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.
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.
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):
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.
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?