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 the final part of a two-part conclusion to my underdog run series. You can read the first part here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.