No. 1 Cinderella Run of All-Time: Wobbles at Evo 2013, Pt. 2

In the final edition of the Top Cinderella Runs of All-Time, I reached out to Wobbles to write his account of the run for this website. The following is written by him, with accepted edits from me. This is be the final part of a two-part conclusion to my underdog run series. You can read the first part here.

Mango:

Mango has always been an interesting player for me to fight against. Despite being much better than me on every metric of the game–except maybe an explicitly analytical one–he was one of the five gods that I never doubted I could beat. That’s because his playstyle is something that an IC player gets to exploit (or get demolished by, depending on the day).

In a lot of ways, he reminds me a lot of Forward, from Arizona. Forward was one of my two main top-player influences while practicing in AZ (the other being Taj, huge shout-outs to both of them), and I always had an easier time beating Forward than Taj, despite Forward being the slightly stronger of the two. The reason for that was that Forward engaged more than Taj on the risk-taking, read-heavy front of the game. Taj is a player who can mercilessly shut you down, just spacing carefully, playing positionally and fundamentally, and reacting to whatever you did; Forward was always more likely to get in your face and take chances, even if he didn’t really have to.

If you want to play risky and read-heavy against ICs though, you are prone to getting blown up. This is especially true when you look back at 2013, when very few players had clearly delineated their anti-Nana gameplan. ICs weren’t a character you actively prepared for. They were a character you forgot existed until you faced me or Fly in bracket.

As an ICs, I am accustomed to biding my time for a fat opening that gets to take your whole stock. Despite having burst movement and being a puppet-type character, they actually resonate a lot with the grappler archetype from other fighting games! Get zoned, get walled, get bullied, get camped… then bam, spinning-pile driver, and a quarter of your lifebar (or your stocks) vanishes, just like that. If you can pick up on somebody else’s patterns, even for a moment, you can make them hurt.

The catch is that if you can’t pick up on the other guy’s patterns and they don’t make big tech flubs to give you free grabs, you feel like the character is useless. Which is also true of the grappler archetype.

Mango was also a player that I studied a lot to try and understand. He became the best as a Puff player, and nothing he did seemed to make sense on the surface. He gave you the impression that he was always just attacking, and it magically worked somehow. Then he began playing a mixture of Fox, Falco, and Falcon, and he continued to dominate the scene, even though–when he began–he was not very fast or technical! He did not play the characters the way anybody else did, and it made him better than everybody else. To me, that meant if I could understand what was going on under the hood, I’d be that much closer to being the best myself. I learned an absurd amount during that period of study, and if I want to blow somebody’s mind by seeming deep and insightful, I just say something that Mango has been doing for like 10 years and I sound like a genius. Thanks, Mango.

Still though, his playstyle has always been based on that fluid, in-the-moment observation of his opponent, combined with subtle movement shifts that make him hard to predict or hit. That meant that even once I grasped the process of his play, there was no guarantee I could read him in any given match. But, in any given match, I might, and combined with the IC’s absurd grab punishes, that could give me a win. If he wasn’t playing on point and made a tech flub, that would only help.

Rewatching our QF match, you can see this sort of thing coming into play instantly. In game 1 I make a tech flub, he charges in (maybe looking for a running shine or something), in a situation most Foxes would take a safer full-hop approach, and I grab preemptively to turn it into a stock. Fast lead.

He seems to take awhile to get his mojo going because I get two more grabs very quickly on the next stock, but he is aware of the danger and mashes like a maniac. Nowadays, a player like DKB, Nintendude, or Army would have converted those grabs to a stock, but despite the name, I’m actually not a very efficient wobbling converter. I have some old habits from when I first started using it that keep me from getting them quickly, and he escapes.

However, right after, you see me quickly taking advantage of his desire not to run the ground-game anymore, and I exploit full hops with more up-airs and eventually find a link into another grab. Like I said, if the grappler can get a couple reads, the damage basically deals itself.

I lose the next stock, but it’s dragged out, and it actually confirms something that I said when I unretired in like 2015, which was that my results were going to suffer tremendously once the talent pool got bigger and more of those players were experienced at killing Nana. Mango takes ages to secure his Nana kill on this stock, and even though he keeps me on the back foot, I keep finding little trades that put him at 48% before I die. The same story plays out next stock too; he pretty much dominates in terms of neutral exchanges, but he’s at 117% by the time he KOs me. Sure enough, I close out the next stock because he doesn’t quite capitalize on a split, and then the next stock he does an unsafe upsmash that leads to a tech-chase, handoff, and wobble. 1-0, my lead.

Mango’s adaptability is terrifying though. He takes me to Pokémon Stadium and you can instantly see several adjustments kick in right away. His jumps become less impulsive, his movement becomes much cleaner, and he starts working his grab-game to abuse my shielding. I’m comfortable sitting in shield as ICs because so few people know when and how to grab, even against SoPo, but he is all over it within the first stock of game two. He doesn’t even let me find any extra credit with my single climber, and he utterly controls the first stock.

