Countdown to The Book of Melee: The Top 100 Melee Sets of All Time (80-71)

Hi, everyone. I’m happy to present my Top 100 Melee Sets of All Time, with today’s focus on the sets ranked 80-71. Here’s a brief FAQ on this project and The Book of Melee.

What is The Book of Melee?

“The Book of Melee” is my upcoming book about the history of the competitive “Super Smash Bros. Melee” community. It follows Melee’s greatest players and leaders through their collective efforts to support the scene’s survival over nearly two decades. I began working on the book in late 2016, and am releasing it for electronic consumption on May 8, 2019. Physical copies are TBA, and currently only available for those who purchased the book for a limited offer on The Big House 8 Compendium. Purchasing a physical copy will be available at a later date.

What is The Top 100 Melee Sets of All Time?

This project is exactly what it sounds like: a recap of my top 100 favorite Melee sets leading up to my book release.

How did you determine the Top 100?

As detailed in my introduction and methodology post, I went through all of Melee history and picked my favorite sets from each year and major tournament. After creating this initial list, I chose to order and cut down what I had selected, based on both the criteria I listed in my previous post and personal taste. Before anyone asks about why “X” wasn’t on the list, chances are that it could have easily made the Top 100, but just wasn’t selected. There were a bit more than 120 sets that I initially listed.

More accurately, the final project could be interpreted as “Edwin’s Top 100 favorite Melee sets of all time.” But I’d like to think that the effort I took into pursuing this project, as well as writing a book about Melee history, would be enough for this list to be somewhat of an authoritative starting resource for any newcomer to the scene, and not just some guy’s opinion.

I’ve never heard of you! What makes you think you’re qualified to determine Melee’s best sets above anyone else?

I’ve been writing about Melee news and Melee history for almost three years. I can’t say that this list is really anything more than just my opinion based on a set of arbitrary criteria that I try to be fair with, but I hope it’s an entertaining and convincing read for anyone interested in Melee.

80. Hungrybox vs. SFAT at Press Start

If any tournament in Melee history confirmed that the Era of Five Gods was all but over, it was Press Start, which featured no gods in winner’s side of its top eight. But it was this set, one that featured a god, that stood out as its most memorable moment. Though all five games are worth watching, it’s the last one, in which an explosive start from the NorCal hero is met by a ferocious comeback from a standing Hungrybox. To this day, the set’s penultimate moment, when SFAT rises from his chair to match his sweating, desperate opponent still gives me goosebumps.

79. Jiano vs. ChuDat at Pound 2

Jiano’s run to winner’s finals at Pound 2 came with a bit of bracket luck, but it still was among the least predictable performances in Melee history. His bout with the longtime regional antihero ChuDat is one of the craziest ever, with a four-stock from Chu to start the set and a huge three-stock comeback from Jiano in game four standing out as highlights. Be sure to check out the last game also.

78. Rishi vs. lloD at The Big House 8

Rishi, the Artist Formerly Known as Smash G0D, has more than his fair share of nail biter sets. lloD is among Melee’s most notable players over the last two years and is one of few Peach mains who can claim a right to individual recognition for character contributions separate of Armada. With the two’s status as rising Smash stars, brothers, former in-region rivals, and modern representatives of their characters, they have had several back-and-forth sets over the last few years. But it’s this one, which has a brilliant last-stock comeback in its final game, that will be especially remembered forever.

77. S2J vs. Mew2King at Shine 2017

The same way Darkrain was a character icon throughout the 2000s, S2J has been this decade’s most consistent Falcon player. For years, the prospect of defeating a Melee god eluded him, and S2J’s history of taking them close goes back many years. I will never forget what it felt like to watch this set live in a wild venue, and to join hundreds, if not thousands, of viewers jumping out of our seats when the Stadium combo happened.

76. Ken vs. Mango at Evo 2007

Jigglypuff had a few strong representatives but no one brought her to the forefront of the scene quite like Mango, who stunned the world at Evo with his underdog run. Following the shocking end of their winner’s set, when the two played again in loser’s bracket for a spot in grand finals, the result was far more convincing.

75. Mango vs. Shroomed at Royal Flush

The greatest trick the devil pulled wasn’t convincing people he didn’t exist – it was convincing nearly every Melee fan to sleep on The Kid. Already sent to loser’s by his chief rival, down 2-0 against Shroomed playing some of the best Melee of his life, and with his back to the wall, Mango woke up.

74. Mango vs. aMSa at Full Bloom 4

Following his breakout ninth place at Apex 2014 and followup fifth place at Apex 2015, aMSa still had his fair share of doubters. By 2018, however, he was more than established as among the next line of players to threaten the Big Six. At Full Bloom 4, one of the most promising large annual tourney series of the current Melee era, he and Mango had one of the best sets of the year, and a wild ending.

73. Abate vs. S2J at The Big House 5

Save for New York City and Hax, there’s no region that loves its signature representative as much as Pittsburgh loves Abate. Boosted by the Midwest home field advantage and hot off a tournament run in which he already beat Axe, Abate went the distance against the stoic and well-respected S2J. In a set filled with momentum shifts of both players dominating each other, its ending may be the most simultaneously exciting, stupid, anti-climatic, and hilarious moment in Melee history.

72. Zain vs. Leffen at Smash ’N’ Splash 3

Before the jokes about dashing back, downthrow downtilting spacies by the corner and pivoting after every move, Zain was a local legend and fan favorite that somehow defeated Plup in a best-of-three The Big House 6. But it was this set, in which the future Shine champion was already facing off against the fearsome godslayer, that he showed the world that he was here to stay in the national spotlight.

71. aMSa vs. Hungrybox at Smash Summit 6

There is no Yoshi main like aMSa in all of Melee history. For a Yoshi player to challenge the world’s most dominant smasher would have been unthinkable years ago. But aMSa denies the odds. This set is not one for the faint of heart, and it’s among the most grueling, suspenseful and exhausting, but the historical significance and payoff is more than worth a watch, especially when the set reaches its epic resolution.

Countdown To The Book of Melee: The Top 100 Melee Sets of All Time (90-81)

Hi, everyone. I’m happy to present my Top 100 Melee Sets of All Time, with today’s focus on the sets ranked 90-81. Here’s a brief FAQ on this project and The Book of Melee.

What is The Book of Melee?

“The Book of Melee” is my upcoming book about the history of the competitive “Super Smash Bros. Melee” community. It follows Melee’s greatest players and leaders through their collective efforts to support the scene’s survival over nearly two decades. I began working on the book in late 2016, and am releasing it for electronic consumption on May 8, 2019. Physical copies are TBA, and currently only available for those who purchased the book for a limited offer on The Big House 8 Compendium. Purchasing a physical copy will be available at a later date.

What is The Top 100 Melee Sets of All Time?

This project is exactly what it sounds like: a recap of my top 100 favorite Melee sets leading up to my book release.

How did you determine the Top 100?

As detailed in my introduction and methodology post, I went through all of Melee history and picked my favorite sets from each year and major tournament. After creating this initial list, I chose to order and cut down what I had selected, based on both the criteria I listed in my previous post and personal taste. Before anyone asks about why “X” wasn’t on the list, chances are that it could have easily made the Top 100, but just wasn’t selected. There were a bit more than 120 sets that I initially listed.

More accurately, the final project could be interpreted as “Edwin’s Top 100 favorite Melee sets of all time.” But I’d like to think that the effort I took into pursuing this project, as well as writing a book about Melee history, would be enough for this list to be somewhat of an authoritative starting resource for any newcomer to the scene, and not just some guy’s opinion.

I’ve never heard of you! What makes you think you’re qualified to determine Melee’s best sets above anyone else?

I’ve been writing about Melee news and Melee history for almost three years. I can’t say that this list is really anything more than just my opinion based on a set of arbitrary criteria that I try to be fair with, but I hope it’s an entertaining and convincing read for anyone interested in Melee.


90. PewPewU vs. Mango at NCR 2013

PewPewU has been a longtime Melee fan favorite, from once being dubbed as “the best Marth since Ken” to shocking the world with his upset over Hungrybox at Apex 2015. But out of the many PewPewU sets considered for the list, it was this one, where he faced off against Melee’s most beloved player, that stood out as one of his most memorable. Here’s another fun fact about NCR that makes it even more legendary: this was the first significant tournament in which Scar and Toph commentated together.

89. Silent Wolf vs. Druggedfox at HTC Throwdown

This losers semifinals set was among the most unexpected matchups at a national. Silent Wolf had made it this far after beating Mew2King, while Druggedfox had sent Mango to loser’s bracket and also edged out 3-2 victories over Colbol and SFAT, notably popping off at the heavily West Coast crowd after the latter set. This set is among the most under appreciated and incredible of 2015, with two god-slaying titans butting heads in their best matchups.

88. Mango vs. SilentSpectre at SCSA WCC

It was just a decade ago when NorCal and SoCal had the most heated regional rivalry in Melee. There were so many Mango vs. SilentSpectre sets to choose from, but nothing stood out as much as their epic clash at the same tournament of Wombo Combo. Between Mango proving to his doubters that his other characters were not far behind his Jigglypuff, the crowd-pleasing style of SilentSpectre and the legendary HomeMadeWaffles/Phil commentary duo, this set is a must-watch for anyone who loves good old-fashioned, grassroots regional lore. Warning: much like every other older era Melee set, the language used within it is outdated and not acceptable by modern standards.

87. Jman vs. Darkrain at Event 52

A much forgotten set among newer Melee players, this is still one for the record books. Jman had slowly been on the rise in Tristate and was the only player in his region to take a set off Mew2King, while Darkrain was a member of the elite Captain Falcon trio (Scar and SilentSpectre were his contemporaries) and had actually defeated PC Chris at Pound 3 a year prior. Its controversial ending remains one of Melee’s most infamous.

86. Zhu vs. SilentSpectre at Mango Juice

Zhu has been on the receiving end of many classic Melee moments, be it Wombo Combo or the JV4 against Mango’s Falcon. But at Mango Juice, he would harness his hatred for Falcon and countless sets of being beaten around by Mango’s secondaries in order to seek his revenge against the man who kneed him into meme-immortality. And what happens after the set; well, without spoiling it, let’s just say this would never happen for the fans today.

