Monday Morning Marth: 4/23

This series is a tribute to standard “Monday Morning Quarterback” columns in traditional sports. In it, I discuss my quick takeaways from the last week of the smash community. Consider this a mix of news and mild takes. Featured image from Vish’s Twitter – will take down, if requested.

Last weekend marked another chapter for Melee’s slow, but steady spring season. Leffen won Flatiron 3, but not without being taken to the brink by Axe, who took a set off the current world No. 3 in grand finals and nearly stole the tournament. Simultaneously, Plup traveled to Ohio and easily dispatched of the Midwest-heavy crowd, losing only a game in grand finals to Ryan Ford. Japanese Fox Sanne won Amaterasu in Japan, which you can learn more about in KayB’s recap, here.

Here are my personal takeaways.

1. PewPewU Makes A Splash

The longtime NorCal Marth legend has stayed a nationally relevant player since breaking into the spotlight, but it’s been relatively tough times for him in singles, with relatively ho-hum or worse showings at his last two majors attended. Yet at Flatiron 3, PewPewU looked excellent, playing far cleaner, with improved edgeguards and a renewed focus. It led to him finishing third, boasting wins over Zain, Captain Smuckers, Swedish Delight and Crush.

Moving forward, it’s hard to say what this means for PewPewU. He certainly looked a lot better against Fox, a matchup he said he had been working on, given his track record of losing to SFAT, previous losses to Crush, and a dropped set to KJH earlier in the year. Moreover, his victory against Swedish marked a second consecutive victory against him. This is notable because Swedish had beaten him three times in 2017 and 2016. Time will tell if PewPewU’s improved Fox can also help him reverse another historical trend of him losing to Shroomed.

PewPewU will also need to find an answer for mid-tier matchups, which goes beyond Axe being his personal kryptonite. For reference, he’s lost his last four sets against Duck, last two against HugS and was swept by aMSa at FB4. It wouldn’t be too surprising to see PewPewU try characters outside of his Marth and Fox against these players, but you could also argue that simply refining either of those two could be enough.

Either way, his Flatiron 3 performance was one of the biggest storylines of the weekend. If it’s indicative of anything, it’s a testament to PewPewU’s staying power and ability to remain strong in the current metagame.

2. Melee’s Most Underrated Rivalry

The title of this segment might be slight hyperbole, but I’d like to credit fellow Melee Stats member Brendan “Wheat” Malone for pointing this out to me: over 2018, Bananas and Mojo have shared one of the best regional rivalries in modern Melee. You can watch this every Monday night, but nearly no one outside of Texas talks about it.

Per the tafostats database maintained by tafokints, Wheat and Ovenn, Bananas is up 20-18 for 2018 sets. Fascinatingly enough, many of their sets are brutal sweeps in either players direction, with many of their games being just as lopsided, at least from a quick glance. If you’re ever bored on a Monday night, I suggest checking out Monday Night Melee, where you can watch them on a frequent basis.

3. Melee’s Most Underrated Rivalry Pt. 2

Surprise – there’s another underrated head-to-head I wanted to mention! Though they haven’t played nearly as many times as Mojo and Bananas, HugS and Ka-Master have had a few quietly impressive, but still noteworthy sets in their own history together. Here’s a quick recap, though I’m still uncertain on what sets are missing.

1. Ka defeats HugS at UCLA Monthly 5 in 2008, 2-1, making it to winners finals. This was part of Ka’s run to grand finals, in which he also beat Lucky and Zhu. 1-0, Ka.
2. Due to different rules surrounding grand finals sets back then, HugS played this as a continuation of the first set, starting off down 2-1. Eventually going down 4-2 in the set, HugS won three games in a row to carry SoCal on his back and defeat Ka at what was planned to be the West Coast’s final major before everyone would transition to Brawl. 1-1.
3. NINE YEARS LATER, Ka and HugS face off again at Bridgetown Blitz in losers semis. Ka defeats him 3-1. 2-1, Ka.
4. At The Big House 7, HugS sweeps Ka in a solid 2-0. 2-2.
5. HugS wins 2-1 at Poi Poundaz. 3-2, HugS.
6. HugS wins 2-1 at Flatiron 3. 4-2, HugS.

It’s not exactly Melee’s most consistent rivalry, with a large gap from 2008 to 2017, but it’s definitely one to watch in the future – or at least appreciate from afar as you pick something else to do for 15-20 minutes.

4. A Quick Recap of Patchless

When Crush, Slox and ZoSo went to compete at Flatiron 3 last weekend, New England hosted Patchless, a tournament that essentially served as an open invitation to battle for determining the region’s next best player, though it didn’t feature lint, Swiftbass or many others from Connecticut. Nonetheless, there were several noteworthy results in the Massachusetts and New Hampshire-dominated field.

New Hampshire No. 1 Kalvar won the event from losers, after being sent there early by Bank, a Massachusetts Marth player, in pools. In his losers run, Kalvar defeated a slew of opponents, including Mr. Lemon, Top Player Yasu, Project, Ses, th0rn, BigFoig and dudutsai. He went 20-2 in games leading to grand finals and then won 3-2, 3-0.

Finishing second under Kalvar was dudutsai, who had one of the most strangely clutch runs I can remember in New England regional history. In Top 24, dudutsai won winners quarters, semifinals and finals all in game five sets. Had he won the first set of grand finals, it would have been a fourth straight 3-2 victory.

What I Like:

What I Don’t Like:

  • Tournament organizer, EGTV COO and friend Calvin getting ruthlessly downvoted and flamed on Reddit for being honest.
  • A lack of a clear solution surrounding player bans, how to enforce them and what constitutes a ban.
  • No news on the Switch! Seriously, Nintendo – we need something to distract us before Smash Summit.

No. 2 Cinderella Run of All-Time: Javi at Apex 2012

Think of the best players from 2006: Ken, Azen, PC Chris, ChuDat and KoreanDJ are likely the first names in mind. If you’re a smash hipster, you might say Ek, Amsah, Mikael or other European/Japanese names. But how about smashers from Mexico?

Around 2006 came uploaded footage of Mexican matches to YouTube. Of note was the tech skill of a Fox named Javi. Though it was hard to gauge his precise skill, due to a lack of notable major results from him, his execution nonetheless awed the few smashers who knew of him. A cynic at the time might have been impressed by his speed, but scoffed at his “mind games” and decision-making.

Javi didn’t even play in a traditional way. He used his left thumb to move the control stick, but used his pointer, middle and index fingers to tap buttons on the right side of the GameCube controller in a grip now referred to as “claw” for what it resembles.

This gave Javi a bizarre playstyle unlike any other Fox player in the world. For example, where most other Fox players preferred to start their combos via grab or using Fox’s aerial combos, Javi was a master of converting off knockdown situations with shine and would mix up hyper-aggression with ultra-passive lasering.

Six years later and then just an obscure relic of Melee’s past, Javi came to the forefront of the scene at Apex 2012, one of the most important events in smash history. It boasted its own circuit, the first notable once since the Evo/MLG days, a dedicated stream schedule for multiple games and a heavy international presence.

In fact, the primary reason Javi could attend Apex came from winning an event qualifier in Mexico, the Ticket to Apex tournament. Take a wild guess on what happened after he won.

Now at Apex, with a slew of the world’s best players in his path to immortality, Javi stood as his country’s greatest hope, on the biggest stage he had ever known.

Eking by Cactuar 2-1 in the first round of Top 64, Javi then lost a close 2-1 set with Lovage. Now in losers, he went through Redd and Weon-X before playing KoreanDJ, a returning legend of Melee.

Consider the different paths of their legacies: KoreanDJ was one of the players documented within “The Smash Brothers,” released a year later, for being one of the greatest Melee players ever. Javi, though he technically played in the same era, was nothing more than a footnote among tech skill nerds and extreme scene enthusiasts. Though KoreanDJ certainly remains a “what-if” to this day – due to his academic pursuits somewhat curtailing his career – Javi was an even bigger one, due to where he hailed from.