Rewatching game two, I notice myself making a lot more technical flubs than I actually remember from the set, which… I find surprisingly uplifting. Normally I can’t do anything but obsess over my mistakes. One error every now and then is fine, but it lingers in my head. If I make a second one soon after, I’ve got a tendency to lose focus, or get mad, or both. But I couldn’t even remember them. They just didn’t affect my mindset. That makes me very happy, in retrospect.

It also reminds me that I didn’t do well at that year because I played especially amazingly, but because I kept my focus in the face of mistakes and pressure. I didn’t throw away an entire set because of a single error, a bad moment, or even a bad game. Mango outplays me continuously through game 2, I drop openings, and I end it with an SD and get two stocked, but it didn’t seem to mentally or emotionally impact me.

Oh yeah, and the other reason… best-of-three. ICs are very scary in a best-of-three. Mango bans FD and I go to Fountain.

First stock is back and forth–I drop a wobble that I just winced at, rewatching it–but I close it out with SoPo. Mango evens it up instantly, but I’m happy going into the even-stock situation without being the one dodging his invincibility.

I’m not going to lie to you, but the next stock is mostly a great example of how you are supposed to play as SoPo, and I’m seriously proud of it. There is a lot of dancing and empty movement. There’s a lot of sliding around and making sure you don’t corner yourself. Lastly, there are a lot of safe, noncommittal pokes (like short hop upair) rather than big, gambling smash attacks. If I played like that more often, I’d have had more than one Evo 2013! Mango is at 14% when he kills my Nana, but I’m the one who gets the stock first. In the context of the whole game, it’s huge. This might be my best single stock of play the entire tournament–with one other notable contender–and I always feel good rewatching it. I get a few stray hits on Mango’s respawn, but he evens it up again.

If the previous stock was huge, this next one is gargantuan. Mango once again shifts back to conquering me in neutral, kills Nana effectively… and then slips off the stage with bair. I do two of the slowest, clunkiest wavedashes of my life for a free edgehog and get to take the stock barely doing anything. And, sure enough, Mango respawns with a vengeance and I don’t land another hit with SoPo.

And the next stock, the one that sends me into top 8, is pretty anticlimactic. There’s some poking, some falling back, a little flubbing and clumsiness… and then Mango short hops towards me, facing backwards, with a nair, which was probably supposed to be a bair. I land right next to him–I walked off the platform with a falling nair of my own, expecting him to run in and hoping for a knockdown or trade–and when I realize we’re going to land right next to each other, I go for the grab, I get it, and that’s all she wrote.

Turns out, Mango is going to have something to say about this on day 3, but for now, I’m in winner’s side of top 8. Holy smokes.

Day 3

Going into day 3, I did something that most people don’t–I told myself over and over again that it was okay if I lost, if I got totally embarrassed on stage, if I got 3 stocked four times and got 5th and that was it. I’ve always had a problem where the expectations and demands I place on myself make losing absolutely unacceptable. It’s a strength, but it’s also a weakness. It pushes me forward, but it tilts me and makes me self-destruct when things go wrong.

Like I said, I wanted to move away from that for Evo. So when I woke up, I thought a long time about what I wanted from the day. I chose to I focus entirely on my appreciation of still being in the tournament. While watching the SNK finals, I chatted with Armada about how awesome Melee was. I reacted like a child to Melee’s introduction video. I sat there in my chair on stage, bouncing up and down with excitement while waiting to play. Then, when my time came, I got to play PPMD.

PPMD

Honestly, I don’t have a whole lot to say about the match itself. If I’m being honest, It wasn’t a terribly good one. Match 1 was pretty messy, and in match 2 he dominates me and then I find grabs and suddenly, hey, it’s even. To be fair, that’s how a lot of characters feel against Falco. The real test for most characters against his laser oppression and control is how well they bide their time and keep from biting on obvious bait to try and escape.

I can get very antsy when the other guy is controlling me, and it’s clear on rewatch that I stay pretty focused and aware of the nuance of certain situations. In game 2, for instance, I respawn, jump to the top platform to shoot an ice-block (targeting the side platform, most likely), and when he jumps into it, I just stand still and wait for the grab conversion. Normally, I’m a jumpy enough player that I would normally have kept moving, fallen off the platform, and lost my opening, but I had the presence of mind to adjust my plan. Being able to keep that focus onstage is something I’m proud of, though apart from that, the set was nothing to write home about.