85. Hax vs. Kalamazhu at The Big House 4

Months before The Big House 4, Kalamazhu had been spotted scribbling in a notebook while watching Armada play Peach. At The Big House 4, Kalamazhu’s efforts were shown to pay off, as he blitzed through players like Lucky and KirbyKaze to face off against Hax, a longtime scene demigod now sporting a deadly Fox. Surrounded by a wild Michigan and pro-Kalamazhu crowd, the two would battle to the very bitter end, with its winner making top eight by the skin of his teeth.

84. n0ne vs. Mew2King at GOML 2016

Countless dead Captain Falcon mains lay in the trail of Mew2King’s career. And at this point, n0ne was a fan favorite known for his flashy combos, but ranked outside the Top 50 of the previous year. He was among Melee’s fastest improving players, but this was surefire defeat, playing a Melee god in one of his most feared matchups. Or was it?

83. Leffen vs. Westballz at BEAST 6

There’s practically no matchup like Fox vs. Falco in Melee, and the winners set between the two epitomizes the speed, technical skill and mental fortitude you need to play that matchup at the highest level. And with both player’s penchant for shittalk, particular on each other, and their disrespectful theatrics in the second set, which included Westballz picking Samus out of complete apathy toward Leffen and the two sarcastically patting each other on the back, their matches at BEAST 6 are among the scene’s most recognizable.

82. Armada vs. Hax at Justice 4

Hax promised a future of 20XX, where Fox would rule the metagame and overpower all other characters. At Justice 4, with a wild New York crowd treating him like the second coming of Jesus, against Armada, the longtime Melee god, Hax would play the best he had ever played up to that point. Would it be enough to defeat the unstoppable wall of Armada?

81. DaShizWiz vs. Falcomist at CGC

Legend has it that after much online back-and-forth between Shiz and West Coast smashers, the latter group decided to see if the Florida Falco could live up to his boasts. Raising community funds to fly Shiz out to NorCal, the scene was rewarded with a 15–game barnburner between Shiz and Falcomist, the defender of NorCal. Although it may not be the first set you think of with Shiz against a Marth, it’s highly worth checking out if you consider yourself a true Melee fan.

Countdown To The Book of Melee: The Top 100 Melee Sets of All Time (100-91)

Hi, everyone. I’m happy to present my Top 100 Melee Sets of All Time, with today’s focus on the sets ranked 100-91. Here’s a brief FAQ on this project and The Book of Melee.

What is The Book of Melee?

“The Book of Melee” is my upcoming book about the history of the competitive “Super Smash Bros. Melee” community. It follows Melee’s greatest players and leaders through their collective efforts to support the scene’s survival over nearly two decades. I began working on the book in late 2016, and am releasing it for electronic consumption on May 8, 2019. Physical copies are TBA, and currently only available for those who purchased the book for a limited offer on The Big House 8 Compendium. Purchasing a physical copy will be available at a later date.

What is The Top 100 Melee Sets of All Time?

This project is exactly what it sounds like: a recap of my top 100 favorite Melee sets leading up to my book release.

How did you determine the Top 100?

As detailed in my introduction and methodology post, I went through all of Melee history and picked my favorite sets from each year and major tournament. After creating this initial list, I chose to order and cut down what I had selected, based on both the criteria I listed in my previous post and personal taste. Before anyone asks about why “X” wasn’t on the list, chances are that it could have easily made the Top 100, but just wasn’t selected. There were a bit more than 120 sets that I initially listed.

More accurately, the final project could be interpreted as “Edwin’s Top 100 favorite Melee sets of all time.” But I’d like to think that the effort I took into pursuing this project, as well as writing a book about Melee history, would be enough for this list to be somewhat of an authoritative starting resource for any newcomer to the scene, and not just some guy’s opinion.

I’ve never heard of you! What makes you think you’re qualified to determine Melee’s best sets above anyone else?

I’ve been writing about Melee news and Melee history for almost three years. I can’t say that this list is really anything more than just my opinion based on a set of arbitrary criteria that I try to be fair with, but I hope it’s an entertaining and convincing read for anyone interested in Melee.


100. Azen vs. CaptainJack at Tournament Go 6

By modern standards, the gameplay of the two in this set isn’t anything special. But back in 2004, TG6 was the first event that came close to resembling an international championship. That its finals had Azen, the king of the East Coast and Master of Diversity, against CaptainJack, a member of the Japanese elite and whose skills were of urban legend, makes it that much more memorable. Even back then, with such a small and young scene, the people watching this set knew how much lay on the line.

99. Leffen vs. Druggedfox at Evo 2015

In the summer of 2015, Leffen was close to untouchable. Before Evo, he had won three consecutive major events in three weekends. However, at Evo, he’d become part of the legend of Druggedfox , a then-nationally-unknown Georgia legend who was known for his tech chasing and punish game-heavy Sheik. Sadly, this set isn’t currently available in its entirety on YouTube, but it remains one of Melee’s best ever; particularly with its second game having one of my favorite commentary calls of all time. You can watch the rest of it here.

98. Scar vs. Ken at Kings of Cali 2

The Melee scene underwent a revival in mid-2013 because of the game’s return to the Evo spotlight. So what happened when the King of Smash showed reluctance in actually attending Evo 2013? The most electrifying man in Melee himself challenged him to a best-of-seven, in which Ken would have to attend Evo if he lost. With over three hundred thousand views today, and grassroots Mango/Crimson Blur commentary, this set is a must watch for all Melee fans. Would Scar get redemption for his failed previous exhibition match against Bob$ and defeat the King of Smash or would Ken prevail and disgrace the People’s Champ?

97. ChuDat vs. HugS at Evo 2015

Just under a decade after their respective primes, HugS and ChuDat were battling for a supermajor top eight. Notably before the event, Melee Hell, a now controversial Melee “shitposting” group had funded Chu’s trip to Evo, causing some, including HugS himself, to be skeptical of the funding efforts to bring Chu, especially due to Chu’s slight decline in attendance at major tournaments. Between the two’s standings in the Melee community, their personal rivalry and fellow MLG era contemporaries Husband and Wife on commentary, this set reflects Melee’s timeless brilliance. Much like the other early Evo 2015, it’s sadly not fully available on YouTube, but it remains a classic.

96. Mew2King vs. Leffen at PAX Prime 2015

Following Leffen’s brutal 3-0 and 3-1 victories over his former kryptonite Mew2King at Super Smash Con, it seemed as if the godslayer had finally solved The Robot. Leffen sure as hell seemed to believe it when following his victory, he joked about the difficulty of “not three-stocking Mew2King.” This set is what happens when you awaken a sleeping giant. Though the quality of Melee isn’t particularly up to par from Leffen, the moments of Mew2King brilliance, screaming from D1 and Blur and context surrounding this match makes it a fan favorite to this day.

95. Plup vs. Mew2King at the Battle of Five Gods

There are a few axioms of competitive Melee: one of them used to be that you should never challenge Mew2King in a Sheik ditto. In fact before this match, Plup had actually tried fighting him with Samus due to Mew2King’s featured reputation in the former matchup. Mew2King has even selected Plup as his preferred opponent for the first round of bracket, presumably seeing him as the “obvious” choice out of the qualifying competitors. Clearly, he was in for a surprise – and to date, this set is the most exciting Sheik ditto I have ever seen.

94. Zain vs. Fiction at Genesis 6

As the Melee metagame has developed, it’s become both trendy and partially true to point toward Marth’s dominance over Fox in their head-to-head. Modern Melee players can also thank Zain for that, given his long established dominance in the matchup. But in the same way that he studied Ice Climbers to great success, Fiction came into his set against Zain with a plan that made the formidable Fox slayer look vulnerable. Would Fiction shine in the spotlight or would his efforts fall just short?

93. Lord vs. S2J at The Next Episode

Is there a character that newcomers associate with more Melee hype than Captain Falcon? Probably not; and it’s no surprise that this exhibition Falcon ditto is one of the list’s first inclusions. Just five years ago, as the Melee scene was amid a post-doc rebirth, the ending to this set was so viral that it reached the front page of Reddit.

92. HugS vs. Ka-Master at UCLA V

HugS is many things; a longtime Samus player, streamer, and wise personality over decades of Melee player. But in early 2008, right before Brawl had fully become the front of the Smash community, he had one job: defend SoCal from the Washington menace Ka-Master, who had destroyed everyone else he played at the same event. Coming from loser’s bracket and due to the strange set scoring system back then, HugS essentially had to carry SoCal on his back: win three straight games to win the tournament or lose what could have been the last big SoCal Melee regional.

91. Leffen vs. Chillin at Apex 2015

Make no mistake: the quality of Melee isn’t why this set made the list. The inclusion of Melee’s most infamous exhibition set of all time comes from its unprecedented circumstances. Whether it’s the $500 and inability to ever select the neutral Fox color again on the line, the two’s public jabs at each other over the course of months, Leffen’s preemptive boast of a “5-0” or the mere words of “I’m not lawful; make this pussy stop talking,” the spectacle surrounding this exhibition is extraordinary and transcends Melee, from its epic buildup as an intergenerational clash between Fox representatives to its immortal two word conclusion.

Countdown to The Book of Melee: The Top 100 Melee Sets of All Time Introduction & Methodology

As of today, The Book of Melee is set to launch as an ebook on May 8, 2019. It’s a bit after my planned April 20 launch date, but such is balancing a side journalism “gig” with a career. To celebrate the official release of The Book of Melee, I would like to introduce you to my latest project, “The Top 100 Sets of All-Time.”

Let’s cut everything else out of the way and get to the project and the process behind determining my Top 100 Melee sets of all-time.


Defining Terms: What is a set?

The overly academic title aside, I had to define what kind of “sets” would qualify for the list. To start off, I want to establish a few factors that went into determining my picks.

For the sake of argument, I have decided to use both the plural and Melee-vernacular definitions of “set” to create the list. In other words, some of the  sets I have listed in a spot are actually multiple sets listed together as “one set.” If you want to view this more cynically, I personally have no interest in spending effort differentiating between the quality of winners and grand finals sets of a matchup at the same event.

 

I also chose to prioritize sets that were best-of-fives or more over best-of-threes. I understand that most people will reasonably think this is unfair, so my reason for coming up with this decision is that in my mind, “the more Melee, the merrier.” This was the case for most sets, but nonetheless, keep an eye out for some of my favorite best-of-three sets.