In their set, Javi utterly dismantled KoreanDJ, three-stocking his Sheik in game one and subsequently two-stocking his Marth. He then moved on to play VaNz, who was fresh off a strong third place at The Big House and one of the most promising talents of the post-Brawl era. In the previous round, VaNz had taken out fellow rising star PewPewU.

The Mexican Fox started off slow, losing the first game by a stock. But he adapted, solidly two-stocking VaNz in the second game and doing it again in the third, despite a Sheik counter pick. His next opponent was the man who sent him to losers bracket: Lovage.

He’s known for being a commentator today, but back in the late post-Brawl era, Lovage was one of the scene’s most admired Fox players. A tech skill revolutionary that had actually won The Big House a couple of months before Apex, Lovage was among the “demigods” of his time, though he had never made a major top eight.

Playing more patiently and cleaner than he did in the winners set, Javi 2-0’d Lovage to then play Hax, a then-world class Captain Falcon player. Many on the East Coast believed that Hax was someone with the potential to usurp even the gods themselves, giving Javi yet another rising star to strike down with a thunderous 2-0.

Javi’s dominance over players like Hax and Lovage in their losers set made him look like a player worthy of fighting smashers from the top echelon of Melee. When he sat down to play Dr. PeePee, someone who had just cemented his place as one of the game’s elite a year ago, not even he could have predicted that his legacy would forever change in that moment.

A man who barely spoke a lick of English and was holding his controller the wrong way had now just defeated a contender for best Melee player in the world, now moving into top four and giving Mexico its greatest smash representative of all-time.

Though Javi lost a lopsided 3-0 to Hungrybox in losers semifinals, it didn’t matter. Javi made history.

He continued being a notable player for about another two years, with many after his Apex 2012 run claiming that he was an easy pick for top ten. Though he finished within the Top 20 for 2013 SSBMRank, since then, Javi’s fallen off. Those who have only been following Melee for a few years may not have ever heard of him.

Javi has had a few solid performances here and there, but for the most part, his impact on the scene is restricted to his amazing showing at Apex 2012. This makes his legacy a difficult one to quantify, if not define in comparison to players who have been around longer, but not reached the same heights as his Apex 2012.

But think about that one performance. From Javi’s status of being from a relatively obscure smash region like Mexico, to him having to beat some of the United States’ most established competitors, to even just his presence at the event alone, who could have ever bet on him?

Outside of Armada, Javi was the international scene’s best placing player at Apex, with many of his European contemporaries drowning in pools. He didn’t just represent Mexico – he had proven himself as an international legend.

From Mexico to New Jersey, Javi’s performance at Apex 2012 will forever be remembered as one of the most thrilling, surprising and greatest underdog runs in Melee history.

Monday Morning Marth: 4/16

This series is a tribute to standard “Monday Morning Quarterback” columns in traditional sports. In it, I discuss my quick takeaways from the last week of the smash community. Consider this a mix of news and mild takes. Featured image from NJzFinest’s Twitter – will take down, if requested.

Welcome to another edition of Monday Morning Marth. Last weekend offered a couple of Tristate tournaments won by Crush, as well as Wheat winning the Georgia Arcadian and Wizzrobe taking GHQ Regionals, despite Kels taking a set. Furthermore, the Melee community is still preparing for the next edition of Smash Summit, with Armada now in the United States for the first time in three months.

Disclaimer: This morning, Hax posted his “B0xx Manifesto.” I haven’t had enough time to review it in full detail, but if you watch the Melee Stats Podcast tomorrow night, you’ll hear more of my thoughts, along with others who are far more qualified – and less apathetic than I am – to talk about the topic.

1. La Luna’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Spring

Since his initially strong 13th place start to the year at Genesis 5, La Luna has struggled. He had consecutive runner-up showings at No Fun Allowed 2 and Esports Arizona, but it’s been downhill since then.

His 17th at EGLX was disappointing, while 25th at Full Bloom 3 left quite a bit to be desired. To make matters worse, his 9th at Noods Noods Noods: Oakland Edition and dismal 5th at Gemini last weekend only added to a season of mediocrity. These placings don’t even tell the full story.

At these four tournaments, he lost to Legend, Kalamazhu, lloD, Rocky, iBDW, AbsentPage and more. These are not bad players, but as someone ranked in 2017 SSBMRank’s Top 20, La Luna should not be losing consistently to players outside of his perceived skill range – especially Fox players ranked outside of the Top 50.

So what’s gone wrong for La Luna? It’s hard to say. From the eye test, he honestly just looks sloppier, less disciplined and distracted, a far cry from the Marth that eliminated Leffen at Evo 2017. I’m nobody to tell him what to do, but I can’t help but feel that if he spent more time at locals than he did in Mexico, he’d be performing up to his standards.

However, as one player falls, another rises.

2. AbsentPage is the Truth 2.0

In case you didn’t believe me from before, this man is the real deal. Along with a strong fourth place showing at Gemini, AbsentPage finished second at the Scarlet Classic at Rutgers University.

Last weekend, he defeated Swedish Delight, Rishi and La Luna, also taking a set off Crush in Fox dittos. Given his plethora of wins against other players (Gahtzu and lloD come to mind), these victories showcase the Minnesota prodigy’s expertise across numerous matchups.

I previously wrote that I thought AbsentPage was an easy pick for Melee’s Top 50 right now. After last weekend, I’m willing to put this guy in the top 30, if not higher. Sound ridiculous? Compare his resume with someone like Colbol. When we’re looking back at Smash Summit 6, we’ll be wondering why he didn’t get voted in.

3. Smash Summit 6 Cynicism

Is it just me or has the Summit voting process lost its luster? My friend KayB talked about this in further detail on last week’s Melee Stats podcast, but I’m starting to wonder if he’s on to something.

It might be due to exhaustion and repetition from previous editions of Smash Summit, with the amount of investment in them seemingly increasing with each edition of the tournament. Perhaps it’s the underlying dread that whomever we vote for as an underdog will ultimately be seeded to play a Big Six member and lose. That sounds defeatist at first, especially because it’s not Summit’s fault, but think about it.

Simply put, the current talent pool, while impressive, doesn’t necessarily offer rare or even upset-worthy matchups in the most likely seeding. I don’t say this to offend the qualifying players, but we’ve either seen many of these matchups before or practically know the outcome.

But who knows? According to Slime in a Reddit AMA, Beyond The Summit is using a modified Swiss format to run Smash Summit 6. I’m cautiously skeptical of how well this will work, given the fiasco behind last year’s round robin stages, but we’ll see if this could lead to more interesting matchups than ones predicted in a standard double elimination bracket.  Maybe I’ll have to eat my words in a month.

4. Flatiron 3 Prop Bets

It’s hard to make a prediction for Flatiron 3 because more top players could attend. Therefore, I’ve come up with some prop bets for the event, based on who is currently attending. Take a look at them and let me know what you think, for over and under.

References to marijuana on commentary throughout Top 32 (4.2)
Taunts by Crush (6)
Number of pop offs in Top 8 (5)
East Coast players in Top 8 (3.5)

5. Where in the world is Armada (San Diego)?

I briefly mentioned this last week, but it warrants mention on its own now. Last weekend marked Armada’s return to the United States. Though he hasn’t entered a significant tournament since Genesis 5, the Swede could be making his first appearance on a tournament stream sometime this week, if not soon before Smash Summit 6.

This stretch of time is the longest span Armada has gone without entering a tournament. Intuitively, I think he’ll be fine due to the large skill gap that still exists between him and the rest of the field, but I hesitate to be confident in his chances to win a supermajor.

For reference, he’s lost his last sets against each of the top six, save for Mango. In his career, he holds positive records over all of them, but the more Armada’s gone without a major, the less relevant his past victories feel, even if he is still Melee’s greatest player of all-time. I’d still favor him over someone like Mew2King, but Leffen or Plup have been far more active.

That said, if there’s anyone that can prove any doubter wrong, it’s him. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Armada begin a seasonal stretch where he dominates everyone, but make no mistake: the former world champion of Melee has a hell of a mountain to climb.

