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.

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