No. 13 Cinderella Run: Lucky at The Big House 4

The Big House series is one of Super Smash Bros. Melee’s most storied tournaments. In particular, The Big House 4 is one of Melee’s most important events. As the first major “grassroots” event to not run like a complete disaster in the post-documentary era, it has a huge legacy, but also one of the best underdog runs of all-time.

Lucky was a longtime mainstay in the Melee scene, having been known as Mango’s sparring partner, one of the best dedicated Fox mains on the West Coast and a combo video nut. But quite frankly, a large part of Lucky’s legacy among the public was being the equivalent of Mango’s little brother.

For every big win he had, such as his win on Mew2King in GENESIS 2 pools, Lucky had an equally frustrating loss. At this same tournament, Lucky lost to Kage and Darkatma, finishing 25th. Although Lucky still did extremely well within his own region at other tournaments, like Kings of Cali 4 in 2014, he lacked a true national breakout.

If The Big House 4 was going to be Lucky’s breakout tournament, it sure didn’t look like it on day one. After breezing through the first wave of round robin pools, Lucky won his first match of the day against Jolteon, but lost to Kalamazhu, a Peach who had his own underdog run at The Big House 4. Either way, at a tournament stacked with so much talent, Lucky found himself already in a hole.

Suddenly in losers bracket, Lucky defeated Kason Birdman, Darrell and Gahtzu to make it to Top 32 from losers side. This wasn’t anywhere near unexpected for the veteran SoCal Fox, but with a bracket that featured players like Wizzrobe, Bladewise, Kels, MacD, Darkrain, Abate and Duck, Lucky had his work cut out from him.

First defeating the laser-happy Falco Zanguzen, Lucky then had to play another Tri-State veteran in DJ Nintendo. Starting off with a solid two-stock in their first game on Dreamland, Lucky quickly fell behind in game two, finding himself in down two stocks to four and close to KO percents on Battlefield. Lucky managed to claw his way back to last stock situation, but he couldn’t maintain enough explosiveness to come back.

In their last game of the set, Lucky and DJ Nintendo seemed to switch places from the previous game. Instead, with Lucky initially up four stocks to two – and neither side wanting to approach the other one – DJ Nintendo finally took Lucky’s first stock and gained a crucial shine spike on his second, evening up the game. But while a younger Lucky may have been tilted from this moment, at The Big House 4, the SoCal Fox maintained his composure and discipline. He solidly outplayed DJ Nintendo the rest of of the game and won their set 2-1.

Double two-stocking Colbol for 13th place, Lucky unexpectedly found himself against a god: Hungrybox. Though Lucky had experience against someone like Mango’s Jigglypuff back in the post-Brawl era, expecting him at the time to beat a god would have been borderline favoritism. Outside of Leffen, Hungrybox hadn’t lost to a non-god Fox at a national in years. Moreover, in their last two sets, Lucky had lost to the Florida Jigglypuff in heartbreaking fashion, both times bringing him to game five, but getting outclutched in the end. Was their third set of 2014 going to be the charm?

In their first game on Battlefield, Lucky took an early lead before Hungrybox erased the deficit via two rests, putting the game as yet another last stock situation for Lucky. Although I don’t have the data to prove it, I think even Lucky would tell you himself that this situation would have favored Hungrybox, who has made a career out of outplaying Fox players and making inconceivable comebacks against them.

Instead, Lucky got a quick upthrow into up air to close out Game 1. If you watch Lucky at this precise moment in this recorded set, you can see him move his face in for a quick celebratory adrenaline rush while pumping his right fist up and down. The next game in the set was on Dreamland: a stage thought to be Hungrybox’s strongest counterpick against Fox at the time.

Holding a solid lead over Hungrybox for most of the game, Lucky punished a desperate Jigglypuff dash attack with an upair out of shield, giving him a 2-0 lead over the world’s No. 5 player. To quote commentator HomeMadeWaffles at the time, “here’s where it gets real.”

Fighting Hungrybox to his last stock on Final Destination, Lucky closed out the set with an upthrow up air, immediately getting out of his seat, clapping his hands and hugging HugS right next to him. After giving the Crimson Blur another hug and giving two thumbs up in front of the camera, Lucky left the stage, having just achieved biggest win of his career. He was also now in top eight of the world’s biggest Melee tournament ever at the time, ready to play his rival Westballz for seventh place.

