UltimateSSBMRank No. 7: Azen

7. Azen

300x300

No. of years ranking in the Top 10 of RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank: 5 (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008)


No. of years ranking in the Top 5 of RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank: 4
 (2004, 2005, 2006, 2008)
No. of years ranked as RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank’s No. 1: 0

No. of titles: 5 (Tournament Go 6, MLG Seattle 2005, MLG Orlando 2006, MLG New York Playoffs 2006, Viva La Smashtaclysm)

Disclaimer: A lot of this article uses the same information that Chillin posted online within his History of a Smasher series. If you’d like to read it, here is the link. I strongly recommending checking it out – shoutout to Chillin for providing a lot of this information.

In any form of competition, it can be difficult to decipher the impact of players from a different generation. Within modern Super Smash Bros. Melee, we take many strengths for granted – namely that all top players L-cancel consistently, don’t miss wavedashes, make intelligent decisions in game and have adequate knowledge of relevant matchups. Yet, in many ways, Azen was ahead of his time in laying out the requirements to be one of the game’s best.

Azen was a naturally talented gamer who seemed to become the best at whatever he wanted to play. Coming in from playing the previous Super Smash Bros., Azen, along with his friends in Mild, Chillin and Anden, began playing Melee from its launch date. It was to no one’s surprise when Azen, already known as the best among his group of friends within the previous game, quickly separated himself from its members again. Discovering Smashboards in early 2002 and talking to his friends about it, Azen soon entered his first tournament, one held by Chillin August 17, 2002.

A common misconception is that Azen immediately tore apart the East Coast, beating everyone upon picking up a controller. At Chillin’s tournament, Azen lost in winners bracket to a Maryland Yoshi player named Eric and had to make his way through losers to win. At a larger tourney held by a Maryland Samus player named Kengo, Azen finished in third place to one of Eric’s fellow crew members in Derrick: a Sheik main who was also part of a Maryland crew named DYCE.

If that wasn’t enough, at Azen’s third tournament he entered, he placed fourth while playing Falco, losing to Chu Dat, then a Fox player just known by his real name, Daniel Rodriguez. Once again, Azen had just missed his chance at revenge over DYCE, but he wasn’t yet deterred from playing the game he loved.

After a half-year hiatus of no tournaments, but much time training with Mild, Anden, Chillin and his newfound friend in Chu, Azen won his first big tournament at DC Super Smash #1 in mid 2003, while playing a variety of characters. He won again at another tournament held by Jtanic, showing that he was now certainly No. 1 within MD/VA. It’s not as if Azen only beat up on his local friends either – when challenged by NYC’s Deadly Alliance, then a large crew of players who could back their online smack up with revolutionary play, Azen held his own against them, showing that he too had the tech skill necessary to play at a top level, along with the “mind games” and intelligence to adapt to his opponents.

At first, none of Azen’s accomplishments sound too impressive. If you watched the video above of his Falco, chances are that you either laughed or rolled your eyes at how primitive the gameplay was. But keep in mind that at this point, save for a few people hyping up their own play online, top-level play wasn’t yet established within the United States. If you were just starting to play competitive Melee, you probably didn’t have any way to accurately gauge your skill. For all you knew, you could have been either complete trash or the best player in the world.

That’s what makes some of Azen’s contributions to the meta so impressive. Already having a natural knack for quickly recognizing in-game situations and figuring out different matchups, Azen was often called the “Master of Diversity,” due to his large portfolio of characters that he could choose against his opponents. Although his Link was considered his best character before his eventual transition to Sheik (and later Marth), Azen would frequently ditto people with their main, hilariously beating them at their own game, showing a better understanding of their own character and illustrating just how much better he was than them. Add in that Azen was also the first notable player to L-cancel and it was even more obvious how much more he knew about the game than an average opponent.

Tournament Go 5, Azen’s first cross-country trip to California was a moderate success, with him placing an impressive fourth, losing in Sheik dittos to Isai and Recipherus. Though many were impressed, his skeptics wondered why the vaunted master of diversity only played Sheik. You couldn’t quite doubt his skill, but losing to two of California’s top three wasn’t exactly a repudiation of what people in California thought: that their region was far and away the best in the world.

Of course, the johns came out in full force. In addition to Azen being possibly tired from traveling so far away, he only went Sheik because he felt it gave him the best chance to win with items on, a ruleset that not everyone agreed was indicative of skill back then. Many also thought it was only fair that California smashers come fight Azen and the East Coast on their own home turf – where the lack of items would get rid of any randomness and truly show who the best smasher was. When Azen returned from California, he dominantly won the next two MD/VA tournaments he played in (Live or Die and DCSS #2), showing that he was still the East Coast’s hope against the West Coast invaders.

At Game Over, the stage was set forth for a Azen vs. Isai rematch in winners’ finals, which Azen won 3-1, playing Fox against Isai’s Captain Falcon. Keep in mind that at this point, due to Chillin’s upset of Ken earlier in bracket and Isai’s terrifyingly dominant doubles reputation, many of the East Coast saw this as Azen finally defeating the West Coast’s most talented player. Hours later, with many smashers sleeping during grand finals againt a red-hot Ken, Azen tried numerous characters, but to little success, as Ken won the tourney from losers.

A second place at a 100+ person tourney was nothing to scoff at for Azen, but the loss to Ken started an unfortunately familiar pattern. At FC1, Azen placed second again, beating Isai and everyone else he faced, but losing to Ken twice again. Keep in mind that these sets were almost always fairly misleading in game count, since Azen would often go to last stock with Ken, just being a few decisions away from winning games. They were often thrilling, but usually heartbreaking for Azen and his fans.

Nonetheless, he was still the East Coast’s best – and Azen had a chance to prove himself again at Tournament Go 6, which featured not only the best in the US, like Ken, Isai, Azen, Recipherus and Wes, but also Captain Jack and others from Japan, whose skill levels were unknown, but hyped up to be far beyond what people imagined was possible for the game. Imagine the smash community’s surprise when Azen, who in the last two multi-regional majors had just come up short against Ken, beat a guy who routinely messed up Ken in public friendly sessions (while playing secondaries like Bowser and Donkey Kong). You could argue that Azen’s victory at TG6 marked the first ever international major victory.

Azen’s first place seemed to validate all the hype that his supporters built up for him, with many at the time saying that he was the new world No. 1, but it didn’t silence all his doubters. Part of Azen’s success at this tournament came from not only avoidingplaying Ken, who was upset early by Sastopher and DieSuperFly, but also chaingrabbing Captain Jack in the Sheik ditto, then seen as controversial.

Though Azen once again stayed virtually unchallenged within his own region, winning DCSS #3 (only dropping a set to Chillin, while playing Mario), MLG Boston 2004 and tying for first at Gettin’ Schooled, he once again placed fourth at MLG New York 2004 in October, losing the runback set with Captain Jack. It was a strangely sour end to what looked like Azen’s last serious tourney for a while – and the beginning of a long slump.