What I like:

What I don’t like:

  • More UCF flat-earthing from another Marth player, or close to it
  • BAN SMASH SUMMIT RAPS
  • Post-tourney interviews with Crush

No. 3 Cinderella Run of All-Time: Taj at Genesis 2

The middle of 2011 brought the Melee community its most anticipated tournament in years: mid-July’s Genesis 2. Held in NorCal by the famed immortal group DBR, it had Armada, a competitively rejuvenated Mango, Dr. PeePee, Mew2King, Hungrybox and more of the best talent Melee had to offer from the United States, Canada and Europe.

Yet in attendance was someone who would later be remembered as the hero of Genesis 2: Tony “Taj” Jackson, a long-time Arizona smash veteran and Marth/Mewtwo extraordinaire.

Playing in the same region as Wobbles, Forward and Axe, Taj still boasted major top eight showings at Pound 2 and FC-Diamond, proving himself as a respectable competitor. Taj also once double eliminated Ken at a SoCal local in late 2006, defeating him in Marth dittos twice. Until that point, only Azen had ever beaten Ken in that matchup. Another fun fact about Taj: he and Forward were the first team to ever take a set off the vaunted duo of Ken and Isai in doubles, with Taj playing Fox in the set.

Following the golden age of Melee, Taj saw up and down results. Before Genesis 2, the last comparable event that Taj competed came at Pound 4, where he finished a lowly 49th place. Later on in 2010, Taj finished ninth at Don’t Go Down There Jeff, but most expected him to get somewhere around 17th or 25th at Genesis 2. Keep in mind that Marth hadn’t been doing well in the metagame, with the character’s best representative in Mew2King now mostly playing Sheik.

But for all his weaknesses and strengths as a player, one trait above all else defined Taj: his knack for ending Falco stocks at absurdly early percents. Combined with his tricky movement, which involved the use of unorthodox tactics like sticky walking and moonwalking, Taj made for a fearsome foe against many of his opponents.

Before bracket even started, Taj shocked many with one of the biggest upsets of the tournament by defeating Dr. PeePee in pools, 2-0. Over the last three quarters of a year, Dr. PeePee had put his name in for contention of best player in the world, due to his recent victories at Revival of Melee 3, Winter Gamefest VI and Pound V. Taj beating him came as a surprise, even if Dr. PeePee was sick through most of Genesis 2.

Already starting a ruckus through his massive upset, Taj earned himself a spot in Genesis 2’s final bracket. He dominated SoCal Falco DEHF in the first round of winners bracket, moving on to play Hax: one of Melee’s most promising young talents and a Captain Falcon notorious for being strong against Marth.

Keep in mind that Taj had previously bad experiences against Captain Falcon before, having also lost to ORLY in pools. Perhaps knowing Hax’s proficiency in the matchup ahead of time, Taj won, with Marth and Mewtwo.

Taj then had to play the SoCal Peach MacD in winners quarters, a rising player in California who previously took a game off Armada in Peach dittos. Taj won 3-2 before preparing for his hardest test yet: Mango. Even Mew2King, Marth’s premier representative for the time, had yet to figure the latter out, losing their previous set, 3-1. It was here that Taj’s legacy changed forever.

Mango started off against Taj as expected, zero to deathing him in less than 30 seconds. With his friend G$ screaming in the background over every hit he gained, Mango took yet another stock, still keeping his first one and locking down Taj with his movement and lasers.

However, Taj stayed resilient. Taking advantage of Mango’s natural aggression and cockiness in his play, Taj pounced on the few openings he gained, profiting off mistakes Mango would make off-stage or in predictable habits he noticed. Where Mew2King would desperately try to attack Mango out of lasers and shield pressure, Taj simply tanked the hits or ran away, biding his time and waiting for Mango to throw himself at him.

Even though Taj didn’t have as lengthy of a punish game, he didn’t need to. He just had to throw him off stage, where you didn’t have to be Mew2King or Armada to close out a stock against Falco. After capitalizing on a few mistakes made by Mango, Taj finally stole game one.

Mango took him back to the same stage, now playing more cautiously around his shield, shooting more lasers and fading his aerials backwards as he approached him. If Taj wanted to beat him, he couldn’t just sit in shield all game. By the end of the match, the first game looked like a fluke.

In the third game, Taj tried playing more aggressively, throwing out more aerials and dash dancing in a Ken-esque manner around Mango. This played into Mango’s game and effectively allowed the SoCal Falco to play more on the offensive as a response, with Mango gaining a three to one stock lead.

Mango once again felt comfortable in approaching, beginning to play once again at a closer range. Yet again, Taj clawed a comeback, taking another stock and reversing a situation near the edge of Battlefield against Mango. Game three was starting to look a lot like game one.

A tilted Mango ran at Taj, trying to end the game and assaulting Taj’s shield in the corner of the stage. But the Arizona Marth wouldn’t budge. Finally, Mango desperately threw a second forward smash, which Taj instantly shield grabbed with his back to the ledge. One throw off stage led to an infuriating stock loss at 31 percent for Mango and a 2-1 set lead for Taj.

“What the fuck happened?” asked commentator HMW out loud, to both jeers and cheers from a confused crowd. “Taj won and the projector went out.”

Following a brief 20 seconds of no gameplay, Mango and Taj went at it again with the lights turned on. This time, Mango mixed up both preemptive, defensive, retreating play with his trademark offense, either keeping Taj choked in the corner of the stage or attacking ahead of the latter’s position. This ensured that Mango wouldn’t get grabbed, leading him to roll over his Arizona peer with a resounding three-stock victory.

To start game five on Pokemon Stadium, Taj adapted. Instead of waiting in shield for Mango to throw out a move, he proactively neutral aired, catching Mango before he could attack. A few swings of Marth’s sword and a Ken combo later, Taj took a quick lead.

Taj’s sudden offense and callouts of Mango’s attack patterns caught the SoCal Falco off guard, as he once again hit Mango off-stage into an edgeguard situation. Perhaps scared of Taj’s edgeguard prowess, Mango didn’t jump, recovering too late and just under the stage to go down four stocks to two.

The SoCal Falco brought it back, not to be intimidated by the start to the final game of the set. Eventually, the two went to last stock, with Taj having a huge percent lead. But in one of the most out-of-nowhere ways to end a set ever, Taj then tanked a Mango laser shot too closely, throwing out a forward smash to send Mango off-stage. One simple edgeguard later and Taj had made it to winners finals, having defeated Melee’s two best Falcos to make it there.

”We got Taj in winner’s finals,” said HMW on commentary. “Ain’t that some shit?”

Years later, Taj said that heading into Genesis 2, he attended primarily to watch his friends Axe and Wobbles compete, while playing on the side. Having already defeated Hax, MacD, Dr. PeePee and Mango, Taj felt like he had nothing left to prove. Moreover, he dreaded the implicit pressure of possibly facing Mango again.

He picked Mewtwo in winners finals’ first two games, gathering a bit of golf applause from the crowd and occasional cheers when he did something well, but ultimately not being able to keep up with Armada, who, in contrast to Taj’s competitive reluctance, looked as focused as ever to win his first American major. In the third game, Taj switched to Marth, but Armada dominated him in a three-stock victory, with a final stitchface pull leading to Taj effectively quitting out of the set.

Awaiting Taj in losers finals was a red-hot and furious Mango, fresh off wins over Shroomed and Hungrybox. Out of respect to Taj, I won’t go into detail for what happened, but any longtime Melee fan knows that when discussing his run at Genesis 2, the Arizona Marth’s brutal end to the tournament can’t exactly be ignored.

Regardless, Taj’s run at Genesis 2 involved a longtime scene veteran showing that an old dog absolutely could keep up with a few of the scene’s greats for the time. It involved someone who took down two of the best players in the world years after many considered him to be well past his prime. In the post-Brawl era, Taj became the first ever “non-god” to defeat multiple gods at a major.

Today, Taj doesn’t play as much Melee in tournament anymore, though he’s still among Arizona’s best players under Axe. At his last national, Evo 2017, Taj finished a ho-hum 65th, but given his performance at Genesis 2, it’s safe to say that he’s already made his mark on the scene.