Although Lucky finished 2014 with a positive record on Westballz, the two had a respected, but certainly no-love-lost relationship with eachother. They were both up and coming space animal players that had relatively big egos and were constantly battling eachother at locals. After all, with Mango in the Midwest at the time, the two weren’t just fighting for better placings – they were seen as two possible successors to Mango’s throne of being the best space animal player on the West Coast.

Between the two, Westballz was the one who frequently got national recognition, being a fan favorite, having 3-0’d Mango in pools at MLG Anaheim 2014 and gotten fifth at SKTAR 3. This was Lucky’s chance to not only defeat his rival on a national level, but also continue an epic losers run at the biggest Melee tournament ever.

Lucky won the set 3-1, with a legendary ending of Game 4. To this day, Lucky’s reaction at the end of the set is still one of the most epic post-game celebrations.

Next up, Lucky had to play his best friend and longtime teammate Mango. I could give a million reasons why their set at The Big House 4 is one of the first sets you should show any Melee newcomer. Josh “roboticphish” Kassel, who accurately summarizes why this set is so amazing.

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While Lucky wasn’t quite able to overcome his “big brother” in Mango, his unforgettable set with him still leaves a lot to be impressed by. The Big House 4 turned Lucky from just a SoCal legend into a household name worthy of his own legacy.

As a result, this is why I chose to include Lucky’s run in my list, though you could argue for Kels/Kalamazhu at the same tournament or even Abate a year later. A year and a half after The Big House 4, Lucky had an even better showing at Get On My Level 2016, where he placed fourth. Nevertheless, when it comes to the legend of Lucky, perhaps his greatest tale is the one of his performance at The Big House 4.

No. 14 Cinderella Run: s0ft at Apex 2014

Despite Hungrybox and Mango’s success at the top level with her, Jigglypuff isn’t often considered a top tier character in the same way that her contemporaries like Fox, Falco and Marth are. While the post-Brawl era had a fair share of people claiming that Jigglypuff was overpowered or cheap, the fact remained that after Mango stopped playing her, Hungrybox was the character’s only representative at the top level.

At the end of 2013, in the first ever edition of SSBMRank, only two Jigglypuffs ranked within the Top 100: Hungrybox (No. 5) and Darc (No. 45). Heading into Apex 2014, what was then the biggest Apex ever, no one could have imagined that a Jigglypuff outside of Hungrybox and maybe Mango’s rusty Jigglypuff had a chance of making it to a top eight. How unlikely would it have been for anyone to predicted an unranked Jigglypuff main to suddenly burst into the top eight of Melee’s biggest stage ever?

S0ft wasn’t a nobody in the scene, being one of Georgia’s best players, but having been playing Melee at least since the release of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, s0ft didn’t have any extremely notable major performances. In addition to placing 33rd at Revival of Melee, he also finish with the same result at Apex 2013. Unless you were from the South, chances are that you didn’t even know who he was. Apex 2014 changed that.

For his Round 1 pool, the Georgia Jigglypuff wasn’t even necessarily projected to make it out. Hax, now transitioning into maining Fox over Captain Falcon, was the heavy favorite, but s0ft also had other killers in his pool. Players like Vudujin, NamiNami, Rat and D1 (yes – that D1) were considered legitimate threats to make it out as the No. 2.

At this point, Hax was being heralded by the East Coast as its newest savior. Though there were quite a few skeptics of Hax’s switch to Fox, he had as many supporters say that this was the first step en route to Hax eventually becoming the best player in the world, as he was already ranked No. 6 with Captain Falcon.

In hindsight, this is certainly ridiculous, but keep in mind that the title for being the Melee No. 1 was wide open. Between Mango taking care of his newborn son, both Hungrybox and Dr. PeePee in relative slumps, and Mew2King on a tear of winning smaller tournaments, Apex 2014 was the perfect time for Hax to grab the mantle and ascend to godhood. S0ft, however, had different plans.

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Making his way to winners finals of the pool, s0ft clutched out a last stock victory against Hax in the first game, before promptly getting four-stocked game two. In their last game, s0ft lost a three to one stock lead before making a hard read on Hax’s recovery and landing a forward smash to take the set. In SSBMRank history, it was the first time a member outside of the Top 100 defeated a player in the Top 10. Many at the time were impressed by s0ft, but expected him to get quickly eliminated from Round 2 pools.

After defeating Harriet, s0ft found himself playing against Ice, Germany’s best player and then thought of as one of Europe’s most promising players. Some at the time even dubbed him as “the European Mew2King” due to his amazing punish game and proficiency with Sheik (then his main) and Marth.