Also, to disappoint my doubles fans per usual on this ground, I am not including any doubles sets in my list.

Determining The Talent Pool

In almost 20 years of Melee history, it’s difficult to create consistent criteria when it comes to determining the list. Coming up with this project on my own, I wasn’t sure of what to do, so before doing anything else, I asked myself, what were the best sets of each year?

Going through the Smash History databases, which are now maintained and updated by my former partner-in-crime Pikachu942, I picked my Top 10 sets of every year from 2009 to 2018. Because of the lack of recorded sets from 2008 and before,  I made a choice to include as many sets as I could think of from the MLG era and before, but as a whole, there were far less to choose from that stood over time.  It is, however, important to note that the sets which did make the cut into my list were boosted, due to their otherwise lack of representation on  the list.

By the end of my talent pool selection process, I had around 125 sets. So then came a bigger problem: how do I narrow down the list from there?

Creating the Criteria

Surprisingly, determining the top of the list was extremely easy. Without giving away any spoilers, four of my top five were no-brainers – in other words, sets that would straight up qualify or disqualify my ability to authoritatively make this list. As an aside, this is truly remarkable: that in Melee’s entire history, four sets clearly stand above the pack, though my pick for No. 1 is likely a bit out of left field and not one of the four most people would think of.

To get back to what it was like sorting the list, I had to think about differentiators per set. After much  thinking, and consultation from my Melee Stats friends, I came up with the following. Disclaimer: not all of these criteria were equally valued, nor were they quantified, but they gave me a starting point for evaluating sets.

  • Quality of Melee: how good, or notably impressive, was the quality of Melee played, relative to era?
  • Flash Factor: How entertaining is the Melee to watch for someone who has never watched a set of Melee before?
  • The Stakes: What were the consequences of each set, be it determining a winner of an exhibition set to winning a scene-defining tournament, changing a player’s legacy forever, or gaining greater cultural exposure?
  • Non-Gameplay Factors: what were non-gameplay factors (commentary, production, etc) that added to the legacy of this set?
  • Uniqueness: How different is this set from other similar sets between the two players in Melee history?

The first four factors are easy to understand, but the last one might sound odd. Basically, if multiple sets are played between the same two players, I penalized the less impressive sets and buffed the more essential sets within a head-to-head. This is to avoid a situation where the same three or four groupings of player dominate the Top 20, although there are notable exceptions within the top of my list. I am also doing this to give exposure to lesser known players who have had excellent sets of their own in the past.

A Final Note

At the end of this project, “The Book of Melee” will officially be out for electronic consumption over at Smashwords. Until then, here is the publishing schedule after today.

  • April 17: 100-91


  • April 19: 90-81


  • April 22: 80-71
  • April 24: 70-61
  • April 26: 60-51
  • April 29: 50-41
  • 

May 1: 40-31
  • May 3: 30-21


  • May 6: 20-11


  • May 8: 10-1 and The Book of Melee electronic release date

I’m currently working on printed and physical copies of my book to be completed by the late summer and fall. Until then, thanks for supporting me.

The Book of Melee: The beginnings of Smash history

The following is an excerpt of two chapters from “The Book of Melee,” my upcoming 2019 release chronicling the history of competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee.


Before Melee

On January 21, 1999, Nintendo released its first ever Smash title, Super Smash Bros., in Japan. Directed by chief architect Masahiro Sakurai and developed by HAL Laboratory, it featured twelve of the most popular Nintendo characters—all of them ready to jump into the next all-out, knock-down, drag-out fight. For the first time, Nintendo fans could duel as Mario and Link, or rumble in the jungle with Fox and Donkey Kong.

Smash’s multiplayer mode received critical acclaim. GameSpot writer Jeff Gerstmann wrote in his review, “If you’ve got a crew of friends ready to pick a Nintendo character and throw down, then Super Smash Bros. is definitely worth a purchase.”

Smash boasts a unique twist to the standard fighting game formula. Instead of depleting a health bar as characters take damage, they only lose a stock when they’re knocked off the stage and are unable to recover. While taking more damage causes a character to fly further when hit, it’s not the inevitable death sentence most games have trained players to expect.

Unlike 2D fighting games, which require players to memorize combos and are more difficult to learn, Smash emphasizes platform movement, basic controls and intuition. The goal: to eliminate the opponent’s stocks.

By its American release on April 26, 1999, Smash had already boasted over a million sales in Japan.

Following the release of Smash, Nintendo Spaceworld ‘99 became the first documented event to host a Smash tournament. Though specific details about the tourney are difficult to dig up today, Nintendo held Spaceworld from August 27 to 29, 1999, marking a cornerstone moment in Smash history. A year later, Super Smash Bros. grew in popularity when the Japanese TV show “64 Mario Stadium” broadcasted a competitive Smash event.

From here, Smash’s popularity began to transcend Japan. 13-year-old Ricky “Gideon” Tilton created Smash World Forums, a central hub for smashers everywhere to discuss the game and meet fellow players. Today, the website is called Smashboards, and it remains a historical goldmine of old-school Smash subculture.

Unlike today, where social media platforms like Reddit, Facebook and Twitter have largely subsumed the role of message boards as discussion hubs, back then, Smash enthusiasts had to take a leap of faith in order to meet other fans. Smash World Forums was the primary medium for these connections.

“Especially when it comes to Smash, you invite strangers you have never seen before and had no relationship [with], except on boards or MSN Messenger, in your house,” veteran Japanese smasher Ryota “CaptainJack” Yoshida wrote on his blog. His words reflected the perceived risk that most players took when attempting to meet fellow smashers online.

Smash was a significant part of the late-1990s and early-2000s entertainment boom. Nintendo had a large share of the gaming market, one that they needed to protect from hovering competitors like Sony, Microsoft and SEGA, each of which was poised to release new gaming consoles at the dawn of the new millennium. Since the Nintendo 64 had been out for close to half a decade, Nintendo needed to respond with upgraded hardware of its own.

Suddenly, on August 24, 2000, Nintendo announced the development and release of the Nintendo GameCube. Its launch titles included “Luigi’s Mansion” and “Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader,” but the gaming giant had one more trick up its sleeve.

Banking on the immense popularity of Smash, Nintendo knew that it could cash in by releasing an immediate sequel to its newest and most promising franchise. The developers of the Nintendo 64 classic began working on a sequel: Super Smash Bros. Melee.

In a column for Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu, Sakurai wrote that the 13 months he spent working on Melee were some of the most demanding and challenging times of his life. Satoru Iwata, a gaming programmer who would later go on to become president of Nintendo, also played a huge role in its rapid release, working countless nights and holidays to hasten Melee’s development. The end result was an instantly recognizable masterpiece.

At the 2001 Electronic Entertainment Expo in late May, Nintendo revealed its greatest project yet. Melee had a larger cast, gorgeous graphics and promising gameplay, which included the addition of two characters in one: Zelda and Sheik, from the “Legend of Zelda” series. Their ability to smoothly transform into one another mid-game was a graphical marvel at the time.

These factors built an unbelievable amount of hype for the anticipated sequel. In fact, before the game’s official release, Nintendo ran the first-ever Melee tournament, named Premium Fight. Gaming outlet Source Magazine estimated it to have occurred sometime in Japan during Nintendo Space World 2001, from August 25 to 27, though the date of the tourney itself remains unknown.

On Novemeber 21, 2001, Melee came out in Japan. The game received a 37 out of 40 score from Famitsu, winning the outlet’s first ever Platinum Award.

By the time of its release in North America two weeks later, the legend of its competitive scene would soon begin – and it didn’t take long for the online community to gain new members eager to share their own discoveries about Nintendo’s latest title.

The Competitive Scene’s Beginnings

On January 24, 2002, a Smash World Forums user named “Ultimate” posted about a new technique he dubbed “mad dashing.” This consisted of air dodging into the ground at an angle, allowing different characters to slide varying distances. It would go on to become Melee’s best-known advanced technique under a new name: wavedashing.

Many wondered if the game’s developers intentionally created wavedashing. In an interview with Nintendo Power in late 2008, Sakurai verified that he knew about the technique.

“Of course we knew you could do that in the development period,” Sakurai said, quickly dismissing the idea of it being left behind by accident.

However, he also said he envisioned wavedashing as a way for players to quickly return to the ground while in free fall. He could never have predicted it becoming a staple of competitive play.

Before wavedashing became commonplace, Nintendo held Melee’s first tournament circuit in Japan, the Melee Fighting Road circuit. Its final event happened in Hiroshima on March 3, 2002, featuring the winners of regional events held all across Japan from January 20 to February 24 of that year.

Nintendo tournaments typically featured free-for-alls, timers and items—aspects of play that smashers had no clear consensus on at the time. Because of its contrasts with what competitive Melee eventually grew into, the Nintendo-run circuit is often ignored today when discussing the community’s early beginnings.

No matter how smashers might feel about it today, shortly following Melee Fighting Road came the birth of North America’s grassroots competitive Melee scene. It all started on the other side of the Pacific, in San Jose, California.

On April 6, Matt “MattDeezie” Dahlgren hosted Tournament Go at his home, where he lived with his parents. Only 18 years old and looking to have fun with his friends, he advertised his event online, leaving his invitation open for anyone who wanted to join the party.

No public documentation of the exact attendance count exists today. Most estimate that around 20 people came out to the first two editions of Tournament Go. Many of them were looking to compete, while others just wanted to watch others play and make a few friends.

Deezie had unknowingly taken the first step to becoming the forefather of competitive Melee. In particular, Tournament Go was the first significant tournament to use a double-elimination style bracket, which later became standard throughout the scene.

In the post-tournament thread, Deezie talked about how much running the event meant to him. He felt impressed by the sense of community it created.

“Very few people try and break the friend barrier and find outside competition. I urge people out there: host tournaments, go out and meet other people. This will build a community,” Deezie wrote. “Groups of friends will be able to get recognized [for] their strength, and people will be able to challenge them. To me, this is what fighting games are all about, and it is the one thing that up until yesterday, SSBM lacked.”

Deezie didn’t expect so many strong players. Before running Tournament Go, he and his friends assumed that no one could beat them. When challengers actually came to his event, it sparked a new competitive fire within everyone who attended, including Deezie himself.

