No. 6 Cinderella Run of All-Time: Kage at Revival of Melee 2

Kage isn’t just an oaf from Canada with a charmingly dorky vocal inflection. He’s a Super Smash Bros. Melee legend and the greatest Ganondorf player of all time.

Although I’ve only selected one tournament run for the sake of making this list, in this article, I’m going to focus on an even greater theme: Kage’s rise to prominence and how it reflects the underdog story that has been his career. In no way does this discredit the sheer greatness of his run at Revival of Melee 2, but while writing, I thought it would be just as fitting to talk about another underdog run that retrospectively set the tone for Kage’s Revival of Melee 2: his run at Revival of Melee.

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Keep in mind that this tournament was named because it was seen as Melee’s first post-Pound 3 major. Initially starting off just as another local tournament in New York, Mango, the Pound 3 champion boasted that he was going to attend and win another major on the East Coast to shut his doubters up. Eventually, nearly every top player, past and present, said that they too were going. 

Mew2King. KoreanDJ. Jman. Azen. PC Chris. ChuDat. DaShizWiz. If Ken and Isai had announced their return, this would have easily been the most anticipated tournament in Melee history. Even without them, it had a fairly strong case.

Kage was relatively unknown. He was one of the better players in Canada, but keep in mind that he was arguably below Vwins when they attended locals together. Canada’s most notable player of the last few years was The King, an innovative Jigglypuff that placed well at majors, but was well past his prime. In hindsight, if you had to pick someone to put Canada on their back at a national, Kage was an unlikely hero.

At Revival of Melee, Kage did something that no one thought a Ganondorf player could do in the modern era: finish fifth. Easily dispatching of KoreanDJ, Jman and Azen, Kage lost only to DaShizWiz and PC Chris: two of the best Falco players in the world. 

People were baffled at how a Ganondorf could do so well. The last notable result by one was in 2005, when Eddie won a respectable, but nowhere near major tournament in MLG Orlando 2005.

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His supporters thought that Kage’s performance proved that the character was much better than most initially envisioned, perhaps even being top ten. In addition to Ganondorf’s exceptional punish game and needing few openings to get a kill, Kage’s fundamentals showed that the character had a few abusable tools in neutral as well.

Others weren’t convinced. In addition to players like KoreanDJ and Azen being rusty from seriously competing in melee, they could have been unfamiliar with the Ganondorf matchup, since they were rare to encounter on the national scene. 

Either way, Kage’s accomplishments didn’t end at Revival of Melee. After placing a respectable 17th at GENESIS, Kage had one more surprise in store.

Moving into Revival of Melee 2, there was no doubt about the tournament’s biggest contender. Mango had trounced every opponent on his coast and hadn’t dropped a tournament for all of 2009. Mew2King, thought to be the closest skilled competitor in the United States at the time, looked totally lost against Mango in their sets and was distracted by playing a lot of Brawl. Players like Zhu and SilentSpectre routinely were roasted and BM’d by Mango’s secondaries. Without Mew2King or even Armada in attendance, most people assumed the rest of the competition were playing for second place.

Faced against the No. 1 seed in Mango for winners quarters, Kage likely was playing an opponent who paid him no attention other than maybe surprise that someone played Ganondorf to modest success. I can’t say for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Mango  didn’t know who Kage was.

If you just watch the first 40 seconds without knowing the final result, you’d probably assume that Mango was going to destroy Kage. But instead of going down further, Kage surprised Mango by catching his jump mid laser and knocking him off stage. One read on his jump later and Mango lost the stock.

This set the tone for the rest of the game, with Mango eating a brutal 117 percent zero-to-death on his second stock and falling behind. In less than two minutes, Kage had gotten into the head of the world’s best player, who quit out of the first game. With Kage up 1-0, Mango picked Pokemon Stadium, now switching to Captain Falcon as well.

Unlike the first game, which was at least competitive, this one wasn’t close. In less than two minutes, the Pound 3 champion rage quitted once again. Kage crushed Mango, without even playing a top tier, sending him to losers bracket before top eight had even started.

Though Kage lost to Hungrybox in winners semis, his Jigglypuff adventures wouldn’t end there. Facing Darc in losers quarters, a strong regional player in New England and experienced Jigglypuff player himself, Kage made it to losers semifinals, where he once again had to play Mango, pissed off and hellbent for revenge.

After Kage won a tight game one vs. Mango’s Falco, Mango then did something that very few people of his era could make him do: he switched to Jigglypuff. His Jigglypuff had lost games in bracket to players like Armada and SilentSpectre, but people at the time considered it to be on a different level than anyone else in the world. Make no mistake – Mango had taken off the ankle weights.