The biggest thing of note here is that PPMD had 2-1’ed me at APEX 2010 and then 2-0’ed me mercilessly at APEX 2012, so I was actually pretty afraid to play him, because he knew how to handle my character. Falco is also a character who can dominate you in neutral enough that he tricks you into thinking “I don’t know this matchup at all,” even though Falco is fragile enough you could kill him by downvoting one of his Reddit posts. But I told myself it was okay if I lost, that I knew what to do, and just to play and enjoy the game, and I think that helped most of all.

When I won, I leaped out of my chair, jumped in the air, and felt unbelievable. I’d taken down another god of the game, and I was in winner’s finals. Unreal.

Hungrybox

This set is interesting for me to rewatch. Everybody who talks about it remembers game 2, but games 1 and 3 were pretty close and interesting as well. In fact, game 1 was closer than I remember it being, even though it’s clear that Hbox is in control for most of it. I nearly get a real wild turnaround fair kill on the last stock, but Puff is so floaty and Hbox is at low enough percent that he has plenty of time to meteor-cancel and survive; then he just kind of outplays me afterwards, and takes the game. On watching that match, I see my SoPo’s movement tightening up more and more as the game goes on which is very important for what’s coming later.

Game 2, I take him to FoD. I don’t have much of a reason for it at the time, other than I like the color of the stage and the Kirby music. In retrospect, it’s a decent enough pick. The side platforms can freeze at heights that make it awkward for Puff to descend upon you or camp you, and the top platform is low enough for you to poke through with full-hop up-air. The ceiling height is a good one where you don’t die too early to a dair into upsmash combo, but it’s not as high as Dreamland so you can actually expect to see up-air KOs before Puff is past 130%. The downside is that it’s not very wide, and ICs love having a wide stage that lets them CC, slide around, get desyncs going, and increase the odds that stray hits don’t send Nana off the stage. Those factors are also what make Yoshi’s less strong against Puff than you’d expect. FD is generally considered the strongest ICs pick in most matchups, but that’s mostly because of how much control you have over the opponent’s landing. For floaties like Peach and Puff, that is typically less true, and I find that having the side platforms can narrow their aerial approach a bit, which helps, so I’m less likely to pick FD against them.

But the key thing here is this: both Hbox and I think it’s a best-of-five, and in Bo5, you don’t get stage bans. So it’s weird that I don’t take him to PS (the strongest pick in the matchup), FD (the strongest stage overall for ICs), or Yoshi’s (the stage that best exploits Puff’s lightness). Instead, I just go to FoD, my favorite level. I’m trying not to obsess over every choice, I’m just doing what feels best. I’m happy and having fun.

The start of the game suggests that this is a good thing, because it seems like I sure as heck won’t be winning. Hbox gets a mean lead and it widens pretty quickly. Something, however, comes to work in my favor. Normally, floaties benefit tremendously from slowing down the pace of the match when they get ahead, then they take advantage of your desire to bulldoze in and make up the deficit. The risk-reward curve favors them the more non-committal the exchange becomes, because it is much harder to convert a stray hit against a floaty compared to a fast-faller (or, say, a Marth or Sheik that you launch to a platform).

ICs though? They love a slow match. The player might not–for instance, I am typically impulsive and impatient as hell–but the character does. You get time to set up your desync walls and close out space. The other person is less likely to move in after a random hit, so Nana is less likely to randomly die. If you have both ICs then your aerials can deal around 20%. And, of course, you have the nuclear grab. The key to fighting ICs is to slowplay, but convince the other guy that the match is fast-paced, so they swing badly and you can exploit them. If you play fast, you can blow them up but you risk eating an infinite because you were a frame too slow somewhere, and if you actually play slow, you help them out. Leads have a tendency to vanish suddenly because you eat 40% worth of upairs in two seconds while you were trying to platform camp. Then you panic and somehow they grab you.

Initially, when Hbox gets his lead, he pushes it, and the gap just widens. He’s switching between safety and aggression, which is how he dominates me stock 1 and gets his Nana rest in stock 2. But when I hit my last stock, he slows the game down massively. He jumps from platform to platform, always drifting away. I fall back, set up some desyncs, poke carefully with more short hop aerials, and regain some mental ground. I notice which zone of space he’s spending the most time in, and when I have the time to set myself up for a desync, he doesn’t contest. I paint that zone with a Nanapult, trying to tangle him up, and it works out better than I can imagine; he gets stuck light-shielding it, locking him in shield stun! This gives me the cleanest wobbling setup imaginable to get myself back in the game.

However, he still has quite a lead. I am able to clip him a bit even after he separates me from Nana, but he still closes and leaves me solo. He has about an entire stock left. He is one of the best players in the world. This is not looking good.

I have one thing going for me though! I don’t know it’s best of three. I still think it’s best of five. I am playing pretty well, I’m pretty focused, but even so, that is the only way I can explain my total lack of nerves. I’ve got another game left, after all.