With the East Coast’s hero not taking the game as seriously any more and Ken beginning to separate himself from the rest of the world, it became more difficult to argue that Azen was anything close to being the world’s best player. That’s not to discredit the latter’s influence on the meta-game, but it’s almost impossible to talk about Azen without bringing up his nemesis in Ken.

If Azen excelled at the technical parts of the game, knowing each character’s strengths and weaknesses, which stages were good in a matchup and how to play safe,  Ken was the kind of player that would actively try to strike fear in the hearts of his opponents. Ken’s aggressive style, often based around manipulating his opponents to whiff, sharking them from below after launching them into the air, reading their movement and throwing out different moves to confuse them, seemed to counter Azen’s mostly defensive, walling-out with fairs, spacing-heavy, forward smashing tactics. Their gamestyles also reflected how different their personalities were: Azen was mostly quiet, humble and reserved, while Ken was far cockier, outspoken and loved to prove his doubters wrong. Hell – Azen even played blue Marth, while Ken played red Marth, just for poetic measures.

At Gettin’ Schooled 2, Azen’s return in late June 2005, the MD/VA legend placed a respectable, but somewhat underwhelming fourth place while playing Marth, losing once again to Ken, but also his friend Chu. The tournament marked a point where Azen was no longer the best on the East Coast and also showed that he couldn’t just simply enter a tournament in his region and expect to win.

Azen’s decline continued at FC3 , where he lost to DA Dave and Caveman, placing ninth to the dismay of many of his fans. Clearly not having as much playing the game super competitively any more, Azen sandbagged with Link at MLG Philadelphia 2005, placing either fifth (per Chillin) or 13th (according to ssbwiki) and also lost another tourney to Chu at MLG Nashville 2005.

Editor’s note: does anyone know whether Azen got fourth or second at MLG Nashville 2005? My databases, including Liquidpedia and what I wrote earlier for my Year In Review for 2005, tell me fourth place, but ssbwiki says second.

Of course, it was only a matter of time until Azen saw a brief return to success. The master of diversity came back with a solid first place finish over the likes of Chu, Kei and Sastopher at MLG Seattle 2005, also winning Show Me Your Moves 4 over Chu again in the Midwest. Although Azen fell back to Earth with a brief fifth at MLG Los Angeles 2005 and second at BOMB 4, it was clear he still had the talent to compete with anyone on a good day. With MLG Atlanta 2005 coming up in November, with Ken and Isai in attendance, Azen had a lot to prove about how good he really was.

Put yourself in Azen’s shoes for a moment. You were once the hero of your region and a year ago had just won the equivalent of the championship belt, but you’ve fallen off since. Meanwhile, your counterpart, Ken – a man now unquestionably the world No. 1, having gotten the opportunity to make it to the Jack Garden Tournament and win – became the face of Melee just as quickly as you receded away. This tournament is your chance to prove that not only are you still a top five player, but you can beat the best player in the world.

Azen finally managed to defeat Ken in Marth dittos in winners semifinals, finally proving to his fans that there was no one he couldn’t beat. Yet after defeating Chu in winners finals, Azen lost to Ken’s Fox in two sets, unable to find a successful counterpick and once again heart-breakingly finishing as the runner-up to Ken.

Four months later, when Azen got ninth at MLG New York 2005 (ironically in 2006), losing to Vidjogamer in winners, it felt safe to say that his best days were certainly over. July’s FC6, where he finished 13th while playing Link, Luigi and Pikachu, only seemed to cement that even if he had the talent to succeed, Azen simply didn’t have the killer drive to win a title over the world’s best.

However, Azen returned to prominence with a fourth place at MLG Chicago 2006, where Azen lost to Tink and the upstart Fox main Mew2King, but also beat the likes of Chillin, Darkrain, HugS, Caveman, Isai and even the Ken-slayer in PC Chris. Even if he lost, suddenly there was hope that Azen had found his luster or rediscovered himself.

At MLG Orlando 2006, seeded only seventh, Azen tore through PC, Drephen, KoreanDJ and Chu twice to win his first title at a tournament Ken attended in a little over two years, as well as his second title ever. Even if Azen didn’t have to play the king of smash, his run, bringing him through three top five players and a hard matchup against Drephen, was nonetheless impressive.

Two months later, at MLG New York Playoffs 2006, Azen made his way through King, Tink and Rob$ until having to face his worst nightmare: Ken in winners quarters. Imagine how much pressure there must have been in this moment for Azen. He now had to play a matchup that’s historically been defined by heartbreak, whether it’s through just getting outplayed or messing up tech skill in crucial moments. All hope seemed lost in Game 4, when Azen went down three stocks to one against Ken, in what looked like another easy win on the board for Ken in their lopsided rivalry.

Somehow, Azen held on to win the set. Instead of having to go through a stacked losers bracket, Azen defeated KoreanDJ in winners semis and double eliminated PC Chris to win the tournament. To understand how crucial this moment was for Azen, consider that his victory over Ken was his first tournament victory over him ever. If he doesn’t make that three-stock comeback against Ken, he never has a tournament win directly over Ken ever.

For newer players: this is like if Mew2King slumped for two years after winning Shine 2016, had to play Armada in winners quarters, but defeated him and then won the tournament over Leffen and Mango. Even with a fifth at MLG Las Vegas 2006, Azen had finally vanquished his longtime dragon in Ken, also finishing the year with a 11-2 record against its top five players. In fact, you could have argued Azen for No. 1 within the second half of the year – we had him at No. 2.

Though he stopped traveling as much, Azen once again dominated MD/VA throughout 2007, having a lopsided 8-1 combined record against Chu and Chillin. Azen’s final tournament victory of note was Viva La Smashtaclysm, where he defeated KoreanDJ, PC Chris and Chu to win his last title ever. Top eight performances at Pound 3 (where he infamously lost a last-game last-stock set with Mango in “the worst Fox ditto ever” due to block shenanigans on Green Greens) and Revival of Melee seal Azen’s legacy as a Top Ten player ever.

I mentioned it before, but part of what holds Azen back is having to play in the same era of Ken. For him to only win five titles within the timeframe of his prime is somewhat disappointing, but his main rival had arguably the most dominant player prime of all-time. Azen still finished as the player within his era to have the second most amount of title wins.

It’s kind of like being Hakeem Olajuwon to Michael Jordan or Kevin Durant to LeBron James (earlier this decade). You can’t really hold a chief rival’s greatness against Azen –  he still was definitively the No. 2 American player ever from Melee’s beginning to the end of its golden era. If you’re going to penalize Azen for not winning enough, you’d have to do the same for every other player from 2002 to the beginning of 2008.

Think of it this way: the years written down for Azen’s top five and top ten years might underrate him if anything, since they don’t take into account 2002-2003 (which my fellow Smash Historian Catastrophe is currently working on). If we assumed he was a top five player in 2003, Azen could have has many as five years of being top five and six years of being top ten. Not even Chu has that much longevity, if this is the standard for evaluating greatness. That leaves only the gods above Azen.