Yet several logistical challenges of running the tournament frustrated Deezie. It was his first-ever notable tourney: one that he competed in and organized for a larger crowd than he initially thought would come. For example, Deezie planned to start the tournament at noon, but many of the matches started over two hours later, if not three. This led some attendees to leave early.

Players at the event also argued over the presence of items in the tournament ruleset. Deezie addressed these concerns afterward online. He wrote that he saw items as an innate part of the game—though using items could be considered cheap, it was as legitimate as any other strategy to win.

Deezie also acknowledged that not all items held the same value. For instance, gaining a Heart Container could replenish a major sum of health, which was a far greater advantage than using a Parasol. Moreover, items that spawned on the stage were randomly chosen by the game itself, adding little to no strategic element for competitors.

For now, most players remained split. Deezie ultimately stuck with items for Tournament Go 2, on June 15, which still garnered similar success.

Just two months later, he held a successful Tournament Go 3, this time with an estimated 50 attendants. While Deezie continued to cement his legacy as a tournament organizer, other regions took note of his success, beginning their own local Smash scenes, particularly Chicago, which many Midwest smashers hold as the birthplace of Midwest Melee.

Because of Melee’s immense popularity and competitive appeal, tournaments could be hosted anywhere. In its early days, smashers held tourneys at their homes, dormitories, the grubby backrooms of local game stores and sometimes restaurant basements.

Melee tourneys weren’t easy to run. Players needed a GameCube and a memory card that had all the unlocked characters and stages. Moreover, most tournament organizing was a hobby, and few to none of the organizers gained any kind of sustainable profit. At best, running a Melee tournament could be considered volunteer work; at worst, fruitless labor.

Playing competitively also came with a price. Many tourneys were pay-to-enter and a large portion of the final amount of money was only given to the highest placers. It wasn’t exactly a lucrative career choice as much as it was an expensive hobby. Furthermore, Melee had to be played on a cathode ray tube television: a relic of the pre-flat panel standard.

To an average person, this requirement sounds ridiculous. However, competitors know the importance of lugging around a “CRT.” Later on, when high definition setups were more commonplace, Melee players continued to use their beloved CRTs.

With countless split-second decisions and reactions often determining the outcome of a match, Melee players had to ensure that their setups had as little lag as possible, especially with money on the line. After all, modern setups were known to cause noticeable input delays and lag. To this day, it’s common to see Melee players haul massive, outmoded televisions to majors.

Nonetheless, Melee still had enough charm to make these obstacles worth overcoming. It offered unparalleled bonds between players, providing opportunities to form life-changing friendships.

Endless discussion about Melee, both online and at events, usually came from one topic above all: who were the game’s best characters? Eventually, members of Melee’s community would create its first tier list.

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Current Smashboards owner and longtime Smash community leader Chris “AlphaZealot” Brown went into further detail years later in a post titled, “The History of Competitive Smash,” in which he discussed the start of the Melee Backroom.

“The backroom originally started as a social room back around 2001-2002,” wrote AlphaZealot. “It was simply an extra room that more experienced players could go to talk more personally–almost as a reward for being on the site.”

The collective of smashers released its first-ever tier list on October 8, 2002. Notably, Sheik, the long-limbed, needle-throwing ninja, stood at the top of the heap due to her easy-to-execute combos and heavy use among Smash World Forum users. Falco and Fox, characters from the “Star Fox” series, were listed as No. 2 and 3, respectively, held back by their relative difficulty-of-use.

While the Melee scene grew in the West Coast, Midwest and online communities, it soon gained two of its most storied East Coast personalities. Hailing from Virginia came two smashers and friends in their teens, Kashan “Chillindude829” Khan, known today as “Chillin,” and Christopher “Azen Zagenite” McMullen.

These two would change the Melee community and game itself forever.

 

The Book of Melee: The New King

The following is an excerpt from “The Book of Melee,” my upcoming 2019 release chronicling the history of competitive “Super Smash Bros. Melee.”

From as early as 2002, Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman played Melee. Frequently, he’d test out different properties of characters against each other – usually at his house in Cinnaminson, New Jersey.

The teenager’s methods of calculation were often by hand and through counting individual frames of each move. Online, he’d detail his studies in great length, from memorizing frame data of individual character moves to detailing exactly how many frames each character’s item throw animation took. He was only 14 years old when he released his first ever “SSBM Statistics List.”

Melee was just one out of many games that Mew2King spent countless hours trying to figure out. Obsessed with gaming from a young age, he also played old NES titles, “Halo” and “Super Mario 64,” among others. He never had natural aptitude for them, but instead showed persistence and curiosity, traits that made him fall in love with Melee.

When he grew old enough to attend tournaments, he often sat alone at setups, opting to play against a computer instead of interacting with fellow smashers. Outside of the game, his mannerisms were sometimes unbearable, with several players experiencing their own “Mew2King stories.” These were tales in which the storyteller often recounted examples of his social awkwardness.

The stories range from showcasing innocuous examples of his obliviousness, like asking others to buy food for him, to more egregious instances of misunderstanding personal boundaries, such as stealing other people’s controllers. According to Mew2King, many of these stories are unverified and often exaggerated, but they nonetheless showcase his social weaknesses.

Mew2King struggled to fit in. Both his behavior and the reputation that followed caused him additional anxiety when it came to dealing with crowds of people rooting against him at tournaments. For many years, he oscillated between loving Melee and wondering if the community hated him, later concluding himself that he had to be somewhere on the autism spectrum.

Starting from a 23rd at Gettin’ Schooled 2, Mew2King eventually became a force to be reckoned with deep in brackets, soon taking sets over players like Azen and Ken at big events. The once heavily derided nerdy teenager was beginning to look like a threat to win majors.

“I’ve always had a huge passion for video games in general.” Zimmerman said in a 2016 interview with ESPN.

“To be completely honest, my goal was simple: to be the best.”

Mew2King would eventually win his first big tourney at Cataclysm 3, the first major of 2007. Here, he debuted his newest character, Marth, to complement his already deadly Fox.

In winner’s semifinals, Mew2King’s Marth dominated PC Chris in a way that even Ken hadn’t. After never having beaten PC in bracket before, Mew2King finished their set resoundingly, 3-0. He would go on to defeat ChuDat and KoreanDJ, finishing first.

Ken and Azen had shown the power of Marth, but Mew2King figuratively wrote the textbook on Marth’s combos. He effortlessly closed out stocks when his opponents were offstage, in ways that made Marth look majestic. Give Mew2King an inch and he would take it a mile.

In most fighting games, the corner is a disadvantageous position. Yet because of Mew2King’s mastery of edgeguards, his contemporaries often backed off when they had him cornered, due to the threat of him reversing a situation at any given time.

His conversions were frequently done in ways that were brutal, humiliating and frustrating. Mew2King could both relentlessly juggle his opponents in the air and fly offstage to automatically deplete stocks in a matter of seconds. It garnered him a nickname that followed him for years, “The Robot.”

Marth, a character who oscillated between being perceived as defensive or aggressive, now had a player who seemed to balance both traits. Mew2King’s remarkable prowess with comboing other characters and understanding Marth’s options at any given time made him look unbeatable, when he was playing on point.

Despite looking far above everyone else, Mew2King did not go entirely unchallenged. Take KoreanDJ, who beat him to win MLG Long Island 2007 two months afterward. Moreover, in mid-June, ChuDat won the 201-entrant Pound 2 over him.

Yet just as often as he’d come short, Mew2King would win, often in more memorable fashion. He won Connecticut’s Evo East in late May without dropping a set, over a field that included PC Chris, ChuDat and Chillin. Mew2King was beginning to separate himself from the pack, both in his attendance at tournaments and his play.

From July 12 to 14 came one of his greatest victories ever at FC Diamond, the next of the Ship of Fools’ esteemed series. Although Ken wasn’t there, with 256 entrants, this event was the most attended Smash tournament ever. Like many predicted, its winner’s finals was PC against Mew2King, with the latter finally dropping his first set to PC in the year, even losing 3-0. But then, Mew2King came back.

Defeating ChuDat in the Pound 2 runback, Mew2King swept PC in both sets of grand finals. The videos of these games are lost to history, but to this day, Mew2King said that these sets were among the best he ever played in his life.

At the West Coast’s Zero Challenge 3 about a week later, the Melee scene saw another legendary performance from Mew2King. Though he ended up finishing second in the tournament to PC, who impressively won the event through losers, Mew2King had what is now remembered as the greatest high-level crew battle performance of all time.

In grand finals of the crew battle tournament, Mew2King took on nearly everyone in the entire “Craazy Return” crew. After PC defeated Bombsoldier and lost his last stock to Ken, Mew2King entered the fray, ready to prove himself as the new holder of the Marth throne.

Mew2King didn’t just win. He eviscerated Ken and the rest of his crew, ruthlessly seizing 16 stocks from Ken, Isai, the Japanese Marth Disk and Manacloud, with one stock to spare.

Melee officially had a new king.

Following OC3 came ugly controversy surrounding the event itself. In addition to it running hours later than the proposed schedule, there were rumors that Manacloud, one of the event organizers, had not paid any of the highest placing entrants. Eventually, Arash, a fellow member of SoCal’s Elite Five, Ken’s crew who helped him run the event, explained what happened.

Between dealing with housing for out-of-region competitors, food, venue and other aspects of running the event, the Elite Five were paying over $16,000 to ensure that it ran at all. Its members didn’t have enough money from the tournament’s entry fees to cover the costs.

Manacloud took money out of the prize pot to ensure that the expenses of the tournament could be paid. Naturally, this made many furious. The ensuing fallout between the Elite Five and the Melee community tarred their reputations as a tournament organizers, effectively killing the Zero Challenge series.

Ken looked well on his way out of Melee, having attended only one major event of the year. Though he traveled to Australia to win the small tournament Comrades 2, he otherwise stayed mostly within SoCal, quietly winning local events.

Already suffering displacement as the world’s top Marth and having his Zero Challenge series blacklisted, Ken entered as an underdog at Evo World 2007: the 270-entrant Melee world championship.

Evo was different from every other Smash major, in particularly controversial ways. For starters, it didn’t have the same ruleset as other events. Best-of-three only came into use for the tournament’s top twelve. Before that, each set was a best-of-one match where competitors played on a randomly selected stage, rather than striking to an agreed one.

These bizarre rules, along with the innate variance of a best-of-one set created the perfect storm for a teenager named Mango: a promising Jigglypuff player who had never even made a supermajor top eight in his life.