Monday Morning Marth: 4/9

This series is a tribute to standard “Monday Morning Quarterback” columns in traditional sports. In it, I discuss my quick takeaways from the last week of the smash community. Consider this a mix of news and mild takes. Featured image from Esports Arena Twitter – will take down, if requested.

In a week that’s been defined by endless arguing between community members on Twitter, it’s easy to forget that two pretty substantial tournaments happened on Saturday: Fight Pitt 8 and Noods Noods Noods: Oakland Edition.

1. In Bronze Comes Westballz

Hungrybox and Plup unsurprisingly took the top two spots at Noods, but Westballz had his best performance in months. He defeated Rocky, Shroomed and double eliminated Wizzrobe, only losing the tournament’s top two.

Looking at his sets, it’s hard to say Westballz necessarily exceeded expectations as much he simply performed to the highest of his perceived skill range. A cynic might say that beating Wizzrobe twice, even if he is a top 10 player, simply reflects the SoCal Falco’s expertise in the Captain Falcon matchup, while beating Shroomed on its own isn’t too impressive, due to Shroomed’s recent decline.

By the eye test though, Westballz demonstrated a lot more discipline within his play. His improved laser game and focus on positioning stood out, as he didn’t overextend on hits, stayed composed and picked his spots carefully without being too conciliatory. Though Westballz can attribute some of his success against Wizzrobe in their second set to Wizzrobe SD’ing mid-tech chase, that’s also a part of Melee you can’t ignore.

Since finishing in the top 10 for 2016, it’s been a tough stretch of time for Westballz. He’s still an elite Falco, but his up-and-down results following his initial rise to the top have been disheartening for his fans. Most of this can be attributed to a lot of Westballz’ gameplay (heavy use of crouch cancel, unsafe shield pressure mixups and speed) having new solutions in the current metagame. Noods won’t change how he’s perceived in terms of performance evaluation, but it nonetheless shows Westballz at his best.

2. Fight Pitt 8 In a Nutshell

Watching FP8 was a blast. Between the simultaneous hilarity and “did he really just say that?” moments between “non-esports” FendrickLamar and always-boundary-pushing NEOH Carroll on commentary, I thought this was one of the most enjoyable top eights to watch live. Or at least barring the groan-worthy few seconds of Carroll saying “gay” and “rape” repetitively, if I recall correctly, in reference to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

In first place came lloD, who looked fairly untouchable throughout most of the tournament until losing a close game five set with Colbol in winners finals. If you thought that set was exciting, you had a lot more to come – he and Colbol battled for two more sets, with lloD prevailing in the runbacks, 3-1 and 3-2 to win the tournament.

Santi and AbsentPage, who quickly dispatched of Junebug, 3-1, had the set of the tournament in a wacky, clip-heavy slobberknocker of a losers semifinals set, in which the longtime SoCal hidden boss vanquished his Minnesota counterpart. Sadly for Santi, his tournament ended just as quickly as he was sent to losers bracket, with a quick 3-0 loss to lloD.

3. My Smash Summit Pick: The Marth That Isn’t Zain

I was asked this last time on the new Melee Stats Podcast and I stumbled around on my answer, initially picking Zain and Ice as my first two candidates. However, I changed my mind and eventually decided to go with Stango, due to a few factors.

The majority of casual spectators have never heard of Stango, due to his relative obscurity as Philadelphia’s unquestioned top dog. Check his head to heads against the rest of his region, with many of them able to be described accurately as “infinity and zero” (or two, in the case of R2DLiu, the region’s No. 2). He also boasts several noteworthy wins over the last half of a year, having beaten Colbol, Abate, Darkatma, Android and Rishi, among others throughout his career.

Playing at Summit gives Stango a chance to actually showcase his skills against the best players. For reference, he has taken Hax, Crush and Mango to game five. You can see Zain play on a semi-regular basis against fellow elite players, but Stango hasn’t had the opportunity to travel or take as many names as some of his contemporaries.

I want to mention something else that’s semi-related to Stango, but more of a broad take as well: even though he’s not ranked among the game’s elite, since when has that ever deterred anyone from being voted into Summit? Were the invitational only meant for the world’s best players, the whole process would have been exposed as a sham. Simply put, if someone is entertaining and good enough, they’re qualified to make it in. Is he really any “worse” of a pick than Blea Gelo, Alex19 or Kage?

If you want the eye test rationale behind voting him in, of note is Stango’s ability to adapt to his opponents mid-set. Though he lacks some of the finer execution and grit to clutch out sets against top-level opponents, he’s extremely good at picking up on patterns in a game and figuring out quick solutions to his opponents.

Ask anyone in Tristate, Philadelphia or people that have played him. Stango is the real deal and absolutely has the potential to benefit from Summit exposure.

4. Still No Progress By The 25

I was about to go into detail about my frustrations with the lack of any update by the 5/25 regarding the status of box controllers and “arduino adapter” solutions, but my friend Ambisinister pretty much summarizes it better than I could.

When are we going to get an answer about this? Say what you want about CEO differentiating legality between different types of box controllers, but at least it’s been transparent about the details behind its decision making. I think it’s time we get an official update from the committee that isn’t just rumors or hearsay from a member.

Speaking of receiving an update from a group of supposed “authority,” let’s discuss another prominent issue.

5. Women and the The State of the Smash Union

I don’t want to get into too many details, but in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last two weeks, take a look. It’s not flattering – the long story short is that an argument online between two members of the Michigan Melee community blew up into a chaotic discussion on issues of player conduct, sexism and accountability in the smash scene.

It’s beyond disappointing that people in the smash community are being harassed, even among progress that’s been made over the last decade. Even if you disagree with proposed ideas, emptily advocating for civility (without a proposed solution or any real insight) or erasing marginalized people’s experiences lacks empathy and furthers needless discussion without resolution.

I’m not in a position to point fingers, but I’d like to propose a potential solution: a Skype call between the Five and women leaders in smash to discuss an agreed upon, long-term player conduct code at events. It might be uncomfortable – and perhaps it should be done behind closed doors – but I feel like it’s necessary at this point to discuss sustainable, ethical and strong solutions to problems of harassment, sexual assault and other conduct issues.

Of course, enforcing these policies a difficult proposition. TOs of each region barely have any authority over each other when it comes to deciding on UCF, let alone enough resources to tackle a topic as pernicious as sexism. I frankly don’t think it’s possible, nor necessarily ethical, to hold local TOs to a “national” standard.

At the very least though, a conversation that isn’t on Twitter could lead to making progress.

What I Like

What I Don’t Like:

 

No. 4 Cinderella Run of All-Time: Bombsoldier at Jack Garden Tournament

In order to understand the legend of Bombsoldier, it’s crucial to appreciate the Jack Garden Tournament, one of the most prestigious Melee tournaments of its era. Hosted by none other than CaptainJack, the event gave the scene its first truly esteemed international championship.

Despite MLG running all of its significant events within the United States, remember that at this point in time, most smashers still considered Japan a vastly superior region to the United States in terms of top-level talent. “The Smash Brothers” documentary partially covers this, but Japan’s talent went far beyond just the frequently traveling, major-winning CaptainJack.

For example, the Japanese Fox Masashi was considered one of CaptainJack’s closest rivals. It’s said that when CaptainJack visited the United States for the first time, he told many fellow smashers that Masashi, not himself, was truly Japan’s best player.

In contrast to Masashi was Thunders, a Fox who is known as the namesake of the “Thunders combo.” Rumor has it that Thunders once multishined over 100 times in a row – even back in 2005, though it’s never been recorded or confirmed for sure.

Peach main Mikael, now remembered as one of Armada’s biggest influences, was another rising talent within Japan. Before the tournament, Mikael said that he felt unimpressed by Ken’s game against Peach, boasting that if the two were to play in bracket, he would defeat Ken.

Japan’s talent went even beyond its most internationally known players. Aniki, Masashi’s brother, was a legendary Link main notorious for not wavedashing.

These factors, along with the presence of American legends in Ken and Isai, made the Jack Garden Tournament one to remember.

Ken ended up winning, without dropping a set in his most impressive feat yet as a competitive Melee player. But somehow, he wasn’t the story of the tournament. It wasn’t even his longtime friend Isai, who quickly lost before Top 24, nor was it any of the players listed above.