Since Pound 3, no one had defeated Mango’s Jigglypuff across a whole set, let alone eliminated it from bracket. The crown on his character’s head wasn’t just figurative. Kage now had to accomplish something that not even Mew2King had figured out how to do: defeat Mango’s Jigglypuff.

And in game two, Mango showed many what they expected. Now in full “tryhard mode,” Mango three-stocked Kage effortlessly on Dreamland, setting up a game three where it looked like the uncontested champion of Melee had momentum. Yet in a twist of fate that no one expected, Kage adapted.

At the end of the set, Kage approaches the recording setup and yells one of the most iconic Melee phrases of all-time, “I just beat Mango, where you at?” 

While it may seem ridiculous to put his two set wins as a bigger underdog run than his initial Revival of Melee run, think about how impressive it was to beat Mango back then. Beating him once could have been discarded as a fluke, but twice was enough to immortalize Kage’s place in Melee history.

Even with getting beaten by Dr. PeePee in losers finals, Kage’s third place at Revival of Melee 2 is still the gold standard of Ganondorf performances in the post-MLG era of Melee. Today, it’s the highest and most impressive placing by Ganondorf at a supermajor ever.

Though Kage is no longer in the top class of modern players, he still has moments of brilliance. At Apex 2014, Kage defeated SFAT and Westballz, two rising West Coast stars at the time. A year later at The Big House 5, Kage notably led a huge regional crew battle comeback against the Northern California crew, defeating dizzkidboogie and Shroomed as the Canadian anchor. He was also voted into Smash Summit and took a game off Armada at The Big House 7.

Just earlier this year at DreamHack Montreal 2017, Kage defeated ChuDat twice and HugS to finish second place at one of Canada’s biggest tournaments ever. Perhaps more than any other player in Melee history, Kage’s legacy consists of being the ultimate underdog. If you’d like to hear more about his upset over Mango, I couldn’t recommend the following video underneath enough.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to another smash history project coming up, I have decided to make the next article about all the remaining five spots on my greatest underdog runs list. Although I wish I had enough time to give each run its own due diligence, I hope that this list remains as valuable as my other ones. If you feel differently, please let me know!

No. 7 Cinderella Run of All-Time: Westballz at MVG Sandstorm

Chances are that if you follow competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee, you already know Westballz. He’s the red, technical flashy Southern Californian Falco known for being one of the game’s most unpredictable players.

For instance, if there was ever a tournament that summarized what to expect from Westballz , it was Low Tier City 2. Here, Westballz lost to Jake13 in winners quarters (attempting to play Donkey Kong in the set) before blasting through Ripple, Hamyojo, Laudandus, Mojo and Wobbles to place second to Mew2King, even taking a game off the feared Marth on Final Destination.

Since his rise to prominence, there’s been a running joke about Westballz – that he could beat anyone on a given day, including himself. In 2015, this appeared to be the case when Westballz once again had a roller coaster’s worth of performances at Paragon Orlando (4th), Apex 2015 (33rd) and I’m Not Yelling (5th).

When MVG Sandstorm came around, Westballz looked like he was once again on a downswing, losing to MacD in the winners round of 16. Losing so early at a tournament like Sandstorm was dangerous, as the tournament boasted players like Armada, Leffen, Hungrybox and Mango. Little did anyone know that this set inadvertently launched the run of Westballz’s life.

Though it seems unrelated,  note all the flaws of MVG Sandstorm. Along with its stream frequently crashing because of inconsistent internet at the venue, there was a lack of seating, space and by most accounts, terrible scheduling at MVG Sandstorm. As you learn more about Westballz’s performance at this tournament, keep this in mind.

Beating Forward 2-1 for 17th in losers bracket, Westballz then had to play Tai for 13th. Though Tai was ranked several spots below Westballz on SSBMRank, their disparity in rank doesn’t reflect how dangerous of a matchup this was for the SoCal Falco.

Throughout Melee history, Arizona players have a reputation for beating Falco. Players like Wobbles, Axe, Taj and Tai in particular boast quite a bit of experience against Falco and at various points have beaten some of the world’s best Falco players at tournaments.

To this day many smash players in Arizona call the act of edgeguarding Falco, “flappy bird,” which refers to how easy it is to kill him off-stage. Yet with arguably the most dangerous crowd in Melee (Arizona) rooting against him in a tightly packed venue, Westballz solidly 2-0’d Tai to face Gahtzu for a chance at top eight.

Westballz couldn’t have started the set much worse, but he somehow recovered. After getting JV3’d in the opening game on Battlefield, Westballz three-stocked Gahtzu in game two on the same stage and strongly took game three to make it to losers top eight. Here, he had to play a familiar opponent in his SoCal rival S2J. Warmed up from his set against Gahtzu and especially familiar in the matchup against Captain Falcon, Westballz won 3-0.