With that in mind, I’m not 100% sure why, at this point, I’m so motivated to try and win the game. I think it’s because, once I land that wobble and bring it to his last stock, a little part of me thinks “wait, I could still win this game!” and rather than get jittery, I get excited. I’m not nervous, I’m thinking “how cool would it be if I won here?”

I start moving faster and more threateningly, but not impulsively. I stagger my timings, I even manage to handle myself when I get pushed to the corner and maneuver with almost no space. Hbox might be getting a little nervous here; he spends most of this stock choosing to retreat and play safe. It might not even be nerves; after all, the risk-reward of every single exchange still drastically favors him. I survive a high percent hit off the stage by forward+b’ing but he wavedashes back, looking for forward smash, and I drift back to perch at the edge and stay out of range. He lands a mean tomahawk grab into back-throw and I’m off the stage, but he doesn’t quite close out.

At this point, my little pokes have added up; Hbox is at 60%, and a stray down smash nearly kills him. He recovers high and tries to descend on me with a nair, and I gamble on another smash, this time using a waveland to sneak under. He DIs badly, and I drop my controller in surprise, because I can’t believe I won… and since he survives that too, I have to snatch it back up.

Hbox recovers easily enough, touches down and has jumps again. He continues to burn them staying high, looking to keep away from forward smash and down smash, and I alternate between shielding and wavedashing, looking for my moment. With both side platforms on FoD gone, it’s almost like FD. He lands in the middle of the stage, and we have our backs to each other. He shields upon landing, and waits for just a moment… then I slide in backwards, and there’s no forward smash or down smash. I up smash, he jumps into it, and he dies. Without knowing it, I just avoided dropping into loser’s by clutching a last stock SoPo comeback against one of the most challenging opponents in this game’s competitive history.

I’ve rewatched this stock dozens of times trying to figure out why things worked out. Part of me wonders if Hbox just panicked and choked because, undoubtedly, he could have played cleaner. I also wonder if those three last smash attacks I did were just dumb luck. Some details stand out to me though.

One thing is that I notice Hbox’s shield flickering before my down smash and up smash connect, but he jumps out of shield rather than being stuck in it, so it doesn’t seem like a sloppy l-cancel. My wavedash timing changes constantly throughout the stock, so it makes me think that he is looking for wavedashes in, and when I delay slightly, he decides to jump and begin his wall, and I somehow (three times!) thread my way in with smashes. I also constantly wavedash out of shield–my guess is that the combination of timing delays and shield pulses made him feel like I was going on the defensive, encouraging him to move, and I was catching him in those windows.

As for that last smash attack, I can at least tell you why I up-smashed. I knew that, with that much space between us, it was unlikely Hbox would retreat with a roll. It was more likely he would jump, and if he jumped, a down smash would miss. I didn’t forward smash because, again, if he jumped, he would probably leap over the hitbox, and since the hitbox is only active for two frames, and for the first frame it’s entirely above them. I wasn’t close enough to get directly on top of him, and if he jumped away it would whiff. Lastly, there’s a silly property of IC’s up smash, which is that it reaches lower behind them than in front. By sliding in backwards, I felt I would cover the right spot. Turns out I did!

Some of this might just be wishful thinking that my win came down to some magical, thrill-of-the-spotlight, intuitive skill shining through and earning me the victory. In reality, it might have been that Hbox was playing a little worse than normal that stock, and a series of unlikely gambles paid off for me by chance. The tournament was in Vegas after all, and if there’s a place to gamble, Vegas is it.

Either way… it’s 1-1 now. Hbox takes me to Dreamland. Normally I would ban the stage, but it turns out to work to my advantage. I have lots of space, I secure a lead with a wavedash into jab, grab, and wobble, something I haven’t been using at all, which is why I think I was able to sneak that in successfully towards the end. The lead and the space let me make desync walls, and Hbox alternates between trading damage on me and Nana, which means that he continues to fall behind, percent-wise.

But Hungrybox certainly hasn’t given up. He gambles a rest on the back of my shield, and manges to clip me; I’m lucky that I don’t DI high because that lets me respawn and finish him with an forward smash, but still, it’s very smart of him to take that chance. At such a high percent, he’s got decent odds of dying to random hits anyhow, and this completely undid an entire stock of chipping him away. It’s really intelligent risk-taking on his part that keeps him in the game.

A few seconds later after his respawn, Hbox decides he’s going to use the room to his advantage as well. I control the ground, he sticks to the air, we dance, and then–this is surreal–the crowd begins to cheer for me. You can hear it through the commentary microphones. It’s not an Arizona chant, which I’m familiar with. It’s a Wobbles chant.

Understand this: I was not a very popular player. One of the most (if not the most) widely disliked technique is named for me. Most YouTube comments on my matches are people hating my character and wanting me to lose. Earlier that year at APEX 2013, I played against Gucci–a Falcon player from Japan–during a crew battle between American players and international players, and the American crowd cheered for Gucci. We were in New Jersey.