Hailing from the streets of Norwalk, California, Mango sat down, selecting a seemingly harmless character to face off against Mew2King, who had just thrashed PC at Evo West.

Only a few minutes into the match, Mew2King realized he had a big problem on his hands.

He couldn’t figure out how to beat Jigglypuff.

The Book of Melee: Apex 2015, Smash’s Most Beautiful Disaster

The following is a rough excerpt of “The Book of Melee,” my upcoming 150+ page account of competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee’s history.

Apex 2015 was originally scheduled for a ballroom at the Clarion Hotel Empire Meadowlands in Secaucus, New Jersey. When several smashers showed up to the venue on Thursday night,  they immediately noticed the yellow tape blocking many of its areas.

To start the three-day event, the venue’s fire alarm went off, already showing signs of distress. It was only the beginning of what would be a series of devastating news for the Smash community.

Police and fire marshals in the area realized that the venue was not only unsafe, but lacked the proper zoning permits. The weather at the time, which involved heavy snowstorms and freezing cold temperatures, only made the situation worse.

The chief concern that authorities had was that the roof was going to eventually fall on the venue, due to the hotel having structural damage from the heavy snow and poor conditions. Furthermore, the parking garage adjoining the ballroom and hotel had already suffered structural collapse.  As a result, the venue was shut down.

It was unquestionably the right move, but the news left Apex 2015 in danger. What was supposed to be one of the best days in Smash history was arguably going to be its worst – especially on a public scale, with Nintendo watching as a tournament sponsor.

If Apex was cancelled, the Smash community would be humiliated on a level it had never endured before.

Many of the thousands of attendees suggested that the tournament be run directly through hotel rooms, as several smashers still had CRTs, GameCubes, copies of Melee and memory cards. This had been done before in the past at smaller tournaments. However, the logistics of being able to manage thousands of peoples’ brackets across multiple games made this an unlikely proposition.

At this point, it was pretty clear that the entire first day went to waste. But more importantly than running the tournament, smashers needed to find a venue.

Apex staff, Melee It On Me members and several of the country’s biggest and most prominent tournament organizers gathered in a room on that fateful day to discuss a potential solution. The group included Nintendude, a longtime Ice Climbers player and tournament organizer, Dr. Z, the Crimson Blur, Juggleguy, Tafokints and Scar. The fate of Apex, and arguably Smash, depended on these leaders to come up with a solution.

Eventually, Scar had a plan. What if he contacted people he worked with at Twitch – where he worked as a product manager – to help organizers find a temporary venue that his community could use to run the major?

With the help of Twitch, the collective of Smash leaders found a new available venue, the Garden State Convention Center in Somerset, New Jersey. Keep in mind how lucky this was for the Smash scene. In mere hours, it had found a venue that could host thousands of smashers.

Apex wasn’t going to be the dream three-day major that everyone signed up for. In fact, no matter what would happen, everybody knew that it was, logistically, a colossal failure. Irresponsible venue booking, shoddy organizing and questionable scheduling from former Apex head Alex Strife had already led to hundreds of furious attendees leaving.

But with a little bit of luck, the tournament could be salvaged. The first day was lost, making running the event a daunting task for its staff – but there was no other choice. It was do or die.

Several players began the great migration of televisions, setups and equipment into rented vans. Those at the venue eventually began updating people online about what was going on, directing the logistics and coordinating the move, with the help of Twitch and Red Bull Esports contacts.

Against all odds, with the tournament now projected to only finish in the late Sunday night to early Monday morning hours, Smash survived, with its best minds reviving the once-dead national.

Much like the year before, Apex had its own Salty Suite on Saturday night, with a plethora of exhibition matches between different players, including even returning greats PC Chris and Ken. However, the most awaited match was the first-to-five set between Leffen and Chillin, a Fox forefather who was now an active competitor and ranked the No. 26 player in the world.

Months prior to their bout, Leffen made a joke about Team Liquid signing washed up players. Insulted by Leffen’s arrogance, and a Team Liquid player himself, Chillin then challenged the pesky godslayer to a set in which the loser had to give up playing neutral Fox – both of their trademark colors – forever.

To add to the hype before the event, Chillin released a diss track music video called “Respect Your Elders.” Combined with Leffen boasting after Paragon Orlando about how he was going to 5-0 Chillin, viewers knew they were in for a treat, if not for the sheer entertainment about the two’s bad blood.

However, when it came to their set, Leffen utterly dominated Chillin. The games were relatively close, but Chillin looked visibly shaken in them. In contrast, Leffen frequently laughed during their games and noticeably went for suboptimal options, including using Fox’s up-B, an offstage recovery move, on stage to combo into an up-air: a blatant sign of disrespect.

The end was just as Leffen predicted, a 5-0 to break the hearts of a crowded, overwhelmingly pro-Chillin venue.

As if to answer an implicit call for hope, Mango walked up onto the main stage and took the microphone from Scar. He then challenged Leffen to a $1,000 money match the next time they played in bracket, in order to defend Chillin’s honor, as well as America.

Leffen agreed, with their bet being met by thunderous approval and roars. It was only the beginning of what would become a magical Melee tournament.

Before facing Mango on the next day, Leffen had to overcome his greatest demon in bracket, Mew2King. He was the last person between Leffen and not just a projected match in winner’s semifinals with Mango, but also his own claim to “godhood.” It was only fitting that the last person to there was Mew2King, a man long heralded for being the gatekeeper to greatness.

Having learned from his previous losses to him, Leffen won 2-1, becoming the first ever player outside of the gods to defeat all five of them in bracket. He and Mango were now set up for their $1,000 money match in winner’s semifinals. Parallel to the two on one side of winner’s bracket were the returning PPMD and Armada, each with their own different paths at Apex.

Where Armada coasted to his spot without dropping a game, PPMD barely eked there, still rusty from his time away from nationals. Playing a mix of both Falco and Marth through bracket, he had dropped games to players like PewPewU, who beat Hungrybox earlier in bracket, and SoCal Captain Falcon S2J, having to switch between the two characters semi-frequently.

His struggles with depression and fatigue over the last year had clearly carried over into his performance at the rushed event, now scheduled for two days instead of three. Unlike 2014,  in which his polished play led to convincing victories, PPMD looked sloppy, but good enough to stay in winner’s bracket.

With only a few hours to rest up before top eight, PPMD was anything but confirmed for success. But as a venue of smashers delirious from the unpredictable weekend cheered at every phase of Apex, the tournament’s final phase began around the same time as the Super Bowl.

Now playing against the iron-willed Armada, the North Carolina Falco looked out of energy and too slow to keep up in game one. After losing, he took some time to readjust, picking Marth, a character that innately emphasized patience and discipline over technical refinement, for the rest of the set.

The two went back and forth, showing shades of their thrilling Apex grand finals of 2013. Ultimately, PPMD prevailed, 3-2, outlasting Armada’s Peach in their heavily anticipated contest.

Despite having not competed at a national level for half a year and his exhaustion from the energy-depleting weekend, PPMD had overcome not just the world class players in his path to a guaranteed top three finish, but his own physical limitations.

On the other side of winners came Leffen vs. Mango, both playing for $1,000 and winner’s finals. Perhaps in anticlimactic fashion, the Swedish godslayer won, 3-1, not only taking in more money from Apex, but also now with one god in his way, PPMD.

PPMD and Leffen don’t have as well-known of a rivalry as other players, but the two both seeked redemption  – the former from his long national break and the latter to finally end the era of the five gods. Originally a Falco main, Leffen even looked up to PPMD when starting his career. With Leffen now playing Fox, with PPMD choosing Marth, the two clashed.

Before their set came a pair of notable loser’s matches. Having just seen his Peach lose to PPMD and matched up against a character counter in Hungrybox, Armada opted to go Fox for the first time for a full set against him, winning 3-1 in loser’s quarters. Mango then beat aMSa 3-2 in a thrilling set, to finish the Japanese Yoshi’s own exceptional underdog run, one of the underlying stories of the tournament.   

After they traded two games to start the set, Leffen went up in game three, ready to gain stage counterpick advantage. But PPMD made a two-stock comeback, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat yet again. The Swede managed to win a closely battled game four, but in the final game of their set, the pressure of the big stage began to sink in.

Leffen looked more and more overwhelmed by the moment, desperate to prove his haters wrong and show himself that he was worthy of becoming the game’s ultimate champion. Winning was his greatest chance at vindication, not just to his doubters, but to himself.

The two once again went to their last stock, but Leffen committed an untimely input error while recovering, ending the historic set in tame fashion. Following its conclusion, PPMD leaped from his seat in a manic burst of energy. It was a remarkable change from earlier in the event, when PPMD looked on the verge of collapsing.

Like Pound V and Apex 2013, Armada and PPMD eventually clashed in grand finals. They were two familiar, but completely different players at this stage of their careers.

Armada looked amid a character and career crisis. Apex proved that even with a new character, he could still compete at the top level, defeating Hungrybox, Mango and Leffen in loser’s bracket on his way to grand finals.  Nobody knew if he was going to play Peach again after seeing the potential of his Fox.

Meanwhile, PPMD was not the same cocky and resentful star player of before. Now playing Marth, older and wearier from his years of competition, PPMD had become a sage of Melee, one that didn’t care about what others had to think of his play, but merely wanted to show himself that he could succeed.

The two battled in grand finals of Melee’s ultimate championship, each carrying their own conflicts. Armada quickly went up 2-0 in games of Fox vs. Marth, before PPMD switched to Falco to take the next two games. Curiously, PPMD elected to swap to Marth for the final game of the set, with Armada winning in a last-stock game five to reset bracket.

Years later, PPMD was asked by fans on stream why he elected to pick Marth instead of Falco for the fifth game. He explained that playing Falco required a lot of effort and focus for short explosive bursts, while Marth by virtue of being a more grounded character allowed him to play at a natural pace. In a tournament with final hours moving far beyond midnight, PPMD’s concerns made sense, given that he had an additional set to work with.

But if there’s anything about playing Fox that stands out for competitive players, it’s his technical threshold. Despite his great matchups against the rest of the cast, at the top level, one mistake by a Fox player can lead to death. Where PPMD managed to somehow conserve what was his energy throughout the late night, Armada began to play worse in the second set, perhaps not used to the natural fatigue that came from Fox’s naturally execution-heavy traits.