Even though he doesn’t attend locals very much, if at all, Azen still plays at a moderately high level, placing 33rd at EVO 2015, 49th at Super Smash Con and 97th at both GENESIS 3 and EVO 2016.  He’s clearly not the top player he was in the past, but Azen can still clearly compete a level far above average. Either way, Azen has nothing left to prove, as he is Melee’s No. 7 player ever and one of its most lovable personalities.

UltimateSSBMRank No. 8: Leffen

8. Leffen

leffen_seya

No. of years ranking in the Top 10 of RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank: 2 (2014, 2015)
No. of years ranking in the Top 5 of RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank: 1 (2015)
No. of years ranked as RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank’s No. 1: 0
No. of titles: 6 (BEAST V, CEO 2015, FC Return, WTFox, HTC Throwdown, Get On My Level 2016)


It’s tough to break into the top echelon of Super Smash Bros. Melee. As we see from demigods like Plup, Westballz, Axe, KirbyKaze, Wobbles and Shroomed, Melee history proves that it’s one thing to occasionally take sets from the very best, but it’s another to actually claw your way up to the top like Leffen did.

While the scene certainly had its fair share of upsets every year, the post-MLG Melee era was largely defined by the dominance of five players: Mango, Armada, PPMD, Hungrybox and Mew2King. This group’s remarkable consistency in almost never losing sets to anyone outside of themselves effectively separated them from the rest of the competitive field, earning them “god” titles. From 2010 to 2014, these five players held top five spots in various orders. Before going into Leffen’s legacy any further, it’s essential to understand how difficult it was and still is to compete with these players, let alone win tournaments over them.

Years before earning the moniker of “godslayer,” Leffen, contrary to the rumor of him being a Yoshi main, started as a young Falco player from Stockholm, Sweden in 2009. Constantly posting on Smashboards, frequently getting into arguments with fellow posters on the Falco discussion boards and occasionally insulting them, Leffen wasn’t exactly the most popular guy, but he could certainly back up his big talk – and he craved worthy competition.

Here’s something necessary to understand when talking about Leffen’s legacy: how he rose to the top in spite of lacking a strong local scene in Stockholm. You could try to compare this to someone like PPMD, who came out of North Carolina, but at least PPMD had players like $mike and his brother Twitch to play against. Leffen had no one in Stockholm even close to being a Top 100 player and often had to go out of his way to play against anyone notable. The closest thing for him was Armada, the world’s best player, who was about five hours across the country in Gothenburg. Competing, let alone winning large international tournaments, was quite a lofty challenge: one Leffen was more than willing to take on.

In early 2011, Leffen placed ninth out of 100 entrants at BEAST, losing only to Hack, a Kirby and Marth player, and Pamaro, Germany’s best Captain Falcon at the time. For most others, a ninth place at one of the largest European tournaments ever would have provided enough validation, but for Leffen, it only made him hungrier. That summer, Leffen attended GENESIS 2 in America, then the most hyped tournament since Pound 4.

Though he lost to SFAT and S2J for 17th out of 228 entrants, Leffen was one of only three European players to make it out of pools, along with Armada and Fuzzyness. Keep in mind that even with Armada’s rise to the top, he was considered an exception out of non-North American players. Europe was still a largely inferior continent when it came to competitive Melee – and Leffen’s GENESIS 2 success was contradicted by his lackluster 33rd at Apex 2012, though you could say this was partially due to Leffen transitioning to playing more Fox.

Regardless of how Americans perceived him, Leffen became a lock for top eight at bigger European tournaments, placing around the same as players like Ice, Amsah and Zgetto, bringing his games with Armada to last stock and even coming close to taking sets. Staying competitive with Armada was remarkable back then, given how the world champion was undefeated within Europe and would trounce almost anyone in the world who played him. A year later, Leffen placed 17th at Apex 2013, with wins over MacD and Cactuar, as well as relatively close losses with Hungrybox and Javi.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to talk about Leffen’s impact on the scene without bringing up his controversial and abrasive personality, which frequently put him at odds with his peers. Though not everyone disliked him, Leffen was frequently rooted against, having to deal with chants like “Leffen sucks” at Apex 2013, sometimes “Fuck Leffen” and even an infamous throat-cutting gesture from Hax after the two, known not to get along, played in crews.

In February 2013, the controversy around Leffen erupted. Three of the biggest European TOs, including Armada himself, announced a temporary tournament ban on Leffen, with Armada infamously screencapping several examples of Leffen’s online behavior, gaining evidence from several players about Leffen treating them badly in person and compiling them in a folder titled “evidence.zip.” It’s debatable whether the ban was justified or not, but imagine it from Leffen’s perspective.

Armada was someone Leffen traveled thousands of miles with, talked to about Melee and perhaps even looked up to. Can you imagine being unable to pursue competing in the game that you love because a friend secretly turned a whole community against you? To make matters worse, Armada was Melee’s reigning champion (even post-retirement) and a community figurehead that almost everyone trusted and followed. Leffen had little to no chance of defending himself and was forced to publicly apologize.

A common misconception about the ban is that it completely stopped Leffen from being able to compete. Though he didn’t practice as much and couldn’t attend several European events, Leffen still traveled to tournaments like EVO 2013 and hf.lan 6 (in December), where he respectively placed ninth and second. These were extremely impressive placings given Leffen’s exile from his continental scene, though he suffered two big upsets at the hands of G$ and MattDotZeb in the United States – months after beating PewPewU and turning heads with his EVO performance.

By the beginning of 2014, Leffen was on everyone’s radar – both as a potential breakout player and also as a returning villain. At Apex 2014, he exceeded expectations, beating Axe, Hungrybox and Colbol, losing only to Mew2King and Mango en route to a fourth place finish. A month later, at BEAST 4, Armada’s return and where Leffen’s first tournament back in Gothenburg, Leffen placed first, winning the tournament through losers. In grand finals, the Swedish Fox dominated Armada by so much the man once untouchable in Europe desperately tried to counterpick Fox. Up to this point, no Fox had ever defeated Armada’s Peach in a full best-of-five set since his rise to godhood.

This was by all means an impressive tournament victory, but several people wrote off the sets over Armada as flukes. In addition to Armada being rusty from his time away from competing, he was also TOing the event, which caused Armada not to focus as much on playing. For most competitors, beating him once, even under these conditions, would be enough to celebrate. Yet for Leffen, he knew he still had work to do, with the Swedish Fox saying online that he wasn’t satisfied with beating a less-than-100 percent Armada.

Three months later, at Republic of Fighters 3, Leffen received a 3-0 loss in winners’ finals against Armada in the Fox ditto, before dominantly 6-0’ing him in two sets of grand finals. Suddenly, the once disgraced player in Europe now looked like a god. Though the Apex 2014 champion PPMD was considered by most to be the favorite and world No. 1 heading into MLG 2014, Leffen was certainly thought of by many as the current best in Europe, leading the two international rivals – and former Falco discussion board posters – to an inevitable clash.