People didn’t cheer for me, and that’s just how it was. The crowd behind me booed me when I wobbled Mango the previous day. People would cheer during my matches when they watched me SD. So it is very strange, even now, to hear a crowd chant my name.

But the strangest thing of all, looking back, is that I still can’t remember them chanting. I don’t remember hearing them or thinking about it. Up on that stage, I’m in Winner’s Finals of the biggest tournament in the game’s history (at the time), a crowd is finally chanting my name, and I don’t even notice. I don’t know if I’ve ever been that focused in my life.

Maybe part of my brain did heard it though, because this next stock I am in control the whole time, and finish it with a very unorthodox and flashy sequence into a wobble. It gives me a huge lead. Turns out I need that lead because Hungrybox just shuts down my next stock with nearly flawless play. When I respawn, he lets me have the ground again, and soon I’m chipping and poking him to high percent.

I said it earlier in this post, I say it on commentary all the time, and I’ll keep saying it until I die: if you give the ICs room to maneuver and desync and you stay on the platforms because you’re afraid of getting grabbed, you will end up losing. They will hit harder than you. My percent lead grows and I seem to realize the strength of my position, because I am suddenly playing very safe, very stable, taking over the entire left side of the stage and refusing to overextend. Somewhere in there the crowd chants my name again, which I still don’t notice.

More dancing. More poking. Hbox comes in and hits a high forward b on my shield, I bair him, he DIs wrong, and it’s 2-1. I pop off (pretty modestly, compared to the previous round, or my leap of joy after beating PPMD) and sit back down, bobbing slightly in my chair, total focus on my face, ready for Hbox to tell me his counterpick, ready for another long attrition game on Dreamland, ready to keep playing.

That’s when tournament staff comes over and tells us the set is over. That’s it. I’m in Grand Finals.

Looking back, I don’t know what I was thinking, exactly. I can guess that Hbox was thinking something along the lines of “are you kidding me?”

I stared at the messenger for about two seconds, then stood up and offered my handshake to Hbox. I feel bad, but at the same time, I was so damn close to going down 0-2 and I didn’t. If I had, we’d have had to take that outcome too. Money says a part of me–and I’m not always the most noble person, so it was probably a pretty big part–was ready to take that win and sit in grand finals. My first grand finals of a major, ever. Winner’s side, no less.

But the truth is that was a crummy way for it to end. While I walked away with my arms raised in the air, Hbox’s expression is a better definition of “crestfallen” than you will find in any dictionary. We both thought it was Bo5, for a couple reasons. First off, it was winner’s finals of the biggest tournament ever. Come on! Not only that, the original ruleset posted on Smashboards had explicitly said that all finals matches for Melee were to be Bo5, meaning winner’s, loser’s, and grands. Even though a lot of rulesets say things like “these are subject to change at the tournament organizer’s discretion,” that kind of a rule change just never happened. At least, until it did.

So I went back to my spectator seat, the last player left in winner’s bracket, and that’s where my part of this story ends.

Mango, again.

I don’t have much to say about these sets, and it’s not just because (spoilers) Mango thrashed me 6-1 and it wasn’t even close.

Somewhere in that time while I sat waiting for my next opponent, all that crazy energy I had began to dissipate. I didn’t even feel the urge to go to the warm-up station and practice. I just watched the matches, like I wasn’t in the tournament anymore. When I played Mango, I made a few more mistakes on average than I had during my previous two sets… but I can’t really attribute it to nerves. I don’t remember feeling nervous. I don’t remember feeling much at all!

Not in a bad way, mind you. The main feeling that I remember was satisfaction. Too much satisfaction, given that the tournament wasn’t over and I still had a set to play. I just couldn’t find the energy. With the way Mango was playing on day 3, it may not have made enough of a difference, but considering how I was playing that day, it could have been one hell of a set. As it was, it’s more like the tournament had three or four different grand finals, but our match wasn’t among them.

So… I’m a little sad that I ran out of steam, but it’s hard to say it’s because I lost. I sneaked a win off Mango on FD in the second set, he wiped the floor with me on Yoshi’s to win the tournament, I got second, and it was the greatest performance of my career. More than that, I still consider it the best day of my life.

Last Thoughts

I had one main goal in my Smash career, and it was to be the best. I didn’t reach that goal. The closest I came was at Evo when, for about half an hour, I got to stand at the top of the bracket as the only undefeated player left. For my inner perfectionist, that feels a bit too much like a consolation prize.

But when I think about how it felt to be so focused and energized on that stage, when I consider some of the lower emotional points of my tournament history, when I remember the times I felt so far away from justifying the time and energy I poured into the game that I never wanted to play again…well, it’s actually pretty good as far as consolation prizes go. Not a lot of people get there in our game, and I did, and it felt incredible.