PPMD adapted, picking his openings more deliberately and once again using his threatening dash dance to force desperate commitments from Armada. With the Swede feeling the languor of playing his new character at a supermajor across numerous sets for the first time, the end result was a tournament-ending, championship winning 3-0 victory for PPMD.

Upon shaking Armada’s hand, PPMD was met by a crowd of smashers who barreled their way to the stage, greeting him with hugs. He lay back in his chair, then motioned for some space to himself as he leaned forward and put his hands in his face, “PP” chants echoing in the back from an adrenaline-fueled crowd.

It was only fitting that at Melee’s simultaneously best and worst tournament ever, its least likely member of the game’s elite would prevail, once again conquering his self-doubt, emotional lows and barriers to rise to the top. PPMD’s success, above all else, reflected the Smash community’s resolve.

Regaining enough energy to compose himself, even clutching his heart,  PPMD slowly rose from his chair and raised his hands, facing a sea of smashers,  standing as a champion and the final symbol of their resilience.

The Book of Melee: The Rise of Dr. PeePee

The following is an excerpt of “The Book of Melee,” my upcoming 150+ page account of competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee’s history.


Chapter 17

Kevin “Dr. PeePee” Nanney is an unusual case study of how to become the best Melee player in the world. Unlike Mango, Mew2King or Hungrybox, the North Carolina native came from an obscure Smash region. He also had an especially embarrassing tag – it came from an inside joke, referring to when he was younger and spilled juice on himself.

After years of casual play with Mario, Dr. PeePee stumbled onto videos of MLG era Melee around 2007. Fascinated by what he saw, he continued to watch the competitive scene from afar, furiously taking notes, learning about advanced techniques and thinking about Melee every day. He was hooked before he had ever entered a tournament.

“I spent more time than anyone else I can think of just recording matches versus my brother on my VCR, uploading it to my computer and watching it for hours,” he told Red Bull.

Dr. PeePee had seen success in other activities, like running, soccer and academics. According to him, he graduated with the fifth best grades in his high school class. Studying and hard work were nothing new to him.

In Melee, the star student found untapped strategy and potential. Rather than primarily seeking to become the best player in the world, he hungered to push his own limits, not just as a competitor, but as a student of the game.

Eventually switching to Falco and entering tournaments, within two years, Dr. PeePee became the best player in North Carolina. An active Smashboards user, he also slowly gained a reputation for being the hidden Melee guru of the Atlantic South, frequently discussing Melee’s intricacies online with whomever would engage with him.

There were still roadblocks – particularly his Floridian rival Hungrybox, who dominated him whenever they played. Moreover, as a college student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Dr. PeePee knew traveling for Melee could be difficult.

Nevertheless, he persisted. With a dedication toward learning the rules of Melee, Dr. PeePee would be deterred by no one.

By mid-2009, Dr. PeePee already had a slew of victories, including wins over both of the East Coast’s top Captain Falcons, Scar and Hax. At Revival of Melee 2, his first-ever national, he finished second, defeating Lucky, Jman and the Mango-slayer Kage. He then took games off Hungrybox, showing signs of progress in a matchup he previously looked lost in.

Dr. PeePee’s Falco stood out from his contemporaries. He liked playing at medium and long-range distances, also boasting a better ground game than any other Falco, with a deadly dash dance that made his pinpoint lasers more threatening. In an age where Shiz, Zhu and other Falco players saw success, Dr. PeePee began to slowly stand out from the pack, leading many to wonder if he could soon reach an elite level.

He began taking sets from Hungrybox, winning North Carolina’s HERB3 over him in late March 2010. After a fourth place showing at Apex 2010, just under Mew2King, Armada and Hungrybox, Dr. PeePee looked ready for a greater breakout, one that would happen at Revival of Melee 3 in November.

After initially dropping a set in winner’s bracket to Toronto Sheik legend KirbyKaze,  Dr. PeePee clawed his way back to grand finals here, tearing through  Hungrybox, Jman  and KirbyKaze in the runback. His only opponent left was the tournament favorite, Mew2King.

Before grand finals, to the shock of everyone watching the two competitors, Mango announced to the venue that he was going to bet $50 on Dr. PeePee winning the tournament. Perhaps Mango noticed the same will to win in Dr. PeePee that he had in the past.

As the star of a new era clashing against an old guardian, Dr. PeePee battled Mew2King for  two fierce sets, finally coming out on top in a game-five classic  second set. His brilliant stage control and decision making surpassed the man who once looked like he had solved Melee.

Two months later, at the start of 2011, he traveled to San Diego for Winter Gamefest VI. The dorky Southern Falco with an even dorkier tag was suddenly the new kid on the block. Now competing on the other side of the country, Dr. PeePee prepared for a clash with Mango, his new mentor.

When the two played for the first time at Pound 4, Mango destroyed Dr. PeePee in friendly Falco dittos, casually three-stocking him. Nevertheless, his new apprentice remained determined as ever to improve, now listening to Mango’s advice for improving, and incorporating newer ideas of his own.

A year after Pound 4, they were now ready to play again in bracket at Winter Gamefest. Testing his own apprentice, Mango played Captain Falcon for most of their sets, as well as the tournament. Dr. PeePee would end up on top, not just beating the Captain Falcon, but staving off an effort from Mango’s Falco in grand finals.

With Hungrybox, Mew2King and Mango off his hit list, Dr. PeePee only had one name left among the Melee elite: Armada. At mid-February’s Pound V, 2011’s first supermajor, he’d get his shot against the Swede.

But first, the Swede needed to get far enough in bracket to play him.

After getting destroyed by Hungrybox at Apex 2010, nobody knew Armada’s plan leading up to Pound V. Most expected him to pick Fox against Hungrybox; others suggested that he’d try Ice Climbers.

When the stone-face Swede picked Young Link to start his winner’s bracket set against his nemesis, nearly everyone watching the set gasped. This marked the first time a player of Armada’s caliber had seriously picked a low tier in tournament since the MLG era, when ChuDat used to pick the same character against Peach. For the first few minutes of the match, people in the audience laughed and groaned at the heavily defensive, projectile-spamming, zoning heavy gameplay.

After four minutes passed, Armada’s brilliance began to show. The Swede started to run away with the first match, slowly gaining a big lead through the use of bombs, boomerangs and nimble movement to weave in and out from Jigglypuff’s aerial threatening space. This wasn’t a gimmick – this was the art of war.

Eight minutes later, Armada completed a double-two stock 2-0, with a simultaneously baffled and wildly cheering crowd. Soon following, he faced off against a red-hot Dr. PeePee, fresh off a 3-0 over Mew2King.

This was a set that featured Mew2King willingly falling off the stage to end a three-stock loss game one, rage quitting under a minute in game two and a final loss in game three. According to Dr. PeePee, the set made many smashers consider if Falco was the best character in the game.

Like Mango at Genesis, Dr. PeePee was the United States’ last defender against Armada. Meanwhile, Armada desperately looked for his first ever major victory in the United States, having already failed three times. The Swede ended up prevailing, eking out a close 3-1 set to make it to grand finals.

As he had done at Revival of Melee 3, Dr. PeePee rose from the ashes. Grinding out a 3-2 victory over Hungrybox in loser’s finals, he once again prepared for a rematch with the only player left in Melee’s stratosphere whom he hadn’t defeated.

Both Dr. PeePee and Armada came from regions that weren’t known for having any notable competition. Their rises came at unexpected times when no one had ever heard of them or where they came from. Because they were forced to improve on their own, both became known for their analysis, as well as their adaptation skills.

However, they still had their differences. Armada played reactively, picking “correct” options to earn his openings, extensively comboing his opponents and overwhelming his enemies through sheer willpower. Dr. PeePee excelled in the neutral game, frequently ending his combos early and hiding any technical errors through tactical genius, safe play and positional pressure. If Armada could break his opponents in just a flash of a few seconds, Dr. PeePee preferred to entirely dictate the pace of his matches.

Grand finals started off with with a bang. Dr. PeePee three-stocked Armada, locking him down and never letting him get a chance to start his combo game. American spectators began to cheer “USA,” just as they did with Mango at the first Genesis. Alongside this chant came a chant that became synonymous for following Dr. PeePee, “Stack it up!”

In a video of a North Carolina local grand finals, North Carolina Melee community leader MrBeenReady claimed that it came from two local smashers telling another group of people at a movie theater to “stack it up” in reference to the high prices for popcorn. Over time, it became a running gag, catchphrase, dance and chant. To date, however, many argue over its origin, with some saying it came from a fast food restaurant. 

Armada responded with a victory of his own, then defeating Dr. PeePee in game three to go up 2-1. Just like the first Genesis, the American defender stood on his last legs. Heading into possibly his last match of the tournament, Dr. PeePee went all out, intentionally opting to play off raw emotion and not overthink any more.

In game four, the two of them went blow-for-blow again, dragging each other to their last stock. The crowd screamed at every hit either one of them got, with the lights shutting off in the venue adding unintentional hype for a hollering packed group of spectators. In the closing seconds of match four, Dr. PeePee finally hit Armada with a final back air to catch his recovery, sending the set to its final game and leading to an eruption of applause from the heavily American crowd.

On Fountain of Dreams, the last game of the  set, the two once again pushed each other to their limits. One combo later, Dr. PeePee had taken a set from Armada for the first time ever, reset the bracket and now had another set to win. The Swede never recovered.

It wasn’t as dramatic as the first set of grand finals, but when Dr. PeePee followed  the reset with a 3-1 victory, it was official –  the man from nowhere had become the clear world No. 1. He had defeated each of his greatest challengers over the span of four months.

The Melee community boasted many talented players, with five names now standing above everyone else: Mango, Armada, Dr. PeePee, Hungrybox and Mew2King.

Inspired by a similar concept within the Street Fighter community, these group of players were eventually dubbed the “five gods” of Melee, known for their consistently high placings at supermajors and their remarkable consistency against the rest of Melee’s playing field.

It’s not clear when the term “god” started to catch on. Some think it came into fruition after Pound V, while others say it only became widespread after 2013, due to Scar’s frequent use of the term on commentary. To date, smashers argue over which of the “gods” were actually qualified for the title, as not all of them had an equal level of success.