Instead, the underdog run of Jack Garden Tournament came in the form of a little-known East Japanese farm boy, by the tag of Bombsoldier. A teenager with little experience playing at major events, he played Falco and finished second place, despite no one from outside his region having ever heard of him.

Using brutal downair to shine combos, hyper aggressive lasers and displaying techniques years beyond his contemporaries, Bombsoldier looked like a Melee terminator sent from the future to destroy the opposition, blitzing through CaptainJack, Jing and Masashi, three of Japan’s best players, at this tournament. Fittingly, the player who sent him to losers bracket was RAIN, a fellow player from East Japan.

In particular against the Fox players (Jing and Masashi), Bombsoldier’s combo game stood out more than anything else. His performance against these two, along with showcasing the power of Falco’s punishes on Fox, pushed the Falco vs. Fox metagame that much further (at least from Falco’s perspective). Remember that this matchup is among Melee’s most iconic character matchups ever. Without Bombsoldier, it’s hard to say if it would have ever developed in the same way.

Even against Ken, Bombsoldier put up quite a fight. In their two matches of grand finals, he double two-stocked Ken, frequently making the king of smash look helpless. Where the American Marth’s dash dance would normally go unchallenged by other players, Bombsoldier’s endless flurry of lasers, shield pressure and tech skill created a relentless force of nature that pushed Ken to the brink of defeat.

Keep in mind that Falco had been seen by many as a primarily defensive character. Though he had strong representation within the scene, most Falco players played at longer distances, using lasers to camp out against opponents and fishing for forward smash KOs.

Bombsoldier was different, playing at far closer ranges to his opponents, comboing them in ways that no one ever even thought of and overwhelming them. This was aggression on a level that no Melee player from the United States had ever seen before.

Though Ken eventually won, Bombsoldier became the subject of myths within the American scene, due to how frequently at times he made even Ken look helpless. His impact went beyond displaying what Falco could do as a character. It illustrated Melee’s seemingly unlimited potential as a fighting game – particularly in how hard you could combo your opponent for.

The threat of Bombsoldier’s combo game forced others to try to do the same with their own character. And the greatest example of this came from how Ken ended up defeating him: through using Marth’s chaingrabs on Falco.

Overwhelmed by Bombsoldier’s mechanically superior play, Ken resorted to using this technique, along with playing far more defensively. These were tactics that he previously considered dishonorable, but now had to use to achieve victory. In a way, Bombsolider could be attributed as someone who indirectly was the catalyst to the importance of Marth’s chaingrabs on Falco in the matchup.

One of the strangest aspects about Bombsoldier’s legacy is how his relatively small resume is outweighed by his tremendous influence on the metagame. Players like PC Chris, DaShizWiz and Dope took quite a bit of inspiration from what they saw in Bombsoldier. Soon, they too would begin extending their hits that much further, just like the Jack Garden Tournament breakout star. His innovations became the new standard for excellence.

Eventually, Bombsoldier traveled to the United States, with the promise of another Ken-Bombsoldier set, among other possibilities, making his return to a supermajor that much more exciting. Sadly, Bombsoldier finished only 17th at this tournament, losing to Drephen and fellow Falco godfather Forward.

That was his last notable Melee event. Bombsoldier dabbled in Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Project M for a little bit before once again fading from the scene’s memory. Today, it’s unclear, if not unknown, what he’s up to.

Watch any of his sets from Jack Garden Tournament or if you watch any Falco today, you’ll see shades of his ineffable impact on Melee.

If you’d like to learn more about Bombsoldier, I highly recommend this excellent piece on him, along with this Last Stock Legends episode.

Monday Morning Marth: 4/2

This is part of a new series that I’m trying to do, as a tribute to standard “Monday Morning Quarterback” columns in traditional sports. In this series, I discuss my quick takeaways from the last week of the smash community.

Last weekend was a bit of a retreat to normalcy after Full Bloom 4, so for the most part, this column will be short. I’ll also be discussing a few of my thoughts for some out-of-game topics pertinent to the smash scene.

1. AbsentPage is really good

Before AbsentPage overtook Slayer as Minnesota’s best player, the state was mostly known for hosting the world’s best Kirby main in Triple R. Older scene veterans would recognize Aarosmashguy for beating Scar at Event 52 in 2008.

Suddenly, AbsentPage has put his state on the map. Over the last ten months or so, AbsentPage has turned from a mega-talented, but obscure local-slayer into a dark horse threat against top 25-30 players.

He hasn’t made a major top eight yet, but the results show a player rapidly ascending the Melee ranks as one of its most promising players. Let’s take a look at how he’s done over his last ten months at notable tournaments, using both data compiled by Save above and at what’s happened since.

Smash ‘N’ Splash 3: 17th, beating Trulliam, Vro and Michael, losing to Plup and n0ne
Evo 2017: 25th, beating Lovage, lloD, KJH and Eddy Mexico, losing to Plup and aMSa
Shine 2017: 49th, losing to MikeHaze and SFAT
GT-X 2017: 33rd, losing to MacD and Crush

Super Rubicon 2: 4th, losing to n0ne and JustJoe
ASH@WIT #140: 3rd, beating Michael, losing to Kels X 2
House of Paign 15: 3rd, beating Michael, Reeve, losing to Prince Abu and lloD
The Winter Theater: 3rd, losing to Captain Faceroll and Zamu
Genesis 5: 49th, beating L, lost to SFAT and Laudandus
Full Bloom 4: 9th, beating Ryan Ford, Gahtzu, lloD and Rik, losing to Ginger and aMSa

House of Paign 17: 1st, beating Fiction X 2

Though he’s definitely struggled at times in smaller out-of-state regions, AbsentPage typically dominates Minnesota and has dark horse potential at nationals. If his last two weekends give any indication, we could see the multi-character playing prodigy’s No. 74 SSBMRank go up by the end of the year. Based on results for just this year, I’d say he should be on anyone’s top 50,

2. Is ChuDat…Back?

Let’s not mince words here. ChuDat has sucked over the last half of a year – and I think he’d agree. Whether it’s the inherent pressure to perform at a top level or more players becoming familiar at invalidating the Ice Climbers, his results against players not named Mew2King have been lackluster since his solid fifth at DreamHack Denver 2017.

However, Respawn #6 provided a brief glimmer of hope for the all-time great Ice Climbers player. Heading into it, Chu was certainly the favorite, but there was quietly a solid amount of talent that entered the event, between a competitively motivated Ice, hidden Marth talent Dart! and tons of strong European players.

ChuDat did drop a set to Ice in winners finals, but he also solidly 3-0’d Dart!, one of the most historically strong “hidden bosses” of the greater smash community, and unsurprisingly swept Overtriforce in losers finals. Following that, he then beat Ice in two sets.

Even if it’s a far cry from the days of beating Mango three times in a row, winning a tournament last weekend should help ChuDat regain some confidence. I’m not going to say that he’s anywhere close to Top 10, let alone Top 25 for this year so far, but for some of his fans who have been through tough times rooting for him, keep an eye out for how he does next major – or if he gets voted into Smash Summit 6.

3. lloD wins See Me On LAN

To end last year, lloD looked like one of the most promising players. At this point, many would consider him to be the second best Peach. But an underrated storyline for this year has been lloD taking a bit of a step back. He remains a strong player, arguably Top 25, but even he’s acknowledged his greater struggles lately, writing about this in more detail.

At SMOL, lloD enjoyed a return to form, defeating 2saint, Slox and KJH to win the tournament, while only dropping a set in grand finals to KJH. A fun fact about the second set with KJH: he actually went Fox in game three and won.

Could we be seeing more of lloD’s secondaries come out in bracket? I don’t expect it, but he’s brought out Fox and Sheik before at locals, so it’s not like lloD playing other characters would come as a huge surprise . It’d be pretty cool to see lloD pursue this strategy, though his Peach obviously looks like his best character.