After effortlessly JV4ing PPMD’s Falco – the same Falco which almost JV5’d Hax and beat Mango two tournaments in a row – Leffen split games with PPMD’s Marth in pools, winning the set 3-2. Even with losses to Mew2King and Hax in the pools stage, it was clear that Leffen was a threat to take on anyone at any given day. Though he lost the rematch with PPMD for fifth, Leffen was no longer just a rising star, but now a target for other demigods to aim for.

As a sidenote: to this day, one of Leffen’s defining traits as a player is his willingness to adapt to his opponent and fix his weaknesses. For example, after placing ninth at EVO 2014, being eliminated by Silent Wolf, several Leffen skeptics talked about how weak Leffen was versus Fox, considering that he also split sets against Hax, who had been playing Fox for half a year, and frequently lost to Mew2King in the same matchup. Compare to this to today – Leffen is practically the standard for how you play the Fox ditto and against Marth, whom many also thought that Leffen was weak against (due to his losses to PPMD and Mew2King).

Following a bit of a post-EVO slump, when it looked like Armada had finally figured out Leffen and when he even dropped a set to Ice, Leffen came back in full force, finishing third at The Big House 4, with wins over Shroomed, Hungrybox and Armada, before once against getting swept by Mew2King and getting four-stocked by Mango in an otherwise thrilling five-game set.

By the end of 2014, Leffen ranked No. 6 on MIOM’s SSBMRank, but there were many who thought he might have surpassed Hungrybox, given the latter’s less than stellar year for his standards and Leffen’s head to head advantage. Fast forward to early February 2015 and Leffen finally had sets over Mew2King and Mango, with a title win at BEAST V and a pair of third places at Paragon Orlando 2015 and Apex 2015. It was official: Leffen was the first player in Melee history to defeat all five gods in his career. No one else has done this.

When talking about Leffen, it’s also impossible to ignore how dominant he looked in the summer of 2015. Winning three titles in a row in CEO 2015, FC Return and WTFox, Leffen had victories over Mango, Mew2King, Armada and Hungrybox, not dropping a single set to any of them. Suddenly, the claims of Leffen being weak in certain matchups or being inconsistent began to feel far-fetched. Was the era of five gods now over – was the Melee scene about to enter the Leffen Era?

Even with a fifth place at EVO 2015, with losses to Hungrybox and Plup, Leffen still looked like he could be the best player in the world at any given moment. Especially when he dominantly 6-1’d Mew2King at Super SmashCon 2015, defeating the Fox-slayer twice on Final Destination, thought of by most Fox’s as a guaranteed loss.

After a brief lull period with a second place at PAX Prime and a fifth place at Paragon LA, Leffen blitzed through his competition at HTC Throwdown, notably embarrassing Hungrybox in a 3-0 grand finals set, filled with taunts, lasers and utter mastery of the Jigglypuff matchup. Once again, Leffen looked like every bit of a contender for world No. 1 heading into The Big House 5. If you’re a Melee fan that’s followed the scene within the past year, you know the rest.

Though Europe now had a No. 2 that could take sets from Armada, Leffen’s status within the top echelon of players was now falling into question, as he couldn’t compete within the United States. With a ninth place at DreamHack Winter 2015, a second place at Beast VI and a seventh place at EGLX, Leffen’s up and down showings made it harder to believe Leffen could ever dominate like he did in the 2015 summer again. Was he ever going to get his visa issues resolved or would Leffen be destined to be one of Melee’s great what-if stories?

Enter Get On My Level 2016, when Leffen became the first non-god player to win a title since Jman at Don’t Go Down There Jeff in 2010. However, unlike Jman, who avoided playing against Hungrybox and only had to beat Mango’s secondary Marth, Leffen’s bracket was stacked against him, with the Swede having to overcome Mew2King, Armada, Hungrybox and Mango en route to winning arguably the most hyped up tournament of 2016.

His performance showed that even with visa issues preventing Leffen from being able to compete as much as he’d like, Leffen could still take any tournament he entered if he was playing at his best. Winning GOML 2016 is possibly the most impressive tournament victory of the decade, if not of all-time in Melee history. Even with an underwhelming ninth at Smash Summit 3 and a sandbagged 17th at The Big House 6, Leffen is practically a lock to finish 2016 within its top five for a consecutive year – and with currently resolved visa issues, he’s now in a position to consistently compete again.

Chances are that if you’re a fan of Chu or PC, you might think that putting a modern player like Leffen ahead of those two demeaning of accomplishments in previous eras of the game, particularly because of the two having a relatively larger body of work.

Consider this: after being a Top 20-30 player in the world during the early part of this decade, Leffen’s one year ban from European events still didn’t stop him from finishing 2013 as SSBMRank’s No. 14 player in the world. After that, you could have argued him as top five for the next two years – and that’s not including how he’s already won more titles than PC or Chu in their whole career, how he might play for the next few years or 2016.

Only five players in Melee history have won more titles to date than Leffen: Ken and the five gods. Titles aren’t a totally flawless method of evaluating players by, given how many more majors there are in the modern era of Melee than there were in a year like 2009, but if anything, putting Leffen him at No. 8 seems like a short-term compromise. Think about that for a moment: he already has almost as many titles in two years of being a top five player as PPMD has in his whole career. This isn’t to diminish PPMD’s incredible accomplishments, but it puts Leffen’s success in perspective.

In my last article, I wrote that it was difficult to see PC Chris’ impact on the game because of how his “style” of Fox is basically used by every player today. I wouldn’t be surprised if in five years, almost every Fox looked to model their fox after Leffen, given how he has mastered Fox’s toolkit arguably more than anyone else in Melee history. His clean punishes, near-flawless execution and heavy emphasis on traditional fighting game fundamentals over “gimmicks” sets him apart from his contemporaries.

Call him whatever you want: a god, a godslayer, a titan, a jerk, an antihero, etc (In fact, I’m already dreading publishing this, because it will open myself up for criticism or roasting on his stream). Leffen is one of the greatest players ever, my personal pick for No. 8 and someone that we could see easily make his way even higher on an all-time list.

One thing for sure: Leffen won’t be pleased until he becomes, without a doubt, Melee’s one true god.

UltimateSSBMRank No. 9: PC Chris

9. PC Chris

pc-chris-1

No. of years ranking in the Top 10 of RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank: 4 (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009)

No. of years ranking in the Top 5 of RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank: 3
 (2006, 2007, 2008)
No. of years ranked as RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank’s No. 1: 0

No. of titles: 4 (MLG New York Opener 2006, FC6, MLG Las Vegas 2006, Zero Challenge 3)

If you’re a documentary kid – someone who’s watched Samox’s “smash documentary” on some of the best players to ever play Super Smash Bros. Melee – chances are that you already know PC Chris as the “revolutionary.” You probably also think of him as the cool skateboard-riding, Port Chester-raised dudebro that defeated Ken at an old MLG tournament. That’s true, but his actual impact in Melee’s scene goes further than just one upset.