I got pulled back into the game again some time after, and some people–including me–were hoping to see me rise to the same heights as I did at Evo. I’ve had a few highlights here and there, but mostly I just fall back into the same frustrated and perfectionist tendencies that have plagued me for most of my career, and to be totally honest, it gets more and more aggravating every time it happens. And there was a lot of unhappiness and disappointment before that Evo as well, so there are many times when I think about my career in total, and feel let down, like I just hadn’t done enough.

But crazily enough, just like the crowd and the noise and the mistakes and winning and losing, there was this small span of time where none of it even mattered to me. To me, the thrill of and the joy of that tournament went farther than justifying my frustrations. It rendered them irrelevant, and I’ll never forget it.

Thank you for reading.

Thank you to Wobbles for finishing off the underdog run series.

I’ll have an update later in the week about the future of the website, as well as a personal project of mine. Until then, thank you to all my readers and supporters.

No. 1 Cinderella Run of All-Time: Wobbles at Evo 2013, Pt. 1

In the final edition of the Top Cinderella Runs of All-Time, I reached out to Wobbles to write his account of the run for this website. The following is written by him, with accepted edits from me. This will be the first part of a two-part conclusion to my underdog run series.

It’s been a while since I sat down and reflected on Evo 2013.

I got second. That was pretty sick. I was in winner’s side of grand finals with all five gods present, had some awesome highlights and it was Melee’s return to Evo after six years of absence. All of that is crazy.

I also meant for it to be my last tournament. I just felt done with Smash going into it and wanted to move on. I hadn’t achieved everything I wanted in the game, but my obsessive drive was fading. I was 25, turning 26 a week after that tournament. I had never finished my bachelor’s degree, worked intermittent restaurant jobs and made money at locals. I had issues with depression, anxiety, focus, health – all of that. I felt my life was legitimately not going where I wanted it to go.

Melee has this way of eating your attention. When you start thinking about it, the giant puzzle of the whole game, you can get sucked in and forget about almost everything else. If you catch the Melee bug, it’s hard to balance it with the rest of your life. It becomes your life, for better and worse.

So, at the time, I picked Evo to be my last Smash tournament, and I went into it with one main resolution: have as much fun playing the game as the day I first picked up an N64 controller and played Super Smash Bros 64, more than 14 years before. I wanted to enjoy myself with all my heart, even if I went 0-2.

But I didn’t just want to mess around. I wanted to compete with all my heart too. I really wanted that tournament to encapsulate what I loved about Smash. It wasn’t only about the fun, the silliness or even the Nintendo characters that were part of games I played growing up. Smash was an embodiment of my competitive drive. When you and three friends play with items on and go to Hyrule or Pokéfloats, eventually you want to take it to Final Destination for a one-on-one to really settle that question: “who is the best?”

I didn’t have plans to win Evo, do well or make it out of pools. I wanted to put that out of my mind, as much as I could. I wanted to have just one tournament where I got to compete without obsessing over my results; to throw everything at it and celebrate the mixture of fun and competition – the fun that had me wanting to do better, the desire to do better that motivated me to practice and the practice that got me to compete.

Evo 2013 was going to be my celebration of that. A lot happened that weekend.

After my first three matches, my bracket run hit the big names that people recognize. It looked something like this: Wizzrobe, Eggz, Fiction, Lord, Shroomed, Mango, PPMD, HBox, Mango, Mango. So I’ll try to tackle that in order.

To try and keep that mindset, the whole “don’t worry about whether I win or lose” thing, I tried not to think about who I was going to play that weekend. If you’re going to win a tournament and you don’t want it to be about bracket luck, then you’ve got to have an attitude of “beat whoever comes my way.” So unless you plan to do research or get specific gameplans ready, stressing about upcoming opponents doesn’t help you much. I at least knew that I would possibly play Wizzrobe and Eggz, because people told me and asked me what I thought. My answer was “I tried not to think about it at all.”

Wizzrobe

Wizzy, at the time, was not the Falcon behemoth that you know and fear today, but he was on the list of up-and-comers really worth respecting. Falcon can be very rough for ICs, especially if he is methodical and hits hard – these are both traits that have come to define Wizzy’s play, so this could have been a serious roadblock for me.

I did not spend a lot of time dwelling on it though. I was lucky enough to live in Dallas at the time that Darkrain did, a few years before, so I had some serious high level Falcon practice; not only that, I had just faced Westballz and Mango at Kings of Cali 2, both playing Falcon. The Westballz set was a close 3-2, while Mango was a close 0-3 (check the videos! For real, they were close games, just not a close set). This gave me a broad range of recent Falcon styles to draw on.