4. Accountability in Melee

This isn’t a more prominent topic now than it was in the back, but sometimes I genuinely wonder if it’s possible to ever hold top figures and players accountable for their actions within the Melee scene. I’m bringing this up because of recent controversies surrounding Ninja, of the streaming/Fortnite community, and Sadokist, a commentator from CS:GO – though the hypothetical scenarios I’m worried about go beyond instances of immaturity.

For smash, we’ve seen issues of sexual assault or battery in a player’s history be a prominent topic of debate for tournament organizers. It feels gross that the community once was overwhelmingly fine with Leffen being banned for poor sportsmanship, but that when the above topics come into play in several player controversies last year, many of smash’s leaders remained quiet or reluctant to take action. Below, Tafokints sums up many of the dilemmas that face TOs in these situations.

How much power do organizations actually have to stand up and say “we will ban X player for Y action?” Looking into the details, it just feels like the onus still remains on the player to not actively harm their scene.

Let’s say a player gets accused of sexual assault, but by someone out of the community. Do tournament organizers have the right to instantly ban such a player? What due process, if there’s any, can the player expect outside of the law? Can a TO trying to protect their own player base be sued by someone for trying to ban them? How about if someone is assaulted by a TO in their region? Couldn’t anyone hold an entire scene hostage if they really wanted to?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. As controversies pile up in other gaming communities, I fear that one day Melee will have its own moment of reckoning – but we’ll be powerless to do anything about it.

What I Like:

  • Michael’s beautifully minimalist Smash Summit nomination page
  • This kickass series from Fiction
  • Heir 5 reaching a cap of 512 people in 12 hours

What I Don’t Like:

No. 5 Cinderella Run of All-Time: aMSa at Apex 2015

There’s no more beloved player than the Japanese Yoshi legend aMSa. He’s part of a small group of people that can say they’ve heard an entire room root for them against Mango. When discussing his run at Apex 2015, it’s important to understand his career leading up to it.

His rise to prominence came early in 2013, when he posted a video of himself performing Yoshi tech skill faster than anyone else. Becoming Japan’s best player years later, he demonstrated flawless execution with a character who many thought strong in theory, but far too difficult to play at the top level. In an early edition of Melee’s matchup chart, Yoshi held losing or even matchups with everyone except for Kirby.

Despite perceived notions about his character, aMSa saw a modest amount of success. He finished as the 77th best player in the world for the first edition of SSBMRank in 2013. At his first supermajor in Evo 2013, he took a game off Mew2King.

Half a year later, aMSa shocked the world at Apex 2014, his original breakout tournament. Here, he defeated Fly Amanita, ChuDat and Silent Wolf, showing the world that his character could absolutely be good enough to hang with some of the best players. Immediately, he became a stalwart of the scene.

Throughout his heavily active 2014, aMSa performed inconsistently. He often struggled in best-of-five sets, where his opponents had enough time to adjust to his character and begin abusing Yoshi’s lack of good defensive options.

While he boasted a set off Mew2King at Kings of Cali 4, eventually finishing fifth at the super-regional, aMSa also saw a ho-hum 17th showing at MLG Anaheim 2014 and a disastrous 33rd at CEO 2014, where he lost to Porkchops and Wenbo. This led many to be skeptical about Yoshi and aMSa’s skills.

Heading into Apex 2015, predicting aMSa’s performance looked impossible to do with certainty. Could he prove himself – and Yoshi – once again at the world’s biggest smash event?

aMSa breezed by the first round of pools with relative ease. Come Top 128, he then beat rising NorCal Sheik main Laudandus and a Finnish Fox player in Mayhem to make it to Top 48. His next opponent, one who aMSa defeated a year ago at the previous Apex, stood in his path as the world’s then-ranked No. 11 player: Fly Amanita.

Modern players aren’t as familiar with him as post-Brawl veterans, but Fly Amanita used to be the best Ice Climbers player in the world. aMSa defeated him in their last head-to-head at Apex 2014, but Fly came off arguably his most impressive year yet as a Melee player, due to him recently finishing as the No. 1 in SoCal, the world’s best Melee region.

After defeating Fly, 2-0, aMSa had to play Leffen, who not only knew the matchup, but also once played Yoshi himself. Unsurprisingly, aMSa fell into the losers bracket, then obliterating Zhu 2-0 before playing against Lucky, the only person to defeat him in the Apex 2014 Salty Suite.

Their first game went to last stock, with a flubbed air dodge by Lucky leading to aMSa going up 1-0. But in the second game, Lucky picked Dreamland and spent most of the game shooting lasers and forcing aMSa to approach, Yoshi’s relative weakness against a character like Fox. Though the two went to last stock again, Lucky controlled the tempo for most of the game, minimizing any openings aMSa could find and inherently making any dropped conversions by Yoshi that much more devastating.

Once again, Lucky’s ability to hold his ground posted a challenge to aMSa’s style, which was built on using deceptive platform movement to bait whiffs from opponents. Therefore, in order for aMSa to win, he needed to proactively call out Lucky’s decisions ahead of time and preemptively place himself in a position to force favorable mixups. The third game went to last stock, but aMSa eventually prevailed.

Warmed up from playing Lucky, aMSa vanquished SFAT in the following round 2-0 to make it into top eight. In terms of a supermajor on the level of the Apex series, his victory marked the first time a Yoshi main ever made top eight, making this performance already among the greatest low-tier showings in Melee history. For seventh place, aMSa matched up against Sheik player KirbyKaze.

Perception of this matchup has changed over the years, almost entirely due to aMSa. Before him, many considered Sheik to completely invalidate low-tiers like Yoshi. Beating her with a low-tier involved overcoming her guaranteed grab followups, superior hitboxes and her relative ease of use.

After trading the first two games with his opponent, aMSa never looked back. He ruthlessly three-stocked KirbyKaze in the third game and two-stocked him game four, once again adding yet another name to his career resume. Over the course of a national, he took out the No. 11, 12, 20 and 23 ranked players in the world. His next opponent was the current world No. 1 in Mango, aMSa’s toughest test yet.

Years before their epic Full Bloom 4 rematch, Mango and aMSa battled in a barn-burner at Apex 2015. Legendarily, after Mango selected the “USA!” tag in game, aMSa wrote down “JPN!” He didn’t just represent Yoshi on Melee’s biggest stage – he was fighting for his country’s pride.

The set initially looked like aMSa couldn’t hang with Mango’s speed, as his opponent both retained enough discipline to not fall for any of aMSa’s baits, also abusing Yoshi’s lack of strong defensive options against overwhelming pressure. Going down in the set 2-0, all hope looked lost for aMSa, who once again picked Yoshi’s Story for a consecutive runback on the same stage.

aMSa breathed life into his chances against the world’s best Melee player, winning a last-stock game three. In yet another match that came down to both players on their last stock, aMSa clutched out victory, tying the set 2-2.

In the final game, Mango’s composure and experience shined through. Unable to break his wall of defense and earn many openings without taking too much damage himself, aMSa finally fell at fifth place. Walking off the main stage and waving at the crowd, the Japanese earned a standing ovation and chants for his name.

Unlike what many thought would be a short-lived fad, aMSa has stood the test of time. He’s continued to be a presence at national top eights, beating Mew2King once again at EGLX 2018 and taking Mango to the brink as recently as last weekend. Just last year, he finished as the No. 24 player in the world – but this year, he holds a Top 10-worthy resume.

A lot of aMSa’s legacy remains defined by his prowess with a low-tier, but another underrated and lesser-spoken part comes from how he’s brought Japan to a greater stage of competitive Melee in the modern era. This comes from cultural stigmas and laws within Japan, which have prevented people like aMSa (and fellow players within his region) from fully pursuing competitive gaming. Nonetheless, aMSa has somehow endured to chase his dreams of winning a supermajor.

With aMSa rumored to be eyeing a move to Vancouver , the Melee community could be seeing a lot more of him. Furthermore, with a still active Japanese scene, unquestionably inspired by aMSa’s success, more Japanese players could rise to the international scene, both within Melee and other games.

Standing as a hero for his country, innovator for his character and a fan favorite, aMSa remains an immortal part of competitive Melee lore.