By this point, the Melee community had already seen Mew2King and Mango rule the game. Hungrybox had his stretch of excellent play, while Dr. PeePee looked like the newest contender for Melee’s top spot.

Only one player among the Melee gods had not yet achieved an American title: the European wanderer himself, Armada.


Thanks for reading. The current release date is expected sometime in late August 2018. Stay tuned.

Kids See Ghosts: A Track-By-Track Review

For those who are long-time followers of my website, you may be surprised to see that I haven’t updated it with a post about my upcoming book. I’ve taken some time off from Melee writing to pursue my love for music. However, the new Kanye West-Kid Cudi collaboration finally lit the spark inside me to write about music.

I won’t beat around the bush – “Kids See Ghosts,” the self-titled debut of the new Kanye West-Kid Cudi collaboration, is the best release from either artist in years. It’s probably my favorite hip hop album in recent memory.

The stunning return to form is remarkable for West, but it’s even more so for Cudi. If you don’t believe me, listen to the 2015 Cudi release, “Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven,” an album so bad, it garnered a rare zero rating from music critic Anthony Fantano.

That said, let’s take a look, track-by-track, at “Kids See Ghosts.”

Feel The Love

“Feel The Love” starts off with a simple bassline and a gospel-like hook by Kid Cudi ( “I can still feel the love”) before Pusha T drops a badass, braggadocio, intro verse to the album. In standard Pusha fashion, he talks about his fame and history of dealing drugs, but he also sneaks in a clever Eazy-E reference. Not exactly anything jaw-breaking, but if you like Pusha, you’ll dig this verse.

When Pusha finishes a line with the words, “trap music,” that’s when the real meat of the song kicks in. West starts doing this onomatopoeia bit, but it’s not eye roll-worthy like “Lift Yourself,” a West single released earlier in the year. It’s far more aggressive, sounding like mimicked gun noises and now backed up by forceful, loud, adrenaline-pumping drums.

With Cudi’s soulful vocals, these elements create a larger-than-life starpower reminiscent of songs from 2010 West classic “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” All the emotions “Feel The Love” evokes from you are that level of magnified, but you only get less than three minutes before the album takes you to its next destination.

Fire

“Fire” is shorter in length, but it isn’t as in-your-face as “Feel The Love.” There’s marching band-esque vibes, with a 1966 sample of Jerry Samuels’ “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa.” It’s an artistically fitting choice because Samuels’ song reflects  an individual’s struggle with mental health, a prominent theme over this stage of West’s and Cudi’s careers.

Along with a twangy guitar lick in the back comes a flute-like melody between West and Cudi’s contemplative lines, which detail their status, but also their failures. Both sound like they have been beaten down over the last few years – and they have been – but they’re trying their best to stand up again.

Suddenly, “Fire” transitions to a seemingly out-of-nowhere Louis Prima sample.

4th Dimension

It’s not every day that you get to hear a 1930s Christmas song used in a hip hop song, but somehow West and Cudi use one to make an absolutely killer track. As soon as I heard the drop, I immediately thought to myself, “oh shit.”

“4th Dimension” has shades of the 2013 West classic, “Black Skinhead,” but it’s even more menacing. West’s lines in this song are so ridiculous they make you laugh (“It feels so good, it should cost/Bought her alligator, I ain’t talkin’ Lacoste”) and have overt sexual imagery (“She seem to make me always feel like a boss/She said I’m in the wrong hole, I said I’m lost”). This is the trademark West we know, hate and love.

Following West’s grand entry, the background transitions into this strange, horrifying, psychedelic laughing track, with the heartbeat-like bass still pushing the song onward. Cudi’s verse follows, but the subject material is far darker than the lines of excess we heard before. Cudi talks about sin and losing everything he had for fame. He even reflects on his drug abuse, along with his depression, creating a stark, but intentional juxtaposition with West.

Clocking in once again at just under three minutes, “4th Dimension” has a strange ending: a Shirley Ann Lee line from her song, “Someday,” which is also sampled in “Ghost Town,” from West’s previous 2018 album “Ye.” This segues into the most memorable song on “Kids See Ghosts.”

Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)

After a brief build up, “Freeee” starts with heavy guitar chords, a hard-hitting drum track and a recorded Marcus Garvey excerpt, in which the famous Pan-Africanist leader asks his listeners to acquire an understanding of themselves. Already, you know you’re in for a listening experience unlike any other.

“I don’t feel pain any more,” West calls out, as if he’s simultaneously in the heavens, but staring down into hell. He continues with a “I feel free,” with emphasis, distortion and a stretched out echo on the last word, eliciting both nightmarish dread and divine euphoria to the listener.

The song continues with similar vocals from Ty Dolla $ign and Cudi. There’s even a brief interlude, in which the percussion completely stops, but a few heavy synth chords match melodic and angelic vocals of “I feel free,” parallel to the all-encompassing, lower-pitched, and demonic sounds from before.

I could write an essay about this song, but no words can do it justice. If there’s one track from “Kids See Ghosts” to listen to, it’s this one.

Reborn

It’s hard to follow the dynamic “Freeee,” but Cudi and West somehow manage to do it with an uplifting, static, but motivational track in “Reborn.” It focuses on the idea of rebirth through adversity, learning from your mistakes and moving forward, as Cudi sings in the chorus (“I’m so, I’m so reborn/I’m moving forward”).

The drums stay as prominent as ever, though they’re subdued, slower, yet still impactful. Similarly, a simple piano line replaces the tantalizing guitars from before.

Cudi and West have especially poignant verses. West (“I was off the meds, I was called insane/What an awesome thing, engulfed in shame”) captures his public struggle with bipolar disorder, while Cudi offers an uplifting resolution to his existential crisis (“At times, wonder my purpose/Easy then to feel worthless/But, peace is something that starts with me”).

Kids See Ghosts

Like “Reborn,” the self-titled track is mostly static, but it’s no breather. Instead, the percussion drives the pulse of the song forward, as if it’s running into a great void.

Mos Def guest stars in a hushed chorus with a repetitive emphasis on the phrase, “kids see ghosts sometimes.” Reportedly, the inspiration for the title came from how children can see, both literally and figuratively, what adults can’t. Both West and Cudi are still dealing with the ramifications behind their respective parent’s deaths, so the name is somewhat fitting.

Cudi’s first verse is a calm, soothing, but still haunting self-reflection. In direct contrast to his optimism from the previous track, he ends his “Kids See Ghosts” verse in ominous, chilling fashion (“I guessing I’m just sick of running/All this time searching hard for something/I can hear the angels coming”). At least in how I interpreted the line, it felt like a callback to 2016, when Cudi checked himself into rehab for suicidal urges.

West then delivers a fast-paced stream of consciousness that’s more in line with the track’s speed, but detached from its emotional resonance. He mentions the time he took to make music (“Well it took me long enough to rap on this strong enough”), reconciles his faith with his actions (“Constantly repenting cause yes, I never listen”) and briefly shills for his own fashion and art sense. Honestly, it’s all over the place; I’m not sure how it fits into the rest of the song, even as a point of comparison, but it’s also Kanye West, so one of these is expected per album.

Cudi Montage

The album’s conclusion begins with an affecting loop of “Burn in the Rain,” a posthumous Kurt Cobain recording released after artist Cobain’s death. Notoriously, the grunge star committed suicide at the peak of his career, making Cudi and West’s use of the sample even more powerful, or at least infinitely better than Cudi’s poor attempt at a Cobain imitation across much of “Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven.”

Following a few opening lines by Cudi, West once again delivers bars that are among the best of his career. It’s not a personal verse though – it’s more like “College Dropout” era Kanye, as he references gang violence, the desire for revenge, the institutional systems that lead them to it and pain caused from all three areas (“All growing up in environment/Where doin’ crime the requirement/They send us off to prison for retirement”). While it’s not thematically consistent with the personal narratives of the album, it’s still among my favorite moments of the album, as it shows West can still offer valuable social insight.

At just over 23 minutes, “Kids See Ghosts” is a brilliant, heart breaking, but inspirational experience. It showcases Cudi and West confronting their flaws in a unique and unforgettable manner, bringing out their greatest strengths. After having heard it for about a week straight, I’m still floored at its sheer cohesiveness and artistic value; I can’t stop listening to it.

It’s a tough time to be a West fan. His music stayed strong, but relatively underwhelming for his standards since 2010. Moreover, between openly supporting Donald Trump and making poorly thought out statements about slavery, his public antics made many question their fandom. I would have liked to see West take back his previous statements, or at least take direct ownership of them and closely examine why many of his fans felt betrayed.

Then again, whether or not he’s obligated to explain his beliefs, maybe he’s already done it. On “Wouldn’t Leave,” a “Ye” song dedicated to how his flair for needless controversy caused conflict in his family, he at least made a self-aware effort to address his penchant for saying, frankly, stupid shit (“I said ‘slavery a choice’ – they said ‘how, Ye?’ / Just imagine if they caught me on a wild day”). I’m not impressed by it, but perhaps others are.

I also can’t repeat enough that at least “Yeezus,” “The Life of Pablo” and “Ye” were still acceptable releases for West fans. Cudi’s “Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven” sincerely made me think that Cudi lost his mind. This is the third time I’ve mentioned this album, but it’s that mindbogglingly terrible, to the point to where Cudi’s 2016 subsequent release, the forgettable “Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’,” doesn’t even register in my mind as a Cudi album. As far as I could have previously told, the artist was dead.

Ever hear the cliche, “don’t call it a comeback?” I’m calling “Kids See Ghosts” a comeback.

It’s the clear frontrunner for best hip hop album of the year and I can’t wait to see what West, Cudi or both have in store next.

9/10

The Book of Melee: An Excerpt of My Final Melee Project

Hi. I wrote a book about the history of professional Super Smash Bros. Melee. Feel free to skip the following if you don’t care about me and just want to read a sample, first-draft chapter.

A little under three years ago, I started this website, eager to have some kind of platform for my thoughts on pop culture. Then just a student meets aspiring sportswriter meets smasher (the alliteration is unintentional), I didn’t really have a plan, nor did I expect to get a following of thousands of weekly readers. Since then, this website has received over half of a million views, as well as led me to meet some of my dearest friends.

Around late 2016, with my grandfather telling me to have no regrets about my career, I had an idea. When I shared it to my family, he and my normally gaming-skeptic father were the first people to believe in me.

