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.