Dominantly winning their first game, which included what has to be the worst rest punish of all time by Ice, s0ft lost a heart breaking second game against Ice’s Fox, missing an upthrow to rest on Pokemon Stadium. Nonetheless, s0ft solidly two-stocked Ice again on game three. Suddenly, the unranked player now had wins over the world’s No. 6 and No. 13 player – and now he had to play Mew2King in winners quarters. He was the only player left in winners bracket that wasn’t ranked within the MIOM Top 100.

Though he got three stocked to start the set, s0ft managed to bring Mew2King to last stock game 2, just whiffing a grab near the left side of Fountain of Dreams and getting promptly sent to losers. Here, s0ft played Ice once again, but this time he had to prove that the results of their first set weren’t a fluke. To make matters more complicated, Ice had Armada in his corner coaching him, while s0ft had Hungrybox.

While the first game was close, s0ft managed to turn it into a two stock after a quick empty jump in front of Ice’s shield, after which s0ft quickly up aired the top of Sheik to convert into a rest. Within the first half of their second game, s0ft went down two stocks to three, before once again clutching yet another rest and evening it up, eventually leading to a last stock situation. Although s0ft’s cheeky spot dodge rest didn’t net him the initial KO he needed to move into top eight, another rest gave him and the South a victory.

Now in top eight, s0ft had to play Colbol, a Fox with plenty of experience playing against Jigglypuff due to Hungrybox being in the same region. To the surprise of many, s0ft took the first game, before losing the second and third, ending his greatest tournament run ever and one of Melee’s most remarkable journeys.

After his Apex 2014 performance, s0ft continued to travel and attend major tourneys, though he never quite lived up to the lofty expectations that came from it. He had decent regional performances and attended enough tournaments to qualify for MLG Anaheim 2014’s final bracket, but he also never placed top eight at a significant Melee national again, even finishing a disappointing 49th at EVO 2014.  By the end of 2014, he was ranked No. 64.

You could look at this say that it proves s0ft’s Apex 2014 as fairly lucky, but keep in mind that s0ft was not even expected to make it out of pools to start the year. More than half a decade after he started playing, he was able to upset players considered massive favorites over the vast majority of professional players, let alone unranked ones. Ending the year as a Top 100 player was more than what was expected from him. His Apex 2014 showing is forever notched into Melee’s history – and arguably the “documentary” era’s first true underdog run.

EDITOR’S NOTE: S0ft unexpectedly contacted me immediately after I posted about n0ne’s run and indirectly guessed that he would be next on the list. Most of the information and assumptions I’ve written here came straight from his account!

No. 15 Cinderella Run: n0ne at GOML 2016

January 13, 2013.  Before Get On My Level 2016, that was the last time Captain Falcon placed top eight at a Super Smash Bros. Melee championship (an event to feature all five of the world’s top five players) in Apex 2013. Back then, Hax was considered Captain Falcon’s most promising representative, as he was hyped up by the East Coast so much over the year that he ended it ranked No. 6 in the world.

But in the eyes of many, including Hax himself, that was the best Captain Falcon could ever do. Although he got close to defeating Dr. PeePee at EVO and had taken sets from Mew2King before at locals, Hax never defeated a god at a national while playing Captain Falcon. Switching to Fox, Hax also decried his character as being bad – and several believed him.

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As I’ve written before, Captain Falcon didn’t suddenly see a drop in quality of representatives. Players like S2J, Wizzrobe, Gahtzu and Gravy pursued advancing his metagame, with Wizzrobe and S2J even taking sets off gods (PPMD and Hungrybox) in smaller events or exhibitions. Wizzrobe’s top eight appearances at DreamHack Austin 2016 and PAX Arena, along with S2J’s strong placing at Pound 2016 showed a good amount of promise for the character at supermajors. However, success at the national or championship level hadn’t happened yet.

Many people agreed that Hax’s Falcon laid the groundwork for how the character should be played. Rather than being based around hard reads and flashy aggression, Hax was safe, conservative, dash dance heavy, risk averse and tactical about his gameplay. Although S2J’s style is certainly more risk taking and aggressive, both Wizzrobe and the rest of the 20GX Falcons were similar to Hax. For the most part, the latter is the direction Falcon was expected to head in.

 

 

 

 

 

In Ontario, a Nicaraguan player, “n0ne” quickly grew in prominence. Heralded by his biggest fans as “S2J with edgeguarding,” n0ne became known for his flashy combos, baits, and calculated, but unorthodox decision-making. His relentless play was risky and dazzling –  more reminiscent of players like Scar and Lord than it was of Hax.