Before PC became a top player, his region, New York City, was mostly led by the older members of the Deadly Alliance crew, with players like Wes, Mike G and Dave. However, by 2005 or so, those players were not as prominent as they were before. New York City – and arguably Tri-State – needed a new figurehead to represent them against not just the West Coast, but their neighbors. This included the dominant MD/VA motley of smashers, who even outside of the usual suspects (Azen, Chu Dat and Chillin) were starting to look like the next up-and-comers (NEO, Wife, Husband). Even players from New England, like KrazyJones, Hayato, UnknownForce and a very young KoreanDJ were starting to get better.

Tri-State essentially had two possible choices for which of their younger players had the potential to carry the region’s mantle. Mew2King was one of them, but back then, he was more known for his knowledge of obscure frame data rather than his skill against other players. It didn’t help that his seemingly unpredictable and sometimes standoffish personality sometimes alienated other players. To be fair, this was partially due to his lack of social awareness and relatively young age back then, but between him and the more laid back PC, who often didn’t even come across like a stereotypical gamer, the choice was frankly easy for people in the scene to predict who could lift Tri-State.

At the first tourney the two attended together, Getting’ Schooled 2, Mew2King placed a solid 17th, but PC placed fifth in singles. The high finish came as a surprise, as he finished above established players like Isai, KrazyJones, Husband, KillaOR and Eddie. As if going into MD/VA’s turf and placing top eight wasn’t impressive enough, PC did it again at BOMB 4, getting seventh, while also getting a respectable 13th at the Midwest national FC3 a few months before. He was not yet elite, but with performances that started to gain attention, PC was well on his way to getting there – particularly with a victory over Isai and a third place finish at MLG New York 2005 (ironically held in February 2006).

Two months later, PC shocked the world, double eliminating the world’s biggest Falco slayer and its No. 1 in Ken, en route to a first place championship at MLG New York Opener 2006. Unlike other spacie players, who often ran away and lasered at Ken after getting bullied in mid-ranges, PC would fight back when about to be cornered and get close to Ken, hitting Ken just as hard as vice versa, similar to how Bombsoldier approached Ken at Jack Garden Tournament. Yet instead of  recklessly going in and getting shield-grabbed or sometimes having his pressure be exploited against him, PC mixed up his approaches, staying safe, but still aggressively positioning himself either just outside of Ken’s comfort zone or close enough to where Ken couldn’t breath. It was a dazzling and meta-changing performance that brought PC to the national spotlight.

By the end of 2006, he was the world’s No. 3 player (per RetroSSBMRank), but he had an argument to be No. 1 for portions of the year, if not by its conclusion. Although PC went 1-4 against Azen and relatively bombed at tournaments like MLG Orlando 2006 (13th) and Zero Challenge 2 (ninth), he also won FC6 and MLG Las Vegas 2006, the last tournament in MLG’s professional Melee circuit for eight years, as well as one that held its largest prize pool ever at the time. For the year, PC went 3-3 with Ken, 5-5 with Chu Dat, a dominant 5-0 against Isai, 3-2 against KoreanDJ and 3-0 against Mew2King. Even if Ken technically finished with one more title than PC, the Port Chester hometown hero won the year’s final and biggest event, showing that he was both Melee’s newest and sickest rockstar.

Here’s something cool to consider: though PC is known mostly for his Falco during the MLG-era and Fox in the post-Brawl period, his other characters were quite proficient. For example,  you could have argued that PC had the best Peach in the world until Armada’s rise to prominence. He also sometimes tried Marth and Falcon in tournament, each to varying degrees of success in different matches, though neither were as impressive as his spacies or Peach.

Alas, PC’s seemingly guaranteed position for No. 1 came to an abrupt close in 2007, when he had a couple of matchups that significantly hurt him throughout the year. Though he split sets with Ken and Mango, a dominant 5-1 lead over Chu Dat and even went 13-1 against the rising Cort, PC struggled with KoreanDJ (0-4) and his Tri-State rival Mew2King (3-12). The latter had gone from being a butt of jokes who was a good doubles player to being the best singles player in the world, also taking PC’s status as the No. 1 in the Northeast away from him. Even if PC was now the best in New York, when it came to playing against Mew2King, the odds were certainly against PC’s favor.

That said, he could still compete at a top five level. After consistent top eight appearances, including runner-up placings at EVO East 2007, VESTICLE and FC Diamond, PC had what at the time had to be the best losers bracket run in Melee history at Zero Challenge 3. After defeating Edrees and Forward, PC was once again sent to the other side of bracket by Mew2King, where he had to play his worst nightmare in HugS, who had beaten him multiple times before and whose patient, deliberate style of Samus was at odds with PC’s play style. Instead, he simply defeated his longtime demon, then tearing through Vidjogamer, Drephen, Ken, Chu Dat and finally his nemesis Mew2King twice, winning his last title ever.

With a second place at EVO West 2007, a fourth place at EVO World 2007, second at Super Champ Combo, third at Pound 3 and a fourth place at Revival of Melee over the next 1.5 years, maintaining his status as just about a top ten player, PC transitioned into playing more Brawl and gradually became inactive in the Melee scene. While he’s certainly had a few comeback moments, including winning a No Johns tournament in September 2011 over Jman and a sandbagging Mango, a ninth place at Zenith 2012 and even a 13th place at MVG Sandstorm last year, PC’s career is largely finished.

Without PC, the Melee community loses not only one of its most charismatic and relatable personalities, but also a top figure for three characters: Fox, Falco and Peach. Remember that at this point, even Bombsoldier, a guy who by all means was years ahead of contemporary Falcos in terms of laser pressure and his punish game, hadn’t defeated Ken, who had up to that point ruthlessly mauled every Falco he played against. PC applied the same kind of pressure-heavy, but smart positioning concepts to his Fox as well. It’s sometimes easy to forget that along with being leaders of a new generation of players, PC, Mew2King and KoreanDJ could be argued as forefathers for the post-MLG era Fox meta, each with a distinctive style.

It’s certainly not exclusive to himself, but PC also carries a good amount of what-ifs with his legacy. Because his prime came during the Golden Age of Melee, but also during its death period, PC never really had good reason to continue seriously competing during the post-Brawl era as much as he did earlier in his career. Think about it – he rapidly rose to become a top five player and contender for best player in the world in 2006, won Zero Challenge 3 in the middle of 2007 and maintained his status as a top player for a bit, but he didn’t really do much afterward to seriously improve.

You can’t hold this against PC, given how unlikely it was back then that Melee could ever be sustainably lucrative, let along be popular again, but the idea of a constantly-practicing PC with the likes of Jman, post-Brawl Mew2King, Hax, Eggm and Cactuar from 2009 onward is certainly a cool possibility to think about. I sometimes wonder how an updated version of PC would look like in today’s metagame – but then I realize that he pretty much set fundamental concepts for every relevant spacies player, while still doing his part within the Peach meta as well.