But in losers for fifth, Westballz had to play Mango, who was angry and straight off a loss to Axe in winners semifinals. He had beaten Mango before, 3-0’ing him in pools at MLG Anaheim 2014, but defeating Mango in losers bracket, as Melee history has shown numerous times, was a whole different beast than beating him in winners bracket, let alone pools. There was reason to take their last major set with a heavy grain of salt.

Mango took their first game with a convincing two-stock. Westballz then picked Final Destination, where Westballz showed his one-of-a-kind punish game on Fox. After looking lost for moments of game one, Westballz had tied the set.

A game later, Westballz clutched out a last stock victory on Dreamland, causing a stubborn Mango to bring him back there for game four. Staying ahead for practically the whole game, Westballz beat Mango so badly that the latter side-B’d off the left side of Dreamland mid-combo to end the set with a three-stock victory for Westballz.

His next opponent? Hungrybox, fresh off a 3-1 victory over Leffen. For viewers at the time, this was surely where Westballz’s run would end, given how solidly he had lost his last two sets to Hungrybox, someone who is still thought of today as the Falco-slayer.

Before we get into the set itself, keep in mind a few external factors. For its first half, neither player set the timer on. Moreover, Westballz and Hungrybox still technically had to play their Project M sets (along with Axe, who was in winners bracket of Melee), but had to cancel them due to MVG Sandstorm running out of time to use its venue. As a result, the Project M tournament could not be completed, due to needing to finish Melee bracket.

To give further context, losers semifinals in melee wasn’t the only set being streamed.
Throughout top eight, both sides of bracket were being concurrently shown by both MVG League and azprojectmelee to speed up the tournament. Although these seem like insignificant details, keep this in mind for what’s to come later, as it reflects a greater story than just Westballz’s run.

Hungrybox and Westballz started on Final Destination, with Westballz keeping it close after going down early, but still losing. Opting to stay Falco rather than switching to Fox, Westballz then counterpicked Hungrybox to Pokemon Stadium. In an extremely favorable last-stock situation off a grab, Hungrybox somehow missed up-throw rest and quit out, being at what looked like death percent. Rather than going down 0-2 in the set, Westballz now tied it thanks to Hungrybox’s unusual mistake.

Game three on Dreamland looked similar to the first game, where Westballz fell behind early and clawed his way back for another last-stock situation. But as Hungrybox clutched another victory, the unexpected happened: he and Westballz were asked to move setups mid-set, from the side stream to the main stream. The other set, winners finals between Armada and Axe, had finished and MVG wanted to keep its primary viewers engaged rather than let Hungrybox and Westballz finish the set on their initial setup.

If you watch the end of the video above, you can hear commentator Wobbles refer to this move as “super wack” and “disappointing.” You can even see an incredulous Hungrybox shake his head and a confused Westballz smile. To date, this is a perfect example of how not to run a tournament.

Although I’m hesitant in attributing the rest of the set toward the setup change, it’s inarguable that it played a role in delaying the set. Whether through changing his own gameplay, playing better or any other factor, Westballz ended up taking the last two games of the set, both in last-stock games. It’s interesting to note that this is the only time in his career that Westballz has beaten Hungrybox, making this one of the biggest outlier sets in a career head-to-head ever.

In losers finals, Westballz had to play Axe, the local crowd favorite who had just defeated Mango earlier in bracket. Similar to Tai, but on an even grander scale, Westballz once again found himself at odds against loud “AZ” chants and wild cheers off every hit Axe got. Eventually, Westballz 3-1’d him, now facing Armada in grand finals. This was the last result anyone could have reasonably expected.

Though Westballz was 3-0’d to close his all-time great losers bracket run, MVG Sandstorm had one more surprise, to the hilarity of spectators. In the middle of a tight game three, the television cut out, ending the game with no winner. As Armada and Westballz leaned back in disbelief, the crowd behind them began jeering “MVG” before the two replayed the entirety of the game, ending with an anticlimactic Armada three-stock.

MVG Sandstorm deserves to be remembered as a cautionary tale for overambitious TOs looking to make a splash on the national scene. But it should also be known for Westballz’s exceptional losers run, which led to his highest placing at a major performance ever. For a player known for both impressing and disappointing when least expected, maybe it’s no surprise that his greatest moment came after losing to a lower seed than him at a complete circus of a tournament.

Though Westballz hasn’t been able to capture the magic of his run at MVG Sandstorm and still struggles with consistency to this day (65th at The Big House 7), he’s still one of the world’s premier competitors. No matter his ups and lows, he’s someone who carved his way into the Melee history books – and what’s even more exciting is that he’s still writing his story today.