At the end of 2015, n0ne’s first year on the MIOM Rank, he finished No. 58. While he was thought of as one of the scene’s rising stars, he was also one of its most unpredictable – for better and worse. At his best, he beat players like Colbol and Professor Pro, but at tournaments like EVO 2015 and The Big House 5, he didn’t even make Top 64.

N0ne started off 2016 with a bang, defeating PewPewU at GENESIS 3 and finishing 33rd. Placing 17th at Pound 2016, becoming the best player in his region, n0ne continued to do well, also finishing fourth at Fight Pitt VI and ninth at EGLX in Ontario.  Heading into GOML 2016, yet another tournament held in his region, n0ne had an opportunity to make himself look even better.

However, no one could have ever possibly predicted how far n0ne would exceed expectations.

 

Initially making it to winners finals of his pool, n0ne lost his first game against Moky, a fellow regional player and technical Fox, before winning the next two games to make it out. Yet due to his relatively low seed at the tournament, n0ne had to play Ice next, losing that set 2-1, though he brought the European legend to his last stock.

Due to the talent at GOML, getting sent to losers before Top 32 even started already set n0ne back, especially because his next opponent was Vanitas. While Vanitas wasn’t considered to be on the same caliber of skill as n0ne, he was still a well-respected Ice Climbers in his region. Although n0ne managed to win their set 2-1, this was also a matchup that the Nicaraguan Falcon was known for detesting. Earlier in the year, he was 3-0’d by dizzkidboogie at Fight Pitt VI.

To start Top 32, n0ne 3-1’d Trulliam, a fellow Ontario rival, before finding a familiar face as his opponent for 17th: PewPewU, the guy he defeated at GENESIS 3. Proving that it wasn’t a fluke, n0ne 3-2’d him, defeating PewPewU’s Fox and moving onto Top 16. His next opponent was HugS: the SoCal Samus legend who finished over 30 spots above n0ne on the previous year’s MIOM ranking. Their last set was a nail biter 3-2 at GENESIS 3, but in HugS’ favor. Could N0ne turn it around this time?

 

 

N0ne two stocked HugS in the first game before just barely losing the second one. Now having his counterpick ready, n0ne selected Yoshi’s Story as his stage and picked Ganondorf, just as he did in their GENESIS set. However, when Game 4 started and HugS counterpicked Final Destination, rather than switching back to Captain Falcon, n0ne stayed as Ganondorf. Even as he lost Game 4, n0ne kept faith in his character, winning a tight, but still convincing Game 5, heading to yet another round in losers.

Top eight hadn’t even started yet, but n0ne was about to face the biggest test in his career. In fact, at the time, you could have easily argued that this was the hardest opponent that any Captain Falcon player could come across in bracket: Mew2King.

If there’s anyone who was worthy of the title, “Falcon slayer,” it was Mew2King. Whether it was through his ruthless edgeguarding, years of practice with Hax in the matchup or his precise punish game, Mew2King just seemed to be the natural counter to Captain Falcon, if not a huge part of why Hax switched to Fox. The perception of Sheik as Captain Falcon’s hardest matchup among many made this a daunting test for n0ne.

At this point in time, no Captain Falcon player had ever defeated Mew2King at a significant national tournament since Isai at MLG Anaheim 2006. I can assure you that no one back then reasonably expected n0ne to challenge him, let alone defeat him in a 3-1. Except perhaps n0ne himself.

N0ne defeating Mew2King at GOML 2016 isn’t just a player formerly ranked out of the Top 50 defeating a god. It’s a character overcoming a character that was once considered his unbreakable barrier; an underdog of the modern era of Melee defeating a longtime immortal player; an international player representing Latin America on the world’s largest stage; Canada having its biggest upset since Kage over Mango.

Although n0ne ended up losing a close 3-2 set to Lucky in top eight, his run remains remarkable. N0ne has continued to do well against Mew2King, taking two more sets since his first set victory, but it’s still a magical moment in Melee history – the cherry on top of one of Melee’s greatest underdog runs ever.  Chances are that we’ll see none other like it.

The Greatest 15 Cinderella Runs in Melee History: Methodology

People like rooting for the underdog. In the history of Super Smash Bros. Melee, cinderella runs are especially celebrated because of the amount of technical skill the game requires, its long lasting competitive history and the countless number of split-second decisions that you have to make within a match. For the most part, you can’t always rely on two things to beat your opponents.

I looked up the term “cinderella” and found a good definition within an old ESPN article written by columnist Jeff Merron:  “the ultimate underdog for whom we wish a fairy-tale ending.” Picking 15 of Melee’s greatest cinderella runs was certainly difficult, but first I had to decide what I wasn’t going to include.