One thing for sure, with four titles, a quick rise to the top and a prime that showed that he could take on anyone, PC earned his spot as No. 9 of all-time.

UltimateSSBMRank No. 10: Chu Dat

10. Chu Dat



chudat1

No. of years ranking in the Top 10 of RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank: 6 (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2012)

No. of years ranking in the Top 5 of RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank: 4
 (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007)
No. of years ranked as RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank’s No. 1: 0

No. of titles: 1 

 (Pound 2)

If I told you there was a non-god player that managed to end a year as Top 10 in RetroSSBMRank six times, who else would you think of? Chu Dat and fellow HY2L member Azen are the only non-god players that have done this. Moreover, Chu is the only Melee player in the game’s history to go from being Top 10 in 2008 to returning to the same status in 2012, four non-consecutive years later, per RetroSSBMRank.

Fun fact about a man that basically everyone unquestionably holds as the godfather of the Ice Climbers meta: one of his first impressive set victories came while playing Fox, in his victory over Azen at a local in late 2002-early 2003. While this victory is somewhat ironic, given Azen’s later dominance in the head to head over his Ice Climbers counterpart (Chu went 5-13 vs. Azen from 2002 to 2008, per Smash History databases for each year) it also shows that for his time, Chu had enough base fundamentals to compete with several characters. Check out this clip of him playing with one hand – and going close with an up and coming Samus main of his time (albeit around when he started playing). You might have heard of him before.

Training with the likes of Azen and Chillin in MD/VA for a while, Chu quickly showed that his skill level wasn’t something to scoff at. At DC Super Smash #2, notably the first tournament to feature the best members of the New York City crew Deadly Alliance, Chu finished fourth – but only after a controversial sudden death loss to Wes, when despite holding a percent advantage over the DA Samus legend, TO M3D made the two to play out the Sudden Death, which Wes won. Nonetheless, out of 42 entrants, Chu Dat’s fourth place made the H2YL stand out as a contender for No. 2 in his region behind Azen.

2004, however, was Chu’s national breakout year. After starting the year with an alright ninth place at Game Over, what many people consider to be one of the first premier  tournaments ever, Chu destroyed the West Coast at Tournament Go 6, finishing third place at what was the biggest tournament ever at the time. Were it not for Captain Jack, who double eliminated him, Chu might have had one of the most remarkable major runs of his era, defeating Wes, Isai (twice) and even the PNW Peach legend Sastopher: in a matchup that people considered impossible. While other Ice Climbers players certainly existed at the time (shout out to Azn Lep), Chu’s performance at TG6 singlehandedly brought the once-unremarkable duo to the forefront of tier list reconsideration.

If 2004 was Chu’s breakout, 2005 was likely his prime. Finishing off the previous year with a three-way tie for first at Gettin’ Schooled (with Azen and Mike G), Chu finished fourth or higher at every tournament he entered until December (MLG Chicago 2005), winning BOMB 3, MLG Nashville 2005 and BOMB 4. With Azen not competing as seriously any more and Chillin getting inconsistent placings relative to his perceived skill level, Chu was the clear top dog on the East Coast now, finishing as high as No. 2 in 2005’s RetroSSBMRank. Say what you want about his odd personality, but the results don’t lie.

For the next two and a half years, Chu remained a threat at every national he entered, placing in the top eight of each one he went to. During this period of time, Chu never got back to the same level of being a contender for being the best player in the world, but he was always a threat to beat anyone. For example, along with winning Pound 2, from the start of 2006 to the end of 2007, Chu held a combined 19-6 record against Mew2King (12-4) and KoreanDJ (7-2), going undefeated (11-0) against the two rising stars of the East Coast in 2006 before still holding a positive record against the two in 2007. For reference, Mango over the last two years holds a slightly worse spread against Westballz and Plup (19-8).

To begin the post-Brawl era, Chu finished fifth at the year’s sole national in Pound 3, defeating players like Hax, Forward, Wobbles, Silent Wolf and Darkrain – a plethora of opponents from different regions and generations that still couldn’t topple the longtime ICs god. Though Chu occasionally lost locally, partially due to the game not being taken as seriously after its sequel came out, he still had a stellar performance at The Greatest Tourney Since Brawl Came Out, where he beat players like Cactuar, Hungrybox, Jman and Eggm, before splitting first place with Mew2King.

The next year, in 2009, Chu beat Hungrybox two more times, also placing fifth at Revival of Melee (along with beating Cort and DaShizWiz), third at Apex 2009 and fifth at HERB2, before taking a long break from playing Melee seriously. For the most part, Chu stayed quiet, playing locally (but not too seriously), occasionally showing up to majors, making Top 32 in Melee, and playing a lot of Brawl. At Apex 2012, Chu suddenly finished a lowly 33rd – but suddenly the legend had a rebirth.

Chu ran a train through his opponents at Zenith 2012, defeating Chops, Jman and Hungrybox yet again, only losing to Mew2King and Dr. PeePee. This might sound like a one tourney fluke, but it wasn’t – at Aposl’s Birthday Bash, reportedly beat Mew2King so badly that he forfeited his losers match to Cactuar. Chu was the only non-god player of 2012 to defeat two gods in the year, cementing his status as No. 9 in 2012’s RetroSSBMRank, even if he occasionally had local losses to Chillin and others.

Even in the post-EVO, post-documentary era of Melee, Chu still holds a moderate level of success. Along with holding another set over Mew2King and having an impressive seventh-place underdog run at EVO 2015, Chu has been ranked 22nd, 32nd and 35th over the last three years in SSBMRank – and he could be Top 25 in 2016. He’s no longer the national dark horse threat he was when younger, but consider that Chu is the only Ice Climbers in Melee history to ever take a game off Armada’s Peach in tournament, since Armada’s rise to godhood. Is it proof on its own that Chu is a Top Ten player ever? Certainly not, but it also illustrates perhaps Chu’s biggest strength as a player: his portability and levels of sustained relevance throughout a decade’s worth of playing.

What stops Chu from being any higher on my list? It’s a slightly unfair answer, given how there were still less overall nationals back in his prime, but Pound 2 is the only tournament that Chu Dat won that fits my title criteria. For a player who was top five for long, winning only one title arguably hurts his legacy in comparison to his peers.

This is like if there was a tennis player that consistently got to the semifinals or finals of a Grand Slam over four years, but ended up with one title. In a weird way, Chu’s status as a gatekeeper to the top echelon of players shows  consistency, but also highlights that he never was considered unquestionably the best player in the world at a given time, though he was considered No. 2 by the Smash Panel Power Rankings at some point in 2006.

Will Chu ever win another national? Probably not, but as the forefather of a character’s meta, a member of the “gods” of his own era and as a dangerous player to look out for even a decade after he started playing, Chu truly has an irreplaceable legacy and is my pick for No. 10 of all time.