Monday Morning Marth: 3/26

This is part of a new series that I’m trying to do, as a tribute to standard “Monday Morning Quarterback” columns in traditional sports. In this series, I discuss my quick takeaways from the last week of the smash community. Picture credit: Vish’s Twitter. Will take down, if requested!

The last week gave Melee spectators quite a bit to talk about. From the announcement of yet a “Smash 5” invitational to CT GamerCon 2 and Full Bloom 4, there’s a lot to unpack. Let’s start with the first and easiest bit of news to address.

1. The Invitational Is A Really Big Deal

Think of the largest smash-related events within the community’s history. Chances are that you’ll think of any installment of the Genesis series, Evo 2013 or the previous Apex majors. But terms of sheer exposure, there’s no question which tournament gave the scene its brightest spotlight: the 2014 E3 Nintendo invitational.

Was it the most competitively valid one? Definitely not, but the event garnered over 200,000 views at the time, more than any other Melee or Smash 4 event. Today, videos surrounding this invitational have collected millions of views.

You’d be hard pressed to find any Melee major peak at 100,000, let alone the peak count of Zero vs. Hungrybox four years ago. Unlike last time, those two players are officially the best in their respective fields, with a track record of their “rivalry” already existing. This makes the potential for returning viewers even higher.

The news of an invitational couldn’t have come at a more necessary time for the scene. Melee steadily grew in player/spectator base count for about four years after its revival in 2013, but has somewhat plateaued over the last year.

However, don’t get too excited.

2. …It Will Likely Still Suck

I’m not talking about the spectator experience being bad because the event will likely feature items, free-for-alls, etc. Those factors are practically guaranteed and frankly unworthy of contempt. Nintendo’s a business – it would be against its own interest to not show aspects of a game that appeal to a broader audience.

Whatever Nintendo puts out for the invitational will likely both look and play nothing close to the end product. People forget that the original Smash 4 build at Apex 2015, let alone the E3 invitational, looked and felt unpolished, per most of the players who actually got a chance to play it.

You might remember the Zero vs. Hungrybox timeout, but what about the comical lack of shield stun and how floaty the game felt, even in comparison to what Smash 4 later felt like?

If history gives any indication, Smash 5 could suffer similar issues.  Or at least we could be in for a ChuDat timeout victory en route to a double “yahyuz” pose with Reggie Fils-Aime.

3. A Tale of Two Marths

At last Saturday’s CT GamerCon 2, both of New England’s best Marth players in ZoSo and Kalvar put on a show for viewers, finishing in the top two of a regional that featured Northeast heavy hitters like Captain Smuckers, Slox, lint, Big Kid, a resurgent Vortex and many more. Essentially, this tournament gave players a chance to show Crush who could challenge him.

ZoSo’s victory marked his finest performance in about two years. In it, he beat bonfire10, th0rn, Captain Smuckers, SluG, Vortex and Kalvar to win the tournament without dropping a set. Perhaps most impressively, many of these sets went to last-game. For example, his set with SluG involved a three-stock comeback in game five: a strong feat considering not just the mental composure needed to make a comeback against Ice Climbers, but also against one of Philadelphia’s best players, who has plenty of Marth practice against Stango.

As someone who at least knows ZoSo on a surface level, I have to be fully transparent: he’s been vocal about struggling with personal issues outside of Melee. In mid-2016, he took a long break from competing, occasionally showing up to the occasional local in New England before disappearing again, streaming semi-frequently, but not taking the game as seriously any more. Late last year, he attended a few nationals, but saw mixed results that came nowhere close to his 2014 peak, when he finished at the No. 50 player and stood within New England as its most dominant in-region force. It’s nice to see him perform at a level that’s more indicative of his potential.

For Kalvar, CT GamerCon 2 added even more to his resume for a strong 2018, in which he looks on track to finish within SSBMRank’s Top 100. Within the first quarter of the year, he has sets on Crush, Stango, Slox, Ryobeat, Nintendude, DaShizWiz, Vortex and ZoSo. Though he occasionally drops sets within New England, this partially comes from him attending so many events, as he’s a virtual lock for any top eight at an in-region tournament.

ZoSo and Kalvar are interesting to compare for several other reasons. Where ZoSo has been in the scene for more than a decade and actually used to be the region’s best player, Kalvar is relatively new blood to high-level Melee. They also play vastly different, but similar styles. Both of them prioritize patience, mixups and conservative decision making over playing explosively, but ZoSo’s strengths mostly lie in his core fundamentals, strong dash dance game and veteran intuition. Kalvar’s come from him standing his ground stronger than many other Marth players and boasting well-feared reaction tech chase punishes on a variety of characters.

Will both of them be Top 100 by the end of the year? It’s too early to say for sure and I doubt either of them are or should be worried about it.

4. A Tragedy in Two Axe(s)

Heading into the spring, Axe looked just about ready to ursurp Mew2King for the No. 6 spot. Between Axe outperforming him at DreamHack Denver 2017, Smash Summit 5 and Genesis 5, it felt like the latter’s performance at Canada Cup 2017 barely saved him from being overtaken. Furthermore, were it not for Axe losing to Wizzrobe and aMSa at EGLX 2018, Mew2King may have lost the advantage between the two – especially consider Axe’s latest stretch of dominance against his former albatross.

The Crimson Blur and tafokints have talked about Axe on their show, “The Commentator’s Curse,” usually mentioning the peaks and valleys within his career. Looking at Melee history, it’s pretty clear that Axe is the greatest player in the game’s community to never win a supermajor. Ironically, as a long-time “demi-god” within the scene, he’s consistently…too inconsistent to put it together for one run.

It’s hard to attribute whether Axe’s weaknesses come from playing Pikachu, a commonly seen as limited character, or inherent weaknesses within his trademark high-speed, no-frames-wasted, all-in playstyle.

Then again, maybe Ginger and Swedish Delight are actually just that good. Either way, with a consecutive underwhelming showing at a major, Axe looks amid yet another of the many slumps he has in his career. Most likely, he’ll break out of it, but if Axe ever wants to start looking like a contender to win a national, he’s going to need to find more sustainable solutions for his gameplay.

5. Hungrybox Is Literally Broken

I know it’s a beating a dead horse, but can anyone stop Hungrybox? Let’s take a look at Hungrybox’s last seven months at significant major tournaments to feature fellow members of Melee’s Big Six.

Shine 2017: 1st (beating Mew2King, Mango X 2)
GameTyrant Expo 2017: 1st (beating Plup, Mew2King, Armada X 2, losing to Mew2King)
The Big House 7: 1st (beating Mew2King, Armada, Leffen and Plup, losing to Leffen)
DreamHack Denver 2017: 1st (beating Mango X 2)
Too Hot To Handle: 1st (beating Plup)
Smash Summit 5: 1st (beating Mango, Leffen and Armada)
Genesis 5: 2nd (beating Leffen X 2 and Plup, losing to Plup X 2)
EGLX 2018: 1st (beating Plup X 2)
Full Bloom 4: 1st (beating Leffen and Mango)

  • 8 first places out of 9 attended notable tournaments with fellow Top 6 members.
  • 24-4 against Melee’s “Big Six” at non-local, significant events.
  • 9 consecutive appearances in grand finals.
  • No losses outside of the above.

Out of curiosity, I compared this to Armada’s run of dominance from late 2016 to Evo 2017.

Canada Cup 2016: 1st (beating Mew2King and Hungrybox, losing to Hungrybox)
Smash Summit 3: 1st (beating Plup, Hungrybox X 2 and Mew2King)
DreamHack Winter 2016: 1st (beating Leffen and Hungrybox X 2)
UGC Smash Open: 1st (beating Hungrybox and Mew2King, losing to Mew2King)
Genesis 4: 1st (beating Mango X 2 and Mew2King)
BEAST 7: 1st (beating Leffen X 2)
Smash Summit Spring 2017: 1st (beating Leffen and Hungrybox X 2)
Royal Flush: 2nd (beating Mango and Hungrybox, losing to Mango X 2)
Smash ‘N’ Splash 3: 3rd (lost to Hungrybox and Leffen)
Evo 2017: 1st (beat Mew2King and Mango X 2)

  • 8 first places out of 10 attended notable tournaments with fellow Top 6 members.
  • 7 consecutive first places.
  • 24-6 against Melee’s Big Six.
  • No losses outside of the above.