As it turned out, Wizzy did not have much ICs experience. We talked a lot about the matchup afterwards and rewatching the video, I can tell that even though I played a bit clumsy, he was giving me lots of room and respect that let me work out the knots. He also wasn’t sure when and where to move in to close out stocks, especially against one IC, and that gave me room for extra credit when I only had one climber left. You can tell that games started close, but I crept ahead. Games centered around stray hits and pokes generally don’t favor the fast faller, since they’re the one more likely to die from random hits and bad DI. So I won 2-0 and moved on to Winners Finals of my pool to play Eggz.

Eggz

Despite everything I said earlier about not wanting to dwell on winning or losing at Evo, I am (and, as far as I can remember, always have been) hyper competitive. It is an endless struggle to keep that part of my mentality balanced when I play anything, even a game I’m touching for the first time. So as my blood got pumping and I hit winners finals of the pool, I started to worry. A fast and competent Fox can always give the ICs trouble, and Eggz was a long-time competitor.

Fortunately for me, Eggz was also not on point with his punishment game against ICs. He also chose to adopt a full-hop heavy style, which can be nightmarish for the ICs, but since game one was on Fountain of Dreams, that actually complicated things for him. Without securing Nana kills, shine spikes or giving me enough ground-based pressure, the basic risk-reward shifted heavily in my favor. There were points where I just full-hopped out of shield and it gave me free hits or escapes from pressure. Without a strong punish game from his end (too careful, too up and down) and me getting stray hits that turned into early kills, it was a double 3-stock. I advanced to day 2, ready to play Fiction.

Fiction

This was, in a couple respects, my worst match of the event.

First of all, Fiction very nearly sent me into loser’s bracket, in a game three, last stock scenario. Second, I got my angriest of the whole event in this match and broke my promise to myself. Third, that anger lingered going into my next match against Lord.

I started the set by chatting with him in a friendly enough way, because we both had been Wario players in Brawl (key difference: he actually succeeded). We joked a little about getting camped, and I initially felt calm. This was going to be a friendly tournament match! Very cool.

Things went downhill by the end of game one though. He was adopting a similar full hop method that Eggz did, but he was executing with more precise spacing. Moreover, he was capitalizing on the splits a lot better, shining Nana and (if memory serves) the game ended in my favor with a close one-stock. Then he said something about wobbling being stupid and lame, and I tilted.

This has always been a sticking point for me, even when I stopped wobbling as much later in my career. Wobbling is pretty stupid, game-design wise. It’s not fun for me to do, it’s not interesting for me to do. But competitors use the tools they are given, regardless of the character. Foxes shine spike you and chaingrab each other. Falcos laser camp you. Marths use their disjoint to avoid ever letting you get close, Jigglypuffs rest you and Peaches crouch-cancel and down-smash. It’s your job as a competitor to overcome the opponent’s strong tools by using your own.

When people complain selectively about something being lame, but have nothing to say about their own relentless use of their own strong tools? When the Fox player is camping the top platform, fishing for shine spikes and doing his absolute best to avoid ever letting me interact with him so he can never lose? That’s fine! He’s trying to win! Characters, strong tools, patience, competition, victory, etc. When he complains that I don’t let him go when I finally catch him?

That enrages me.

So I went into game two on absolute tilt and he three stocked me very quickly. This is where I feel like I really let myself down.

I jumped immediately into game three without taking time to calm down or think about what happened. I can’t remember any details about game three, except that I won on the last stock because he missed an out of shield action and I grabbed him. He complained, I called him a name or something and I moved along feeling insanely disappointed in myself.

Lord

This feeling carried over into my match with Lord. He had very limited ICs experience, but he played a solid neutral and hit hard. He was one of California’s hidden bosses and the fact that he’d made it this far meant it wasn’t just hype. He was also super nice, which makes me feel even crummier that I couldn’t find it in me to enjoy the match.

Game 1, he gets the first stock, but then I wobble him four times. It’s a very silly game to watch. The second game is significantly more competitive and rewatching it, I have thoughts very similar to what I thought during the match. “Man, Lord is smart and adapting. He’s mixing up his offense and defense well, so that he doesn’t lose openings from camping too hard, but he doesn’t just attack predictably.” Then I notice my Sopo KO second stock, giving me a lead, and think “dang, precise spacing on the dash-dance grab, tech-read, AND an up+b call-out? Nice.”

He falls into a blizzard-grab and a zero percent wobble after that. Sucks, but his fault for doing a hail-mary knee into a desync. I’m up two stocks to one, I get a lead, he drags it back, and so far this is a really competitive match. Then I flub an edgeguard, he hits me off the level, and I SD, going for a belay cancel and accidentally throwing an ice-block. In that moment, I was transcendentally salty. I started thinking “man, he’s gonna win now and I deserve to lose.”