Let me know what you think on Twitter (@ssbmjecht) and give a follow, if you’d like to support Smash History! Did Chu get snubbed? Is he ranked too high? Who do you think will be next on the list? Tune in later this week to find out!

UltimateSSBMRank: Honorable Mentions for Melee’s All-Time Top 10

It’s been a while, but welcome back to Smash History! 2016 is almost over – and with it another year of tournaments, heartbreak, triumph and legacies being formed. With Thanksgiving coming up, we’re almost at the time of year for SSBMRank, when Melee It On Me counts down their Top 100 players of the year.

Given the moderate success of the Smash History and RetroSSBMRank series (hopefully, if you’re on this website, you’ll give them a read), which go over the different years in Melee’s competitive history and each year’s top ten players, this website is launching a new project: UltimateSSBMRank. This will act as a totally-definitive-and-not-subjective summary of the greatest Super Smash Bros. Melee players to ever touch a GameCube controller.

As you can tell from the tone, keep in mind that the arguments and criteria I set forth for my personal top ten list essentially abides by the following standard:

No. of years ranking in the top ten of RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank
No. of years ranking in the top five of RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank
No. of years ranked as RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank’s No. 1
No. of titles

Remember that I’ve defined a title as a tournament victory in which a player places first over at least two other top five players or over three top five players seriously competing. I’ve done this to ensure that tournaments like Good Shit German or the Tourneyplay series are not held to the same standard as a tournament like Apex 2013 or EVO 2016.

With that said, before getting into the individual player posts, let’s go into the honorable mentions for who didn’t make the all-time top ten.


International Legends

30. EK
29. Masashi
28. Amsah

I know what a lot of you are saying: it’s hypocritical to avoid ranking these guys for the Smash History series, but still keep them as Top 30 players of all-time. I’ll admit that the Crimson Blur changed my opinion on these players. Even with a relative lack of data about these players, it’s still important to acknowledge their respective influences on the game and status as international legends. That alone should let them be considered Top 30 players ever – even if they never had the results in America to back them up (save for Amsah’s third place at Pound 4).

EK and Masashi were both considered the best of their region from 2004 to 2005. In fact, EK’s acronym was actually often thought of as standing for “European Ken,” after Captain Jack was asked to describe EK’s relative skill level, as EK won every tournament he entered from The Renaissance of Smash to RoofSM in early 2006, losing to Captain Jack.

Speaking of which, when asked about Masashi in the United States, Captain Jack would often respond that Masashi was the best player in the world – even after he himself finished second at Tournament Go 6, then the biggest Melee tournament of all time. Masashi’s name drop often came as a surprise, given the lack of wavedashing within his gameplay, as seen from the few videos smashers had of him. Nevertheless, his campy, laser-heavy and deliberate style of Fox influenced generations of players even before people like PC Chris came into the metagame. Here’s something to ponder: who was better in 2004 between Ken and Masashi?

Amsah, however, is the player I feel the most bad for “snubbing.” Given how he exceeded expectations at Pound 4, ended 2010 as a Top 10 player in RetroSSBMRank and won every single tournament he entered from The Renaissance of Smash 3 (July 2006) to SMASH ATTACK (April 2009), Amsah could be argued as a Top 15 or 20 player in Melee history. That said, his lack of American data makes it tough to say where he deserves to be placed – I chose to put him at No. 28 just to be safe and give credit to the more well-known American players.

Regional legends

27. HugS
26. Lucky
25. Hax
24. Fly Amanita
23. SFAT

These were the players that were highly viewed within their own region and guaranteed honorable mentions in their prime, if not Top Ten players. Often viewed as hometown heroes, albeit with occasional matchup problems and slumps through their career, these players also had breakout tournaments every now and then – and sometimes even impressive singles victories.

For HugS, this came with his second-place performance at EVO World 2007 or, arguably his most impressive achievement, defeating Mango’s Captain Falcon, SilentSpectre, Zhu and the Pacific Northwest legend Ka-Master in two grueling grand finals sets en route to winning UCLA V.

Meanwhile, Lucky had impressive runs at Pound 4 (seventh place, defeating Amsah) and, three years later, at The Big House 4 (fifth place, defeating Colbol, Hungrybox and Westballz), showcasing that the SoCal Fox legend could maintain his aggressive positioning heavy style over the years. Players like Fly Amanita, SFAT and Hax similarly have victories over “gods” like Mango and Mew2King, with the first two also holding sets over Hungrybox.

Dark Horse National Threats

22. Westballz
21. Plup
20. KirbyKaze
19. Axe
18. Chillin
17. Jman
16. Zhu
15. Wobbles
14. Shroomed

This is a pretty big tier of players, but to be fair, many of these players are fairly interchangeable with each other, though I gave a fair bit of bias for older players. These players, in their prime, were solidly Top 10 players for more than two years and sometimes dark horse threats to win nationals. Here are some questions a few of you might have.

Is Chillin really a Top 20 player of all-time? Isn’t he that weird guy from the documentary who got buff and made that rap video against Leffen, only to get 5-0’d?

Although he’s often associated with his charismatic personality, Chillin was quite good in his prime. In addition to taking two sest off Ken in 2004, often scaring Ken into Fox dittoing him instead of playing Marth, Chillin also had wins over his frequent training partners in Chu Dat and Azen, PC Chris, KoreanDJ, Isai and Mew2King (twice, when Mew2King was thought of as untouchable against Fox). That’s a pretty remarkable resume, even if Chillin’s placings were sometimes fairly inconsistent.

In other words, Chillin had defeated all the gods of his own era over four years – all of which he was Top Ten. Not even the “modern” demigods have done that. For whatever it’s worth, he also has a set over Mango at Bar Wars 2 and finished ninth at EVO 2014. While I doubt Chillin will remain Top 20, given the upward trajectory of Westballz, Plup and Axe in their careers, his legacy as a player deserves respect.

Who is Jman and why is he so high? Pun unintended.

Jman’s legacy is a peculiar one. After starting off 2008 relatively quietly, he exploded in the second half of the year, being the only person on the East Coast to take a set off Mew2King after Pound 3. This doesn’t sound too impressive, but consider that this was at a time when Melee was dying and almost everyone in the East Coast assumed that Mew2King was untouchable. A year later, he beat his rival twice at Apex 2009 to win the tournament and also took another tourney (Mass Madness 15) off Mango.

Jman also technically has something that no one else in this tier of players has: a tournament victory where two gods attended, at Don’t Go Down There Jeff. After defeating Mango’s Marth, which routinely messed up the rest of the West Coast in 2010, even while the SoCal immortal was sandbagging, Jman beat Zhu and Lucky to end one of the strangest tournaments in competitive Melee’s history. It gets only more bizarre when you consider that almost no one thought Jman was anywhere close to being the best player in the world after his win, as well as how he quietly faded away from the competitive spotlight.