Methodology

1. The player for a bracket run cannot be an UltimateSSBMRank Top 10 player.

This clause might disappoint a few of you, but no one thinks of these players as underdogs any more. For the gods of each smash era, their “breakout” tournaments are still only parts of a greater legacy.

You can call my exclusion unjustified, after-the-fact editorial midjudgment, but it’s not meant to dwarf their accomplishments (nor would it even come close). Think of it as a testament to their far greater legacies,  which transcend any singular tournament run.

Honorable Mentions:

Armada at GENESIS
Mango at EVO World 2007, Super Champ Combo and Pound 3
Hungrybox at GENESIS
Mew2King at Cataclysm III
Dr. PeePee at Revival of Melee 2, RoM 3 and Apex 2015
Leffen at Apex 2014 and Get On My Level 2016
Ken at Game Over and EVO 2015
Chu Dat at Tournament Go 6, Zenith 2012, EVO 2015 and DreamHack Austin 2017
PC Chris at MLG New York Opener 2006
Azen at Viva La Smashtaclysm and MLG New York Playoffs 2006

2. The player in a tournament run must place within its top eight.

It’s difficult to sometimes draw the line between a more impressive set victory in bracket and overall performance. That’s not even taking into account relative expectations for a player heading into a tournament.

As a result, you’ll notice that the following cinderella runs have been omitted from my official list (along with several others that I haven’t listed):

Honorable Mentions:

DruggedFox at EVO 2015 (9th)
Zhu at EVO 2016 (9th)
Kalamazhu at The Big House 4 (9th)
aMSa at Apex 2014 (9th)
Infinite Numbers at Pound 2016 (9th)

Omitting DruggedFox’s run at EVO 2015 in particular was tough to do. Keep in mind the popular running gag among Georgia smashers at the time: “Who the fuck is DruggedFox?”

Although this isn’t an accurate assessment of what DruggedFox’s skill was like at the time, it still held a bit of merit for how spectators might have seen him. Earlier in 2015, the Georgia No. 1 (then a Sheik) finished merely 33rd at I’m Not Yelling.

Beating Lucky, S2J and Duck (let alone coming close to sending Leffen to losers bracket) at what was the world’s biggest Melee tournament ever couldn’t have been reasonably predicted by anyone at the time, unless you were from Georgia, a DruggedFox fan or DruggedFox himself. Either way, although this was one of the most talked about breakout tournament performances in recent memory,  DruggedFox’s EVO 2015 did not qualify for the final list.

3. The tournament must be a significant title-level event featuring two top five players of that year or at least bear some kind of prestige that transcends traditional metrics to evaluate a tournament’s legacy.

It sounds obvious to say, but a cinderella run has to happen at a title-level event to make an all-time list. Though it’d be easy to come up with a list of memorable runs at significant regional level events, for the sake of argument, I’ve tried my best to keep the list trimmed to events with some kind of prestige that transcends its results.

4. The tournament performance Must take place after the scene was internationally or nationally established enough to which a player’s performance across multiple tournaments could give an accurate estimate for gauging skill relative to the rest of his competition.

This is a tricky specification to put down, if not wordy, but when looking at the innate “underdogness” (for lack of a better word) of a cinderella run, certainty plays a huge role in how it’s valued.

For example, I’m not going to take placings at tournaments that featured items into account. The competitive Melee metagame has moved significantly far enough to where I wouldn’t try to hold such tourneys to the same metrics as the modern era. Additionally, underdog runs back in the Tournament Go days weren’t necessarily underdog runs because of a player coming out of “nowhere” – some of them were because players in a region simply didn’t know about the broader talent pool of the scene.

I admit that this criterion is somewhat vague. Players who have been around before the release of Super Smash Bros. Brawl might complain that my list is very post-Brawl and “doc era” biased – and to an extent, they’d be right.

Honorable Mentions

DSF at Tournament Go 6 (7th)
Sultan of Samitude at Meleepalooza (1st)
Eric at American Legion Tournament (3rd)

5. No player can have more than one run put on the list.

Why? Because I want to tell as many individual stories as possible!

When viewing the list in its completion, also keep in mind the following factors:

A. How good was the player before the run/what was their “predicted” performance at said tournament?

B. Who did this player beat at the tournament? Were they expected to beat them?

C. How many upsets did this player have in bracket?


D. How important was the tournament?

E. What out-of-game narratives affected or played an impact within the cinderella run?

Who do you think had the best underdog run in Melee history?