And again, that is the sort of thing I did not want to define my Evo experience. Though in retrospect, I’ve figured out exactly why it hit me so hard.

I try to enter tournaments mentally prepared to go 0-2. I try to go in mentally prepared to get four stocked. Something that I don’t prepare myself for, however, is coming close to victory and screwing up. I don’t think about what it will feel like to screw up at the clutch moment, what it will feel like to almost have what I want and lose it. When I talk to myself about being prepared for the worst? Just doing bad isn’t the worst. If I’d gone 0-2, I could say I was messing around or wasn’t feeling well.

But losing like that? In that moment, with everything going your way, you expect things to keep going your way. The sudden reversal hurts more than having a negative expectation confirmed. You aren’t prepared, and who are you going to blame? You were right there, at the finish line, and for some reason, you couldn’t cross it.

Rewatching the face-cam though, I can’t really see the disappointment. I look mildly annoyed, at worst. I might not get less salty or angry as time goes on, but I definitely manage it better. On average, anyhow.

You can tell by my play in game three though! I miss multiple opportunities to close out a stock and he ends up getting the first one. Then, I just wait on that respawn platform for the entire duration. I can’t remember what I was thinking, but I remember feeling drained. After I land, I move around like a sad spaghetti noodle for a second or two… and then something happens.

I start playing sharp. Not perfect, but rewatching, I’m actually impressed with myself. I don’t do things I expect myself to do. I do better stuff, safer stuff. Less panic, less rushing and my next two stocks have pretty cool finishes, if we’re being honest. Next one is another blizzard-grab into wobble, and I’m up three stocks to one. He takes the next stock, but you can see me digging for that SoPo kill, dragging every interaction out, forcing him to burn more and more mental energy just to eliminate my single climber. That still won’t make the match even. Then, instead of doing something impulsive on the final edgeguard, I just calmly wait, stand, wavedash, grab, wobble.

I’m pretty embarrassed by how I handled my own emotions in the Fiction match, but looking back, I am proud of the end of the Lord set. I remember feeling the wind sucked out of me by my SD at the end of game 2, but also how I unexpectedly managed to dig in and keep up my play. You can also hear me say “you are very smart” to him, because I wanted to compliment his general mixups, his adaptations and still feel positive.

After the fact though, I felt kind of empty. I went and sat and tried to get my head together. I knew I was most likely going to play Shroomed. We had played at KOC2 a few months before; the first set went 3-1 his favor, then I won the runback in loser’s bracket 3-1. He also 2-0’ed me at Genesis 2.

Shroomed

While I was sitting down, trying to find some focus and energy, one of my fellow AZ players came over and tried to cheer me up. It wasn’t really working at first because I was too stuck in my own head, but then I realized I was rejecting the attempt of somebody to make me feel better – all while I was trying to feel better. I was surrounded by friends! I was playing my favorite video game. I had made it far in this massive tournament. Everything was fine. Why was I mad?

My thoughts cleared up. I got up. I walked around, talked to friends, warmed up, and played. And truthfully, I can’t remember much about my match with Shroomed. I just tried to focus and enjoy myself. Rewatching, I got a lot of very cheeky grabs. He got the lead, I wasn’t quite punishing his downsmash out of shield as well as I should have, but I’m mostly just glad that I didn’t seem to let it bother me the way it had at G2. I made up for it with some cheeky grabs and that seemed to be enough.

Winning that match put me into a top 8 winner’s qualifier against Mango – or, put another way, I had just cemented my spot in Melee’s top 10.

Thank you to Wobbles for contributing and accepting edits. The second part will be coming soon.

Monday Morning Marth: 4/23

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

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

Here are my personal takeaways.

1. PewPewU Makes A Splash

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

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

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

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

2. Melee’s Most Underrated Rivalry

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

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

3. Melee’s Most Underrated Rivalry Pt. 2

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

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

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

4. A Quick Recap of Patchless

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

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

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

What I Like:

What I Don’t Like:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday Morning Marth: 4/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, as one player falls, another rises.

2. AbsentPage is the Truth 2.0

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

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

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

3. Smash Summit 6 Cynicism

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

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

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

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

4. Flatiron 3 Prop Bets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I like:

What I don’t like:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday Morning Marth: 4/9

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

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

1. In Bronze Comes Westballz

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

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

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

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

2. Fight Pitt 8 In a Nutshell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Still No Progress By The 25

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

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

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

5. Women and the The State of the Smash Union

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

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

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

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

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

What I Like

What I Don’t Like:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday Morning Marth: 4/2

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

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

1. AbsentPage is really good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Is ChuDat…Back?

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

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

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

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

3. lloD wins See Me On LAN

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

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

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

4. Accountability in Melee

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

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

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

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

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

What I Like:

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

What I Don’t Like:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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