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My grandfather and I (with short hair and 15 pounds heavier) are the two, left to right, in the back; my granduncle and my dad, left to right, in the front.

Why not write a book about Melee history, one that would cover its major tournaments, players and show the resilience of gaming’s greatest cult following? I had heard of books written about professional gaming before, but never an equivalent to Bill Simmons’ “The Book Of Basketball” for a specific video game community.

To the average person, the premise sounds ridiculous. For smashers who know the rich lore of our scene, it’s more than reasonable. “The Smash Brothers” documentary already proved that Melee has a story worth telling.

Inspired by my years of being a sports fan, my family and my community, I began writing.

Two years later, with the memories of my late grandfather still clear in my mind, I’m happy to confirm that my book has turned from a dream into a reality. In February of this year, I officially finished the first draft.

There’s still work to go. For example, I don’t know how I will price it. My website has always been free-to-read, but this project has taken countless hours of research, fact-checking, speaking to others and editing. Currently, I am still reviewing all 162 pages with the help of a few select readers and editors.

Furthermore, I want to keep it accessible for both veteran smashers and those eager to learn about our community. Frankly speaking, there’s no confirmed marketing plan, “book tour,” or cover art. I don’t have an estimated self-publish date yet, but I’m shooting for the end of the summer. By then, I’ll have more interviews and likely an even better experience for my readers.

Regardless, that’s enough about me. Here’s an excerpt from “The Book of Melee,” from a chapter that details Armada’s Genesis run.


Chapter 15: Genesis

The fifth of 11 children growing up, Armada had an unremarkable start to his career. Introduced to Melee by one of his older brothers, Alexander “Aniolas” Lindgren, he fell in love with it, relentlessly grinding out hours of solo practice and becoming the best within Gothenburg.

That wasn’t enough. He wanted to become the best player in the world, a feat many saw as impossible for him due to living far away from the best smashers in the United States.

Armada dreamed of making a name for himself, but the obstacles facing him seemed insurmountable. Due to living in a big family growing up – and under a father who made a modest living as a welder – money was another factor that he needed to overcome if he wanted to travel, especially coming from Sweden.

“We were not the most fancy-dressed,” Armada told Rolling Stone, referencing adversity he and his siblings faced in school. “And I was a gamer, so that was something a lot of people really liked to pick on me for.”

“Maybe I found the bullying an inspiration to prove them all wrong.”

Hidden behind Armada’s individual willpower came a deep-rooted love for and from his own family. With the help of two brothers, Aniolas and Andreas “Android” Lindgren, Armada endlessly practiced Melee, finding out about tournaments across Europe. Slowly, but surely, Armada overcame the odds against him, traveling to these tourneys and quickly rising to the top of the pecking order within his continent.

His combo game in particular gained him a cult following among veteran smashers who saw his recorded matches, noticing how ruthlessly he destroyed the competition in Europe. This was seen through both Armada’s sheer speed and control of Peach, as well as his punish game, which looked Mew2King-esque, if not even more impressive at times.

Now attending Genesis, Armada had yet another test, in a country where he could barely speak the language, but looked to prove himself in his most beloved game.

Several smashers were skeptical of Armada succeeding in the United States. Many assumed that European greats of the MLG era, like Ek and Amsah, had just beat up on vastly inferior competition.

The Europeans didn’t even play on the same version of Melee as anyone else – the PAL version of Melee had small, but noticeable differences to certain characters’ hitboxes, attacks and weights. Many smashers also bragged that they too could look like Armada if they constantly played opponents with “bad DI.”

Blitzing through pools, save for a tight 2-1 set with SoCal Ganondorf main WhatIsFear, Armada advanced to bracket, where a couple of heavy hitters awaited him, NorCal Fox Lunin and Mango’s best friend Lucky. Nonetheless, he quickly defeated them to make it to winner’s quarters.

A little-known fact – after Armada won game one, Lucky successfully counterpicked the Swede to Poké Floats, a legal but little-used and frowned-upon stage of competitive Melee back then. This stage was eventually banned from tournament play, due to inherently anti-competitive qualities, such as its highly varied terrain and shifting environment. Either way, Armada closed the set out, 2-1.

The Swedish Peach began to gather a crowd of viewers, amazed that he could defeat some of the United States’ most impressive players. Now guaranteed for top 12 at Melee’s biggest tournament ever, Armada would have to run the gauntlet, facing only America’s premier players from then on.

Against DaShizWiz in winner’s quarters, the Swede had his first challenge of the tournament. In the first game of their set, the Florida Falco two-stocked Armada in under two minutes. The result confirmed what many thought would be the Swede’s best-case scenario – that he wasn’t too bad, but still not a supermajor contender. Little did they know just how wrong they were.

Instead, the Swede adapted, taking Shiz to Mute City and winning by two-stocks. Armada once again two-stocked him in their third game. He then faced the player that everyone in the venue felt sure that he’d lose to: Mew2King, specifically his impeccable Marth.

Back then, this specific character and player combination was considered unwinnable for any Peach player. To put it bluntly, either Mew2King was going to defeat Armada or everybody was fundamentally wrong about how they viewed Melee.

Just like he did against DaShizWiz, Armada lost the first game, but then came back looking stronger. Clutching out a victory in game two, the European champion then two-stocked Mew2King to win the set. He had not only defeated a former world champion, but he did it with a character that no one ever saw at this level before, dominating a matchup that some saw as impossible.

His next opponent, awaiting him in winner’s finals was Mango, marking the first battle of their rivalry. Most bizarrely, their matchup featured two characters, Jigglypuff and Peach, that several in the MLG-era discounted as either a cut below top tier or not good enough to win nationals.

Mango and Armada’s success stories leading up to this moment proved that Melee had a long way to go before it could come close to solved. In just a year’s time, Mango had become the undisputed lord of Melee. But like how Mango took the throne from Mew2King at Pound 3, was he too destined to be displaced by Armada?

To start their set, Mango’s Jigglypuff looked completely lost, as Armada two-stocked it in game one. The match caused many in the large crowd behind the two to go quiet, as they were not used to seeing their country’s best player get outplayed, let alone with his most fearsome character.

In game two, Mango picked Falco, perhaps inspired by how previously close Shiz came to beating Armada. Keep in mind that Mango had played Falco for a year and a half at this point, even beating Mew2King with the character.

Two-stocking him back on Yoshi’s Story, Mango looked in control of the set, as if he downloaded the Swede. But with a third game on Final Destination, one in which Armada’s conversions off grabs against Mango were especially dangerous, Armada went up 2-1, adapting to Mango’s own adjustments.

Heading into the set, the excitement among American smashers quickly changed to desperation when they saw Armada take a 2-1 lead. Maybe the United States wasn’t much better, if at all, at Melee than anyone else.

For the first time since his rise to the top, the crowd began to root for Mango. Even as he barely held on to win game four and take the set to its final game, smashers knew that any moment Armada got a hit, he could flip the tide of a match in a few seconds.

The two were transforming the metagame in a way that hadn’t been seen since Ken vs. Bombsoldier. And on their last game of the set, after going back and forth for three stocks, Armada hit Mango with a final neutral air to catch Mango in the air, both of them at high percent. The king was slain.

“Wow,” gasped commentator HMW within seconds of Armada’s victory. “You’re too fucking good, Armada.”

Bloodthirsty for another shot at Armada, Mango swept Hungrybox, who himself had defeated a slew of top level opponents to make it to loser’s finals. Though their actual Jigglypuff ditto matches weren’t anything noteworthy, if you watch these games again, you can hear the shock in HMW’s voice, still in disbelief from what he saw in winner’s finals and recovering from it.

Armada had come all the way from Europe to the United States, a region that took its own dominance in Melee for granted, just to beat the best American players on his first try. His Genesis breakout illustrated the kind of hunger that still existed within the post-Brawl era, that anyone would fly thousands of miles for a couple of thousand dollars and for the glory of being Melee’s best player, a year after its competitive scene was destined to die.
 

When grand finals started, Armada ruthlessly three-stocked Mango’s Falco. As viewers gasped at every combo Armada hit, it looked like his turn to make mincemeat out of Mango, just as he had done for his previous opponents.

Think of this as Rocky vs. Ivan Drago, but with an ironic twist. Formerly having no one believing him, Armada now looked like the heavy foreign favorite, despite actually being a massive underdog. Mango had a personality and reputation more akin to Apollo Creed, but he remained the United States’ last hope, similar to Rocky.

Eventually, after Mango switched back to Jigglypuff, Armada stood on championship point, up 2-1, with Mango one game away from finally being dethroned. This lead to a crucial game four that later became known as one of Melee’s greatest games ever.

The two battled back and forth on Battlefield, trading their first three stocks. Armada led for most of the game, but Mango had finally found a hole in the Swede’s shield-heavy gameplay. If he could grab Armada instead of throwing out unsafe aerials on the Swede’s shield, he’d rack up percent, while maintaining strong position after a throw. His newfound patience began to manifest itself in strong counterplay.

Armada and Mango were now at their last stock at mid-percents, with the two of them battling for center stage. But in a situation where Mango had begun grabbing, the SoCal Jigglypuff did something unexpected, rather than grab. He landed behind Armada’s shield and proactively jumped forward to instinctively cover a roll.

For the first time all set, with Melee’s biggest tournament on the line, the SoCal Jigglypuff played his trump card: Jigglypuff’s rest. It landed, giving Mango game four and setting in stone the greatest in-game read in Melee history.

Right as the rest hit, the hundreds of smashers watching roared with approval. Chants of “Mango!” and “USA” deafened the Contra Costa County Fairgrounds venue.

The Swedish Peach wasn’t yet broken. After going down early in game five, Armada scrapped, tooth and nail, to make a comeback, with both of them ending up at high percent on their last stock. But after a trade between Jigglypuff and Peach sent both of them flying upon collision, Mango ended on top, resetting the bracket and taking the first set of grand finals.

Forced to compete against a character he hated and playing in a venue that almost entirely wanted to see him lose, Armada had gone from being the hero of the Genesis tournament to being rooted against. Mango swept him in the second set, also dominating Armada’s desperate Fox counterpick in the last game.

Loud cheers greeted the Genesis champion Mango upon his victory, but they also went toward his newfound Swedish rival, whose legend had just started.


Thanks for reading. I’ll keep you all updated. Until then, here’s to carving our chapter in gaming history.