How are Zhu, Wobbles and Shroomed ahead of everyone else?

While Zhu is often remembered for his role in the “Wombo Combo” video, as well as his famous Falco combo videos, it’s sometimes easy to forget that Zhu, in his prime, was a dark horse threat at the nationals he attended. With a nail-bitingly close, but heartbreaking five-game set against Hungrybox, as well as an upset over Mew2King (among many wins), who use to frequently struggle against Zhu, the California Falco legend had arguably the most pleasantly surprising placing of a non-god at a national (fourth at GENESIS) until Javi’s fourth place at Apex 2012.

And the next surprising non-god placing of the decade? Well, before getting into that, consider that from 2011-2013,  Wobbles was an annual Top 10 player – and even in 2010, he still was an honorable mention in RetroSSBMRank. During that period of time, Wobbles not only dominated his home region, Arizona, but he also had multiple victories over Mew2King, defeating him twice in a row.

The Arizona Ice Climbers legend peaked during his legendary EVO 2013 run, where he defeated Mango, Dr. PeePee and Hungrybox en route to a second-place at what’s easily the most important tournament ever for Melee’s growth. In the middle of 2012, he was even ranked by Smash’s ELO rankings to be the world’s No. 5 player, just a spot above Mango. This isn’t even going into his performance at Battle of the Five Gods, where Wobbles defeated the likes of Plup, PPMD and Mew2King. To date, Wobbles is one of three players (along with Plup and Axe) who has defeated every Melee “god” except for Armada. Oh – and he also has a victory over Ken in 2007, showing that his greatness transcended eras.

On the flip side, Shroomed’s remarkable consistency as a Top 10 or close to Top 10 player in the world is practically unmatched among his contemporaries. If Shroomed finishes in the Top 10 of SSBMRank for 2016, it will mark the fifth year of this decade that he’ll be regarded as a Top 10 player – a bigger number than any of his relative contemporaries. Although he hasn’t won a title yet, Shroomed’s status as a NorCal legend and consistent force at nationals this decade, with top eight performances at GENESIS 2, Apex 2012, Kings of Cali, EVO 2013, Apex 2015, CEO 2015, The Big House 5, Smash Summit, Smash Summit 2, GOML 2016, CEO 2016 and Smash Summit 3 certainly puts him as a Top 15-20 player ever.

Title-holding Sheik players with short primes

13. Captain Jack
12. KoreanDJ

Documentary watchers will know these two already, but both of the two Sheik players are similar in that they had arguments to be considered the world’s No. 1 at certain points of their prime (said documentary fans might also be wondering where 2002-2003 legend Recipherus is – I’ll write more about him later). While neither ended up as No. 1 on any of the RetroSSBMRank lists, they were certainly top five in their short-lived primes.  Think of them like quick championship belt holders.

Captain Jack is an intriguing, albeit mysterious case. After going back and forth in Japan against Masashi from 2003-2004, Jack came to America, beat Ken several secondaries in public friendly sessions, and placed second at Tournament Go 6, only losing to Azen twice. As if that wasn’t enough,  the Japanese Sheik main tore up MLG San Francisco 2004, 6-0ing Isai in two sets and officially throwing himself into the discussion for being the world’s best player, even if Captain Jack would insist it was Masashi.

Though he didn’t win MLG New York 2004, his last American tournament until Zero Challenge 2, Captain Jack placed third, confirming that at the very least, he was a top five player in the world. It wasn’t as if he only beat Americans too – Captain Jack defeated regional legends like the previously unbeatable Kupo, who was thought of Australia’s best player, at @M, as well as the Netherlands’ Remen at Dutch Tournament 10. To put this stretch of international dominance in perspective, Captain Jack’s worst tournament was the one he hosted: Jack Garden Tournament, when he was more focused on running a successful event than he was on winning.

If Captain Jack’s legacy was one of an international invader – the embodiment of a Melee fiend searching for competition – KoreanDJ’s is one of ruthless persistence. After going to several MLG tournaments in 2006 and ending the year as a Top 10 player, KoreanDJ started focusing more on his schoolwork in 2007. While most of his fans were certain that KoreanDJ was still practicing and better than ever, it was reasonable to wonder if the once always-money-matching Melee fiend had lost his competitive fire.

Unsurprisingly, the answer was “no.”  Losing to only four people throughout all of 2007, KoreanDJ won MLG Long Island 2007 over players like Mew2King, PC Chris and Chu Dat, still placing second at Cataclysm 3 and fourth at Viva La Smashtaclysm. Even after Mango’s legendary Pound 3 victory, several of KoreanDJ’s biggest supporters still claimed that KoreanDJ could have won had he shown up. It was practically a running gag on GameFAQS that he was always secretly the world’s best player. When I talked to Elen, a former New England TO from the post-Brawl era and friend of KoreanDJ, at Shine 2016 about this, he laughed and responded, “well, duh.”

The Fan Favorite

11. Isai

hqdefault

No. of years ranking in the top ten of RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank: 3 (2004, 2005, 2006)
No. of years ranking in the top five of RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank: 2 (2004, 2005)
No. of years ranked as RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank’s No. 1: 0
No. of titles: 1 (MLG Los Angeles 2005)

(Alright – I used my Top 10 formatting for a player that’s technically an honorable mention. Deal with it.)

As it turns out, the following behind Isai was truly as big as the documentary made it out to be. In almost every Smashboards thread from 2004, which discussed the best players in the world, Isai’s name was often mentioned as a dark horse candidate, often with the caveat that he could certainly be the best “if he tried.” Yes – that was actually something people said back then and not just something that new smash documentary watchers say to their friends.

What stops him from being any higher on my list? It’s somewhat of an unfair answer, given how many people treat this like it’s more reason to put him higher, but his effort. Even during his time as a top player, Isai would often sandbag at tourneys, either openly picking low tier characters in tournament or fooling around mid-match, as he does in this cringeworthy “comeback” match against Captain Jack at Apex 2012. Even if his doubles legacy with Ken is one of a kind for a consistent team in Melee history, his lack of singles consistency hurts him in comparison to other contemporaries from his era.

Nevertheless, Isai was a monster at his best in singles. Along with defeating Ken at MLG San Francisco 2004, he proved that it wasn’t a fluke at MOAST 3, where Isai defeated him twice in one of the most revolutionary Melee sets ever recorded (even if not technically a “title,” per my criteria). He was the first true Captain Falcon main, often going for things like shield dropping and seemingly coming up with innovative combos on the spot. As much as we take it for granted, we don’t have bread and butter follow-ups like stomp into up air into knee if it weren’t for Isai.

With one title (and a tournament victory over Ken at MOAST 3), Isai is unquestionably the greatest Captain Falcon player of all and easily a Top 15 player ever. He was my pick for No. 11, which begs the question: who made it into my Top 10? You’ll have to find out next week!

Tweet your love/hatred/critique to @ssbmjecht. Whom do you think deserves to be No. 10?