Here’s Mango’s record from Pound 3 to Pound 4:

Pound 3: 1st (beating Azen, ChuDat, PC Chris, Cort and Mew2King twice, losing to Vist, Plank, Sensei and Silent Wolf, the last in a sandbagged set)
Revival of Melee: 1st (beating PC Chris and Mew2King twice)
SCSA West Coast Circuit 4: 1st (beating Mew2King)
Genesis: 1st (beating Hungrybox and Armada X 2, losing to Armada)
Show Me Your Moves 10: 1st (beating Mew2King twice)
SNES: 1st (beating Mew2King)
Revival of Melee 2: 4th (losing to Kage twice)
Winterfest: 1st (beating Hungrybox twice)
Pound 4: 1st (beating Jman and Hungrybox twice)

  • 8 first places out of 9 attended notable tournaments with fellow Top 6 members.
  • 21-1 against the RetroSSBMRank Top 6 of 2008, 2009 and of early 2010.
  • Two losses outside of the above.

And finally, Ken’s legendary late 2004 to early 2006:

MLG Los Angeles 2004: 1st (beating Isai X 2)
MLG New York 2004: 1st (beating Captain Jack and Isai X 2)
MOAST 3: 2nd (losing to Isai X 2)
MLG DC 2005: 1st (beating NEO, ChuDat and Isai X 2, losing to NEO in a sandbagged set of Roy dittos)
MLG San Francisco 2005: 1st (beating DSF, other results not documented)
Gettin’ Schooled 2: 1st (beating Azen, ChuDat X 2, losing to Chillin)
MELEE-FC3: 1st (beating ChuDat and Sastopher X 2, losing to Sastopher in a sandbagged set as Samus in pools)
MLG Los Angeles 2005: 2nd (beating Isai, losing to Isai X 2)
MLG Atlanta 2005: 1st (beating Isai, ChuDat and Azen X 2, losing to Azen)
MLG New York 2005: 1st (beating ChuDat X 2)

  • 8 first places out of 10 attended notable tournaments where he played fellow
  • Top 6 members (9 out of 11, counting Jack Garden Tournament and the level of hidden talent at the event).
  • 22-5 against the Top 6 of 2004 and 2005, not counting sandbagged sets.

I’ll let others debate on where Hungrybox’s peak ranks among the all-time greats. Personally, I’d say it balances both dominance against the field, tournament win-rate and head-to-head records versus fellow contemporaries about as well as any player can.

What I Like

  • This absolutely killer TAS video.
  • The soothing sound of Webs commentary at a smash event in 2018.
  • Literally every Falco, except for Westballz in 2018.

What I Don’t Like

  • Forced Michael (the Jigglypuff player) number jokes.
  • Hax DQing out of yet another major.
  • Westballz in 2018.

Monday Morning Marth: 3/19

This is part of a new series that I’m trying to do, as a tribute to standard “Monday Morning Quarterback” columns in traditional sports. In this series, I discuss my quick takeaways from the last week of the smash community. I’m not sure how often I’ll be doing these, or whether these will necessarily be as well-received as my history pieces, but I figured I’d give something a shot. Let me know if you like these! Picture credit: 2GG’s Twitter. Will take down, if privately requested!

Yesterday was the worst and best tournament ever in The Mango. Featuring several SSBMRank players, the 457-entrant major quickly turned from feeling like a hype sub-major into a mix between a Pat’s House 3-type major and a SoCal Foundry.

Hidden beneath sandbagged performances from Leffen, Mango and Shroomed came a surprisingly compelling event. So, what did we learn from the last big tournament before Melee’s spring season?

1. Redemption For Its Top Two

Cruising into top 16 without any concern, Swedish Delight solidly beat Westballz and Squid 3-1, swept ARMY, beat Syrox 3-1 and swept Kalamazhu en route to winning The Mango. None of these set victories are too surprising for his skill level, but consider how underwhelming his placings were for the first quarter of 2018, with individual losses to Abate, Jerry, Bananas, among others.

These aren’t bad players, but for someone who finished at No. 16 for 2017 SSBMRank, the losses certainly reflect a rough patch. Winning The Mango could lift the longtime Tristate Sheik back to the level he looked before, even if we knew he was certainly capable of beating those in his bracket.

If Swedish showed a nice return to form, so too did Kalamazhu, who finished just under him.  Kalamazhu is a respectable player, having been ranked No. 70 last year in SSBMRank, but prior to The Mango, the longtime “Midwest Buster” and current NorCal Peach hadn’t come close in years to a performance like his ninth-place breakout at The Big House 4.

That changed yesterday. Losing only to Syrox and Swedish Delight, Kalamazhu beat Mango, OkamiBW, Fiction, SFAT and Syrox at The Mango. The circumstances around the event’s Foundry-esque atmosphere might paint Kalamazhu’s success in a different light, but outside of a drunk Mango, his opponents looked like they were trying. His second place also comes as a pleasant surprise, given that he just finished 97th at Genesis 5.

2. Stop Freaking Out Over In-Region Losses

Even if you discount the presence of alcohol and the casual vibe at The Mango, people typically put way too much stock into top player “losses” to high-level competitors from their region. You’d be hard pressed to say that losing to ARMY, Fiction or Westballz mark unacceptable losses for S2J and Lucky, given how positive their career records are against the overall field, which includes those they lost against at the event. The same goes for HugS, who finished outside of top eight.

When you play a certain kind of opponent enough times, chances are that they’ll take sets every now and then. HugS losing to MegaXmas doesn’t mean he’s dropping off as much as it might show that MegaXmas is improving. One set result doesn’t change the underlying assumption that if HugS plays him ten times, he’ll still win the majority of sets.

More than individual losses, what becomes more problematic are negative trends.

3. The Curious Case of SFAT and the Spotlight

SFAT had the perfect metaphorical hand to win this tournament. Mango and Leffen were his biggest roadblocks to victory, but played their secondaries, leaving SFAT as the clear favorite to win The Mango. Instead, he finished only fourth, losing to Syrox and Kalamazhu.

This isn’t the first time that SFAT has failed to win a major tournament as the top seed. Though he won Battle GateWay 19 over aMSa in Japan, he finished second at the Holiday Bash Smash Invitational, fifth at Pat’s House 3 and second at Super Famicon 2017.

Conversely in his favor, SFAT remains currently the best active player in SoCal and boasts a history of dominating the top level of competition in NorCal. Moreover, he did win Smash Factor 6 and GENESIS: Red last year. But since last fall, SFAT hasn’t been as successful at regionals he’s supposed to be winning, even though his individual head to head remains strong against the field.

By the eye test, he doesn’t have an defining characteristic like the other players in his skill group. For example, Wizzrobe has a reputation for tech chasing, while Axe overwhelms his opponents with speed and precise edgeguarding.

In comparison, SFAT’s base gameplan is built around stage control, positioning and smart decision making. This gives him a good set of fundamentals that keep him consistent against significantly worse players, but it won’t be enough to push him into the top tier of play, where those strengths don’t carry the same weight.

If you gave aMSa or Crush his top seeded brackets over the last six or seven months, would they do better or worse? The fact that I’m asking this question shows that though SFAT remains an elite player, he’s looking far closer to No. 9 or 10 than he does to those above him.

4. Other Quick Musings

What I like:

  • Zain against Fox and Falco.
  • Those incredible Syrox vs. Kalamazhu sets.
  • Westballz beating Leffen’s Marth in a set where heading into it, I felt lowkey scared that Leffen was going to pull out the Mewtwo and win.

What I didn’t like:

  • Drunk Vish’s commentary.
  • Toph ragging on the all-time Top 100 list at The Mango, despite admittedly not reading the articles.
  • The below:

https://twitter.com/sp1nda_/status/975462490116108289

I understand having a “non-esports” atmosphere, but really? The humor in that kind of statement literally comes from the shock value of a swear word. Come on, commentators – don’t resort to edgy, sophomoric tactics for entertainment.