanding of where I belong.”

Finding a future beyond Tekken

Now that Phi’s established an identity for himself as someone who is, for all intents and purposes, the Tekken guy, finding ways to evolve past that is something he may have to do at some point.

Though Tekken 8 is still thriving and there’s a ton of hype behind the game even months after release, there may come a point where that isn’t the case.

“When I started streaming in 2019, which was League of Legends, JRPGs, and then eventually Tekken, the plan was always, ‘Go to Project L. When Project L comes out, have your platform ready, so that when that game comes out, you will be the educator, the guy to listen to.’ That was always the plan, because I knew Tekken was small compared to, say, League, Fortnite, Valorant.

“The Riot game ends up usually being the biggest game in the space. It doesn’t dramatically destroy the numbers, but, in that space, it ends up being the biggest game. So, if fighting games are where I am and where my skillset lies, I should take the biggest game… Didn’t expect Tekken 8 to be so big,” Phi explained.

“In this case, my adaptation to that is to continue to create as positive a platform as possible. Reddit and Twitter have the negativity covered, they’ve got that. Finding people who play the game and enjoy my content is good. Am I concerned about Tekken dying off? Always. But not enough to stop doing it.

“I kind of have this naive, blind trust that I will figure something out. In the past, I’d let that looming threat stop me from doing anything. Out of anything I’ve learned in the last 5 years, I’ve learned to just do what’s in front of you, have a loose idea of what’s happening, and adjust if you need to.”

When I asked him about what he wants for the future, he just wants to keep on the grind. Sure, he could pivot to something else or try to capitalize on other games—and that’s something he could still do with 2XKO—but Phi isn’t after that for now.

He loves what he does, and he wants to keep doing it.

“I think that’s why I’m so happy lately. In the past 28 years of being alive, this is the happiest I’ve ever been. And I think it’s because I’m doing what I wanna do, and the path forward is just to do it a little better. I’d love to keep making daily videos, hang out with my girlfriend—hopefully by then, wife—go to tournaments when they pop up, hang out with friends.

“I’m sure at some point I’ll get bored, I’m sure at some point I’ll be looking for something else, but for me, right now, like… This is fantastic. I have so much gratitude that this is the position that life has decided to give me. I think that locking in on that gratitude is my top priority.

“My instinct is always, what could be better? What’s next? So I try really, really hard, every time someone says hi, every time I get a nice win, to be like, ‘We are in a really good spot.’ Five years from now, if the YouTube’s just a bit bigger, competition’s a bit better? That’s cool with me. Hopefully my friends are still around, hopefully we’re still chatting.

“That’s my 5 year plan: Do it again, but better. If I get a nice, big win that’s really marketable, I’d love that, too. But I don’t lock in on that too hard, the process is what matters most. Loving the process, loving the struggle… To me? It’s everything. And, right now, I love the struggle.”